Today’s post comes from guest contributor Mara Klein. Mara is a nonbinary, young adult delegate to the Synodal Way in Germany, a process which has been quite LGBTQ-positive. Mara participates in the working group on sexuality and relationships. To learn more about the Synodal Way and LGBTQ issues, click here.
I became part of the Synodal Way, a process of reform within the Catholic Church in Germany, in December 2019. While connecting with a group of other young queer Catholics, I learned that there was an open call for 15 participants under age 30. Little did I know then that not only would I be accepted as one of those 15, but that I would gain some sort of publicity as the only nonbinary delegate of the Synodal Way. Furthermore, two years after the synodal process began, I would also become part of #OutInChurch, a campaign of queer Catholic church workers who outed themselves–the biggest outing of queer Catholics yet!
At the first meeting of the Synodal Way’s Assembly in February 2020, I had my personal coming out in the church moment when I came out as nonbinary in front of the assembled bishops and other members of the conference. I didn’t intend for it to be a coming out moment. A bishop was expressing his discomfort with the process’ focus on victims of sexual abuse and power abuse by church officials. So, I initially spoke up to remind especially the bishops of their unmatched clerical privilege, and I contrasted that with the discomfort, anxiety and violence victims of sexual abuse by clerics and marginalized groups typically endure in Catholic spaces—including the Synodal Way— which as a young nonbinary person I was experiencing.
The Synodal Way has come a long way since that first Assembly meeting. Back then, I didn‘t really have a comprehension of the structures of which I had just become a part. In hindsight, I‘m glad I didn’t know. My words to the bishops still ring true to me today. But I find that being part of the process has also made me more reluctant to speak up. It‘s an odd thing that we‘re so tongue tied around authorities even if we know that our complaints are valid. I suspect it‘s part of what keeps unjust systems going. Yet, part of me sees the accomplishments of the last two years and that can‘t help but be hopeful.
The Synodal Assembly is comprised of four working groups with different focus points, each of which will produce texts. The one I‘m working with is committed to matters of sexuality and relationships. Two other members of the panel are queer, Hendrik Johannemann and Mirjam Gräve. We became fast friends and, together, advocated the urgency of addressing queer rights.
Our initiative led to the December 2021 publication of a book featuring testimonies of queer Catholics. With significant support from most of the members of our working group, we developed quite a few proposals concerning queer rights that have yet to be adopted by the Synodal Assembly. These texts demand a reevaluation of homosexuality in the Catechism, the possibility of blessings for queer couples, an adjustment of the Catholic labor law to make discrimination against LGBTQ+ church workers illegal, and recognition and equality for intersex and trans people. The first three of these texts have passed through the Synodal Assembly on the first of two required votes, helped along greatly by the timing of #OutInChurch, which went viral one week prior to the latest Assembly.
After the major setbacks of 2021, namely the ban on blessings for same-gender couples and the Synodal Assembly voting against the discussion of equal matrimonial rights for queers, I feel like #OutInChurch has managed to create awareness both within the Synodal Assembly and in the public eye. It‘s a special kind of joy to be connected to other queer people in church in this way. For me, the visibility of other trans and nonbinary people especially gives me hope and renews my conviction that I‘m fighting for the right reasons. My sense of community is once again strengthened due to the overwhelming responses from outside the queer community through signs of support by allies,Catholic networks, and university departments.
Despite all these advances, my experience is still very ambivalent. Among other things, there is still a chance that our texts will fail in the second vote. Also, even if they pass, it is certain that not all bishops will be inclined to follow the demands. The text on intersex and trans rights is still to be introduced to the Assembly for the first time, and there was difficult debate over the text in the working group sessions alone. I don‘t expect it will pass easily, if at all.
I learned a lot during the last two years and I came a long way from who I was. In hopeful moments, I see a similar development within the larger Catholic Church. However, I can‘t be sure that the development is enough. My faith is strengthened, but my loyalty to the church is significantly weaker than before. My loyalty lies now, without question, with the people who are suffering from oppression and power abuse by the church and its officials, and with myself. Perhaps the most painful and at the same time most liberating part of the process was to become aware that by deciding to stay, I consciously chose an institution that recognizes neither my identity nor my rights and is not even set on changing anytime soon.
In the end, though, everything that‘s going on also shows me the church I will always be part of: people who passionately support change, people who let themselves be changed, and people who have the courage to stand up for human rights and their faith against all odds.
—Mara Klein, May 10, 2022