From Lisbon to Amsterdam: Vigils and Worship Services to Overcome Homophobia
Article by Luca Kocci. Published in Il Manifesto Italian newspaper on May 17, 2014. Translated by Peter Luntz
Lisbon, Amsterdam, Madrid, Liverpool, Seville, Porto and Barcelona. Prayer vigils against homophobia and transphobia will be held by gay Christian groups in many European cities this evening and tomorrow. These events are nearly all ecumenical initiatives held in Catholic, Waldensian, Methodist, Lutheran and Anglican churches.
In the Catholic Church, homosexuality was taboo due to its ‘non negotiable principles’ until Pope Francis partially broached the topic. Last summer on a flight to Rio for World Youth Day, the pope said “Who am I to judge a gay person?”. This statement denoted an opening in pastoral approach yet it has not changed the Church’s doctrine in the least. According to the Catholic Church, homosexual acts are considered “grave depravation”, “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to natural law”. His statement has had no effect on the majority of Europe’s bishops who maintain a rigid stance on the issue.
French bishops strenuously opposed the Parliament’s passing of the country’s ‘Marriage for All’ law. In Portugal – where gay marriage is legal – the Conference of Bishops recently published a pastoral letter entitled ‘On Gender Ideology’ detailing how same sex marriage is in “contrast with the Bible and truth of the person.” This issue has been repeatedly addressed by the Conference of Bishops in Spain. The Bishop of Malaga, Catalá Ibáñez, while meeting Catholic school students a few days ago, said that “gay marriage is a law made by man. At this point, we could talk about marriage between a three-day-old baby girl and a 70 year old man or between a man and his dog.”
The evident contradiction is impossible to ignore. There is no way to get around the Church’s doctrine and also allow for a change in its pastoral approach in any real and effective manner. Indeed, there seems to be an increasingly clear-cut divide in many of the Church’s faithful, as demonstrated by results Catholics gave to the Holy See’s questionnaire in preparation of next October’s Synod on family. German Catholics refused marriage but are favorable to giving gay couples a “community blessing”. They also made it clear that the Church has “sexual morals that are far removed from real life.” Sixty percent of Swiss Catholics support Church recognition and blessing of gay couples. Belgium also reported similar sentiments. French Catholics offered a more nuanced, yet still open, opinion by asking that the Church have a “welcoming attitude without judgment and refusal” of gay couples.
The situation in Italy is more tightly controlled. Unlike other countries, the Italian Conference of Bishops did not release its questionnaire results. They simply stated that answers were in line with Church teachings. Indeed, statements by Italian Conference of Bishops’ Secretary General, Msgr. Galantino, caused a stir. Appointed by Pope Francis, the prelate spoke more in line with the pope’s words, but he is still a minority voice among bishops.
In an interview to online newspaper QN, Galantino said that before a gay Christian couple “I would listen to their story.” Later, on Facebook, he confirmed that “there are not topics the faithful cannot or should not discuss – as if they were taboo.” He went on to say that “it is often more convenient to propose and carry on crusades.”
Prayer vigils against homophobia will be held in over 25 Italian cities. Compared to their beginnings eight years ago, these initiatives are beginning to come out of ‘hiding’. Many will with held by Catholic parish priests in their own churches.
There is still opposition by fundamentalist groups. The Waldensian Churches in Bergamo and Rome, which were holding prayer vigils, were vandalized. Homophobic graffiti (“No Fags”), swastikas and Celtic crosses appeared on these churches last night. This sort of violence is difficult to eradicate.