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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - In a new document issued by the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog, Pope Francis is confirming that individuals who have undergone gender reassignment surgery may receive baptism under certain circumstances, in a seeming contradiction to earlier statements issued by multiple dioceses.
The pontiff authorized responses published by Cdl. Víctor Manuel Fernández, prefect of the Dicastery of the Doctrine for the Faith, to a series of six dubia (Latin for "doubts") regarding the participation of LGBT persons in the sacraments of baptism and marriage.
While the dubia were submitted by Msgr. José Negri, bishop of Santo Amaro in Brazil, on July 14, the Vatican's doctrine czar released his responses to the questions on Wednesday in a document signed by Pope Francis on Oct. 31.
The DDF responses state that "under the same conditions as other faithful," a transsexual person, even if the individual has undergone genital mutilation, can be baptized, "provided there are no situations that risk causing public scandal or confusion among the faithful."
Fernández cautions that "the individual does not receive sanctifying grace" if baptism "is received without repentance for serious sins." He does not say, though, what sins should be repented of before baptism and if genital self-mutilation constitutes such a serious sin.
"We can understand why Pope Francis emphasized that baptism is the door for Christ to establish himself in us, and it implies that even the doors of the sacraments should not be closed for any reason," the cardinal argues.
Fernández cites the pontiff, emphasizing that "the Church is not a customs office but the Father's house, where there is a place for everyone with their struggles."
Pope Francis' doctrine chief explains:
Therefore, even when there are doubts about a person's moral situation or their subjective dispositions toward grace, one should never forget this aspect of God's unconditional love and the potential for an irrevocable alliance, always open to unforeseeable development, even when the penitent may not exhibit a fully manifest purpose of amendment.
Bishop Negri also asks the DDF in his dubia if transgender persons can be godparents at a baptism or witnesses at a wedding. In his response, Fernández says that adults who have undergone gender surgery could serve as godparents "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," Fernández clarifies.
The cardinal further confirms that there is no prohibition in canon law on a transgender individual acting as a witness at a Catholic wedding.
Children of homosexual couples who are adopted or even conceived through surrogacy may be baptized, provided "there must be a well-founded hope that they will be raised in the Catholic religion," the doctrine czar affirms.
An LGBT person who is cohabiting may be a godparent for baptism "if he leads a life in harmony with the faith and the role to be undertaken as a godparent," the document states, citing canon law.
"However, if the cohabitation of two LGBTQ+ individuals involves a stable and publicly known same-sex relationship, it should be carefully considered, keeping in mind the importance of safeguarding the sacrament of baptism and its reception, which is a precious good to protect for the sake of salvation," the document observes.
The DDF responses to the dubia conclude by confirming that there is nothing in canon law that prohibits a homosexual person who is cohabiting from being a witness at a wedding.
The new ruling may overturn policies by certain dioceses barring transgender persons from the sacrament of initiation.
In 2021, the diocese of Marquette published a statement prohibiting an individual "who publicly identifies as a different gender than his or her biological sex or has attempted 'gender transitioning'" from baptism, confirmation or reception into full communion in the Church, "unless the person has repented."
The diocese has since deleted the statement from its website.
In Sept. 2023, the diocese of Tulsa and Eastern Oklahoma issued a 13-page instruction barring persons "publicly living in a same-sex relationship (or any sexual relationship outside of an ecclesiastically recognized marriage between one man and one woman)" from serving as a godparent or witness for baptism and confirmation.
The instruction also bars a "person who publicly expresses a 'transgender' identity or otherwise does not accept his or her God-given sex, or who has attempted a 'gender transition'" from being godparents or witnesses for baptism and confirmation.
However, the statement notes that such a ban may be lifted if the person repents: "Repentance does not necessarily require reversing physical changes to the body that the person may have undergone, but it does require no longer presenting as the opposite sex."
"Similarly, a person who publicly expresses a 'transgender' identity or otherwise does not accept his or her given sex, or who has attempted a 'gender transition' is not yet ready to be baptized, confirmed, or received into full communion with the Church, absent repentance," the instruction declared.
The new ruling has triggered a fresh debate as to whether the DDF is in conformity with the teaching of the Catholic Magisterium.
"The new Vatican statement does not directly contradict prior statements of Church doctrine or discipline," commented columnist Phil Lawler. "But it gives every indication that pastors who ignore the rules will have nothing to fear from Rome."