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The Vatican says priests can baptize transgender people

Cardinals and bishops arrive in procession at a mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in Rome.
Andrew Medichini
Cardinals and bishops arrive in procession at a mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican in Rome.

The Vatican says transgender people can be baptized within the church, as long as doing so doesn't create "public scandal or confusion among the faithful."

The statement from the Vatican's theological watchdog group, called the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, came in response to a question from a Brazilian bishop, José Negri of Santo Amaro.

The document goes on to say that the sacrament of baptism has an indelible character regardless of the state of sin of the person receiving it.

Pope Francis has repeatedly held throughout his papacy, and the document reiterates, that the Church is not a "tollhouse" and that the door of baptism should not be closed to anyone.

The document, which was signed by Cardinal Víctor Manuel Fernández, says that the church was not offering approval or disapproval of the idea of gender identity. Pope Francis has referred to specific understandings of gender theory that include transgender people as a form of "ideological colonization," and the document makes clear that baptism of transgender people should not cause "scandal."

The term "scandal" in Roman Catholic theology has a specific meaning different from the more common use of the term to mean moral outrage. Rather, the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes scandal as "an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor's tempter."

That definition goes on to say that someone causing scandal "damages virtue and integrity" and that doing so could draw "his brother into spiritual death."

The new Vatican document says transgender people, as well as people in same-sex relationships, can be baptismal sponsors (also knowns as godparents) and witnesses at weddings.

These questions came before the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith, in part, because official Catholic teaching, according to the Catechism of the Catholic church is that same-sex sexual behavior is a grave sin and that homosexuality is objectively and intrinsically disordered.

Pope Francis's approach, though, has been to repeatedly welcome LGBTQ+ people into the church, once saying "Who am I do judge?" when asked about gay couples.

LGBTQ+ Catholic group DignityUSA executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke issued a statement in response to the new Vatican document saying, "It is encouraging to see the Vatican making it clear that LGBTQ+ people are not automatically banned from our church's sacraments."

The statement says that too many bishops and priests have made it difficult for members of the LGBTQ+ community to receive sacraments, which are central to the lives of Catholics. The organization hopes this document will help with that situation.

But there is still work to do, says, Duddy-Burke.

"We remain concerned that our identities continue to be seen as causing 'scandal.'"

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Jason DeRose
Jason DeRose is the Western Bureau Chief for NPR News, based at NPR West in Culver City. He edits news coverage from Member station reporters and freelancers in California, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and Hawaii. DeRose also edits coverage of religion and LGBTQ issues for the National Desk.