The Vatican’s doctrine office has responded to a bishop’s questions concerning the role of people who identify as LGBT at Catholic baptisms and weddings.
The Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith (DDF) published a three-page Italian document responding to six questions Nov. 8.
The text was signed by Pope Francis at an Oct. 31 audience, as well as by the DDF’s new prefect Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández.
The DDF said it had received a July 14 letter from Brazil’s Bishop José Negri posing questions “regarding the possible participation in the sacraments of baptism and marriage by transgender and homoaffective persons.”
The dicastery did not define the term “homoaffective persons,” which it appeared to use to mean a person who forms same-sex bonds.
The doctrinal office said it had issued its responses after study and was essentially restating positions it had previously expressed, including in a 2018 “confidential note” addressing “some canonical questions inherent to transsexualism.”
The DDF summarized the bishop’s questions as follows:
Can a transgender person be baptized?
Can a transgender person be a godfather or godmother at baptism?
Can a transgender person be a witness at a wedding?
Can two “homoaffective” persons be counted as parents of a child who must be baptized and who was adopted or gained by other methods such as surrogacy?
Can a person who is “homoaffective” and cohabiting be godfather to a baptized person?
Can a “homoaffective” and cohabiting person be a witness at a wedding?
The longest of the responses was to the first question.
The DDF said that a transgender person who has undergone surgery can receive the sacrament of baptism “under the same conditions as other believers, if there are no situations in which there is a risk of generating public scandal, or disorientation among the faithful.”
The document added a detailed series of considerations, intended to address cases where “there are doubts about the objective moral situation in which a person finds himself, or about his subjective dispositions toward grace.”
It added that children or adolescents with “problems of a transgender nature” could also receive baptism if they are well prepared and willing to be baptized.
Canon law itself does not establish specific criteria regarding the parents of children presented for baptism, stipulating only that the minister of a baptism should have a “founded hope” that a baptized child will be raised as a Catholic.
Responding to the second question, the DDF said that transgender adults who had undergone surgery could serve as godfathers or godmothers “under certain conditions.”
“However, since this task does not constitute a right, pastoral prudence demands that it not be permitted if there is a risk of scandal, undue legitimation or disorientation in the educational sphere of the ecclesial community,” it said.
For its part, canon law establishes that a baptismal sponsor, or godparent, should be a Catholic who is confirmed, “who leads a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on.”
On the third question, the Vatican’s doctrine office said there is no prohibition in canon law on a transgender person acting as a witness at a Catholic wedding.
Turning to the fourth question, the DDF emphasized that there must be a well-founded hope that a child presented for baptism will be educated in the Catholic faith.
The answer did not specifically address the questions which seemed to be asked, namely, whether both persons in a homosexual union should be regarded as “parents” when assessing the requisite permissions for the baptism of an infant, and when recording the baptism in parish registers — both questions frequently discussed among canon lawyers.
Regarding the fifth question, the dicastery noted that canon law requires baptismal sponsors, or godparents, to possess an aptitude for the role and lead “a life of faith in keeping with the function to be taken on.”
It added that “when the cohabitation of two homoaffective persons consists not in simple cohabitation, but in a stable and declared more uxorio [sexual union similar to common-law marriage] relationship, well known to the community,” the situation would be “different” — seemingly not an indication of a life “in keeping with the function to be taken on.”
“In any case, due pastoral prudence requires that each situation be wisely considered, to safeguard the sacrament of baptism and above all its reception, which is a precious asset to be protected, as it is necessary for salvation.”
It continued: “At the same time, it is necessary to consider the real value the church community places on the duties of godparents and godmothers, the role they play in the community, and the consideration they show toward Church teaching.”
“Finally, the possibility that there may be another person from the family circle to act as guarantor of the proper transmission of the Catholic faith to the baptizing person should also be taken into account, knowing that one can still assist the baptizing person, during the rite, not only as godfather or godmother but, also, as witnesses to the baptismal act.”
Addressing the sixth and final question, the DDF said: “There is nothing in current universal canonical legislation that prohibits a cohabiting, homoaffective person from being a witness to a marriage.”
Fernández, who was named the Vatican’s doctrinal chief in July and took up the post in September, has promised to bring a distinctive approach to the role.
In an interview with Argentina’s Clarín newspaper, he expressed reservations about a 2021 DDF document saying that the Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions. He said that many people had commented that it “does not smell like Francis.”
Bishop Negri is the bishop of Santo Amaro, São Paulo. The 64-year-old Milan-born bishop is a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) who has served for decades in Brazil.