Synodal Way: Pope Francis, Bishops Must Act to Affirm Transgender and Intersex People

Yesterday, Bondings 2.0 reported on positive LGBTQ-related developments that occurred at the latest assembly of Germany’s Synodal Way. Today’s post looks more closely at one of the documents approved related to gender diversity.

The text, “Dealing with Gender Diversity,” was passed with a majority vote, including two-thirds of the bishops present.

Developed by the working group on sexuality and relationships, it offers a remarkably positive Catholic treatment of transgender and intersex people. In its first sentences, the text acknowledges that, in recent years, the church has been “focusing more closely” on gender identity with suspicion and in a way that “makes it difficult for [intersex and transgender people] to live their faith.” Intersex and transgender people are “increasingly being marginalised, patholigised and disparaged.”

The text continues by critiquing church teaching:

“. . . [T]he Magisterium largely ignores or disregards insights from psychology, medicine and anthropology, according to which gender also exhibits non-binary variants and displays other dimensions: gender identity (a person’s awareness of his or her own gender), and gender expression (the ways of acting and preferences which society frequently attributes to a specific gender). . .

“[Transgender and intersex people’s] exclusion from and disparagement by the Church sows doubts about their faith. Their trust in God is massively shaken when their own way of being, which they cannot change, is neither accepted nor supported.”

The text then puts forward two main proposals for how the church can better respond to transgender and intersex people in its midst. First, the focus is on the national level with a call for bishops to:

  • Allow gender to be left blank on baptismal records for intersex children or listed as “diverse,” with an easy option to later change this gender space if the person comes to identify with a particular gender.
  • Allow transgender people to change their baptismal record regarding their gender and first name consistent with their “civil status.”
  • Absent the sacrament of marriage, blessing ceremonies should be given to transgender and intersex Catholics who are partnered, accompanied by preparation courses. Such blessings would be available to couples where both partners are transgender or intersex, too.
  • Pastoral care for trans and intersex people should be “characterised by acceptance,” and training should be offered to church workers, as well as included in priestly formation for how to deal sensitively with LGBTQ issues.
  • There should be no discrimination against intersex or trans people when it comes to church employment, consistent with larger changes to the church’s labor law in Germany.

The Synodal Way’s other major proposal involves recommendations to Pope Francis to make it possible for trans and intersex people to participate in the church without facing hostility or discrimination. “This also includes explicitly distancing ourselves as a Church from views which portray intersex and transgender identities as abnormal, negative and/or even sinful,” states the text. It continues with five sub-proposals:

  • “The normative gender anthropology based on natural law, and its legitimation by having recourse to Biblical creation stories, needs to be verified with the insights of modern Biblical scholarship and theology.”
  • Church leaders and institutions must stop using  terms such as “gender ideology” or “LGBTIQ agenda” as blanket condemnations of gender diversity because such language has led to forms of violence and creates “great suffering” for many Catholics. The recommendation calls for church leaders and Catholics with political or social influence acting in the civil sphere to also avoid such language.
  • “The Church must respect the physical integrity of intersex people. The Vatican Congregation for Catholic Education must, without delay, revoke its call for medically-unnecessary interventions on intersex children.”
  • The church must condemn conversion therapy for all LGBTQ+ people.
  • “All ordained ministries and pastoral vocations in the Church should be open to the intersex and transgender baptised and confirmed people who sense a calling for themselves.”

The text ends with a page-long explanation of the reasoning behind these proposals, citing Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti and Jesus’ witness of accompanying marginalized people. The text concludes:

“Recent moral-theological, theological-anthropological, exegetical and pastoral-practical approaches already offer good argumentative foundations for reviewing the traditional, constricted gender anthropology in the Church’s doctrine, and fundamentally revising it in the light of the medical, biological and (neuro-)psychological knowledge that is available today. Transgender and intersex identities are realities which the Church has to face, and She must find a new way of dealing with them. Transgender and intersex individuals are part of God’s good Creation, and share in the inviolable dignity of human beings created in God’s image. Acknowledgement of the diversity of human ways of being, including in relation to gender identities, is part of a credible commitment to protecting this dignity, and must be the highest commandment guiding the Church’s actions, this also being so when it comes to dealing with transgender and intersex people.”

A fifth and final assembly will be held next year, but already some observers are calling the Synodal Way a success. Roland Müller, an editor at Katholisch.de, opined that it is not the resolutions themselves which matter most, but the process. He wrote, in part:

“. . .the success of the reform project is primarily due to the fact that representatives of the different camps in the church have sat down at one table: preservers and reformers, bishops and lay people, men and women. . .The hope remains that the spirit of synodality, which was and is felt at the assemblies and in the forums of the synodal path, will lead to far-reaching changes in the future. . .This coming together across the ideological rifts within the church can probably be seen as the greatest success of the synodal path so far.”

To ensure this synodal model of being together continues in Germany, the assembly overwhelmingly voted to create a permanent Synodal Council to handle issues affecting the national church in a collaborative way. Hopefully, these next steps will lead to concrete actions implementing the remarkable calls for inclusion, support, and non-discrimination that the text proposes regarding intersex and transgender people.

Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, September 16, 2022

4 replies
  1. Richard J Adams
    Richard J Adams says:

    Finally using God-given Intellect, Reason to face biological and neurological facts to face and accept Reality in human nature. These are Human Persons who have to deal with the physiological occurrences that are not of their CHOOSING.

    Reply

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