The Vatican has ruled that transgender people can be baptised, serve as godparents and act as witnesses to Catholic marriages.
A document issued by the Holy See’s doctrine office was in response to six questions on the inclusion of transgender and gay Catholics. It was signed by Pope Francis and Cardinal Victor Fernández, the Vatican’s doctrine prefect.
In the ruling, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith said an individual who had “undergone hormone treatment” and “reassignment surgery” could be baptised provided it does not cause “scandal” and “confusion” among Catholics.
Citing Francis, it says the Church is not a tollhouse and that the sacrament of baptism should be made available to people as it “is the door which allows Christ the Lord to dwell in our person”.
A transgender person, the ruling explains, can act as a godparent “under certain conditions”, including that it does not cause scandal or problems in the “educational sphere” of a local church community. Becoming a godparent, it points out, is not a “right” but a task taken on by a confirmed Catholic “who leads a life of faith”.
The doctrine office points out that there is nothing to prevent a transgender person from witnessing a marriage.
Fr James Martin, the Jesuit priest who ministers to LGBTQ Catholics, described the ruling as an “important step” for the Church seeing “transgender people not only as people…but as Catholics,” and that in some dioceses, transgender people had been prevented from receiving baptism, acting as godparents or as marriage witnesses.
The latest ruling focuses on the pastoral care and inclusion of transgender people in parishes, although the Pope and the Vatican have repeatedly expressed concerns about “gender ideology”. Francis has described this as one of “the most dangerous ideological colonisations”, and a 2019 document from the Holy See’s education department raised the alarm about “gender theory.”
The latest Vatican ruling also addressed the question of whether same-sex couples can be counted as parents of a child who must be baptised and has been adopted or conceived through surrogacy. The response was simply that for any child to be baptised, there must be a "well-founded hope" that the child be educated in the Catholic faith.
In response to whether an individual in a same-sex partnership can be a godparent, the doctrine dicastery states that anyone who has the aptitude to carry out the task can be chosen provided they “lead a life of faith” required for the role.
But it added that this is a “different matter” if someone is in a same-sex union akin to a marriage and which is “well known to the community”. It says a godparent needs to show consideration to church teaching and suggests someone in a same-sex relationship could act as a witness to the baptism instead of as a godparent. Finally, the doctrine office says someone in a same-sex, cohabiting partnership can act as a witness to a marriage.
The questions to the dicastery were submitted by Bishop José Negri of Santa Amaro, São Paolo, Brazil, on 14 July 2023, with the response, dated 31 October 2023, published on the doctrine office’s website.
Bishop Negri, who is from Milan, is a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions and has served in Brazil for many years.