Last weekend, in a surprise announcement, the Vatican released a new constitution for the Roman Curia. Many observers are praising it as significant reform, but is this restructuring good news for LGBTQ Catholics?
The document, titled Praedicate Evangelium (“Preach the Gospel”), restructures the Roman Curia, the host of offices which support the pope in governing the Catholic Church. This new constitution has been in development since the election of Pope Francis nine years ago, and it does many things: opens Curia leadership to lay people, refocuses on evangelization, elevates the church’s charitable works, seeks to reform financial structures, and streamlines (hopefully) the labyrinth of Vatican offices. (To read a more in-depth description of the changes, click here.)
Many LGBTQ advocates might, at first glance, overlook what seem like administrative reforms. How meaningful (or interesting) could a Vatican restructuring actually be? The offices in Rome often have little to do with the faithful’s engagement in their local parishes. But a closer look reveals developments that could further the cause of equality in the church. In this post, I will take up three ways in which Praedicate Evangelium impacts our LGBTQ efforts, although this is certainly not an exhaustive list.
First, perhaps most significantly for LGBTQ Catholics, there is a shift in the focus of the Curia’s work from doctrinal matters to evangelization. Previously, the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith was the most important office in the Curia with explicit or implicit oversight over everything else. Now, though all offices (known as a “dicasteries”) are supposedly equal, the new Dicastery for Evangelization is the first among equals. It is at the top of the list of dicasteries, now even above the doctrinal office. And Pope Francis is the head of this Dicastery for Evangelization whereas, historically, popes had headed up the doctrinal office.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has, in many ways, set the official agenda for church leaders’ approach to LGBTQ issues for several decades. It was this congregation which released the 1986 letter that introduced “objective disorder” language to refer to a homosexual orientation. It was this congregation that investigated, censured, and tried to silence Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Robert Nugent, co-founders of New Ways Ministry. It was this congregation which rejected. civil unions for same-gender couples. And it was this congregation which just last year issued a ban on blessing LGBTQ couples.
But this office, known now as the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF), is no longer most important. It does not set the agenda for the church, including on LGBTQ issues. Evangelization does. And an evangelical framework for LGBTQ ministry could be entirely different, emphasizing accompaniment and inclusion instead of condemnation and control. Reforms by Pope Francis earlier this year regarding this office, on which Bondings 2.0 reported previously, could yield further positive results.
Second, Praedicate Evangelium opens the possibility for lay people to lead Vatican offices. The basis for governance is no longer ordination, but “canonical mission” rooted in baptism and papal appointment. This could ripple outwards over time in a total restructuring of power in the church. It is unlikely to happen any time soon, but this new constitution means an openly LGBTQ lay person could one day head, say, the Dicastery for the Laity, Family, and Life, another office that is directly relevant to LGBTQ issues. While that might be a dream, at the very least, we can see more lay people appointed to these top positions. Such a development, coupled with the new institution of term limits on how long clergy can spend in a Vatican post (two terms of five years each), might curtail some of the clericalism—and clerical homophobia—that has been so toxic.
Third, the adage that personnel is policy still applies. Even as some departments are merged and others eliminated, the question of who is appointed to lead each dicastery will continue to strongly shape how a curial office works. But Pope Francis has been working efficiently (at least in comparison to “church time”) to prioritize leaders who are pastorally-oriented, open to dialogue, and engaged with the world. And restructuring gives the pope a major opportunity to ensure that such posts are filled with good people sooner rather than later. These new ecclesiastical leaders are, on the whole, far more open to LGBTQ inclusion than their predecessors, albeit imperfectly.
Much more in Praedicate Evangelium picks up on Pope Francis’ favored themes of synodality, co-responsibility, and decentralization. For example, more power is given to national bishops’ conferences instead of the Vatican. We see the benefit of such a shift in Germany where great strides are being made for church reform, particularly on LGBTQ issues.
Since this constitution is only the fifth time in five centuries that the Curia has been restructured, it will take years to understand well how effective or impactful these reforms are. Technical changes can be implemented quickly. Changing a culture takes longer. Nonetheless, I am confident that a new mode of being for the Roman Curia is overall good news for LGBTQ Catholics and their allies. It is moving us to be a church that is synodal and inclusive, which values the participation of all the faithful as co-responsible partners for the evangelical mission Christ set before us.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, March 24, 2022