News (World)

The Vatican says transgender people can be baptized, contradicting U.S. bishops

Pope Francis smiles and waves to his congregants.
Pope Francis Photo: Shutterstock

The Vatican, which leads the Catholic Church, has said that transgender people and people in same-sex relationships are able to be baptized and serve as witnesses at weddings, and trans people can also be godparents as well. The document, issued by the Vatican on Wednesday, signals the church’s gradual acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals, even though it contradicts the thinking of some Catholic leaders in the United States.

“A transgender person — [even one] who had also undergone hormone treatment and sex reassignment surgery — can receive baptism, under the same conditions as the other faithful, if there are no situations in which there is a risk of generating public scandal or disorientation among the faithful,” the document states, adding that this applies as well to trans minors, just as long as the baptized individual has a “disposition towards grace” and “repentance for serious sins.”

The document also states that trans people can serve as godparents who attend a child’s baptism. However, for trans people, this honor is not a right and should be avoided “if there is a risk of scandal, of undue legitimation or disorientation in the educational field of the ecclesial community,” the document states. The document also says that people in same-sex relationships cannot be godparents.

In order for a gay person to be the godparent of a child, they must be “in a stable and declared relationship as man and wife, well known by the community,” and, “There must be a well-founded hope that [the child] will be educated in the Catholic religion,” the document states.

The document also states, “There is nothing in current universal canonical legislation that prohibits” LGBTQ+ individuals to serve as witnesses at a church-sanctioned wedding.

The document was signed on October 21 by Pope Francis and Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, head of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, as a response to a letter submitted by a Brazilian bishop in July that asked about LGBTQ+ possible participation in baptisms and weddings.

The Vatican’s document also states that Pope Francis “wanted to underline that baptism ‘is the door that allows Christ the Lord to establish himself in our person and in us to immerse ourselves in his Mystery [and] concretely implies that ‘not even the doors of the Sacraments should be closed for any reason.'”

While the document doesn’t change church prohibitions on gay sex and same-sex marriages, its pro-LGBTQ+ statements contradict the attitude of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which has “historically rejected the concept of gender transition, leaving transgender people out of the church entirely,” The Hill noted. It also seems to reverse a 2015 Vatican decision to bar a trans man in Spain from becoming a godparent, the publication added.

Rev. James Martin, a pro-LGBTQ+ Jesuit priest, told the Associated Press of the decision, “In many dioceses and parishes, including in the U.S., transgender Catholics have been severely restricted from participating in the life of the church, not because of any canon law, but stemming from the decisions of bishops, priests and pastoral associates.”

“So the Vatican’s statement is a clear recognition not only of their personhood, but of their place in their own church,” he continued. “I hope that it helps the Catholic Church treat them less as problems and more as people.”

In the past, Pope Francis has criticized his own church’s leaders for becoming too focused on divisive issues like homosexuality. He told U.S. bishops to lay off the anti-gay attacks and compared homophobes to Nazis. He also suggested that he could support same-sex unions, said that celibate gay priests should be allowed to serve, and even met with other LGBTQ+ activists, reportedly telling one man that God made him gay and donating money to a group of transgender sex workers.

In January, he called laws criminalizing homosexuality “unjust” and insisted that God loves all his children just as they are. He also called on Catholic bishops to welcome LGBTQ+ people into the Church. In 2020, he also said that nations should recognize civil unions for same-sex couples because they “have a right to a family.” 

However, Pope Francis has also said that the Catholic Church can’t bless same-sex relationships because they’re a “sin,” that gay priests are being “fashionable” and should “leave the ministry,” that bishops should reject priesthood applicants suspected of being gay, that gay couples can’t be families, that U.S. clerks have a right to deny marriage certificates to same-sex couples, that parents should send their gay children to therapy, that trans people will “annihilate the concept of nature,” and that trans youth shouldn’t try and access gender-affirming medical care.

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