Italian Gay Catholic: “Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I’m an atheist”

The Vatican City State is surrounded by the nation of Italy, and so the Catholic Church has a great influence on Italian politics and social life, especially in regard to LGBT issues.  But Italian Catholic LGBT people have been organizing and working to spread a more positive message about LGBT issues than most church leaders offer.  Many of the major Italian cities have religious LGBT organizations, often heavily populated by Catholics, and a national federation of Christian LGBT groups, Cammini di Esperanza, recently formed.

Iacopo Ialenti

Vice magazine recently had a short interview with Iacopo Ialenti, a young gay Catholic man in Florence, Italy,  who is a member of Kairos, that city’s Christian LGBT organization.  Kairos made headlines in 2013, when early in the pontificate of Pope Francis they wrote an introduction letter to him and received an affirming, handwritten response.

Ialenti’s story gives some insight into the struggle of LGBT people in this country heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, but it also shows the power of how personal witness and faith can overcome even the most challenging situations.  For example, Ialenti described his parents’ reactions to his coming out as gay:

“My parents didn’t take it that well; my father told me that he’d rather have a disabled son. . . .One day, my mother came to visit, and I took her to a lectio divina (divine reading) with Kairos members. When we got back home, I told her, ‘Mum, they were all gay.’ She almost fainted. My parents have changed since then. Now my father is looking for a husband for me.”

Being a gay person of faith has its challenges, but Ialenti shows that he is working at overcoming them.  He describes  what is probably the biggest challenge:

“. . . [T]he toughest part is coming out to yourself—as a Christian, you have to face an internal homophobia, which makes you your worst judge. And then there’s the law of God; when you are told you are unnatural, it’s oppressive.”

He explained, though, that he has decided to remain a Catholic, despite challenges not only from the Church, but from the gay community itself:

“When you came out, did you consider walking away from the church?
Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I’m an atheist. And I feel sorry for those who deny their sexuality in the name of religion.

“Have you ever felt excluded from the gay community because of your faith?
My whole life is discrimination! You have no idea how many guys dumped me after discovering I was a Catholic.”

Ialenti also described an important action that Kairos took a few years ago, and some of his hope for the future of the Catholic Church:

“During the 2015 synod of bishops, we asked the church to stop considering homosexuality a tendency and start to consider it an affection. But the power of the church is based on the people’s perception, and until the believers change their point of view, Rome won’t change. I still hope that a kamikaze pope comes along and writes an encyclical letter saying that homosexuals are the same as straight people, in God’s grace.”

While he acknowledges that it may take “centuries” before such a pope is elected, he does see change happening in small ways.  Last year, Kairos helped organize Florence’s first gay pride celebration, which Ialenti notes brought many disparate groups together.  One small detail stuck out for him, though, as a sign of things to come in the Church:

“There was even Sister Fabrizia, who hosted us in her convent. So let’s hope they all start to open their eyes.”

To read the entire interview with Ialenti, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 31, 2017

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Sr. Jeannine Gramick Asks, “What Can We Do to Lessen Anti-LGBT Prejudice?”

Sr. Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, marked the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT) earlier this month with a reflection on her ministry in an international context.

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IDAHOBIT poster from Italy

Writing for The National Catholic Reporter’s “Global Sisters Report, Gramick suggested, “perhaps the tide is turning for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.” Gramick wrote:

 

“The International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia is particularly strong in Europe and Latin America, where it is commemorated with public events such as marches, parades and festivals. In Cuba, Mariela Castro [niece of Fidel Castro] has led massive street parades on May 17 for the past three years. The day can also include arts and culture-based events, such as a music festival called “Love Music – Hate Homophobia” in Bangladesh. Albanian activists arrange an annual bike ride through the streets of the capital on May 17.”

She also saw hope in the number of religious services held to mark IDAHOBIT, including several Catholic vigils. You can find out more information about these services by clicking here.

Still, while the tide may be turning in favor of LGBT equality, it has definitely not turned fully. IDAHOBIT celebrates the day–May 17, 1990–when the World Health Organization removed homosexuality as a mental illness. But in today’s world, Gramick explained, “the erroneous diagnosis of mental disorder persists, causing much fear and confusion about lesbian and gay people, with often tragic results.” IDAHOBIT then is not only a celebration of the past but a time for action towards a more just future, especially against transphobia.

