Parents Implore Pope to Put an End to Homophobia in Poland

August 19, 2016

We’ve often commented on this blog that the Catholic parents of LGBT people are among the strongest advocates in the Church for equality and justice.  Parents’ groups have been speaking boldly and effectively around the globe, perhaps most notably here in the U.S. through the organization Fortunate Families, and in Malta through the organization Drachma Parents.

A new set of parental voices has joined this growing chorus, this time from the very Catholic nation of Poland.  When Pope Francis visited there last month for World Youth Day, a group of parents of 16 gay Poles wrote to the pontiff, asking him to help put an end to the “widespread” homophobia which they say exists in their nation.

NDTV.com reported on the parents’ letter:

“Pointing to a recent string of ‘attacks on offices of organisations working with homosexuals, burning of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) symbols, and beatings of non-heterosexuals,’ the group implored Francis to intervene.

” ‘Instead of compassion for families, society is engulfed by a wave of homophobia,’ the group said in an open letter, which was published by several Polish newspapers and magazines in the past week [end of July].

” ‘Only the voice of Your Holiness can prevent future tragedies,’ they told Francis, who famously remarked ‘Who am I to judge?’ about gays earlier in his papacy.”

The news report described other important passages from the letter, including the experience of LGBT Poles, and the failure of the Polish church to protect the dignity of LGBT people:

” ‘On a daily basis, our children face hate attacks, verbal assaults and even physical violence only because they were created that way by God,’ said the parents, who did not publish their full names for fear of reprisals.

 ” ‘Why is there so much homophobia among Polish Catholics?’ they asked, quoting passages from Church teachings that call for gays and lesbians to ‘be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.’

” ‘Why aren’t priests reminding people in their sermons that LGBT people are also God’s children and only God can judge them?’

” ‘Jesus himself never said anything about the love between people of the same sex,’ the letter said.”

Unfortunately, Pope Francis did not address LGBT issues in any of his public addresses at World Youth Day, though he did refer negatively to gender issues in a private meeting with Polish bishops.

One Polish gay advocate feels that Francis’ more positive messages on LGBT issues is having an influence on the minds and attitudes of Catholic Poles.  NDTV.com reported:

” ‘It’s not yet at the point in history when the Catholic Church in Poland would be ready to agree (to officially recognise LGBT groups) — we are not yet there,’ [said] Misza Czerniak, an LGBT activist.

“He however acknowledged that ‘Francis has changed the tone and the vocabulary that is used when speaking about LGBT people in the Church, and we are extremely grateful for that.’

” ‘And what is a big sign of hope for us, is that the Polish church is gradually learning from him.’ “

Catholic parents of LGBT people are the true prophets in our Church.  Their journeys of acceptance and love, their experience of understanding new realities, are exactly the same journey that the entire Church, especially the hierarchy, need to learn.  Parents have a lot to teach church leaders about unconditional love, and about treating all people equally as brothers and sisters.  Their strong voices in support of their LGBT children are a true gift to our Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry.


Bishops in Colombia Kill Anti-Bullying Education Program

August 18, 2016
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President Juan Manuel Santos

A proposed anti-bullying program in Colombia will not go ahead as planned, following a meeting between the country’s president and Catholic bishops.

Colombia’s Ministry of Education, in conjunction with two United Nations agencies, had prepared a document, titled “Discrimination-Free School Environments,” to handle sexual and gender diversity training for educators. But, after meeting with three Catholic bishops, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that the document would not be implemented, reported The Catholic Herald.

In reply to the president’s announcement, the Colombian Conference of Catholic Bishops said in a statement that it “received with satisfaction the announcement of the National Government and the Department of Education that they will not promote or implement gender ideology in the country.” The bishops did note that all human beings should be respected regardless of identities, including their “sexual orientation.”

The meeting between the president and the bishops was held one day after thousands of Colombians demonstrated against the document, which had been released on the website of the United Nations Children’s Fund. The bishops’ statement said these protests were “an exercise by the parents of their right to be assisted in educating their children in accordance with their convictions and values.” But the church-encouraged protests were, in part, inspired by pornographic images released to the public that were falsely attributed to the document. There are claims the images were released by the Office of the Inspector General, Alejando Ordonez, who is a traditionalist Catholic, though he denied them.

