Anthony Aragon (left) and David Westman become one of the first same-sex couples to be issued a civil union license in Denver, Colorado, in the United States on May 1, 2013. (Photo: AFP)
Same-sex unions are proving to be a hard nut to crack for the Vatican as transgender people are set to gain ground with the universal phase of the synodal process in 2023.
When the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith attempted to ban clerics imparting blessings on same-sex unions in March, the result was far from ending the “intrinsic evil.” It opened up a wider discussion and affirmation of same-sex rights, particularly in Germany where LGBTQ discussions are part of the ongoing synodal process.
The Vatican dicastery of the Synod of Bishops faced criticism when it removed a link to a US-based Catholic gay rights advocacy group. It restored the link on Dec. 13 and apologized for "causing pain to the entire LGBTQ community."
It did not end there. Thierry Bonaventura, communications manager of the general secretariat of the Synod of Bishops, also encouraged LGBTQ people to participate in synod consultations.
Pope Francis spearheaded the synodal process and decentralization of authority to help all Catholics have a say in dealing with a variety of topics, including hot-button issues like clerical abuse, ordination of women, abortion and same-sex unions.
The LGBTQ community is pinning its hopes on the synodal process, the largest consultation exercise in human history, to get more legitimacy.
Apologies are powerful in their ability to build bridges of reconciliation and justice
Dioceses all over the globe began the primary local phase of the synod in October. The second phase at continental level will take place from September 2022 to March 2023 and the universal phase will begin at the Vatican in October 2023.
In the apology, Bonaventura added that it is the wish of the entire general secretariat of the synod “not to exclude those who wish to carry out this synodal process with a sincere heart and a spirit of dialogue and real discernment.”
While taking down the link of the New Ways Ministry on Dec. 7, Bonaventura cited the disapproval of the LGBT outreach ministry in 2010 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). It is included in the category of “informal organizations” on the Synod of Bishops’ website.
Set up 1977 in the Archdiocese of Washington by Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent, the founders were given notice by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1999, signed by its then head Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI.
In 2010, Cardinal Francis George, then head of the USCCB, categorically stated that the New Ways Ministry “has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church.”
However, Bonaventura said the contents of the New Ways Ministry do not express the views of the general secretary of the Synod of Bishops or of the Vatican.
“Apologies are powerful in their ability to build bridges of reconciliation and justice,” the New Ways Ministry said in a statement, adding that it will help “in repairing the rift that exists between LGBTQ people and Catholic institutions.”
The Synod of Bishops has created a channel for LGBTQ people to air their views. This example should be followed by other dioceses, the New Ways Ministry demanded in the statement.
The Church in Asia often does not take the LGBTQ issue seriously, presuming it to be a Western-centric cause. Just like synodality is universal in nature, the campaign to make the LGBTQ community a part of the mainstream is also global. Many Asian governments have already started enacting pro-LGBTQ policies.
The hierarchical Church in Asia will also face the LGBTQ issue during the synodal process at continental level from September 2022. Prior to that, it can act to stave off some of the ordeals faced by European and US dioceses.
Taiwan was the first Asian country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2019. India, Japan, Nepal and Hong Kong are discussing ways to find some legal status for same-sex unions.
Several same-sex marriage petitions are pending in Indian courts. In Japan, a draft bill was introduced in 2019 seeking to allow same-sex marriage. Nepal's Supreme Court favored same-sex marriage in 2008 and wanted parliament to form a committee to examine the issue.
By the universal phase of the synodal process in October 2023, the Vatican will be forced to make its stand clear on the LGBTQ community
Things are moving fast in Asia in favor of social acceptability of same-sex unions. The hierarchy ignoring these developments and keeping quiet on such issues in the synod will only make the Church irrelevant in modern Asia.
Taken together, Pope Francis has shown great pastoral accompaniment for the LGBTQ community. Among the national churches, the Church in Germany has taken up the LGBTQ cause vehemently in the synodal path, raising the hopes of the LGBTQ community.
The 2023 synod follows four earlier synods under Pope Francis: 2014 and 2015 on the family, 2018 on the youth, and 2019 on the Amazon. The synods of family and youth reiterated existing teachings and failed to impart anything tangible for transgender Catholics.
While scores of Catholic parishes are doing outreach to LGBTQ people and a number of bishops and priests are blessing lesbian and gay couples, the Church has yet to get its act together on same-sex unions.
By the universal phase of the synodal process in October 2023, the Vatican will be forced to make its stand clear on the LGBTQ community and its place in the synodal Church.
The Synod of Bishops may have something in store for the LGBTQ community. However, a lot depends on the hierarchy’s commitment to synodality, which should include all minority communities including sexual minorities.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.