Today’s post comes from guest contributor Mara Klein. Mara was a nonbinary, young adult delegate to the Synodal Way in Germany, a process which was quite LGBTQ-positive. They participated in the working group on sexuality and relationships, and were recently elected to the permanent Synodal Committee in Germany. Mara previously wrote for Bondings 2.0 about their experience of the Synodal Way, available here, as well as spoke during a New Ways Ministry panel on LGBTQ+ issues and synodality, available here. To learn more about the German Synodal Way and LGBTQ+ issues, click here.
On March 11th, the Synodal Way of the Catholic Church in Germany concluded after three years of discussions and decisions. The final Assembly in March was an emotional rollercoaster for queer people in attendance, like me, and others watching from home. In the end, it became a source of hope.
Two major documents for LGBTQ+ equality were up for final debate: one discussing blessings for same-gender couples and the other concerning rights for transgender and intersex people in the church. I served in the working group for the two documents. On the Assembly’s second day, the text endorsing blessings passed with the necessary two-thirds majority of bishops voting in favor. Due to time limitations, the text on gender diversity, also scheduled for a vote that day, was postponed to the following day. A majority of the Assembly deemed it important enough to even start debate on the text an hour earlier the next morning.
It was not clear if the gender diversity text would pass given that many other Assembly texts were subjected to massive, last-minute changes by the bishops. Because of these last-minute changes, quite a few texts, like that concerning women’s rights in the church, evolved from acceptable texts with signs of compromise into weak and shallow echoes of what they could have been. Given that the bishops did not offer substantive changes to the gender diversity text, I suspected it probably would not pass at all. The days and hours leading up to the debate were incredibly tense, as we supporters, tried to think of how we might have to save the document.
Something remarkable happened: the vast majority of speakers that morning publicly supported the text. These speakers included several supportive bishops, notably a member of the Australian Bishops’ Conference who was invited as an international guest. Just before the final vote, a member of the working group that prepared the document spoke up about his own experiences being intersex, which was not common knowledge until that point. His brave testimony helped the gender diversity text pass with of 95.51 % of the assembly. Of nearly 200 members in the Assembly, just eight voted no and 19 abstained. It’s still hard to believe this incredible outcome happened.
When the Synodal Way began three years ago, the topic of gender diversity was far from most members’ minds. Now, this document is a milestone in addressing the interests of transgender, intersex, and genderqueer people.
And the work does not end with the Assembly’s conclusion. The next step will be to assemble a working group consisting of bishops, lay people, experts, and genderqueer people to discuss this topic and the suggestions made in the Synodal Way text. Meanwhile, all bishops are invited to follow further suggestions made by the text, such as allowing changes to a person’s baptismal records, providing LGBTQ+ education to church workers, and ensure equal access to church spaces. Catholics need to call upon the bishops to back their votes by establishing these local working groups. (For a full explanation of the document’s proposals, click here.)
The Synodal Way’s vision of gender diversity may expand beyond Germany, too. The text suggests Pope Francis and all bishops reevaluate the church’s anthropology of gender, appreciation of trans and intersex people, respect for their human rights, and their access to church employment, including ordination.
For me, the Synodal Way didn’t end with the final Assembly. At the meeting, I was elected to join a soon-to-be-established Synodal Committee, which will work on ensuring future synodality within the Catholic Church in Germany. I’m grateful that I will have the opportunity to make our queer voices heard in this process for another three years.
Today, my prayers especially go out to all my transgender siblings, who are living in very uncertain and frightening circumstances at the moment, and to LGBTI people in Uganda and other countries where we are not safe. I hope that our struggles as German LGBTQ+ people and allies to achieve majority votes for these documents at the Synodal Way may contribute to change within the church more widely so that it can fulfill its mission to protect the marginalized and be with the persecuted.
—Mara Klein, April 18, 2023