Colombia Reports explained the anti-bullying document was merely aimed at giving teachers “the tools to teach children about sexual diversity and show how this can reduce bullying,” an idea first proposed after a gay Colombian teenager, Sergio Urrego, died by suicide two years ago. The document was part of larger efforts to update sexual education programs and protect LGBT people, led by Education Minister Gina Parody, who is herself a gay woman.

Church leaders, however, remain powerfully connected to the Colombian government and opposed to nearly any acceptance of sexual and gender minorities. The bishops’ voices joined other LGBT-negative critics in the country who condemn, without any specificity, “gender ideology” and make claims of “colonization” against those people seeking to expand LGBT rights.

LGBT rights have, however, expanded slowly in Colombia. For instance, in June, citizens were granted the right to change legal documents to match their gender identity. Earlier in the year, the Constitutional Court legalized marriage equality.

Despite this most recent bad news in Colombia, early August has been a positive time for LGBT rights in Latin America. As of this month, transgender people in Bolivia and Ecuador are now able to have their government records match their gender identity, reported Americas QuarterlyBelize’s Supreme Court overturned an anti-homosexuality law, ending the last criminalization of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in Latin America, according to Out Magazine.

As LGBT acceptance expands, bishops in Colombia and elsewhere should not partner with anti-LGBT movements to suppress human rights. Avoiding this strategy is most important when it comes to anti-bullying initiatives targeting youth. Yesterday’s post on Bondings 2.0 about teenager Daniel Fitzpatrick’s suicide, as well as the memory of Sergio Urrego in Colombia, are sufficient evidence of the harm caused when schools are not safe places for all students. Given these high stakes, pastoral leadership demands more from bishops than empty slogans.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


In Ontario, Catholic Teachers Pave the Way for LGBTQ Inclusion

August 15, 2016
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Kevin Welbes Godin

Today’s post is by guest blogger Kevin Welbes Godin.

For the past four years, I have served as Equity and Diversity Coordinator at Egale Canada, a national LGBTIQ2S equality organization.  My work has primarily been with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), the world’s largest Catholic teachers’ union, helping them to better serve their LGBT students.

While the slogging is still tough in Catholic schools, definite gains are being made for LGBTQ youth.  Egale Canada has faithfully supported the training of Catholic teachers and has touted this service as “one of a kind” in the world.  Contrary to what some conservative Catholics may think, many members of the LGBTQ community have been supportive of the work Catholic teachers are doing to create safer and accepting schools for LGBTQ students.

Many Catholics, including myself, still expect our Catholic hierarchy to lead. After all, it is a bishop’s role to teach. Many educated, concerned Catholics have questioned local Catholic authorities as to why there is such a roaring silence that plays into structural homo/bi/transphobia in schools.  Perhaps Church overseers are choosing to be silent toward our LGBTQ brothers and sisters because they see the rest of us so willing to take the lead?  Even if unconsciously, I wonder if the spirit of Vatican II is swirling in the minds of episcopal gents as many Catholics refuse to let stubborn, rigid language and rules ruin and even take people’s lives?   It would be good to hear from our Bishop-teachers, though, right?   They still exercise the power when they choose to.

Ontario Catholic teachers have resoundingly told me that LGBTQ inclusion–creating safer schools and curriculum–is a priority.  OECTA members participated in Egale Canada’s “Every Teacher Project.”  Have a look at the report by clicking here.  This research tells a good story of where Catholic educators want the Catholic school system to move.  Here are some of the key findings:

What the classroom teacher sees as a need, doesn’t always get reflected as a priority for a  school board.

Religious schools are often assumed to be sites that are hostile to LGBTQ-inclusive education, but educators from Catholic schools were only slightly less likely to approve of LGBTQ-inclusive education (83% vs. 85% of respondents from secular schools), and slightly more likely to be opposed to it (6% vs. 4%). This suggests that the relationship between educators’ perspectives on the issue and the official perspectives of their schools is not a straightforward one.

