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Vatican meeting considers topics from women in ministry to LGBTQ+ Catholics

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Roman Catholic leaders are meeting at the Vatican starting today to discuss the future of the church.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Among the topics on the agenda, being more responsive to laity's concerns, women in ministry and being more welcoming of divorced and LGBTQ Catholics.

MARTÍNEZ: Joining us to discuss the meeting is NPR religion correspondent Jason DeRose. Jason, so help us understand what this meeting is actually about.

JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: Well, the term the Vatican is using is a Synod on Synodality, which is a big term which essentially means it's a series of conversations about how the church conceives of itself, listens to itself. This month's meeting is part of a several-yearlong process of listening. Local Catholic parishes began holding listening sessions back in 2021 and 2022, and then reports from those listening sessions went to dioceses and archdioceses and then on to the Vatican. And the report that summarized those sessions came out this summer. It was called "Making The Tent Bigger" (ph).

MARTÍNEZ: OK. So the church did a lot of listening. What did they wind up hearing?

DEROSE: Well, laity said they wanted a church that takes them seriously, a more responsive church, a more bottom-up than top-down approach. I spoke with Professor Massimo Faggioli of Villanova University in Pennsylvania, who says that sentiment matches a metaphor Pope Francis has used during his time leading Roman Catholics.

MASSIMO FAGGIOLI: It's a church as a mother who makes no differences between their children. Whether they are sinners or saints, gay or straight, it makes no difference.

DEROSE: And that's an image that has resonated with so many during Francis' papacy - mother, rather than stern father. Still, there are some conservatives in the church who aren't happy with the direction or the tone that Francis has set. They say all these conversations, all this openness and possibility of change only confuses the faithful.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, so then what were the topics lay Catholics said they specifically wanted the church to think about differently?

DEROSE: Well, the first and one that's been given a lot of attention is the role of women in ministry. This synod at the Vatican will discuss the possibility of allowing women to become deacons in the Catholic Church. Right now, that's a role restricted only to men. Now, deacons can preach and teach and baptize, but unlike priests, they aren't allowed to preside at Communion or hear confession. It's important to note that at this synod, for the first time, there will be women taking part. About 10% of the delegates are women.

Another issue that came out during these listening sessions was that the laity want the church to be more welcoming of all Catholics, especially divorced Catholics and LGBTQ Catholics. Many priests still deny Communion to those who've divorced and remarried. And the official Catholic teaching is that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered, which is not exactly welcoming for lesbian, gay and bisexual people. Other topics that could be on the table - married priests and the possibility of blessing same-sex couples.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. Now, any decisions expected to come out from this synod?

DEROSE: Well, nothing right away. This is a process that moves at the speed of church, which is to say slowly.

MARTÍNEZ: (Laughter).

DEROSE: The meeting starting today continues until the end of October. And then the Synod on Synodality is actually continuing next October, when delegates will go back to the Vatican and vote on some sort of official document. That would then go up to Vatican hierarchy and the pope himself. Any actual change would come down after that. So it'll be a while, but what comes of it could be defining for Francis' legacy.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's NPR religion correspondent Jason DeRose. Jason, thanks.

DEROSE: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
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.