New Vatican document acknowledges concerns of LGBTQ Catholics

St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City.

A new Vatican document — to be used as part of an ongoing process regarding future Church doctrine — acknowledges that LGBTQ Catholics have asked for a more meaningful dialogue and a more welcoming space with the Church. The document also admits that LGBTQ parishoners “feel a tension between belonging to the Church and their own loving relationships.”

The document, titled “Enlarge the Space of Your Tent,” is a summary of listening sessions (also called synod conversations) attended by millions of Catholics around the world last year, and it will be used as a framework as Church leaders decide issues of doctrine, administration and application. Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Pérez has held synod conversations over the past year, including at LaSalle University. Opinions were also gathered from social media as part of a “Digital Synod.”

In addition to LGBTQ issues, other topics broached during the listening sessions include abortion, contraception, ordination of women, married clergy, celibacy, divorce, and remarriage.

“As a LGBTQ person of faith, I welcome the recent Vatican synod document to discuss greater acceptance of LGBTQ people,” Kevin Hanaway, who attended seminary in New Jersey, told PGN. “What is novel about this synod is it is reaching out to the world church rather than having a top-down approach. There is an attempt to listen to the needs of the faithful and to walk with them without judgement. Edicts from the Vatican have proven to be lifeless.”

The Vatican, which has long had a tumultuous relationship with the LGBTQ community, has seemed to go back and forth on LGBTQ issues in recent years. Pope Francis, who was elected in 2013, has taken a softer stance towards the community than his predecessors and has said the Church needs to find a new balance in its relationship with LGBTQ parishoners.

“I have felt hurt being labeled “intrinsically disordered” in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a LGBTQ person, and so have many other faithful LGBTQ Catholics,” Hanaway said. “By such language there is no place for dialogue. In the synod document there is a definite theme of enlarging the tent to seek meaningful dialogue and to be a more welcoming space.”

New Ways Ministry, which advocates for equity for LGBTQ people in the Church, held synod conversations among its members, many of whom did not believe their concerns would reach the higher levels of leadership.

“When New Ways Ministry held synod conversations, many LGBTQ people and supporters were skeptical that their input would be taken seriously,” New Ways Executive Director Francis DeBernardo said in a press release. “They feared being re-traumatized by a church which has too often ignored their concerns. We hope that this change of course will continue with further and deeper listening, discussion, and dialogue.”

DeBarnardo also said that the new Vatican document is a strong change from even a few years ago.

“The document acknowledges that LGBTQ issues have become central to Catholic discussions today. For decades, these topics were barely mentioned, and if they were raised, they were in a spirit of condemnation, not one of pastoral concern. A key indicator is that the document uses the term “LGBTQ” (and in one spot, “LGBTQIA). In 2018, when the Vatican used the shorter term “LGBT” in a Synod on Youth document, it caused an uproar. The term was eliminated from further reports from that event. “LGBTQ” now seems here to stay, and it is a sign of respect from the Vatican.”

New Ways Ministry continues to have synod conversations, including two sessions in November.

Nathanial Green, Interim Co-Executive Director for Q Christian Fellowship, told PGN that while the document is a positive sign, LGBTQ Catholics will continue to suffer until actual action is taken by the Church.

“We are encouraged to see the Vatican demonstrate a growing awareness of and sensitivity to the experiences of LGBTQ+ communities,” Green said, in an email. “Our hope is that this document represents a small but meaningful step toward a Catholicism that blesses, affirms, and celebrates LGBTQ+ identities and relationships. Nonetheless, Catholic communities know that the Spirit is calling the Church to full inclusion. As long as the Vatican refuses to heed this call, it will perpetuate tremendous harm at the cost of LGBTQ+ lives.”

Kenneth A. Gavin, Chief Communications Officer of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, told PGN in a written statement “The global synod convoked by Pope Francis has been an opportunity to remind Catholics around the world of our call to journey together, to listen to how the Holy Spirit continues to work through us, in our joys, in our concerns, in the challenges we face, and the opportunities we see. It’s not about how our lives inform the Gospel but rather how the Gospel informs our lives. To truly respond to that call, we need to create spaces for all those who share their most important identity as daughters and sons of God to share their journey and to learn from the journey of others.”

Despite the fact that the synod document is not official Church policy, Hanaway said that it should still be welcome news for LGBTQ Catholics.

“For the LGBTQ person of faith this will go a long way to lessen the tension in “belonging to the Church” and our own loving relationships. The beginning of a welcoming space is to walk without judgment. I look forward to the Synod and pray for a more inclusive Church and judgement-free space for LGBTQ people.”

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