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Sr. Jeannine Gramick, center, with Polish LGBT activists and journalists

To highlight the “already/not yet” reality of LGBT rights today, Sr. Gramick discussed her trip to Poland at the end of 2016. (You can read more details about the trip by clicking here.) She struck a hopeful note, despite the country’s strong opposition to LGBT issues from Catholic leaders and many politicians:

“I was surprised by the degree of openness and acceptance I found among the Polish people for their lesbian and gay sisters and brothers. Polish Catholics are emerging not only from the political stranglehold of communism, but also from the grip of their authoritarian and traditionalist religious culture. From them I learned that I, too, need to emerge from the iron grip of my own prejudices, my blind spots, and the beams in my own eye. I want to be more open to those who ‘rub me the wrong way’ and to be more welcoming to those with whom I disagree. My visit to the Polish people filled me with hope that homophobia is gradually decreasing in unexpected places.”

Gramick asked, “What can we do to lessen the homophobia and transphobia that engulfs those who are different?” She concluded:

“In my decades of ministry with LGBT people, I continue to be astounded and inspired by the example of those who remain in a church that has so miserably failed to nourish their faith life. In a spirit of non-violence, these LGBT Christian groups are now calling us to stand with them. We may not understand different sexual orientations or gender identities, but we do believe that each person should be treated with dignity and respect because each of us has been made in the image and likeness of God.”

Though IDAHOBIT has come and gone, the need to struggle against prejudices and biases that denigrate another person’s dignity or their love is always present.

How would you answer Sr. Jeannine’s question above? Leave your thoughts in the “Comments” section below.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 29, 2017

 

 

 

U.K. Bishops’ Voting Guide Reveals Pope Francis’ Influence

Conversations on marriage and family initiated by Pope Francis have opened doors within the church for families which are considered “non-traditional” by church leaders. But could the pope’s shift to mercy and inclusion in church discussions be having public policy implications as well? There is good evidence from the United Kingdom that the answer is yes.

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 9.57.59 AMLike many episcopal conferences, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) released a voting guide ahead of the U.K.’s general election this June. These guides generally include both guiding principles and specific political positions, which too frequently are reduced to the bishops’ opposition to abortion and to LGBT rights.

It is therefore highly significant that CBCEW’s guide omits commentary on LGBT rights altogether, and poses questions rather than dictating positions on issues which are taken up.

Pope Francis is quoted extensively throughout the two-page document. Among the key principles the bishops draw from the pope are Francis’ words, “We love this human family with all its tragedies and struggles.” The bishops then commented:

“The family is the basic model by which we think of humanity, for the family is indeed the fundamental unit of the human race and therefore to be protected and nurtured. The practical expression of this love is mercy and compassion, extended especially at times of illness, homelessness, bereavement, violence and desolation.”

What follows are brief issue-specific sections,  which have just a line or two of commentary before asking questions of the voter, who is asked to make a conscience decision. This method of engagement is very much in keeping with Pope Francis’ message in Amoris Laetitia that church ministers are called to form consciences, not replace them.

In the section, “Issues on Family and Life,” the bishops ask the question: “What policies do your candidates propose for the flourishing of family life?” Where too many bishops worldwide have in the last decade reduced family concerns to opposing marriage equality, CBCEW’s membership recognizes that public policy needs to be protecting families against actual problems they are facing.

In the section, “Freedom of Religion and Belief,” the bishops look outward to the protection of all religious minorities currently facing danger because of their beliefs. There are no claims that expanding LGBT rights are persecuting Christians in the U.K., claims which the U.S. bishops continue to make quite vocally about their own context.

The voting guide is not proof that the British bishops have changed their beliefs about marriage equality nor does it suggest they will soon become leading advocates of LGBT non-discrimination. Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster (London), who has a positive record on LGBT issues and even said recently he “rejoiced” in the growing acceptance of LGBT people, has said the Magisterium will remain “obstinate” in its opposition to marriage equality.

It is, however, proof that the style and tone of the U.K.’s bishops have begun to more closely mirror Pope Francis’ example. They are focusing on significant injustices in today’s world like migration, care for creation, and human trafficking, and by doing so, are setting aside “culture war” issues. In the church, such changes are not superficial: they are quite substantive.

The guide is also further proof that church teaching does evolve.  Instead of explicitly changing teachings, bishops can simply fail to mention them and then ultimately “forget” these teachings to history. English bishops endorsed civil partnerships for same-gender couples in 2011. They are now letting go of any vocal opposition to civil marriage equality. Perhaps they can now become positive voices for LGBT human rights in a global context.

