It can take a few tips from US and German Catholic leaders on gender equality and sexuality
LGBTQ Mormons with their signs at the 189th annual general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah, US, on April 6, 2019. (Photo: AFP)
For decades, LGBTQ Catholics tried to talk with the Catholic Church hierarchy only to be rebuffed. However, Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” statement has added a new colorful chapter to this sensitive issue.
The Church has softened its stance on homosexuality and no more considers it “intrinsically disordered,” at least during the synodal process that is expected to culminate in October 2023 with the adoption of a final document to guide the Church into the future.
The Asian Church has not yet woken up to this reality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning/queer (LGBTQ) Catholics despite their growing numbers in the most populated continent.
The Vatican, though, is inching closer to LGBTQ Catholics, particularly those in the US, where they have a strong presence. On April 5, Sister Nathalie Becquart, a Vatican undersecretary, addressed a gathering in the US adorned with rainbow-colored centerpieces and LGBTQ flags. “A listening church is a church that begins by listening,” the Xavière missionary sister said.
"The aim of a synod is to foster communion and build a consensus,” Sister Becquart said via Zoom from Rome to LGBTQ Catholics from 37 countries.
The Synod of Bishops, where Sister Becquart works as undersecretary, is a deliberative and advisory body set up in the 1960s. Pope Francis is using the body to come clean on some of the hot-button issues like LGBTQ that have rocked the Church in recent years.
The Vatican has been softening its stance to repair the rift between the Catholic hierarchy and the gay community since the synodal process started
Sister Becquart also serves as a member of the Dicastery for Communication. Her presence at an event hosted by the New Ways Ministry, whose two founders were censured by the Vatican doctrine office in 1999 for refusing to accept the Church's complete teachings on homosexuality, is a sign that Pope Francis wants the synod to discuss issues that were unwelcome in Catholic spaces earlier.
Based in Maryland, the New Ways Ministry claims to be a pastoral outreach for the LGBTQ community and their families and tries to act as a bridge between them and the Church.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, termed the event historic as a Vatican official was addressing an LGBTQ community.
The Vatican has been softening its stance to repair the rift between the Catholic hierarchy and the gay community since the synodal process started.
In December 2021, a Vatican official apologized for removing a reference to the New Ways Ministry on the Vatican website. It was restored later on its Resources page that directs visitors to sources of information about the synod.
The website featured a New Ways Ministry video that urged LGBTQ Catholics to participate in the consultation process. The website also showcases the US Conference of Catholic Bishops and the archdioceses of Boston and Newark.
“Apologies are powerful in their ability to build bridges of reconciliation and justice," said DeBernardo, referring to the apology tendered by the synod’s communications director Thierry Bonaventura.
When the powerful German Church openly defied the Holy See pronouncement that priests cannot bless same-sex unions in May 2021, the Vatican did not initiate any action, fearing repercussions
LGBTQ Catholics and the LGBTQ community are armed with growing bargaining power.
Led by the LGBT+ Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council and Global Network of Rainbow Catholics, the community is on a collision course with the UK government on conversion therapies mainly undertaken by the Catholic clergy and pastors of Protestant churches.
The LGBT community must have “our voices heard on this matter,” they said in a statement and urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to include a ban on conversion therapy.
Nick Herbert, the prime minister’s LGBT adviser, expressed concern over the decision not to include transgender people in the ban on conversion practices.
Due to the standoff, the UK government was forced to cancel its first international conference on LGBTQ+ rights after the withdrawal of at least 100 organizations.
When the powerful German Church openly defied the Holy See pronouncement that priests cannot bless same-sex unions in May 2021, the Vatican did not initiate any action, fearing repercussions.
The open blessing was the pushback against the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ban which came into force in March asking Catholic clergy not to bless same-sex unions because God “cannot bless sin.”
In Sri Lanka, the LGBT community is at the forefront of the protests against the government as the country faces a severe foreign exchange crisis
In Asia, the LGBTQ community has already made its presence felt, which the Asian Church cannot ignore.
The Catholic-majority Philippines has shown some openness to the LGBT community. In 2016, the first transgender woman, Geraldine Roman, was elected to Congress. Three years later, President Rodrigo Duterte claimed that he had “cured” himself of homosexuality with the help of beautiful women.
Japan has started to accept the LGBT community. A center serving as a safe space for LGBTQ people and other sexual minorities will open this month. The Pride Center Osaka will provide an on-site consultation specialist for not just LGBTQ people but also their parents and other people.
In Sri Lanka, the LGBT community is at the forefront of the protests against the government as the country faces a severe foreign exchange crisis, reported the Indian news agency ANI.
This year’s Singapore government survey on LGBT+ issues received more than 30,000 overwhelming responses when it closed on March 23. A government spokesperson said the responses “far exceed the usual number of responses.” In the survey, respondents were quizzed on their views on the treatment of LGBT+ people and whether they supported the community and its causes.
The Singapore government is also mulling adding changes to Section 377A, which criminalizes gay sex with jail terms of up to two years.
The Asian Church can take a few tips from the US and German churches when it comes to the LGBTQ community during the synodal process. The largest discussion process in human history may herald a change in the Church's teachings on gender and sexuality.
* The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.
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