Catholic teachers want to do the job of LGBTQ inclusion, but…

 Educators from Catholic schools were much less likely to feel comfortable discussing LGBTQ issues with their students (57%) than those from secular schools (76%), even though, as noted earlier, they were almost as likely to approve of LGBTQ-inclusive education (83% vs. 85%). This suggests that their discomfort has more to do with their school context than with their personal values.

Teachers know what they need and the kind of leadership necessary to support their work with LGBTQ inclusion.

 When asked why they did not practice LGBTQ-inclusive education, very few Catholic school educators cited their own religious beliefs. Their biggest reason for not practicing LGBTQ-inclusive education was insufficient training (29% vs. 17% from secular schools), followed by fear-based reasons concerning lack of leadership.

Even without leadership, Catholic teachers are boldly standing in solidarity with their LGBTQ students. Among their accomplishments:

Many Catholic schools have established Ontario’s legislated Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA).

Recently, I was invited to a Catholic high school assembly that openly proclaimed the need to be more inclusive of its LGBTQ students and staff.  While the chaplain prophetically spoke gospel truth to institutional power, students rallied and advocated for a school GSA, and the school administrators led the line in signing the rainbow flag.

Catholic student leaders keep the system accountable.

Across the province of Ontario, I’ve seen courageous student leaders, fueled by a deep passion, and tired of being invisible, raise their voices to challenge lackadaisical Catholic school boards. They urge these boards to support  LGBTQ students and keep them safe.  Catholic student trustees continue to make LGBTQ inclusion a priority on their school boards.

Many OECTA local units, especially the Toronto Secondary Unit, stand in solidarity with LGBTQ members.

Marching in Pride parades, advocating for LGBTQ member human rights, and speaking strongly to other Catholic partners all need to continue.  The time has arrived, and sitting on our hands and exercising a complicit silence can no longer be the norm if Catholic schools in Ontario are to viably speak to its students and teachers and remain authentic to the gospel mandate to love.

All sorts of resources and new social and cultural initiatives have been added to schools.

School libraries showcase books on diverse families (same-sex families). School hallways advertise pink shirt days and safe space initiatives.  A Catholic high school outside Toronto crowned Prom-Queens!  Rainbow flags are expressly being waved inside and outside schools.  These and more continue to be signs that LGBTQ inclusion is countering the nervous, nibbled-knee responses that have darkened the Spirit in the past.

Catholic teachers have recognized the “signs of the times” and are acting accordingly, and quickly, to support the dignity and well-being of LGBTQ students.  The problem is with those who wait, doing nothing,  while the suicide rate of LGBTQ youth is four times the average.  Gratitude is to those who take the prophetic, bold steps to seize the moment and stand with the most vulnerable.

Courage will still be needed to stand in the face of hate, and dignity will be needed to sway those who prefer a splintered community.   As we forge ahead, let us raise each other up, stand arm in arm, and wholehearted welcome the part of the Body of Christ that is LGBTQ.

Yes, the slogging still remains tough, but as Canadian singer Bruce Cockburn said, “nothing worth happening comes without some kind of fight.”  Continue on… there’s no turning back now.

–Kevin Welbes Godin

 


Australian Liturgy Answers Pope Francis’ Call for Apology

August 12, 2016

At the end of June, Pope Francis made headlines when he called on the church to apologize to lesbian and gay people for the harm that they have experienced.  In the six weeks since the pope made that call, no church leader or organization has accepted the pope’s challenge.  Until today.

What is likely the first public apology to LGBTIQ people in response to Pope Francis’ statement, an Australian Catholic parish and a Catholic LGBT coalition will be hosting a “An Apology Liturgy to LGBTIQ People” today, in which the two groups will ask pardon of the sexual and gender minority community, and seek to chart a more just course for the future.

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‘Pastoral organizers including St Joseph’s Church Newtown Parish Priest Father Peter Maher (3rd from right) at an ecumenical pastoral leaders’ roundtable hosted by the interagency’

The Mass is being sponsored by St. Joseph’s Church, Newtown (a suburb of Sydney), and the Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry, an umbrella group for several Australian Catholic groups that work for LGBT equality.

“We are taking Pope Francis’ words to heart, along with all the other positive things he has had to say over the years, not only about gay people, but also about Jesus’ words to welcome, heal relationships and show mercy” said Father Peter Maher, pastor of St Joseph’s, in a press statement.

