This week in Rome, some 300 youth and young adults are meeting from around the world in advance of October’s Synod on “Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment.”
The three U.S. delegates to the meeting this week are Katie Prejean-McGrady, Br. Javier Hansen, FSC, and Nick López. Each delegate’s background has been made public and it looks like they may not represent the overwhelmingly LGBT-positive views of U.S. Catholic young people fairly. Prejean-McGrady is a speaker and author with ties to conservative groups, and a graduate of the highly-conservative University of Dallas. Hansen is a De La Salle brother who teaches high school religion. López is campus minister at the University of Dallas.
It is perhaps unrealistic to expect U.S. church leaders to have chosen young adult representatives who publicly reject certain church teachings or expressed discomfort with the Church. But dissenting voices would more honestly and realistically represent the droves of Catholic youth and young adults in the U.S. who have either left the Church entirely or openly reject teachings on sexuality and gender. If, as organizer Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri said, the Church seeks to speak with and not just about young people, then church officials must be willing to widen their listening beyond conservative perspectives.
Furthermore, LGBT youth and young adults deserve to have their voices included in the Vatican’s quest for a diversity of voices reflecting the global Church. The Synod on the Family only got as far as hosting the Australian parents of a gay child. On sexual orientation at least, that Synod was largely a feedback loop. The result was that LGBT issues were barely included and handled in a mixed way when Pope Francis finally published his post-synodal apostolic exhortation. Amoris Laetitia.
If the Synod on Youth hopes to grapple truly with issues affecting youth, young adults, their faith, and vocational discernment, then it has to honestly address situations like the firing of a young lesbian teacher, the ban on young gay men entering the priesthood (not to mention women’s ordination), and the beauty and truth in same-gender relationships that are affirmed by most U.S. Catholic youth.
In his opening address to this week’s meeting, Pope Francis encouraged attendees to “be brave” and “say what you have to say.” He added, “We need to dare to have new sentiments, even if it means taking risks. . .Everyone has the right to be listened to, just like everyone has the right to speak.” It is time for the Synod’s organizers and church leaders to start taking these words seriously.
A closed Facebook group was established for English-speaking Catholic youth and young adults to submit written or video answers to a series of questions. Below, I share some of the more LGBT-related answers I submitted to hopefully highlight gender and sexuality issues that need to be addressed. I surveyed my social media friends to develop these answers. Whether you are age 16-29 or not, what else would you add? Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section below.
In these times, what relationships, emotional experiences, specific events and places primarily determine the identity of younger generations?
Stories are incredibly powerful. When it comes to lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender, and intersex (LGBTQI) inclusion, youth and young adults in the U.S. are widely affirming of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions in large part because they have come to know intimately the stories of LGBTQI people. Their family members and friends, along with public figures, are coming out in greater numbers. Social, cultural, and legal milestones on LGBTQI equality are being reached with increasing frequency.
These stories and experiences are therefore quite determinative of how today’s U.S. youth and young adults approach issues of gender and sexuality. We affirm the need for each person to live openly and authentically as God created them. We know the goodness of same-gender relationships. We seek a world and a Church where everyone is welcomed without qualification.
Thankfully, widening acceptance is allowing more LGBTQI youth and young adults to embrace their identities, to come out, and to lead flourishing lives as God intended. For most youth and young adults, be they LGBTQI or not, the question of equality has become a litmus test for institutions. The institutional Church can continue to ignore this truth, but to its own detriment.
What challenges and opportunities come to light in our increasingly interconnected, multicultural and interreligious world, where, unfortunately, differences and divisions are intensifying?
From the perspective of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) inclusion, U.S. youth and young adults, including Catholics, have become increasingly accepting of people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. For LGBTQI-affirming Catholics, this acceptance has been because of their faith and not in spite of it. Church teachings on human dignity, non-discrimination, and respect for difference are central to Catholic youth and young adult’s support for equality.
One key challenge that arises is the growing dissonance between where most youth and young adults, including Catholics, are in affirming LGBTQI people’s human rights and where the institutional Church remains. Equality for all people is, according to one theologian, a litmus test for youth and young adults. Is every person who shows up at a Catholic church shown an unconditional welcome? That is the expectation and, if it is not met, the exodus of young people from the Church will only continue, and likely even expand.
What dreams do young people have for themselves and for the society in which they live? How are they striving to realize these aspirations?
One dream of U.S. youth and young adults is full equality—legal, social, cultural, religious—for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) people. For the majority of Catholic youth and young adults in the U.S., this dream of full equality includes full acceptance in the Catholic Church. This aspiration is already being realized in many U.S. contexts, and will only continue to grow with successive generations. Many youth and young adult Catholics who choose to remain (and it is helpful to remember that the vast majority leave before age 20 often because of the institutional Church’s exclusion of LGBTQI people) specifically seek out LGBTQI-welcoming, social justice-oriented parishes and faith communities. Furthermore, these Catholic youth and young adults advocate in other contexts for LGBTQI equality, acting because of their faith and not in spite of it.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, March 21, 2018