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Church leaders say transgender baptism a tough ask in India

For conservative Indian Christians, LGBT issues are still a taboo subject, they say
An activist holds a rainbow flag in the courtyard of India’s Supreme Court in New Delhi on Oct. 17

An activist holds a rainbow flag in the courtyard of India’s Supreme Court in New Delhi on Oct. 17. (Photo: AFP)

Published: November 17, 2023 07:28 AM GMT
Updated: November 19, 2023 01:37 AM GMT

Christian leaders say the Indian Church with its diversity of Catholics would need more time to come to terms with the baptism of transgender people, approved by the Vatican on Nov. 8.

The issues surrounding lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual (LGBT) people are still “taboo in the Indian Church and society,” observed Father Stanislaus Alla, a moral theology teacher at Vidyajyoti College of Theology in the capital New Delhi.

Indian Catholics seldom discuss transgender issues in the family and with their children, the Jesuit priest noted.

Even though the Vatican’s move has opened up many possibilities for the transgender community, local "traditions and customs are likely to prevail in the Indian Church,” for some time, Alla told UCA News on Nov. 16 while welcoming the Holy See’s decision.

The priest was responding to a statement by the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, which said transgender people can be baptized within the Church if it does not create "public scandal or confusion among the faithful." 

The unprecedented statement signed by Pope Francis on Oct. 31 and made public on Nov. 8 also said transgender people, as well as those in same-sex relationships, can be accepted as baptismal sponsors or godparents and as witnesses at weddings.

Certainly, Indian Christians need more time to come to terms with" the Vatican moves, admitted Archbishop Emeritus Albert D'Souza of Agra, a former member of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India (CBCI) Office of Doctrine.

Baptizing transgender people involves social, ethical, moral, spiritual and theological issues, the prelate cited as the reasons for the delay in the Indian Church.

The baptism of transgender people will happen with the Indian Church once the practical difficulties are addressed, Archbishop D'Souza said.

James Valiath, a program manager at the Naz Foundation, which along with others pushed India’s top court to legalize gay sex in 2018, said Indian Christians still have difficulty in accepting transgender people.

The law has hardly made any difference in society, Valiath noted.

“It will be difficult to say whether Indian Christians will accept transgender people in the Church.”

Church leaders have to make a concerted effort to convince Christians about the rights of transgender people, he demanded.

The Catholic Secular Forum, a human rights body, welcomed the Vatican's decision. Its founder, Joseph Dias, said priests should prepare local communities to accept transgender people in the Church to prevent a scandal in the Church.

Indians are traditionally orthodox and hence the need for the bishops' conference to undertake a mass awareness campaign,  he said.

A Catholic priest, who works with transgender people in India’s commercial capital Mumbai, said that the Indian Church will take a long time “to accept transgender people in its fold as they are treated as untouchables," a practice in the caste-ridden Hindu society where lower caste people are considered untouchables and destined to toil for others.

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3 Comments on this Story
VIRGINIA SALDANHA
I am really sad to hear the negative comments from Bishops and clergy, who are supposed to represent Jesus to the community. Are not LGBT+ persons human persons, born from human parents that they talk about them as if they have just invaded our society from another planet that they have to debate about giving them baptism? I wish they had been more positive and tried to educate the people instead, because that is their job. What would Jesus have done? There is no one who came to Jesus and went away without their human dignity being acknowledged and healed.
JIBY JOYCE
The debate should not be about whether Christians should accept Transgender people or not, it should be about how can Church become more inclusive towards faith followers who come in different identities. Church isn't built based on Christians, it's built based on the principles of Christ and He is the most inclusive one can find in the history. Transgender people have been a part of the faith system ever since the establishment of the churches and not involving them, only proves that the principles of Christ isn't of any value for the authorities of Church, rather are busy pleasing the church members. It is high time that Christian religious organisations in India must change their view on the LGBTQ faith followers and allow them an equal status, just like any other faith follower in the church.
RAY
The priests in the Catholic Church (yes, you, Fr Stanislaus Alla) need to stop thinking with their penis and start using their God-given brain. A successful Baptism involves AGREEMENT, UNDERSTANDING, and CONSENT of the person/parent, and I do not understand why you would need to look into their pants to judge whether they deserve to be Baptised or not. I do wish the priests in the Catholic Church PRACTICE the mercy they always preach about.
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