Source: The Guardian
The Vatican’s doctrinal office has said that transgender people can under certain circumstances be baptised in the Catholic church and serve as godparents in a statement that has been hailed as a “major step for trans inclusion”.
In a document approved last month by Pope Francis and published on Wednesday, the office noted that a transgender person, “even if they have undergone hormone therapy and sex-reassignment surgery, can receive baptism under the conditions as other faithful”.
The decision came with a caveat. Such baptisms were possible, it said, “if there are no situations in which there is a risk of generating a public scandal or confusion among the faithful”.
The document was published as a response to six questions sent in by a Brazilian bishop in July regarding the participation of LGBTQ+ people in baptisms and weddings. It noted that transgender adults could serve as godfathers or godmothers at the discretion of local priests, who should exercise “pastoral prudence” to ensure there is no “risk of scandal” or “undue legitimisation in the educational sphere of the church community”.
The document also noted that there was no reason transgender people could not serve as witnesses at church weddings.
The pronouncement – which appears to reverse a 2015 ruling– stood in sharp contrast to the dozens of dioceses in the US that have put in place policies to restrict LGBTQ+ Catholics, said Francis DeBernardo of the US-based New Ways Ministry.
“It is big and good news,” DeBernardo, whose ministry has long pushed for greater acceptance in the church, told the Associated Press. “It is a major step for trans inclusion.”
He described it as confirmation that the pope and high-ranking church leaders do not see gender identity as a de facto barrier when it comes to participation in Catholic sacraments. “We hope that church leaders will apply these guidelines by following Pope Francis’s example of extravagant welcome, rather than using them to continue old restrictions,” he added in a statement.
The LGBTQ+ advocacy group Glaad characterised the decision as part of a broader push by the pope to make the church more welcoming to LGBTQ+ people, despite doctrines that reject same-sex marriage and sexual activity.
“Pope Francis is continuing to break down barriers that have kept LGBTQ Catholics away from full participation as members of the Roman Catholic church and is instead calling on global leaders to create welcoming spaces for LGBTQ people,” said Glaad’s Sarah Kate Ellis in a statement.
In July the Vatican released comments made by the pope during an interaction with an Italian in their early 20s who said they were torn between the Catholic faith and transgender identity. Francis replied: “The Lord always walks with us … Even if we are sinners, he draws near to help us. The Lord loves us as we are, this is God’s crazy love.”
Months later he suggested that there could be ways to bless same-sex unions, though he reiterated his belief that matrimony is a union between a man and a woman.
The document published on Wednesday, however, was vague in its response to whether a same-sex couple could baptise an adopted child, or a child born via a surrogate, saying there had to be a “a well-founded hope that the child would be educated in the Catholic religion”.
It offered a similarly nuanced response when it came to the question of whether a person in a same-sex relationship could serve as a godparent, noting that the person had to “lead a life that conforms to the faith”.
Still, the document was warmly welcomed by those who have long advocated for the rights of LGBTQ+ people in the church. “This is an important step forward in the church seeing transgender people not only as people (in a church where some say they don’t really exist) but as Catholics,” Father James Martin, a prominent Jesuit priest, wrote on social media.