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Catholic hermit in Kentucky comes out as transgender man

Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington Kentucky church Brother Christian Matson transgender hermit
Facebook: Diocese of Lexington, Catholic LGBTQ+ Ministry Lexington

In the Roman Catholic Church, a hermit is someone who leads a quiet life engaged in prayer. Christian Matson is believed to be the first trans person in this bishop-approved position.

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A Roman Catholic diocesan hermit — yes, that’s an official church position — has come out as a transgender man.

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“This Sunday, Pentecost 2024, I’m planning to come out publicly as transgender,” Brother Christian Matson told Religion News Service Friday. He believes he is the first out trans person in his position; although that is difficult to confirm, he is undoubtedly one of very few.

In Catholicism, a hermit is a person who lives a secluded life devoted to prayer. Hermits are subject to approval by their local diocese, which Matson received from Bishop John Stowe of the Diocese of Lexington, Ky. Matson took his vows as a hermit in 2022 for a one-year commitment, and in 2023 he renewed his vows.

As a hermit, he has “lived a life of basically spending half the day in prayer and half the day doing some form of work,” he told Religion News Service. He writes, acts, and does production work at a theater in the area; he received rave reviews for his 2023 performance in Every Brilliant Thing,a show about grief and resilience.

He is also an oblate in the church’s Benedictine order. An oblate is a member of a religious order who devotes their life to prayer and service to God.

Matson, now 39, had a long journey to finding his place in the church. He grew up in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) but converted to Catholicism in 2010, four years after his gender transition. He had become interested in Catholicism while attending graduate school at Loyola University Maryland. “It was my first time in a Catholic environment — I was very drawn to the beauty of the liturgy, but also to the Jesuit approach to education, which is care of the whole person, and the sense of Catholic education project in a rich intellectual history,” he told the Lexington Herald Leader.

To the news service, he noted, “I became Catholic after I transitioned because of the Catholic understanding — the sacramental understanding — of the body, of creation, of the desirability of the visible unity of the church and primarily because of the Eucharist.” The Eucharist is the sacrament of receiving bread and wine, representing the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

He tried to join various religious orders but was turned away, all while keeping his devotion to the faith. He ran a nonprofit organization for Catholics in the arts in New York City for a time. He was troubled, though, by statements from Pope Francis and other church leaders against gender transition. Francis, sometimes progressive and sometimes not, has spoken out against “gender theory” but has met privately with trans people who found him warm and accepting.

Eventually, friends of Matson’s suggested he contact Stowe, who was known to be liberal on LGBTQ+ issues, so Matson wrote to the bishop in 2020. Matson was open about being a trans man and shared “his vision for an artists’ community and his pull to religious life,” Religion News Service reports. Stowe replied quickly and with encouragement.

“It was an enormous relief,” Matson told the news service. “I was in tears. I felt my hope revive.”

“My willingness to be open to him is because it’s a sincere person seeking a way to serve the church,” Stowe said. “Hermits are a rarely used form of religious life … but they can be either male or female. Because there’s no pursuit of priesthood or engagement in sacramental ministry, and because the hermit is a relatively quiet and secluded type of vocation, I didn’t see any harm in letting him live this vocation.” Stowe supported Matson’s coming-out.

Matson had some political motivations for coming out. “There are a number of laws getting passed around our country, including in Kentucky, as well as policies being published in the church, that are making life more difficult for transgender people and are based on faulty assumptions about them,” he told the Herald Leader.

Matson is receiving much praise. “I think Brother Christian is heroic — the church has neither spoken kindly nor been kind to transgender people, and he still views service to the Lord and to the church as something far greater than something that would cause most people to back down. That’s heroic faith,” Stan “JR” Zerkowski, the director of the Lexington Diocese’s LGBTQ ministry, told the paper.

"Brother Christian has long sought to consecrate his life to Christ in the Church by living the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience. He has consistently been accompanied by a competent spiritual director and has undergone formation in the Benedictine tradition," the Catholic Diocese of Lexington said in a statement, according to Newsweek. "He does not seek ordination, but has professed a rule of life that allows him to support himself financially by continuing his work in the arts and to live a life of contemplation in a private hermitage. Bishop John Stowe, OFM Conv., accepted his profession and is grateful to Brother Christian for his witness of discipleship, integrity and contemplative prayer for the Church."

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.