On several trips to Italy over the past two decades, New Ways Ministry has met with several gay rights organizations, both Catholic and secular, learning about their struggles and successes. One message that many of the leaders of these groups repeated is that a big part of the problem in motivating an Italian gay rights movement is that a cultural “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in place. Modern Italy never had any anti-sodomy laws on the books, so there has been no strong political rallying point. The strong family culture that exists in Italy means that few are excluded or ostracized from their families because of sexual orientation. Instead, Italian lesbian and gay people face a perhaps even more insidious problem: silence, augmented by partial-acceptance.
This phenomenon was highlighted recently at the funeral Mass of a popular Italian singer/songwriter who was very private about being gay, Lucio Dalla. Dalla’s life-partner, Marco Alemanno, gave the eulogy at the service in the Basilica of San Petronio, Bologna. According to an article in The Irish Times, the funeral has revived a debate in Italy about the Catholic church’s approach to homosexuality:
“Total hypocrisy, screamed commentators who suggested the semi-state basilica funeral and the lover’s oration had been tolerated not only because Dalla was a practising Catholic but because he was famous, successful and private about his sexual orientation.
“ ‘Lucio Dalla’s funeral represents a very clear example of what it means to be gay in Italy today. You go to church, they grant you a funeral and they bury you according to the Catholic rite, just as long as you don’t say you are gay,’ said television presenter Lucia Annunziata. . . .
Italian writer Michele Serra took a more optimistic view, stating:
“ “We would like to think that Marco’s brief oration for Lucio has established a precedent. For those homosexuals who are not Catholic, church teaching on the subject does not matter a damn, they could not care less. But for Catholic homosexuals, it is a huge problem. And it is to them that the thoughts of all decent-minded people turn, when we see Marco Alemanno praying for his ‘man’ beside the basilica altar. ‘ ”
Does this example illustrate that money, fame, and power often trump even something as supposedly intransigent as church teaching on homosexuality? Perhaps. Does it show that pastoral leaders, at least in this case, were sensitive to the particular situations of this funeral? Perhaps. Does it offer promise that there might be some “bending of rules” in the future on homosexuality? Perhaps.
The many “perhaps” answers to these questions are not because I don’t want to take a strong stand on this issue, but because there are so many gaps of information in this case. One thing that is certain and where a strong stand can be taken is that these gaps exist because of silence on the issue of homosexuality. Silence can be more damaging than hypocrisy.
The Irish Times article ends on an optimistic note from Italian journalist Marco Politi, who suggests that this incident may lead the way for greater political change in Italy:
“ ‘Now is not the moment to waste time discussing the hypocrisy of the institutional church or why Italians tend to handle their private affairs without any form of ‘outing’. The question is another. If even the church hierarchy now finds it impossible to publicly condemn the gay life, it is hard to understand why the Italian state still has not passed legislation allowing two homosexual partners to publicly testify to their life union.’ ”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry