LGBT Ministry: Creating a Queer Welcome in Italy.

The things that tend to hit the headlines concerning the Catholic Church and “homosexuals”, are the high profile political campaigns by some bishops against marriage and family equality on the one hand, and the disordered teaching on genital sex, on the other. What tends to slip under the radar, is the counterpart to genital sex in the formal doctrine – the emphasis on respect, dignity and understanding in pastoral care, and the indications that this previously neglected element in church teaching may now be taking precedence.

In staunchly Catholic Italy, numerous programmes are underway, and are described in an article published in  “da L’Unità” of 29th August, and carried at the website of the Catholic LGBT group,  “Progetto Gionata” (The Jonathan Project), a site packed with useful information for queer Catholics. (For those unable to read the Italian, there is a page on-site for passable English translations).

Introducing the subject, the article begins by asking a pertinent question, “Is it possible for homosexuals and lesbians to feel at home in the (Catholic) Church? “. The answer implied by their rundown of current programmes, clearly, is “Yes”. To date, the dioceses of Turin, Parma, and Cremona have existing, established ministry programmes, while some beginnings have been made in the dioceses of Crema and Livorno. In addition, in the dioceses of Catania, Palermo, Bologna, Padua and Florence, some individual parishes have programmes in place.  

The details vary. Here are some highlights, as far as I can construct them with my rudimentary Italian, supported by Google (with thanks and acknowledgement to my friend and colleague Martin Pendergast, for drawing it to my attention).

Turin: A meeting between Cardinal Poletto and LGBT organizations led to the publication of a book ” Faith and Homosexuality. Pastoral care and spiritual support”, which emphasises support, not genital prohibitions. 

Note the  cover, which features several pairs of red and green apples – and one pair in which both are red.

Rather than hammering away on prohibitions on genital acts, this book appears to concentrate on the quality of the relationships (just as Cardinal Schonborn suggested last April, and many other bishops have echoed since), quoting the words of the late Cardinal Basil Hume, formerly of Westminster:

“The love between two persons of the same sex or opposite sex, should be appreciated and respected. To love another means to reach God is present with his kindness in him that we love … To love another is of the same sex or different sex, is to enter the area of​ richest human experience. “

 Cremona

On the initiative of Bishop Dante Lafranconi, a group called ‘Under the oaks of Mamre” was formed, in which a priest meets periodically with Christian homosexual to discuss and pray. The content of these discussions is not clear, but free and frank discussion is always helpful. In 2010, the bishop presided at a vigil against all discrimination.

Parma

Also in 2010, Bishop Solmi met with the group, “L’Arco” (The Bow) at one of their monthly meetings. A diocesan weekly paper wrote of this occasion, that “is a clear reminder not to discriminate against anyone.”

Milan

Two active homosexual Christians groups, La Fonte and Il Guado, have held memorial services for the victims of homophobia, and encountered no difficulties in their relationships with the churches where these take place.

For a full rundown of diocesan and parish-based programmes, go to the Gionata website, in Italian or in translation. Here’s the kernel of the message:

Christian homosexuals do not want to live in division, with faith in one part, and love in another other part, but strive to build good relationships.

In Crema, in fact, the dialogue with the Bishop opens with a letter of Silvia Lanzi: “Your Excellency I am a lesbian, I will continue to be a leaven for my church.”

Progetto Gionata


There is mounting recognition from many quarters that LGBT Catholics can indeed be a “leaven for the Church” – and this recognition is coming not only from lesbian gay and trans Catholics themselves: Thomas C Fox, for instance, the editor of National Catholic Reporter, wrote a recent column on the theme, ”  LGBTQ: Gifts from God”.

Let me suggest another way to look at our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, without trying to add even further burden on their weary shoulders. It is to say that they are special human beings and that they bring special gifts to the human family, gifts we need for material and spiritual fulfillment and, perhaps, even for the preservation of the human family itself. 

Others, like James L’Empereur S.J., and explicitly gay theologians like John McNeill and Daniel Helminiak inside the Catholic church and many others outside it, have written extensively on the specifically spiritual gifts the gay person brings to the Church. LGBT Catholics collectively are not inherently sinners  (at least, no more than anybody else, and not simply because of our orientation).

None of this is new: the importance of sound pastoral support has been central to published documents on Catholics and homosexuality for decades, but has been largely neglected until recently. This appears, at last, to be changing.

There remains a great divide on the theology of genital sex itself, but the important point here is that as long as the two sides area meeting and talking with each other, instead of shouting or preaching at each other, there is room for mutual understanding to grow.

It’s become clear that formal and sympathetic LGCM ministry is entering the Catholic mainstream, with obviously hostile pronouncements fading into history. Add in the increasing willingness of Catholic individuals and groups to speak up for themselves, and to participate in or host public discussions on sexuality and Catholicism, and I have a profound sense of fundamental shift in the Catholic stance to us and our relationships. For now, this is just a change in balance, emphasis, and pastoral practice –  but more explicit change in formal doctrine will surely follow.

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