“In the love of God under the light of the sun”. Italian lgbt christian people moving forward, despite everything
Andrea Rubera (Nuova Proposta – LGBT christians from Rome), multi-faith/multi-national discussion “Mind the Gap! Faith and Global LGBT Rights”, London, 5 July 2012
Italy is a beautiful and even weird place under several aspects. While, in the XIX century, the greatest part of Europe had laws that forbade homosexuality even punishing it with arrest and jail, we used to give asylum to European LGBT people, especially in the South of Italy, according to the guideline “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Capri and Sicily, for example, had become the golden exile for many people who could have been persecuted in their own homelands.
And yet today Italy, together with Greece, is the only country in the European Union not to have a law which recognizes LGBT couples, giving them more or less the same rights as straight couples have. And moreover, the Italian parliament rejected twice a proposal of law to protect LGBT people against homophobia.
This proposal of law, which had been presented by Paola Concia, the only “out” LGBT representative in the actual Italian parliament, has been officially rejected (and it is written down in the official acts of the Italian parliament) because it has been considered against Italian constitution as its aim, listen well, was to protect people because of their “sexual orientation” that, according to what it’s written in the acts, should Include attitudes that shouldn’t be protected, like “necrophilia”, “zoophilia” and so on… I know, it’s really hard to believe, but it is the truth!
I obviously hope you will not think that Italian representatives are so naïf to really believe that sexual orientation includes the above mentioned perversions. Such unbelievable episodes can be understood only if we consider one fundamental issue that is really important also considering what’s happening to Italian LGBT Christians : this issue is the power which the Roman Catholic hierarchy still has in Italy and especially on politics.
The Vatican is controlling the votes of million of Italian people and all the political parties, but a very small number of them, are strongly concerned about losing the vote of Catholics. And, as you can imagine, the Vatican is strongly against any law regarding rights for LGBT people, even getting to the paradox to fight a law against homophobia.
I imagine they have been officially and even unofficially working to create obstacles for the law against homophobia because they know that “the concept of homophobia” includes everything which could be against the rights of LGBT people, even denying marriage or civil partnership, not to mention the affirmations of fundamentalist Catholic groups which still consider homosexuality as abomination or something different by a natural attitude. Every year, during the Rome Pride, for example, a fundamentalist Roman Catholic right-wing group, called “Militia Christi” put posters in the streets of the parade, offensive to LGBT people, saying that Rome is profaned by Pride.
More than half Italian representatives, belonging to right or left parties, are under the pressure of the Vatican and cannot officially declare or vote anything which is against the will of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
Italy is officially a lay country but is not really 100% lay. The public debate has not succeeded yet in distinguishing religious and civil issues. I know this prologue has been very long but, believe me, it is not possible to understand the situation of Christian LGBT people in Italy, by ignoring these issues.
Because of this exhausting context, the life of Christian LGBT groups has been following quite a peculiar path, in comparison to what has been happening in northern European countries, for example, or even other Catholic countries like France.
In Itay the first groups were originally born, somewhere around the ’80’s and ’90’s, not to make pressure to promote the change within the church, but to create safe places where people could join together to pray and exchange their lives because they couldn’t find any other place to reconcile their faith and their homosexuality.
That’s why in Italy we haven’t a major and national group yet but around 30 different groups, scattered all around Italy, from the major towns, like Rome and Milan, to small ones, like Parma, Brescia, Cremona. And even the style or the aim of these groups is still very different.
There are groups in which the sense of “privacy” is still very strong and that choose to have “private meetings” and so they require to know the people who’d like to attend before accepting them in the group; there are other groups (for example Nuova Proposta from rome and Il Guado from Milan) that have been working for several years to promote a process of visibility and therefore are completely “public”, visible and organize meetings and conferences open to everyone, advertised through newsletters or websites.
There are groups hosted by Roman Catholic communities or parishes, just a few of them officially, while others have to find different places to meet, looking at Protestant churches (like the Waldensian church) or lay contexts. There are groups that have relations with the other LGBT associations and groups that strongly refuse to be connected to them.
In such a multifaceted context, it has been very difficult in the past decades to find points of connection among the Italian groups and, in my opinion, it has been a terrible weakness. Working in an isolated way has not made possible to create important projects or initiatives to develop a sense of pride among Italian LGBT Christians and even to cooperate on a regular basis with other LGBT association.
But something has been changing over the last couple of years : some of the historical groups, together with the “Gionata Project”, the most important website dealing with faith and homosexuality, decided to organize the “First Forum of Italian LGBT Christian Groups”, following the model of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups. The Forum took place close to Rome in April 2010 and was a huge success: a lot of participants and several articles on magazines and newspaper. From that moment on, we started to realize that we had to work together in order to to maximize the effects of our work.
A lot of things happened from that moment on:
• a newsgroup was created to discuss about the most important issues among all the groups and to share project and initiatives
• the vigils of prayer to remember the victims of homophobia and transphobia (a project originally promoted by the Gionata Group) started to become a shared project. We started to decide together how to organize them, how to share contents and how to coordinate the communication
• we decided to promote a program of events about faith and homosexuality within the official program of the Rome Euro Pride 2011, “Souls, move forward”, in collaboration with all the Italian and european groups
• we invited John McNeill to be the major guest of this program of events and it was one of the unforgettable moments of the Euro Pride we will always remember
• we organized a fund raising to cover the costs of this program of events
• we organized, in March 2012, the second forum and we’ve been working in the previous months, creating 4 different team works (with participants from different italian groups) who studied solution to 4 different questions:
o how to create a national organization
o how to improve and coordinate communication
o how to improve dialogue with the church and communities
o how to create an organization dedicated to fund raising.
The result is that the Italian groups are now working together. We have not a national organization yet, but it’s a work in progress and I’m confident it will come to light very shortly. The network is now very strong.
Getting back to the situation of LGBT people in Italy and the dialogue with the Roman Catholic hierarchy and communities, something is slowly moving.
I’d like to quote what happened to Nuova Proposta in 2010: we used to write a letter twice a year to all the parishes in Rome, to propose ourselves for a program about welcoming diversity and promoting the organization a vigil of prayer to remember the victims of homophobia and transfobia. In 2010, after we sent one of those letters, we realized that the Diocese of Rome had warned all the parishes not to welcome Nuova Proposta’s meetings nor to join the initiatives we were proposing.
It was a severe shock for us. We realized we were perceived as a menace, as something to distance from. We couldn’t believe there was such a consideration about our group and we decided to write to Cardinal Vallini, the Vicar of the Pope for Rome. We finally got a reply and we had the chance to meet Cardinal Vallini for more than one hour. It was a very positive meeting. We had the chance to explain the real aims of our activities and to resolve the misunderstanding we knew was going on in their minds.
After that meeting, in September 2011 we succeeded in establishing a space with the Diocese, to discuss about faith and homosexuality. We had 4 meetings until now whose goal was to know each other better. We are trying to explain what it means to welcome LGBT people and to give them a hope of life in the love of God.
The dialogue is somehow frustrating, because in Italy the only reference to the care of homosexual people is the paper (dated 1986 and signed by Cardinal Ratzinger) of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: “Letter to the Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”, whose key message is that LGBT persons have to be welcomed but their only perspective of life is to live in chastity, even if they are not called to it as a vocation. The real problem for them is to face the perspective of relationship and affection.
But we are very transparent and confident in the message we want to communicate and so we trust that the Holy Spirit will give light and intellect to everyone of us working in this table, in order to understand what has really to be done in order to welcome LGBT people within the church.
Things are changing little by little. Cardinal Martini from his retirement, talking about civil partnerships, wrote: “It’s not bad that two homosexuals have a stable relationship and in that sense the State could also encourage them”.
Other important signals happened during the 2012 vigils of prayer for the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. Until 2011 these vigils had never been officially hosted and sponsored by the dioceses.
Last year in Palermo, for example, the Cardinal didn’t give the permission to host the vigil in a Catholic parish and so all the people, even the pastor of the parish that had to host the vigil, decided to organize the prayer outside the parish, in the middle of the square, with a great echo on newspapers. In 2012 things completely changed: the vigil in Palermo took place inside a Catholic parish and even a representative of Cardinal took part.
Same things happened in 3 other Italian towns.
In other towns the vigil took place in a Roman Catholic context without an official presence of the Diocese, while in other ones it was organized in an ecumenical context, hosted by the Lutheran and Waldensian Churches which are officially open to LGBT couples.
Another important issue is what happened within the Scouts Association: in November 2011, following a huge request coming from the bottom of AGESCI (the italian name for the association), they organized the first of a series of seminars about faith and homosexuality. This seminar was closed to public and only the chief managers of the association were invited.
In May 2012 the report of this seminar was published and a big debate exploded when one of the 2 most important Italian newspapers “La Repubblica” wrote an article quoting the contents of the speeches as if they were the new guidelines of the association. Some of these speeches were declaring, for example, that a scout leader shouldn’t be gay.
The AGESCI reacted quickly to this article declaring that those speeches had never become guidelines for the AGESCI and that were only the opinion of the speakers that had talked at the first seminar about faith and homosexuality.
Anyway, the echo of this event was really strong and a huge debate started among the Italian scouts. Reading deeply into the seminar report, besides the official speeches, you can find the contents of the debate of the groups that had been formed, from the ground, among scout leaders to discuss about this topic, it is astonishing to consider how far are the positions and the thoughts from the grassroots to the ones from the top.
At the moment, moreover, in Italy, 3 or 4 LGBT Christian groups are officially supported by their bishop. Of course, there isn’t anything really new about it: the perspective these bishops are giving is not different from what was written in the 1986 paper and there is officially no different choice for homosexual people but living in chastity.
On the other side, my personal opinion is that the change has to be generated from within and so, even if it might be very frustrating (and I know it from my personal experience), all the LGBT Christian groups have the duty to keep on working following two different paths:
• the dialogue with the dioceses and communities in order to encourage them to a real welcoming of LGBT people, including the perspective of living as a couple if desired, never denying our reality and lives.
• creating and promoting physical and virtual places where LGBT people can try to reconcile their faith and homosexuality, helping them, according to everyone’s ways and times, to live in a serene and yet transparent way and to think about their lives as a real project of God, including love and affection, without any censorship.
During the 2012 Italian Pride, all the Italian LGBT Christian groups decided to march together with their own banners and flags but united by a unique slogan: “In the love of God, under the light of the sun”. This is a clear message of our work together: we hope LGBT people feel the warm embrace of the love of God our Father, without hiding their lives that are as precious as any other life is.
Our pride is to consider ourselves part of the church of the people of God walking together, just as we are, with the beauty of our lives, or loves, our commitment.
And one day the change will happen, I’m sure about it, even if maybe other people will see it and benefit from the work of today!