Catholic Rebellion on Gay Marriage: US – and Italy

In the wake of Tuesday’s election, the US Catholic rebellion against their bishops was widely noted. Most notable in Minnesota, where the bishops devoted huge sums of cash and energy to entrench marriage discrimination in the state constitution, but also in Maryland and Washington, Catholics were under severe pressure to reject same  - sex marriage ballots propositions. Across the country, many bishops scarcely made any attempt to hide their attempts to boost support for Romney and the Republican slate. Catholics ignored them. Gay marriage won in all four states, the Democrats won the presidential, senate and congressional votes and flipped several state legislatures. Along with President Obama, a  record number of LGBT candidates were elected. We do not have Catholic – specific voting numbers for all these, but we do know that at the Presidential level, Catholics voted for Obama, in line with pre-election polling forecasts, and that polling showed widespread Catholic support for marriage equality. Catholic politicians had been prominent in passing and signing the initial legislation, and Catholic organisations for marriage actively campaigned in favour.

Nor was it just the Catholic laity promoting marriage for all families. In spite of severe risks associated with visible dissent, many priests aligned themselves with their congregations, and against the bishops. Some were prominent in favour of the campaigns, others refused to promote the bishops’ letters and fund-raising – and some received applause, even standing ovations, for their resistance. In the wake of the election, one priest has publicly called for the resignation of Archbishop Nienstedt.

It is reasonable that LGBT Americans should be giddy with the excitement of the past week, and that US election news should be dominating the media. But in fact, there has been notable progress on marriage equality elsewhere, too, with  political progress or resistance rebuffed in France, Spain and New Zealand – and a remarkable example of Catholic non – compliance in Italy.

A recent report from the gay Catholic website Gionata, also available in English translation (or in Spanish),  describes a parish community where gay and lesbian couples and their families have been explicitly welcomed, enabling them to return to the faith after many years outside the church. This parish community is not a “gay Mass”, but is nevertheless one where the LGBT welcome is complete, even extending to inclusion in marriage preparation classes, alongside other couples:

For years, gay people have been “welcomed” in the Piagge in accordance with Magisterium; however, here they now participate in pre-marriage courses for couples and can partake in Communion without anyone asking for a “Gay Certificate” they can use to exclude “out” gay people from the sacraments.

The full report also describes how in September this year a group of Italian priests and a nun in Florence wrote to the Archbishop, calling for  more open dialogue on the issue of homosexuality and the Catholic church. It all began with some articles in the diocesan newspaper, to which the letter was responding.  Noting that the articles printed did nothing but repeat the existing, outdated and widely rejected views of the ecclesiastical establishment, they went on to point out the radical transformation in scientific and anthropological understanding of human sexuality that the traditional teaching has simply ignored.

We believe that the articles printed in the Diocesan weekly publication (Toscana Oggi) do nothing but repeat existing ecclesiastical positions on homosexuality, without providing any insight on a topic that has been considerably developed and explained in recent years, and which requires more research.

Our letter testifies to the fact that there is diversity of positions regarding this issue today, both in secular thought and in our churches themselves. We, along with various theologians, bishops and Christian laypeople, do not see our viewpoints represented in Toscana Oggi’s treatment of this issue through its articles.

What has brought about a radical shift in the understanding of homosexuality has now signaled a very important journey. In the past, homosexuality was considered a ‘vice’ practiced by ‘heterosexual’ people searching for alternative forms of pleasure and, as such, it was condemned. But, in this context, one spoke solely of ‘homosexual behavior’; only in the last century did people begin to speak of a ‘homosexual condition’ and not just of ‘acts’, inducing some to hypothesize that homosexuality was not to be considered a vice, but an ‘illness’.

In recent years, a radically different way of understanding homosexuality has emerged and homosexuality has become accepted by nearly everyone in various ways and with different nuances. Homosexuality is now spoken of as a pervasive element of an individual, one that characterizes a person’s most profound identity and one that leads them to live their sexuality in a different manner.

-Gionata

 This letter, in September, simply asked for honest and open dialogue. But instead of engaging in dialogue, or even replying directly,

(Betori) answered indirectly during a clergy meeting admonishing that “personal initiatives which differ from universal Church teaching only generate confusion and are clearly sources of hurt for people.” He went on to say that “faith, morals and discipline are part of the Church’s patrimony and cannot be modified at our discretion.”

This clearly ignores what should be obvious: for LGBT Catholics, their families and friends, it is not requests for open dialogue that are “sources of hurt”, but the disordered and destructive doctrine itself. This prompted a stronger response in a second letter, in which they declared their intention to openly practice conscientious  objection.

In the second letter, sent to all parish priests and parishes in Florence, those who signed announced their intention to act in «conscientious objection to certain rules” in Church Catechism on homosexuality “in order to push everyone to reconsider the current situation by opening up to other considerations.” And they are ready for what sounds like a challenge to the “do what you want, but just don’t talk about it” way of doing things that is so often tolerated by Church authorities. They are now ready to take their place on the field when transgressions become open and public.

-Gionata 

(For the full report on the welcome in Florence, see the English translation at Gionata, or in Italian here).

Also in Italy, two more recent events are worth noting.

Don Mario Bonfanti, a priest in Lombardy, announced his coming out on Facebook for national coming out day, on October 11th. Earlier, he had publicly endorsed same – sex unions, resulting in his transferral to another parish – and a protest by his parishioners at the bishop’s decision.

I am gay. Or, better, I am a happily gay priest,’ he stated.

Don Mario Bonfanti, 41, is a priest in Pagnano, near Lecco, in the Italian region of Lombardy. And his openness about his sexuality is something of a revolution.

Openly gay priests, in Italy, are a rarity. The Italian Catholic church is know for not being tolerant of LGBT people.

