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Transgender people can be baptised, Vatican affirms

16 November 2023


Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, prefect for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the consistory in St Peter’s Square on 30 September when he was made a cardinal by Pope Francis

Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, prefect for the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, at the consistory in St Peter’s Square on 30 September when...

THE Vatican has ruled that transgender people can be baptised, act as godparents, and be witnesses at a marriage — provided that efforts are made to avoid “scandal and disorientation among the faithful”.

In a statement issued last week, and approved by Pope Francis, the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith said: “A transsexual, who has also undergone hormone treatment and sex-reassignment surgery, can receive baptism under the same conditions as other believers. . . Children and adolescents with transgender issues, if well prepared and willing, can also receive baptism. . .”

The Dicastery was less categorical about transsexual godparents, however. “Under certain conditions, an adult transsexual may be admitted to the function of godfather or godmother. Since such a function does not constitute a right, however, pastoral prudence demands that it should not be allowed if there is a danger of scandal, undue legitimisation or disorientation.”

The Dicastery said that it was responding to questions on access to sacraments by “transgender and homoaffective persons” that was tabled in July by the Italian-born Bishop Jose Negri, of Santo Amaro, in Brazil.

The statement was published in Italian and Portuguese, and signed by the Dicastery’s prefect, Cardinal Victor Manuel Fernández, who was appointed in July.

It said that baptism did not confer “sanctifying grace” if received by someone who had not repented of “grave sins”. Different considerations would also apply to people living in marriage-style relationships “well known to the community”.

Although each case should be “wisely weighed”, however, to “safeguard the sacrament of baptism”, nothing in canon law prohibited someone transgender or “homoaffective and cohabiting” from being a godparent or marriage witness, if they lived “in conformity with the faith”.

The statement continued: “Even when doubts remain about a person’s objective moral situation or subjective dispositions toward grace, one should never forget this aspect of the faithfulness of God’s unconditional love, which is capable of generating an irrevocable covenant, even with the sinner.

“This is true even when a purpose of amendment does not appear in a fully manifest way in the penitent — the predictability of a new fall often does not undermine the authenticity of the purpose.”

The statement is the latest issued in answer to top-level dubia about the Roman Catholic Church’s current moral and sexual teachings, which were also debated at last month’s Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (News, 13 October).

Also last month, the Pope answered queries from five conservative cardinals about synodality, interpreting divine revelation, blessing same-sex unions, ordaining women, and sacramental absolution (News, 6 October).

In September, the Pope responded to dubia from the Czech Cardinal Dominik Duka about whether holy communion could now be given to divorced Catholics living in new unions.

In its statement, the Vatican Dicastery said that the Church placed “real value” on “the duties of godparents”, their part in the community, and “the consideration they show towards Church teaching”. Baptism should always, however, be “understood and deployed within the entire journey of Christian initiation”, the statement said. Pope Francis himself had emphasised that “the doors of the sacraments” should not be “closed for any reason”.

Articles 2257-9 of the RC Church’s 1992 Catechism, partially amended under Pope Francis, state that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to natural law”, but say that people with “homosexual tendencies”, while “called to chastity”, must also be “accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity”.

While voicing concerns about “gender ideology”, the Pope, now 86, has sought to make his Church more welcoming to LGBT+ groups, introducing sympathetic formulations in his apostolic exhortations Evangelii Gaudium (2013) (News, 20 December 2013) and Amoris Laetitia (2016) (News, 15 April 2016).

In an interview with Spain’s La Sexta newspaper in March 2019, he said that homosexual tendencies were not a sin, and urged parents to support their gay children. In interviews in October 2020 and September 2021, he also supported the right to same-sex civil unions.

In January, the Pope urged RC bishops worldwide to back the decriminalisation of homosexuality, later assuring a young transgender person in a July podcast that God “loves us as we are”.

Among reactions to the latest Vatican ruling, a prominent American Jesuit supporter of LGBT rights, the Revd James Martin, said in a social-media post that it marked an “important step forward” to “seeing transgender people as Catholics”, and that some dioceses still barred them from receiving baptism.

The statement was criticised as “misleading and harmful”, however, by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the Vatican Dicastery’s former German prefect, who told the Spanish-language website InfoCátolica that it would “open the door to misunderstandings”.

Another prominent critic, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former Vatican state governor and nuncio to the United States, predicted that the statement, with its media interpretations, would “tear yet another wound in the tortured body of the Church”, by seeking to “normalise the behaviour” of those “living in a habitual and public state of mortal sin”.

A philosophy specialist from Poland’s Catholic University of Lublin, Agnieszka Zielinska, said that many conservative Catholics believed Pope Francis was “playing with fire” by signing off an “imprecise ruling” which looked certain to stoke “misunderstandings and misinterpretations”.

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