ROME (AP) — An American Jesuit who runs outreach ministry for LGBTQ+ Catholics was tapped by Pope Francis on Friday to be among participants at a major Vatican gathering of bishops and laypeople later this year.
The Vatican unveiled the names of bishops, priests, nuns and laypersons who will take part in the weeks-long meeting that the pope has called for in October. Among those chosen is the Rev. James Martin, who has long been a prominent advocate of greater inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community in the Catholic church.
Official Catholic teaching considers any sexual act outside of marriage between a man and a woman sinful.
Ahead of the gathering, known as a synod, there was an unprecedented canvassing of Catholics worldwide, which found that the faithful want to see concrete steps to promote women to decision-making posts as well as a “radical inclusion” of the LGBTQ+ community in the Church.
After the pope, in an interview with The Associated Press in January, decried as “unjust” laws that criminalize homosexuality and declared that “being homosexual is not a crime,” Martin, who is a Jesuit like Francis, asked him for clarification, given the church’s teaching on the subject. Francis then clarified that he should have said that any sexual act outside marriage is a sin.
Throughout his 10-year-old papacy, Francis has upheld Catholic teaching on sexuality but has made outreach to LGBTQ+ people a priority.
The head of a U.S.-based group that advocates for LGBTQ+ Catholics called it “hopeful” that Martin as well as several American bishops who in varying degrees have expressed “openness” to improving pastoral care for the LGBTQ+ faithful will participate in the gathering.
But Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, noted since LGBTQ+ issues “emerged in so many synodal conversations around the globe and were reflected in the reports at each previous stage, it is reasonable to have expected that openly LGBTQ+ people would have been included in the assembly.”
“Their absence at the October meeting does not allow for their voices to be heard directly,” DeBernardo lamented in an emailed statement.
Earlier this year, Pope Francis decided to give women the right to vote at the gathering, which runs from Oct. 4 till Oct. 29. That reform reflected his wider hopes to give women greater decision-making responsibilities and make it possible for laypeople to have more say in the life of the Catholic Church.
Among those expressing gratitude to the pope for his attention to women’s roles was Sheila Leocádia Pires, a journalist with experience in Catholic media who was appointed as secretary of the commission for information at the synod.
“Certainly as an African woman from Mozambique living and serving the Church in South Africa, I do think that Pope Francis is giving a good sign to all women in the global south, especially in Africa,” she said in a written statement Friday.
The synod process continues in 2024 with a second phase. After its conclusion, Francis is expected to issue a document considering the proposals that have been put to him by the delegates.