Going forward, it will be interesting to see if bishops’ conferences elsewhere, in their function as political actors, will come to mirror Pope Francis’ model and vision more closely.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 29, 2017

QUOTE TO NOTE: Trans Catholic ‘Clings to Faith’ As Church Guidance is Absent

Earlier this spring, Commonweal magazine featured a pair of articles on gender identity, titled “The Church and Transgender Identity: Some Cautions, Some Possibilities.” You can read Bondings 2.0’s coverage of theologian David Cloutier’s piece here and theologian Luke Timothy Johnson’s piece here.

istock-499902638_0In response, a transgender person, who remained anonymous, wrote a powerful letter to the editor about their experiences with the church. “Anonymous” explained:

“I was a transgender child raised in a very religious Catholic family. . .the price of living ‘in the closet’ has been high: hundreds of hours of psychotherapy and spiritual direction, a lifetime of eating disorders and psychological suffering, and very little experience of deep, fulfilling friendships. When interacting with people, I am guarded, not myself. I feel as if I’m putting on an act, to spare other people from having to ‘freak out,’ as the people in my pre-school did.”

Still, the letter’s author has no clear answers about what the church or society should do with transgender children. The author only knows that their identity was “inborn” and nothing could change it. The letter concluded:

“Over the years I have longed for better guidance from the church. Nowhere does the vast literature of Catholic spirituality ask how a transgender person can lead a Christian life. All I can do is cling to the faith that, if the Creator made the kind of universe in which transgender people are possible, then the God ‘who wills everyone to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth’ must have a plan even for me. I just wish I knew what it is.”

Letters like this one clearly indicate how much the church must improves its pastoral care for trans Catholics and their families. To read the full letter from  “Anonymous” in Commonweal, click here.

To read the latest updates on transgender Catholic issues, see Bondings 2.0’s “Transgender” category in the right-hand column or click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 28, 2017

In Community, We are Nourished for the Journey

One of my highlights at New Ways Ministry’s Symposium last month was encountering blog readers, some of whom I knew and others whom I met for the first time. I love the community that has developed around the blog, and it is this community that sustains Bondings 2.0 in a multitude of ways!

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Attendees at the Symposium’s Closing Mass

Twice a year, Frank and I turn to you for financial support. We cannot provide high quality content about Catholic LGBT issues each and every day without your generosity. We need your support to keep this critical conversation on LGBT issues in the church going.

Click here to show your support for this community and keep it growing!

I was humbled at the Symposium to hear from so many of you about how the blog has been a helpful and nourishing resource these past five and a half years. This positive feedback (and your comments and emails throughout the year) in turn nourishes Frank and me when writing posts each day becomes tiring. I want to share with you a few testimonies we have received from readers:

“Bondings 2.0 has become a critical tool in keeping abreast of LGBT issues and a motivator for redress and affirmative change.”

“Thank you for providing a safe space for civil dialogue that is informative, insightful and inspiring.”

“Bondings 2.0 and all of the New Ways team have been a great blessing in my life. You are the sunshine at dawn and the rain on dry fields.”

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Symposium attendees, including fired church worker Colleen Simon, share their stories at table discussions

Click here to sustain Bondings 2.0 with your donation of $5, $10, or more as you are able!

However you support the blog—a financial contribution, sharing it with friends, leaving a comment—Frank and I are deeply grateful. Happy 5 ½ years to our companions on this journey towards LGBT equality!

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 28, 2017

Pope Francis Appoints LGBT-Positive Priest as Auxiliary Bishop in San Diego

Fr. John Dolan, a priest with an LGBT-positive record, has been appointed by the Vatican to be an auxiliary bishop in the Diocese of San Diego.

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Fr. John Dolan

Announcements about Dolan’s appointment repeatedly noted his pastoral work with marginalized people. In the past few years, this work has included ministry with LGBT Catholics and their families.

Dolan has been the diocesan vicar for clergy and pastored two churches, including the welcoming St. John the Evangelist parish in the Hillcrest neighborhood where many of San Diego’s LGBT residents live. Bishop Robert McElroy last year acknowledged the parish as a place where LGBT people have said they “feel particularly welcome” and, according to McElroy, “that’s a very good thing.”

Dolan has described his experiences with LGBT communities at St. John the Evangelist as “an eye-opening experience. . .but also a joyful experience.” These experiences led him to suggest LGBT issues were the “elephant in the room” at San Diego’s 2016 diocesan synod. Highlighting problems in how the church approaches younger Catholics, Dolan commented:

” ‘There are two different forms of doing church. . .One is very dialogical, from a dialogical sense, and the other is from a monological sense. And we have dealt with that monological world: Things come from on high, they get shelved in some pastor’s corner, then there’s some thought that comes down, but ultimately it’s all ‘We’re going to tell you what to think.’ . . .

” ‘Young adults have an acceptance of the LGBT experience. It is simply a part of their world, and they look at us, and say, “What is the problem?” ‘ “

Notably, Bishop McElroy also affirmed the need to address such issues, saying he was surprised at “where the LGBT question would come up” in the discussion section on the spirituality of marriage.” McElroy is himself a Francis appointee.