Francis Vroon, a Rainb0w Catholics Interagency for Ministry spokesperson noted the innovative and unique experience this Mass will be:

“Perhaps for the first time in Australia, and possibly the world, we have a Catholic Church respond to these words, where we are inviting people of goodwill to community prayer in recognition of our church’s and collective failure to keep LGBTIQ people safe from discrimination and hurt. More importantly, we pledge that we do better from here on.”

Vroon noted that in hosting the Mass, the group  was joining with Pope Francis and the newly appointed Bishop of Parramatta, Vincent Long, in acknowledging the ways that the church has harmed or failed to protect LGBTIQ people.

Noting that just over 25% of the Australian population identifies as Catholic Vroon added:

“It may be also be possible that one in four people in the LGBTIQ community has come from a Catholic background, church or school. Many have left our church, some have remained, finding peace in reconciling both their sexuality and faith.”

The groups’ press statement offered an explanation of the purpose of having a Mass of Forgiveness, not just issuing a statement:

What can our humble prayer service do? In our Catholic tradition, we have a saying ‘lex orandi, lex credendi’ which is a fancy way of saying that what we pray informs our beliefs. As we pray for forgiveness, we resolve to change our hearts and be part of the healing process for those we have hurt or failed. One of our saints has been quoted as saying ‘Pray as if everything depended on God, Work as if everything depended on you.’ Some might say that words are empty without action, and perhaps we need the LGBTIQ community to keep us accountable, in positively encouraging ways. We have to start somewhere, and we hope our prayers are a beginning, as we start to walk with our LGBTIQ siblings in relationships that lead to a change of hearts towards each other. And then who knows what good fruits will be born of this?”

The Mass will be held at 8:00 p.m. on August 12th at St. Joseph’s, whose mission statement says is “to provide a safe place for all people to pray regardless of age, race, creed, gender, cultural background or sexual orientation.”  The parish was featured last year in a Bondings 2.0 post because of the rainbow banners which are a permanent fixture in the church building.

The Rainbow Catholics Interagency describes itself as a “coalition of Catholic organisations whose primary purpose is to build relationships, to pray, and to educate, in advocating for justice and the full inclusion of LGBTIQ Catholics and their families in the Australian Catholic Church and our larger community. Their members include parents, clergy, religious and pastoral leaders from various parts of the Australian Catholic community.”

New Ways Ministry will be praying with these groups, and we encourage all of our friends to do the same.  We will also be praying that other leaders, parishes, and church organizations will follow their example and make some public statement or action of apology, as Pope Francis has asked.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Italy Is a Case Study for How the Church Can Build Up a Marriage Culture

August 9, 2016
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Deborah Piccini and Elena Vanni celebrating their civil union in Italy

Civil unions by same-gender couples have begun in Italy, implementing a law passed earlier this year against the Catholic hierarchy’s objections. But a new study suggests that church weddings, already in great decline, may disappear altogether in Italy in 15 years.  These two facts make Italy a case study for how the church can actually build up a healthy and positive culture around marriage.

It is not clear which couple was the first to be legally joined in Italy, but it is clear that couples have rushed to get their relationships legally recognized. Malay Mail reported one couple entered a union early in Milan because, after 28 years together, one partner was terminally ill. Gay Star News reported that Elena Vanni and Deborah Piccini were among the first couples, celebrating their union at the City Hall of Castel San Pietro near Bologna. Vanni said of their decision to be united under the law:

“‘Desires are the engine that leads us to be happy. . .Not that we were in a hurry, but at some point, our union [became] a discourse about justice.'”

Italy’s national conversation about same-gender relationships has been contentious, and much of the debate has been framed around the issue of justice. Both sides rallied hundreds of thousands to their cause, resulting in massive demonstrations in the lead-up to the law’s passage last May. Lay Catholics were split on the civil unions question, though Italians overall support expanding LGBT rights.  Italian church leaders substantively supported anti-equality efforts, though the Italian Episcopal Conference and some bishops practiced more distance than they had before Pope Francis’ election. For its part, the Holy See avoided the debate in Italy. Still, church leaders were overwhelmingly clear they did not support the law and the Conference’s president called the law’s passage “a loss for everyone.

