The Roman Catholic Church remains staunchly opposed to same-sex relationships, but it is taking a couple of tentative steps to reach out to LGBT members, using the term “LGBT” for the first time in an official Vatican document and inviting an LGBT-friendly priest to speak at a major conference.
A document designed to guide discussions at the Synod on Youth, a bishops’ meeting to be held in Rome in October, uses the LGBT initialism. "Some LGBT youth ... wish to 'benefit from greater closeness' and experience greater care from the Church," states the document, which was released Tuesday, according to the National Catholic Reporter.
“Its use of the acronym seems significant, as the Catholic Church has in the past formally referred to gay people as ‘persons with homosexual tendencies,’" the Reporter notes. Pope Francis has used “gay” in interviews and conversations, but not in official documents.
In a press conference, Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the secretary general of the Vatican's synod office, “said his office decided to make the Vatican's first use of the LGBT acronym to refer to gay people because the March pre-synodal meeting of young people used the term and his office was ‘diligent’ about respecting the young people's work,” according to the Reporter.
Francis DeBernado, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which works for LGBT inclusion in the church, praised the use of “LGBT” as well as the document’s acknowledgement that LGBT people want to be part of the church and the indication that Vatican officials paid attention to the concerns of LGBT young people. But he said the church needs to go further.
“While these three developments are welcome changes in the church’s style of discourse, it must be noted that there is nothing in the new document which indicates that the Vatican is, as yet, willing to entertain changes in church policy on LGBT issues,” he said in an online statement. “The furthest they have gone is to indicate a willingness to work towards being a ‘community open and welcoming towards all.’ This pastoral approach is important, but the Church’s outreach cannot end there.
“The proof of the Vatican’s openness to LGBT issues will be how these topics are addressed at the Synod itself: Will LGBT youths be represented as speakers to the assembly? Will voices expressing dissent on LGBT issues be allowed by speakers who address the bishops? If the Vatican does not enact such changes at the upcoming synod, the language of the [document] will go down in history as lip-service — which youth are keenly adept at recognizing.”
In another move, the Vatican has invited Rev. James Martin, an advocate for church outreach to LGBT people, to address its World Meeting of Families, to be held in Dublin in August. He is the author of Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity.
He told the Associated Press it is “immensely significant” that he has been invited to speak at the conference. “The message from the Vatican to LGBT Catholics is this: you belong,” said Martin, who has seen several speaking engagements canceled because of pressure from conservative groups who objected to his LGBT-inclusive stance.
These developments come after several mixed signals from the church. Reportedly, in a private meeting with a gay man, Pope Francis told him that God made him as he is and loves him as he is. But last weekend, in his weekly general audience at the Vatican, he said. “The family [as] man and woman in the image of God is the only one,” a definition that excludes same-sex couples, single parents, and more.