Vatican Says Trans People Can be Baptized, Serve as Godparents

Pope Francis. Credit:, Wikimedia Commons.

The Vatican this week released a document that says transgender people, under certain circumstances, can be baptized, serve as godparents, and serve as witnesses to Catholic weddings.

The document, which was signed by Pope Francis and a high-level Vatican cardinal, was released Nov. 8 on the website of the Vatican’s Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Among other conditions it appears to set, the document says a trans person, including those who have had gender affirmation surgery, can be baptized if the person is not likely to cause a “scandal.” It says a trans person can also serve as a godparent if there is no “risk of scandal” to the church.

The LGBT Catholic organizations New Ways Ministry and Dignity USA issued statements saying they would have preferred the Vatican to advance its support more definitively for transgender Catholics and LGBTQ Catholics in general, but they consider the latest statement an important step in the right direction.

“This development confirms that the pope and high-ranking church leaders do not perceive gender identity as a de facto barrier for participating in Catholic sacraments,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry.

“This affirmation, itself a reversal of a previous Vatican decision, contrasts strikingly against the restrictions some U.S. bishops have imposed on LGBTQ+ people in recent years,” DeBernardo said. “Additionally, though the document appears to caution that people in same-gender relationships may not be suitable godparents, the new decision’s emphasis that ‘pastoral prudence’ be used on a case-by-case basis opens the possibilities for married gay people to serve in such roles,” he said.

“It is encouraging to see the Vatican making it clear that LGBTQ+ people are not automatically banned from our church’s sacraments,” said Dignity USA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke in a statement.

“There have been too many bishops and priests who have made it difficult for members of our community to receive sacraments like baptism and even Communion, which are central to our lives as Catholics,” Duddy-Burke said.

“We remain concerned that our identities continue to be seen as causing ‘scandal,’ as in this document, and would like to work with church leaders to clarify what that means,” her statement continues. “The reality is that majorities of Catholics already support full inclusion in our church, including access to the sacraments, for LGBTQIA+ people,” she said. “We continue our work to achieve full equality.”

The Vatican document says it was released in response to a letter submitted in July by a Brazilian bishop raising questions about the possible participation of LGBTQ people in baptisms and weddings.

Among those who have welcomed the Vatican document as an important advancement is the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and longtime advocate for LGBTQ inclusion in the Catholic Church, according to the Associated Press.

“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,” the AP quoted Martin as saying.

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

 Washington Blade courtesy of the National LGBTQ Media Association.


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