Contrasting this rush by couples to enter civil unions is a report which suggested that Catholic sacramental weddings in Italy may end altogether by 2031. The study was done by CENSIS, the Center for Social Investment Studies, and analyzed marriage trends from the last two decades. Crux reported that the numbers of Italians entering into sacramental marriages were “in free fall” despite 95% of the nation’s residents still identifying as Catholic. Religious weddings fell by an average of 6,400 annually, and civil ceremonies are holding steady, but show little to no growth.

CENSIS director Massimiliano Valerii said the study indicates the “dissolution of this institution [of marriage],” which the Center attributed in part to legislative trends “including the fact that children born outside of marriage are now recognized as equally legitimate as those born to married couples, and also the civil recognition of de facto couples in addition to those who are married.” Civil unions for lesbian and gay couples are too new to have been factored into any calculations.

The phrasing, “culture of marriage” is used mostly by conservative opponents of marriage equality who claim that the expansion of LGBT rights undercuts the institution of marriage and family life. But Italy reveals that the culture of marriage is not defended, and certainly not strengthened, by denying LGBT people their human rights. If this were the case, marriage should be flourishing in Italy, the last Western European nation (aside from the Holy See) to grant rights to same-gender couples. It is not.

Whether or not sacramental marriages in the Catholic church will cease by 2031 is uncertain. Trends provide guidance, but do not predict the future. What is certain is that the debate over LGBT rights in Italy will continue. Civil unions are progress but are not equivalent to equal marriage rights. Adoption rights for same-gender partners were stripped from the civil unions law to ensure its passage. While employment non-discrimination protections exist, these protections do not extend to other areas like public accommodations. Between now and 2031,  Italian church leaders have an opportunity to shift their strategy on marriage equality, and, in the process, save the nation’s culture of marriage.

Until now, bishops’ engagement with marriage policy in many Western nations has almost exclusively existed of their public condemnations of marriage equality, divorce and remarriage, or contraception. They have failed to offer a compelling, positive, and hopeful vision of marriage and family life that the Catholic tradition possesses. The synodal process and Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, attested to the institutional church’s deficiency in preaching and cultivating this vision.The generally conservative Italian episcopacy has been a prime example of this approach.

But if the bishops would listen to the LGBT people and their loved ones, who are actually defending marriage and family, they might actually build up the culture of marriage that they seek. Where the bishops have failed, lay people have led the way. It is no coincidence that marriage equality, and LGBT rights overall, frequently advance first in regions which are predominantly Catholic. The faithful, driven by a sense of justice for people who are marginalized, have championed equality under the law precisely to strengthen all couples and their families. Catholic loved ones of LGBT people, particularly parents, have passionately affirmed not only the goodness of same-gender relationships but demanded equal protections for them. These Catholics understand that all love is good before God, and it should be affirmed and protected by society because marriage and family are indeed essential goods for human flourishing.

As Italians keep addressing LGBT rights, the nation’s bishops should stop resisting LGBT rights as if equality’s progress is anti-marriage and anti-family. They have done tremendous damage to the institution of marriage by claiming some love is second class, and that some families should not be recognized as such. Bishops should instead listen to the many faithful Catholics in Italy and around the world whose advocacy for equality has done more to build up a culture of marriage.

Foremost among these leaders is the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, who has to some extent undertaken this positive reclamation of marriage and family.  Unfortunately, he has done so by promoting heterosexuality as the norm for these institutions. If he cannot affirm marriage equality, he could at least affirm publicly  the love and commitment which exists between same-gender couples and the legal protections their families deserve.   That would do wonders for the culture of marriage in Italy and around the world.

 

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


LGBT Rights Activist Arrested in Ugandan Police Raid

August 6, 2016
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Dr. Frank Mugisha

The leading LGBT advocate in Uganda was among those arrested on Thursday following the police raid of a Pride event.

Police arrested about 20 people while raiding Venom, a nightclub in the capital of Kampala which had been hosting the Mr. and Miss Pride Uganda pageant. Those arrested included Dr. Frank Mugisha, a Catholic who is the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), reported Buzzfeed. Everyone arrested was released without charges after a few hours, and other attendees were allowed to leave after a time. But SMUG’s statement reports the violence which occurred in the interim:

“[B]eating people, humiliating people, taking pictures of LGBTI Ugandans and threatening to publish them, and confiscating cameras. Eyewitnesses reported several people—in particular transwomen and transmen—were sexually assaulted by police. One person jumped from a 4 storey window to try to avoid police abuse. This person is now in critical condition at private hospital.”