The pope’s influence on the U.S. episcopate is continuing to grow. Among the “Francis Bishops,” Bishop John Stowe of Lexington, Kentucky offered scriptural reflections at New Ways Ministry’s national Symposium, and Chicago’s Archbishop Blase Cupich has made repeated positive comments about LGBT people. There are presently eight vacant dioceses, and several dozen bishops approaching the age of mandatory retirement.

The Times of San Diego reported that in addition to his episcopal duties, Dolan will remain at the two parishes he now oversees. He will likely continue to learn from and be moved by the many faithful LGBT Catholics and their families whom he encounters. Hopefully, his new position will enable him to help open wider doors of welcome to LGBT people in San Diego.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 27, 2017

Semesters End with a Hate Crime, a Walkout, and a Lavender Graduation

Yet another academic semester is in the books. Today’s post features news highlights from around Catholic higher education.

Creighton University Responds to Hate Crime

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Note found at Creighton University with anti-gay slur blurred out at the top

Community members at Creighton University were shaken when a gay student, Joseph Gray, discovered a hateful note pinned to the door of his dorm room. The note said:

“Kill yourself. Leave our school. Gays are not welcome in Nebraska or Creighton.”

Gray reported the note to University officials, saying he “shouldn’t have to come back to where I sleep and worry about what I’m going to see” when he and other gay students have to worry about on-campus bullying in the daytime.

Fr. Daniel Hendrickson, S.J., the University’s president, released two statements. In the first statement, he said the note was “a breach of the Jesuit values we all share as the Creighton community, values which bind us all in the common mission of ensuring Creighton is a safe, respectful, inclusive place.”

Following up, Hendrickson said he was “very troubled” by the note and confirmed it was being investigated by the administration.

Gray told WOWT 6 News, a television station in Omaha, that while the note was only frustrating to him, similar acts could be far more damaging to other students. He wants administrators to help the note’s author understand the harm such hate speech causes.

Notre Dame Graduates Walk Out on VP Pence

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Students walking out of Notre Dame’s commencement ceremony as Vice President Pence speaks

As Vice President Mike Pence began addressing the University of Notre Dame’s commencement last week, more than 150 graduates and their families silently walked out in protest. They were greeted outside the ceremony by some 300 additional protestors, reported the South Bend Tribune.

Xitlaly Estrada, a graduate who participated in the walkout, said the protests were because students were “for racial justice, for immigrant rights, for LGBT rights, for every marginalized group that’s been targeted by Pence’s actions.”

Student organizers with We Stand for ND cited Pence’s opposition to LGBT rights as a key part of the protests. The statement said:

“During his time as governor of the state of Indiana and now as a Vice-President, Pence has targeted the civil rights protections of members of LBGT+ community. . .Pope Francis has bestowed upon the world a call. . .to acknowledge and respect the humanity of sexual minorities, and to bring down all walls that separate us.”

Georgetown Students Celebrate Lavender Graduation

Students at Georgetown University once again celebrated a Lavender Graduation organized by the LGBTQ Resource Center by recognizing the achievements of some 120 LGBTQ graduates, according to the campus newspaper, The Georgetown Voice.

Fr. Greg Schenden, S.J., the Catholic chaplain, said the University supports LGBTQ students “precisely because we are Catholic and Jesuit.” The Voice reported that “University President John DeGioia spoke about the activism that led to the founding of the LGBTQ Resource Center.”

Georgetown University has hosted a Lavender Graduation each year since 2009, and there are at least seven other Catholic colleges who have held such ceremonies in previous years.

Holy Cross Students Share Campus Experiences

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Sample posters that were part of Holy Cross’ students listening campaign

Student leaders at the College of the Holy Cross recently displayed posters with quotes from LGBTQ+ community members about what it means to be a sexual and/or gender minority on the campus.

The Student Government Association said the project sought to raise such voices because, according to the campus newspaper, The Crusader, “In order for us to become more welcoming to people in the lgbtq+ community, we need to listen closely to what those already here are saying.”

Responses were gathered through an anonymous survey, and were mixed between positive and negative statements. Some students said they felt supported, while others said they could not be out at Holy Cross or had to begin commuting. One poster read, “Being queer at Holy Cross means you’re an activist simply by existing whether you want to be or not.”

Fordham University Raises Trans Awareness

Students at Fordham University celebrated the Transgender Day of Visibility in late March by hosting a screening of “The Trans List,” a documentary about prominent trans people like Laverne Cox and Bamby Salcedo, founder of the TransLatin@ Coalition. A discussion followed and student journalist, Sam Deassis, raised questions in the campus newspaper, The Fordham Observer, about the practical implications of trans awareness for their campus community.

Fordham has already taken steps to be more supportive of transgender students by implementing gender-neutral restrooms and hosting a Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil in 2015.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 26, 2017