Bonfanti wrote on Facebook: ‘Truth makes us free, so Jesus said.

‘But, strangely, the Church denies this sentence. Catholic LGBT people must come out. They have to accept the truth.’

Last March, don Bonfanti was banned from another parish in Brianza, Lombardy, for having supported same-sex unions.

The local community defendend their priest, but the bishop did not change his mind and moved don Bonfanti to another church.

Now, a new group, with more than 1,200 followers, has been created on Facebook. ‘Io sto con don Mario’ (I support don Mario), is the name of the group.

Meanwhile, Rosario Crocetta, an openly gay, practicing Catholic was recently elected governor of Sicily. He is not the most prominent gay politician in Italy: that would be Nicky Vendola, President of Apulia, who will be running next year to be the Italy’s next Prime Minister  (and the first openly gay PM  in the European Union), but Vendola is not a practicing Catholic. Crocetta is.

As a politician for a centrist Catholic party, he will not be promoting gay marriage or any LGBT political causes, nor challenging church teaching, but his election remains an important milestone, even so. The simple fact that his sexuality did not prevent his candidacy for the  Democratic and Catholic Union of Christian and Centre Democrats parties, is signal enough that a “devoted Catholic” (as he has been described) can still be openly gay, and accepted in both church and politics.

Rosario Crocetta will be the second openly homosexual governor of one of Italy’s 20 regions.

“This is very important as a message for the Italian LGTB community,” said Andrea Maccarrone, president of the Rome-based gay rights group Mario Mieli.

“Citizens appreciate when politicians are open and honest with them, including about their private lives,” he added in an interview. “Being gay is no longer seen as a problem that stops them being good representatives of the people.”

Maccarrone explains the apparent contradiction between support for gay politicians and the failure to advance gay rights legislation partly by Italians’ respect for private life — even their politicians’.

“Look at Berlusconi,” he says. “I don’t think he could stand as president in America or prime minister in England. Italians are more tolerant of the private lives of politicians.”

Acceptance of homosexuality is evolving faster in public opinion than among politicians, he adds.

The influence of the Vatican and the sway small conservative groups can hold over the balance of power in the country’s fractious political landscape have helped obstruct reform.

But even in the conservative south, public attitudes are more open than outsiders believe, Maccarrone says. He points to the vibrant gay community in his own hometown, the Sicilian city of Catania.

“It’s very open to gays,” he says. “You can see openly gay people in the streets, sometimes holding hands, it’s not a big issue. Of course I’m not saying there’s no homophobia, no violence, but in the south, like in all of Italian society, the people are more open than politicians.”

-Alaska Dispatch

Italian people are more open than their politicians – and Catholic, everywhere, more welcoming than the Vatican and its bishops.

 

 

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8 comments for “Catholic Rebellion on Gay Marriage: US – and Italy

  1. Mercredi
    November 11, 2012 at 5:51 am

    This post is just full of awesome news. That church were gay couples can do marriage prep. courses is amazing.

  2. November 11, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Another excellent post. God bless Father Bonfanti. What a beautiful smile he has. One step at a time.

  3. lynn
    June 3, 2014 at 6:22 am

    what of the church dogma of papal infallability? no one grapples or contends with this. just one more teaching people are willing to ignore? its only the foundation of Catholicism. i just don’t get it.

    • June 3, 2014 at 10:03 pm

      The “dogma” of infallibility is a limited one. It certainly doesn’t apply to the pronouncements of bishops.

      • lynn
        June 4, 2014 at 4:56 am

        thank you. but, you don’t think that any popes have taught that homosexual acts are a sin?

        • June 4, 2014 at 8:42 am

          Not all “teaching” is infallible. The record shows clearly that much of what has been taught over two centuries has in time been discarded.

          “Teaching” also states that we must respect the findings of science, which shows very clearly that homosexuality is entirely natural, non-pathological, and is found in every period of history, and in every human society (as well as among all the great apes, our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, and in hundreds of other species of mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and even insects).

          The Catechism also tells us that sexuality is an important part of our human make-up, and must be fully integrated into our personality – but the Church also accepts that orientation, being natural, cannot be changed, and attempts to do so are not recommended. In the same way, we are told, it is not advisable for gay or lesbian Catholics to enter heterosexual marriages. So what is a gay Catholic to do?

          On the face of it, the only option open acceptable to teaching as it stands now, is complete sexual abstinence for life. But John Paul II, in theology of the body, noted that celibacy / abstinence is difficult, is not viable without some special grace, and should only ever be accepted voluntarily, not forced on anyone from outside. For those who have not been given some special grace to cope with celibacy, he concluded (just like St Paul), it is better to marry. Why should that not apply to gay men and lesbians, just as much as to everyone else?

          Above all, the church also teaches the primacy of conscience. Yes, the church “teaches” that homosexual acts are sinful, but that simple idea is contradicted by the implications of other elements of teaching, some of which I’ve outlined above. In my view, the only way to reconcile all the disparate elements, is by thoughtful, and prayerful, application of conscience.

          One final point: it’s not widely recognized, but church teaching does change – constantly. Pope Benedict said so a few years ago, in a reflection on St Joan of Arc, who was executed by the Church as a heretic – and later rehabilitated and then canonised. Theologians, Benedict said, can be wrong. Probably a majority of Catholic moral theologians currently believe that the whole structure of teaching on sexual ethics needs some modification – and Cardinal Baldisseri, who will be leading the synod on marriage and family later this year, seems to agree. He has said that teaching on marriage and family needs updating.

          Wait another two years: after the synod this year, and the follow – up in 2015, any discussion on “teaching” on sex, marriage and family may be rather different to what it has been, up to now.

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