Police claimed the event did not have a permit, and there were reports of a same-gender wedding, but Pepe Julian Onziema of SMUG disputed these claims.

Pride celebrations in the capital have in large part been tolerated the last few years. Mugisha tied the raid to a broader uptick in police activity against Ugandans, in addition to targeting LGBT advocates. Pride 2016 celebrations are now being amended, including the cancellation of a planned Pride parade today because Ethics Minister Simon Lokodo threatened mob violence against any marchers.

Being openly LGBT in Uganda can be dangerous, as this incident makes clear. A report released by SMUG earlier this year, “And That’s How I Survived Being Killed: Testimonies of Human Rights Abuses from Uganda’s Sexual and Gender Minorities,” documented the persecution:

“In this report, based on first-hand testimonies, Sexual Minorities Uganda documented from May 2014 until December 2015 the physical threats, violent attacks, torture, arrest, blackmail, non-physical threats, press intrusion, state prosecution, termination of employment, loss of physical property, harassment, eviction, mob justice, and family banishment that are all too often apart of the lived experience for sexual and gender minorities in Uganda.”

There are 264 verified testimonies in all, about which Dr. Mugisha commented:

“This report is unique and unlike those that have come before it because it elevates the voice of the persecuted. What is inside this report is the human story – that is the lived experience of sexual and gender minorities in Uganda.”

Screen Shot 2016-08-05 at 3.32.33 PMUganda is about 40% Catholic, and Mugisha’s advocacy has been directed to church leaders, as well as government officials. Mugisha challenges claims by church leaders and others that homosexuality is a Western import and that Western advocacy for LGBT Africans has triggered a backlash. He criticized Uganda’s bishops for not condemning and even supporting the Anti-Homosexuality Act, colloquially known as the “Kill the Gays” bill, proposed by President Yoweri Museveni.

Last fall, Mugisha appealed to Pope Francis for words of compassion and equality about LGBT people during the apostolic voyage to Uganda, Kenya, and Central African Republic. The pope did not address the issue. He also unsuccessfully sought a meeting with Francis, and like many LGBT advocates, was disappointed at the pope’s silence in a context where LGBT suffer greatly.

Mugisha was the recpient of the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2011, and he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.

Dr. Mugisha will be a keynote speaker at New Ways Ministry’s Eight National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” If you are interested attending the Symposium to hear Dr. Mugisha, click here for more information and registration instructions.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Remembering Gay Holocaust Victims, As Pope Prepares to Visit Auschwitz

July 28, 2016

With World Youth Day 2016 taking place in Krakow, Poland, it is only natural that both pilgrims and pope will visit the remains of the Auschwitz concentration camp, which is only a short distance from where events are taking place.

Train tracks leading to Auschwitz concentration camp

I had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz in 2003, when New Ways Ministry led an LGBT Catholic pilgrimage to Poland.  It was a visit that will stay with me until I die.  The eerie silence of the place is both appropriate and chilling.  Almost all visitors there did not breathe a word while walking around, stunned by the awareness of the reality that took place where they were walking.  If people did speak, it was in hushed whispers.

I have been to dozens of shrines all over the globe, but Auschwitz is probably the most sacred spot I have ever visited.

Pope Francis, who is visiting the camp tomorrow, July 29th, has already said that he anticipates the stop to be primarily a spiritual exercise.  Crux reported on his plans for the visit:

“When Pope Francis goes on a silent pilgrimage to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp this Friday, it will be his first time in the former Nazi concentration camp that stands as the universal symbol of totalitarian horror.

“That is one reason he won’t be giving a speech. He wants to go alone and say nothing. ‘I would like to go to that place of horror without speeches, without crowds – only the few people necessary,’ he told journalists on the flight back from Armenia.

” ‘Alone, enter, pray,’ he said. ‘And may the Lord give me the grace to cry.’

“The only proper human response – as so many visitors find – to the mystery of such evil is recollection and silent prayer. Francis’ decision to say nothing has been deeply appreciated by the Chief Rabbi of Poland.”

Jewish people were certainly the most victimized group of Nazi atrocities, with up to six million perishing, approximately 1 million of them at Auschwitz.  But among the other groups targeted, gay men were probably the ones next in line to receive such the most vicious treatment, though the number of victims was much smaller.  Even before the camps were established, gay men were arrested in Germany in alarming numbers.  According to the U.S. Holocaust Museum’s website:

“An estimated 1.2 million men were homosexuals in Germany in 1928. Between 1933-45, an estimated 100,000 men were arrested as homosexuals, and of these, some 50,000 officially defined homosexuals were sentenced. Most of these men spent time in regular prisons, and an estimated 5,000 to 15,000 of the total sentenced were incarcerated in concentration camps.”

(Curiously, although the Nazis closed some lesbian bars,  lesbian women were not systematically arrested, according to the Museum web page.  Wikipedia.org said that the reason lesbians were not targeted was that they were “considered easier to persuade or force them to comply with accepted heterosexual behavior.)

A concentration camp inmate’s uniform with the pink triangle to identify gay prisoners.

Another Holocaust Museum’s webpage says that gay men were singled out for particularly cruel treatment.   The website states:

“Prisoners marked by pink triangles to signify homosexuality were treated harshly in the camps. According to many survivor accounts, homosexuals were among the most abused groups in the camps.

“Because some Nazis believed homosexuality was a sickness that could be cured, they designed policies to ‘cure’ homosexuals of their ‘disease’ through humiliation and hard work. Guards ridiculed and beat homosexual prisoners upon arrival, often separating them from other inmates. Rudolf Hoess, commandant of Auschwitz, wrote in his memoirs that homosexuals were segregated in order to prevent homosexuality from spreading to other inmates and guards. Personnel in charge of work details in the Dora-Mittelbau underground rocket factory or in the stone quarries at Flossenbürgand Buchenwald often gave deadly assignments to homosexuals.”

On yet another web page from the Holocaust Museum, it states:

“Nazis interested in finding a ‘cure’ for homosexuality conducted medical experiments on some gay concentration camp inmates. These experiments caused illness, mutilation, and even death, and yielded no scientific knowledge.”

Wikipedia.org notes that because of ill treatment by both guards and even other prisoners, gay inmates died at a higher rate than other groups:

“A study by Rüdiger Lautmann found that 60% of gay men in concentration camps died, as compared to 41% for political prisoners and 35% for Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

Even after the Nazis were defeated and the camps were liberated, gay prisoners continued to be mistreated.  The Holocaust Museum web page states:

“After the war, homosexual concentration camp prisoners were not acknowledged as victims of Nazi persecution, and reparations were refused. Under the Allied Military Government of Germany, some homosexuals were forced to serve out their terms of imprisonment, regardless of the time spent in concentration camps. The 1935 version of Paragraph 175 [the law which criminalized homosexuality] remained in effect in the Federal Republic (West Germany) until 1969, so that well after liberation, homosexuals continued to fear arrest and incarceration.

“Research on Nazi persecution of homosexuals was impeded by the criminalization and social stigmatization of homosexuals in Europe and the United States in the decades following the Holocaust. Most survivors were afraid or ashamed to tell their stories. Recently, especially in Germany, new research findings on these ‘forgotten victims’ have been published, and some survivors have broken their silence to give testimony.”

Pope Francis’ promise to be silent at Auschwitz is an appropriate gesture.  As he prays for the millions of victims there, let’s hope he will include the gay victims of the Holocaust.  I hope, too, that he will pray for the victims of contemporary laws around the globe which criminalize LGBT people and subject them to cruelly harsh punishments.  The Nazi Holocaust is over, but other nations and groups have continued their atrocities in other forms.  In addition to political bodies which criminalize LGBT people, medical authorities continue the Nazi legacy by using destructive “reparative” psychological therapy on LGBT patients.

Let’s hope, too, that someday a pope–or even some other Catholic leader–will visit the site of the Orlando gay nightclub shooting, and pray silently there for those victims and all victims of anti-LGBT oppression and violence.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry