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Vatican gathering tackles women in ministry, LGBTQ+ Catholics

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Women leaders in the Roman Catholic Church and how to be more welcoming of LGBTQ and divorced Catholics are topics of conversation at the Vatican right now. NPR religion correspondent Jason DeRose reports that during a nearly monthlong meeting, clergy and laity are considering a number of issues, including the possibility of women becoming Catholic deacons.

JASON DEROSE, BYLINE: For more than a dozen years, Jazmin Jimenez was a Catholic school teacher, a job that highlighted contradictions, like teaching her students that the church excludes women from the sacrament of ordination to the priesthood.

JAZMIN JIMENEZ: We told them that we all have a common dignity and a common mission. And then you fast forward to a course on sacraments, and we say, oh, yeah, well, but not here.

DEROSE: Jimenez is a member of American Martyrs Catholic Church in Manhattan Beach, Calif. For the last several years, the congregation has been holding listening sessions in preparation for this month's Vatican meeting.

JIMENEZ: For me, it was a place where you could talk about exclusion and marginalization and pain that has been felt either personally by myself or by people that I know and love who are either in the church or who have left the church.

DEROSE: What came out of those sessions was sent up to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and then on to the Vatican. Jimenez says the conversations clarified something for her.

JIMENEZ: If women were allowed to be deacons in the Catholic Church, absolutely, tomorrow, I would seriously discern and consider becoming a deacon. It is a pain point for me that that is not something that I am able to discern at this time.

DEROSE: Jimenez is traveling to Rome as an observer with the organization Discerning Deacons. The Vatican meeting, called a synod, includes nearly 500 participants talking and listening. And for the first time, about 10% are women.

MASSIMO FAGGIOLI: Which, by Catholic standards, is a big improvement.

DEROSE: Massimo Faggioli is a professor of Catholic theology at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. He says Pope Francis broached the idea of women deacons early in his papacy.

FAGGIOLI: Which broke a taboo because for many people, that issue had been solved forever by John Paul II and Pope Benedict, who had zero interest.

DEROSE: Deacons aren't priests and can't preside at communion or hear confessions, but they are official leaders who preach and teach and baptize, something Faggioli says women already do in many Catholic parishes.

FAGGIOLI: We allow you to do these things as long as you don't ask to be formally acknowledged. So many of us think that it's time to get rid of this hypocrisy.

LLOYD TORGERSON: Sisters and brothers, the Lord be with you.

DEROSE: St. Monica's Catholic Community in Santa Monica is one of the largest congregations in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.

TORGERSON: Our reading is from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew.

DEROSE: Lloyd Torgerson has been pastor here for 35 years. He says the message from his congregation's listening sessions was clear.

TORGERSON: Make sure that there's room in the tent for everyone. They want to hear their pastors say that to them, that you're welcomed where you can come and find our Lord and find each other and find an honor and respect for each other.

DEROSE: Torgerson says everyone includes divorced Catholics, as well as gays and lesbians, who often feel excluded. Those concerns will also be part of the conversation in Rome. That very openness to dialogue set by Pope Francis has been revolutionary for Lupita Perez (ph).

LUPITA PEREZ: In the before time - I need to be honest with you - I wasn't very much involved in my community and my church and my relationship with the church.

DEROSE: She's a member of Our Lady of Guadalupe in San Diego. She's now a youth minister, also traveling to the Vatican synod as an observer. Perez is hopeful but cautious.

PEREZ: Some may be, like, listening, but are you really, really open to change? Some may not be open to it.

DEROSE: Being listened to but not heard, says Perez, would be heartbreaking. Jason DeRose, NPR News. 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.

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.