“Everyone in the Church”. The Catholic priest don Santoro (Italy) practices “conscientious objection” with gays
Article by Maria Cristina Carratu. Published by La Repubblica, October 22, 2012 on page 20. Translated from the original Italian by Peter L.
For them, it was an intimate and quiet moment, but Church hierarchy may view it as an unacceptable challenge. Their names are Ambra, Alice, Silvano, Luciano and Davide, Irene and Cristina. They say they feel like “normal people” even though “for the Church we may not be just that.”
That is, they may not be acceptable for the official Church. Here, in the Piagge suburb of Florence (Italy), the center of so many difficult lives, is Don Alessandro Santoro’s social center called Il Pozzo. Here, they feel at home, both as people and as Christians.
This group, the “excluded ones”, participated in Communion with other parishioners yesterday (Sunday, October 21, 2012) in the prefab building that becomes a church every Sunday, when Don Santoro blesses wine and hosts. They follow the “priest who brought us back to church” after years of being shunned as gay Christians. The Church’s Magisterium has labeled homosexuality an «objective disorder» and teaches that it precludes access to the sacraments, most of all to the Eucharist.
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 atmosphere inside Il Pozzo’s shed yesterday however was decidedly different. It was the first Sunday after the second letter regarding “The Catholic Church and Homosexuality” was made public. This followed the first one on the same topic sent in September to the Archbishop of Florence, Giuseppe Betori, by three Florentine priests and a nun (Don Fabio Masi, Don Giacomo Stinghi, Sister Stefania Baldini and Don Santoro himself). The Archbishop also happens to be President of the Commission for the Synod’s final message, which will have to find some way take into account an opening expressed by some bishops on the issue of allowing remarried divorced Catholics, who are also excluded from the sacraments.
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 (following an admonishment by Archbishop Betori in response to their first letter) “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.
This is what happened yesterday in Piagge. With great satisfaction, Luciano Tanganelli and Davide Speranza, 50 and 32 years old, who are married in the state of New York and fathers of twins, and Cristina Ciulli and Irene Panzani, 6 months pregnant and also married abroad “returned to church after years of being away thanks to Don Santoro who welcomed us with no ifs, ands or buts.” The same goes for 21 year old student Ambra Colacione, “After having lived out my faith with conviction, I felt only condemnation after I came out at the age of 15.” She says, “Now I finally feel part of a community once again, and can do so with a renewed spirit.” Silvano Santi, also a student, remarks that “in a larger framework, our problem regards the way the Church is Church.”
The first letter to the Archbishop made no reference to conscientious objection. The three priests and nun cited numerous Bible passages, highlighting how Scripture offers us a “higher frame of reference” beyond simple condemnation (taken from Catechism) “which can be used to frame this aspect of life as well”, referring to homosexuality. It also states that the “path of science”, a “new sensibility among the faithful” and the “evolution of a Christian anthropological vision” all beseech the Church to no longer “consider certain beliefs now as absolute truths, since they will have to be recognized as errors in the future, as has happened in the past.”
In response to a desire for dialog, Betori did not reply directly to those who signed the letter, as they had requested. He 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.” From this reaction came the second letter and yesterday “the Piagge case” emerged; now it is likely that Church authorities will no longer stand by and just watch.
MARRIED FATHERS OF TWINS REDISCOVER THEIR FAITH
Luciano Tanganelli, 50, and Davide Sapienza, 32, care for their 4 month old twins Andrea and Elisabetta while Fr Santoro celebrates mass.
Is being a gay parent, as well as a Catholic, difficult? «Yes, it has been difficult everywhere, except here. The Piagge is the only place we feel like people, without hesitation and lingering questions. Before this, we stayed away from church. When you feel like you aren’t wanted, and here we aren’t just talking about the sacraments, you obviously want to avoid putting yourself into a painful place.”
What is the difference with Fr. Santoro? “He is a priest who has a thinking community, one that accepts gay Christians in a natural way. Why isn’t the Church grateful? Instead of pointing their finger at him, why don’t they realize that he helps people stay in the Church, rather than leave it?”