At Upcoming Synod, Youth Want Wider Conversation on Sexuality

Lizzie Sextro

Today, Bondings 2.0 is excited to announce the newest member of our blogging team, Lizzie Sextro. Lizzie is originally from St. Louis, Missouri, graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a BA in Theology and English in 2016. She is currently working toward her Master of Theological Studies degree at the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College. Her area of focus within theology is systematics and specifically theological anthropology.  Welcome, Lizzie!


In preparation for the upcoming Synod of Bishops in October 2018 on “young people, faith and vocational discernment,” 20 young Catholics, 70 theologians, and dozens of  priests and academics gathered in Rome from September 11-15 to begin preliminary conversations around the Synod’s theme.

St. Peter’s Basilica

According to Crux, philosopher and sexologist Therese Hargot ensured that sex became a major topic of conversation during the seminar. “Young people want to talk about sexuality and love,” Hargot said. Although the 5-day seminar was full of discussions and talks planned by the cardinal’s office on a variety of other topics, Hargot emphasized that young people have a distinct interest in talking about sexuality. Echoing Hargot’s concerns, Australian youth delegate Ashleigh Green expressed that young people have the desire to be heard when it comes to “issues that matter to them.” And among these issues  are sex, sexuality, and sexual orientation..  

National Catholic Reporter reported that at an earlier meeting, some bishops  expressed a desire to listen to young Catholics and include their voices in the conversation.  In June, Cardinal Joseph Tobin told his fellow bishops that the synod should be a time to listen:

“This is a time to learn from youth and young adults, to listen to their stories and to engage them in authentic dialogue,” he said. “We can also remember that youth and young adults are the agents, not the objects, of this process and of this synod. So they must have as much at stake in this as we do.”

Indeed the synod was called as a response to the declining number of Catholic people under the age of 30 who identify with the faith.To give youth a chance to express themselves, the Vatican released a survey that asks young Catholics to answer 53 questions revolving around faith, relationships, and life. The answers to this survey will serve as foundational data for the October 2018 synod.

U.S. bishops have a wide variety of thoughts regarding the participation of young people in the Church and potential topics that need to be addressed at the synod. While Bishop Jaime Soto of Sacramento expressed the need for the synod to engage with youth who worry about their immigration status, Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City expressed the concern that young people are enslaved by their own apparent “freedom from moral norms.”

Although the institutional church is expressing a desire to engage in dialogue with young Catholics, we ought to continue to ask which young voices are being prioritized in the conversation. At the Vatican seminar, Severine Deneulin, a professor at the University of Bath, England, voiced her concern that the Church does not hear the voices of women: “If we are worried about leadership in the church, why do we ignore half the church?”

In a column posted at Catholic, Hosffman Ospino, a professor at the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College voices similar concerns regarding inclusion of Hispanic youth. Ospino points to the fact that 60 percent of U.S. Catholics under the age of 18 are Hispanic, and almost half of all U.S. Catholic millennials are Hispanic. Will the online survey reach this overwhelming population of Hispanic youth? Ospino says posting the survey alone will be insufficient: instead, the Church needs to make an concerted effort to “go out to the peripheries where they live.”

So what about sex? And sexuality and sexual orientation? As we draw closer to the synod in the next year, and as conversation continues between clergy and young Catholics, we ought not to omit the voices of people of color, gay and lesbian people, women, and trans folks. The energy surrounding young Catholic voices is an opportunity for marginalized young people to take their place at the table and offer their perspectives.

However, it is still the responsibility of the synod organizers to actively set a place for these people, to reach out and extend the invitation, and to prioritize voices that are often ignored in society. A “preferential option” must be given to gay youth, trans youth, Hispanic youth, black youth, and young women. Topics of sex and sexuality with arise naturally if these voices are given the spotlight.

Yes, young people do want to talk about sexuality and love. In fact, many young people want to expand the normative definitions of sexuality and love to include their own experiences. We ought to see what happens when we not only allow, but prioritize marginalized youth in the upcoming synod.

Lizzie Sextro, New Ways Ministry, October 2, 2017

3 replies
  1. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    “Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City expressed the concern that young people are enslaved by their own apparent ‘freedom from moral norms'”? I think a good many of the hierarchy are “enslaved” by traditions, biases, and obedience to higher-ups. I do hope that a broad range of youths are included – male, female, trans, of all races and ethnicities, and that their concerns are heard, without being suppressed or excluded from the discussion. It is long past time to open wide the doors and windows, as John XXIII would say, and let the winds of the spirit blow through.

  2. Kris
    Kris says:

    The first sentence-paragraph of this article sets the usual, depressing scene vis-à-vis the institutional Church and its ‘concern’ to listen to others: “20 young Catholics, 70 theologians, and dozens of priests and academics to gather in Rome…”

    Seriously? Twenty young Catholics? Twenty? Out of how many (middle-aged and older) others?

    These twenty will make up no more than one fifth (probably less) of the total number of delegates. And yet this preliminary is being billed as one concerned with the forthcoming synodal theme of “young people, faith, and vocational discernment”.

    Yes, the institutional Church will give the young a hearing, but it will, should the need arise, ensure their voices are drowned out by older, more conservative ones.

    Remember Pope Francis’ Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors? It, too, was to give voice to those supposedly at the center of its concerns: survivors of sexual abuse by priests. But where are the two token abuse survivors now? Both, dissatisfied, felt compelled to resign from the Commission.

    Any young person who takes part in this Roman preliminary will be giving weight to a charade.

  3. Michael
    Michael says:

    I agree with John H and it is interesting to note that so many of the ‘executive’ of this proposed synod appear to be older men. While our elders may well have many years of esperience, will the voices of young people – especially the LGBTI community – really be heard?


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *