The Birth and Living of a LGBTI Pastoral Care Group: Padis+ Chile

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of  joy (Psalm 126,5)

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By Fr. Pedro Labrin SJ – Padis+ Chile. This testimony was originally presented at the Ways of Love Conference in Rome (October 2015).

padisPadis+ (Sexual Diversity Pastoral Community) is a bud shooting from the Catholic Church in Chile. A fruit of the Church itself that each day renews and converts more due to the missionary action of the Holy Spirit. This is how we – those who are part of it – understand it, be it as LGB[1] or as heterosexual fathers and mothers of LGB sons and daughters or as priests and nuns and laypeople accompanying this wonderful experience of the Gospel.

We recognise the inspiration of the Spirit in many calls that, despite having different protagonists, from 2009 evidenced an unequivocal convergence within the Christian Life Community in Chile (CLC). Today, after six years, there is no weakening in our admiration for the spiritual health of CLC, an official, Catholic community, which in its support to Padis+ reflects its prophetic readiness to discern God’s will in our days and the courage to welcome it taking it to practice. CLC is a true light among many other communities that have preferred sacralising old customs and not so few ‘disordered affections[2], opting finally for building up a wall that separates, marking the limit of inclusion that irrationally translated into condemnation and censorship of any diverse expression of human sexuality.

All the calling signs came from the Church in mission. First were Francisco, Pablo, Alberto, Cristóbal, Tomás, Rafael, Sebastián, Víctor, Héctor, who created a community of prayer and life in the privacy of their homes and public anonymity. They wanted to find a space where to integrate in their lives Faith and their homosexual sexuality. Each resisted internally to having to accept the repression of their sexuality as the sole virtuous spiritual path just for being homosexual. There had to be a point of communion between what they were in their most intimate self and God’s project in their lives – which cannot be separated from one’s own manner of loving. In unjust and unfair hiding, life of the community had to be kept secret, as not all of them had made public their sexual orientation and because the environmental and ecclesial hostility assured them gratuitous abuse at the time of exposure. Those were personal and community times still ambiguous in which the dilemma between public and private wasn’t solved yet for each and all of them, just as much as between Catholic and ecumenical, between acting as per the conscience or the doctrine in the realisation of their love and sex life, etc.

The Spirit clarified things without haste, as in a micro-synod, from where sprung the will of coming out and making its existence visible as homosexual Christian Catholics. First, knocking on my office’s door to ask if CLC would be a space where the formulations of the Catholic doctrine would be used for abusing homosexuals and promoting homophobia in the Church. Then, for sharing the will to call to other men and women with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities wishing to reencounter with their spirituality within a Church space, public and at the same time protected.

And this is how what was simply called the ‘Saturdays’, was born. In the eyes of the rest, a mysterious meeting taking place at odd hours and when the CLC house was empty. The emotional tension of the first meetings will be forever marked in each of us who took part. It was all very odd. In the meetings we felt free, but we were afraid. We believed in what was happening to us, but we wondered if it was alright. The church companions were asked many timed questions about what our congregations said to us, or such bishop or such priest. Those questions were filled with distrust and protection: reality had been harsh for many in the Church and before such trauma, what was new seemed like a chimera or a soap bubble that would burst at any time due to an act of authoritarianism or by the sudden disclosure of the true intentions of those summoning ‘all this is very well but, at what point will they tell us that we have to be celibate?

In our first meetings a simple verse from the Gospel sufficed for each to feel comfortable in telling his own story as a Christian homosexual. For all, homosexual and heterosexual, it was the first time we could speak in front of a mirror of our privacy and, most importantly, the mirror transfigured into human presence of brother or sister, willing to respond with his/her testimony all of our identity doubts, and at the same time healing old wounds that in the dismal loneliness of exclusion did not find proper drainage.

Soon the women began arriving. First Cecilia, Claudia, Inés… With them, we learnt of the difficulties of visibility and recognition of lesbians, rather than due to their sexual orientation but for the fact of being women in a culture still patriarchal and male chauvinist and which patterns, painfully, also moves within the world of sexual diversity. For homosexuals, this has been quite a discovery, difficult to assume, that their sexual orientation (gay) did not exempt them from sexist behaviours. The women of Padis+ have taught us with force and tenderness.

On a personal note, I dared say yes to accompanying the path I was being offered from the gay community in the catacombs. I had no doubts about it, but did feel very fragile for feeling lacking every resource, in fear, and feeling this involvement would also bring new knowledge about my own sexuality. I did not doubt my heterosexuality, but did not know how to live it among homosexuals and lesbians. It was impossible saying yes without being willing to take a deep journey of awareness of all my affections, my fantasies, homophobias, fears and exposure to erotic stimuli in my particular and voluntary condition of celibate. What would happen if the conversation took me out of my affective comfort area in which I managed until that moment, with things relatively resolved and without major conflicts?

Fear quickly went away and became empowered conviction: One Church, an inclusive society, cannot but bring good things both to LGB and heterosexual people. I was experiencing from them the recognition of what I was and thus, I myself started to recognise also what each was, without stereotypes. Very soon I had the experience of feeling my celibate heterosexuality honoured and respected between homosexuals and lesbians, at the same time I conjured all prior fantasy of any approach dangerous or aggressive to my privacy.

But, what was starting could not be lived alone so I discussed the matter with Fr. Gabriel Roblero SJ, Advisor of CLC-Young Adults in Santiago and he accepted gladly and immediately. He had had in the past experience offering work training to transvestites and he was a psychologist by profession and, also, a very good friend. In parallel, Tomás and Juan Pablo invited Sr. María Eugenia (Quena) Valdés RSCJ who also and without hesitation accepted most enthusiastically. The three of us knew straight away we were receiving a huge gift each that we could not refuse. The Gospel was knocking at the door of our hearts, and so it felt afterwards for Pablo Romero SJ, Tony Mifsud SJ and Bernardita Zambrano RSCJ.

The Jesuits and Quena spoke with our respective superiors to tell them of this adventure. We knew we had to do it and we rejoiced in responding with joy. However, we knew we were playing with fire for we were venturing into completely unchartered land for us, of the inhabitants of which we had only some negative ideological approaches and very little experience of actual encounter. The discernment of our religious superiors not only confirmed but encouraged us to say yes and leaving us, from the inception, a great teaching we attempt to make real in Padis+ when facing any new circumstance: the Gospel and the mission of the Church must be transparent, do not accept hidden agendas nor interested manipulations. If we saw the path started was lacking a proper doctrinal support on which to rely, we would not stop; we would simply return to the Gospel to make prayer and seek for answers. In the same manner, we would review our personal conscience with a humble, faithful attitude and, in the end, act transparently before those responsible of conducting the Church. From the start we felt our entitlement for belonging to the Church would not come from adaptation to the Catechism or to the precept, but to the vast gift of the love of God that through the sacrament of Baptism made us in full his sons and daughters, forever.

The first step in this coherence was talking with the lay authorities of CLC of what we were already doing. The national and regional presidents of the Community supported us immediately, joyfully expressing a ‘go ahead’, or ‘finally’, and: ‘ we must do it’.

I would like to include here some context that is essential for understanding our reality. In Latin America, the blood of the martyrs is still fresh and it is they, men and women – lay for the most part! who have helped us with their lives to understand what the Second Vatican Council meant with the expression “People of God”[3], truly linked to the joys and hopes of all mankind (“Gaudium et Spes”[4]). They have shown us that being a Christian is equal to the total commitment of human liberation, against any unfair oppression, from below, from those excluded.

This fertile ‘humus’ of Christianity was again increased in 2012 due to the brutal martyrdom of the young homosexual Daniel Zamudio in Chile. Assaulted by a human pack, drunk with homophobia, poverty and violence. Daniel did not die by God’s will, he died by will of the sin, but his blood raised the awareness of a whole country attending his agony on television and, incidentally, opened new ways of acceptance for Padis+. It was Daniel’s resurrected death what inspired CLC in the national assembly of that year (its maximum governance organ) to say: “God our Father wants that the embrace of the Son reaches everyone. For that, as members of the Church we feel sent to embrace and bless in the name of Jesus those who due to limitations, many times cultural ones, feel or have been excluded from the Church. In particular, those who have remarried (divorced and annulled) and homosexuals and lesbians, from whom we ask for forgiveness for the hardness of our heart for integrating in our communities their stories and differences.

At this point, together with great advances, we experienced the first difficulties in our attempt of visibilisation within the Church. The novelty of Padis+ soon caught the attention of the media in the country. I was first invited to an interview at the local CNN station and then to a political debate show in another TV station. For the latter, with higher ratings, I decided informing the Archbishop of Santiago of my attendance a few hours before over the telephone. I introduced myself and expressed that I would attend the show and would publicly assert the path of solidarity with the LGB world to which I was committed. His answer was thanking for the consideration in letting him know and a warning: “I remind you that you are a Jesuit priest and thus any statement contradicting the magisterium of the Church regarding homosexuality will bring you difficulties“. The show was already launched and had arisen much expectations in the public and, especially, among the members of Padis+. However, such answer placed me before a serious dilemma: go over to the trenches of the anti-establishment with my declarations, gaining the applause from the progressive ones yet risking with that the ecclesial future of Padis+; or save the experience at the cost of my own media death. The result was disastrous and yet paschal. My reserve, hesitation and moderation caused great stir in the social media as a result of the frustration caused by my performance. However, the people managed to read that I could not speak freely and, finally, the members of Padis+ forgave me, understanding the reasons. I felt their forgiveness in this sentence from one of its members: “I suffered as the interviewers ‘cornered’ you and from then I empathised with you. You lived in public what we have lived all of the time“.

Padis+grew stronger and soon the group of Fathers and Mothers of LGB children was born. The initiative was a parallel one from some fathers and mothers having witnessed the transformation the Pastoral Community was causing on their children and from the children themselves who wished to share the joy of Padis+ with their parents[5]. In its consolidation the support from two acknowledged CLC laywomen has been essential: Soledad Vidal (+2015) and Pilar Segovia. Both took the rainbow flag with passion and became true activists, at the same time they accompanied the painful healing process many parents were living – providing them with contention and educating them in understanding the reality of their sons and in the reformulation of their own homophobic religious beliefs.

Padis+ Fathers and Mothers immediately became a protagonist in the task of making our pastoral work transparent. They wrote to the Conference of Bishops complaining about the discrimination they had suffered from the Church historically in the person of their children. The answer was most disqualifying from a Bishop, who, among his statements asserted: “Dear Ladies…your statements contradict the truth of Jesus Christ“. This reaction caused a discussion between the other bishops of the Chilean Conference of Bishops that translated to another letter in a more conciliatory tone that opened, until now, a frank dialogue with our shepherds. We can proudly say that a bishop went officially to celebrate the anniversary mass of Padis+ and that on the occasion of the synod of the family we have provided our contribution in all formal consultation instances, and we have provided our testimony in countless activities to which we have been summoned: Archdiocesan Lays Meeting, Apostolic Movements Meeting, Archdiocesan Missionary Meeting, CLC Education Meeting, Dialogue with the Bishops Delegation for the Family, Education Conferences for priests and nuns and educators in matters of sexual diversity, etc.

In parallel, I was victim of an accusation before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for having incurred in alleged doctrinal errors by inferring from my declarations in a video of the campaign for the prevention of teen suicide, promoted by “It Gets Better” “that homosexuality is something wanted by God“. It was a hard blow that I dealt with privately so not to crush the true spring of Padis+. I had the unrestricted support from my Congregation, which, together with supporting me to respond with religious obedience to the requirements by the CDF, encouraged me not to retract from my expressions. For over a year I experienced the anguish of not knowing whether my priestly ministry was to be restricted and, as a result, Padis+ extinguished. At a beginning there was no answer that could satisfy the CDF until, circumstantially, we received an offer for an article in a glossy magazine of national distribution that wanted to make known the good news of this pastoral initiative. We accepted, although in secret I felt this would be getting me into a conundrum after the negative answer by the CDF to my response. Yet again, death transformed into life, for that same article, given its quality and content, released me from the Roman investigation and brought a definitive blessing in the pastoral work with Padis+.

Today, Padis+ is a single sexual diversity pastoral community with two active branches: one is Padis+ LGB and the other Padis+ Parents. Both branches are autonomous in their agendas although complementary in their activities and contents. It is governed by a Council comprised of the coordinators of both branches, which jointly propose the big lines of work of the Community for each year. Nowadays it is not only about offering emotional support to its members, but it also deals with an education programme structured into cycles, encompassing various dimensions among which are to be noted: theological-biblical education, inputs for preparing a life project, education for the understanding of homosexual sexuality, inputs for the apostolic service, education in gender issues, apostolic service, liturgical celebrations, etc.

Today, we are far from the secrecy of the first meetings, in which only those people invited personally by one of those already participating could join. Currently, we have an introductory process every two months for the incorporation of new members who know of us through the usual appearances in the media to which we are invited to share our testimony. We are glad to confirm that every month we receive invitations from ecclesial institutions and university centres. Quena Valdés RSCJ was elected, by open and public vote, as recipient of the ‘Mujer Impacta’[6] award for 2014 as recognition for her work with Padis+.

Since 2014 – on the second weekend of August – Padis+ organises the “Inclusion Dinner” that gathers some 300 people in a meal where the table is shared between heterosexuals and homosexuals to celebrate that the Kingdom of God is already among us and in which, with the eyes of faith, we recognise the privilege of being called to partake as active participants in that final banquet where all – men and women -, unconditionally, will meet as expression of the rich and diverse creation of God, reconciled forever thanks to Jesus Christ, the Lord. The response from the base Church to this initiative by Padis+ has been so generous that last year it allowed funding the traveling of a 5-person delegation to this same conference from the far end of the world to Rome, where we were able to attend in front row the Papal Audience, receiving his warm greetings and blessing. We have felt the yearning of heterosexual believers in building a truly inclusive Church, each time more evangelical and each time with less of the power this world offers.

We celebrate de “Now”, but we are not self-complacent, for we kwon that the “not yet” is our space for the mission in the Church. From this conscience we take charge of the challenges we still have ahead and that will demand from us new turns of depth in our conversion and spiritual discernments finer by the time.

In the following, and as a conclusion, I will share with you the main challenges – as questions. Later, should time allow it, you can comment in further detail any aspect with any of our delegation here.

How to integrate into our Community the different social sectors of our country, marked by a deep classism and structural inequity? Padis+ was born in a medium-high sector, what happens with the rest?

How to commit our members to permanence, more stable in time? Many come and go and few stay, but it is true, at the same time, that those who go do so with deep gratitude, for the most part of them.

How to continue collaborating in the visibilisation of lesbian women, to promote integration and, at the same time, differentiation in an environment dominated by the male homosexual perspective?

How to favour the growth of our members towards moral autonomy that, on the one hand, helps them live in fidelity to their own conscience and on the other, does not lead them to reject the traditional teaching en bloque and due to prejudice?

Hot to make our member sensitive to overcome religious privacy, assuming the political responsibility of being LGB in the Church and in society?

Occasions such as that offered by the recent Global Network of Rainbow Catholics and the conference The Ways of Love encourage us to go on, working day by day, together with you, so the Good News reaches all men and women, transforming their lives.

 

 

[1] We do not include the “T” here for no transgender people have approached the pastoral as yet. We expect to soon have their presence among us.

[2] Expression proper of traditional spiritual language alluding to ‘letting be carried away’ of human beings proper of passion, which obscures the proper understanding of things and that, thus, does not guide personal action to the correct sense.

[3]http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html(Chapter 2)

[4] “The joys and the hopes, the grief and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html (Preface)

[5]It is necessary saying that a minority of members of Padis+ LGB has their parents in Padis+ Parents.

[6] The Mujer Impacta award is an annual homage to women who outstand for having generated a positive contribution in their environment.

 

Testimonianza: Padis+ Chile

Chi semina nelle lacrime mieterá nella giogia (Salmo 126, 5)

English / EspañolItaliano

Pedro Labrín sj – Padis+ Chile. Conferenza “Le Strade dell´Amore”, Roma 2015

padisLa Padis+ (Pastorale della Diversità Sessuale) è un virgulto della Chiesa Cattolica cilena. Un frutto della medesima Chiesa, che ogni giorno si rinnova e si converte in vista dell’azione missionaria dello Spirito Santo. Così lo concepiamo noi che ne facciamo parte, sia come persone GLB (1) che come padri e madri eterosessuali di figli GLB o come religiosi e laici, uomini e donne, che accompagnano questa meravigliosa esperienza del Vangelo.

Riconosciamo l’ispirazione dello Spirito in molteplici vocazioni che, pur avendo diversi protagonisti, a partire dal 2009 hanno conosciuto un’inequivoca convergenza nella Comunità di Vita Cristiana in Cile (CVX-CLC). Oggi, a sei anni di distanza, non si è affievolito in noi il sentimento di ammirazione per la salute spirituale della CVX, una comunità ufficialmente cattolica che, appoggiando la Padis+, riflette la sua vocazione profetica nel discernere la volontà di Dio per i nostri giorni e il coraggio di accoglierla mettendola in pratica. La CVX è un’autentica luce in mezzo a molte altre comunità che hanno preferito dichiarare sacre vecchie usanze e non pochi “affetti disordinati” (2) e scelto di erigere muri che separano e segnano il limite dell’inclusione delle diverse espressioni della sessualità umana, muri irrazionali che si traducono in condanne e censure.

Tutti i segni della vocazione sono venuti dalla Chiesa in missione. I primi furono Francisco, Pablo, Alberto, Cristóbal, Tomás, Rafael, Sebastián, Víctor ed Héctor, i quali costituirono una comunità di preghiera e vita nell’intimità delle proprie case e nell’anonimato; desideravano approntare uno spazio nel quale integrare la propria fede con la propria omosessualità. Ognuno di essi, nel suo intimo, si rifiutava di accettare la repressione della propria sessualità come unico cammino spirituale virtuoso, per il solo fatto di essere omosessuali. Sentivano la necessità di avere un punto di contatto tra il loro essere più intimo e il progetto di Dio per la loro vita, che non può essere scisso dalla maniera di amare. Costretta a un’ingiusta clandestinità, la vita della comunità doveva rimanere segreta in quanto non tutti avevano reso pubblico il proprio orientamento sessuale: l’ostilità della Chiesa e dell’ambiente circostante rendeva scontati i maltrattamenti qualora si fossero esposti. Erano tempi ancora ambigui, a livello personale e comunitario, in cui non si era stato ancora risolto una volta per tutte il dilemma tra pubblico e privato, tra cattolico ed ecumenico, tra agire secondo coscienza o secondo dottrina, per realizzare la propria vita affettiva e sessuale, etc.

Come in un piccolo sinodo, lo Spirito senza fretta chiariva loro le idee e alla fine germogliò la volontà di uscire allo scoperto come cristiani cattolici omosessuali. Bussarono quindi alla porta del mio ufficio per domandare se la CVX-CLC sarebbe stata uno spazio dove utilizzare le formulazioni della dottrina cattolica per aggredire gli omosessuali e fomentare l’omofobia della Chiesa o piuttosto dove condividere il desiderio di convocare uomini e donne di diverso orientamento sessuale e identità di genere per incontrarsi, ognuno con la sua spiritualità, in uno spazio ecclesiastico pubblico ma protetto.

Così nacque quelli che in principio si chiamarono semplicemente “sabati”: agli occhi della gente era una misteriosa riunione che si teneva in orari strani, quando la sede della CVX-CLC era vuota. La tensione emotiva delle prime riunioni rimarrà impressa per sempre in ciascuno dei partecipanti. Era tutto così insolito. In queste riunioni ci sentivamo liberi, però avevamo paura; credevamo in ciò che ci accadeva, però non chiedevamo se fosse cosa buona. Noi religiosi accompagnatori fummo bersagliati da domande su cosa dicevano le nostre congregazioni religiose, il tale vescovo o il tale sacerdote. Dietro tali domande faceva capolino lo scudo della diffidenza: la realtà della Chiesa era stata dura per la maggior parte di loro e, a causa di tali traumi, il nuovo pareva una chimera o una bolla di sapone che in qualunque momento poteva scoppiare per un atto autoritario o la repentina rivelazione delle vere intenzioni dei dirigenti: “Tutto bello, ma quando ci diranno che dobbiamo rimanere celibi?”.  

Durante le prime riunioni ci bastava un versetto del Vangelo perché qualcuno si sentisse abbastanza fiducioso per raccontare la sua storia di omosessuale cristiano. Per tutti, omosessuali ed eterosessuali, quella fu la prima volta che potemmo parlare di fronte a uno specchio della nostra intimità e, cosa ancora più importante, la prima volta che lo specchio si trasformò in presenza umana di fratello o sorella disposta a rispondere, con la sua testimonianza, a tutti i nostri dubbi di identità, sanando al tempo stesso vecchie ferite che nell’oscura solitudine dell’esclusione non avevano trovato un rimedio adeguato.

Presto cominciarono ad arrivare le donne: Cecilia, Claudia, Inés… Assieme a loro imparammo a conoscere le difficoltà legate alla visibilità e al riconoscimento delle lesbiche, più per il fatto di essere donne che per il loro orientamento sessuale, in una cultura ancora patriarcale e maschilista il cui stampino si applica dolorosamente anche al mondo della diversità sessuale. Per gli omosessuali è stata la scoperta, difficile da accettare, che l’orientamento gay non immunizza dai comportamenti sessisti; sono le donne della Padis+ ad averlo insegnato con forza e tenerezza.

Personalmente osai dire che sì, me la sentivo di accompagnare il cammino che mi stava offrendo la comunità gay nelle catacombe. Non avevo dubbi in proposito, bensì una intensa sensazione di fragilità, un sentirmi carente di ogni risorsa, paura nell’intuire che invischiarmi in questo progetto avrebbe significato anche conoscere meglio la mia sessualità. Non dubitavo della mia eterosessualità, non sapevo però cosa significasse viverla tra omosessuali e lesbiche. Era impossibile dire di sì senza essere disposto a una profonda presa di coscienza di tutti i miei affetti, le mie fantasie, le mie omofobie, i miei timori e l’esposizione a stimoli erotici nella mia particolare e volontaria condizione di celibe. Cosa sarebbe successo se la conversazione mi avesse tirato fuori dal comfort affettivo nel quale fino a quel momento me l’ero cavata bene, relativamente risolto e senza grandi conflitti?

Questa prospettiva spaventosa presto di dileguò e si trasformò in una corroborante convinzione: una Chiesa, una società inclusiva non può arrecarci altro che cose buone, tanto alle persone GLB che a quelle eterosessuali. Stavo sperimentando il riconoscimento gioioso e rispettoso di ciò che ero, e così io stesso cominciai a riconoscere l’identità di ciascuno e ciascuna, senza stereotipi. Molto presto feci l’esperienza di sentire onorata e rispettata la mia eterosessualità celibe tra omosessuali e lesbiche nello stesso momento in cui esorcizzavo tutte le mie precedenti fantasie relative a corteggiamenti pericolosi e aggressioni alla mia intimità.

Ciò che stava nascendo non potevo viverlo da solo: parlai quindi dell’argomento con padre Gabriel Roblero SJ, assessore dei giovani della CVX di Santiago: accettò subito con piacere. Aveva esperienza nel campo in quanto in passato aveva offerto corsi di formazione professionale a dei travestiti. Era psicologo di professione e ottimo amico mio. Parallelamente, Tomás y Juan Pablo invitarono suor María Eugenia (Quena) Valdés RSCJ, che accettò immediatamente con entusiasmo. Noi tre capimmo subito che stavamo ricevendo un regalo particolare, al quale non potevamo dire di no. Il Vangelo stava bussando alla porta del nostro cuore, e questo fu il sentimento anche di Pablo Romero SJ, Tony Mifsud SJ e Bernardita Zambrano RSCJ.

Noi gesuiti e Quena riferivamo di questa avventura ai nostri rispettivi superiori. Sapevamo di doverlo fare e ci accontentavamo di rispondere gioiosamente; tuttavia, sapevamo di giocare con il fuoco. Stavamo entrando in una terra del tutto sconosciuta, i cui abitanti conoscevamo solamente per approssimazioni ideologiche negative, privi o quasi di esperienza di incontro reale. Il discernimento dei nostri superiori religiosi non solo ci confermò ma ci spinse a dire che stavamo ricevendo un grande insegnamento, che nel gruppo Padis+ cerchiamo di incarnare di fronte a ogni circostanza nuova: l’Evangelo e la missione della Chiesa devono essere trasparenti, non accettano secondi fini né manipolazioni interessate. Se ci accorgevamo che il cammino che avevamo iniziato mancava di un adeguato sostegno dottrinale per poterci dirigere, non per questo ci bloccavamo ma tornavamo semplicemente al Vangelo per pregare e cercare risposte. Allo stesso modo, scrutavamo la nostra coscienza personale con umile atteggiamento di fede e, alla fine, agivamo in maniera trasparente di fronte ai responsabili e ai leader della Chiesa. Fin dal principio sentimmo che il nostro diritto di appartenere alla Chiesa non proveniva dall’adeguarsi al Catechismo o ai precetti, bensì dallo smisurato dono dell’amore di Dio, che attraverso il sacramento del Battesimo ci ha resi pienamente sue figlie e suoi figli per sempre.

Il primo passo coerente fu parlare con le autorità laiche della CVX per spiegare quanto stavamo facendo. I presidenti nazionali e regionali della Comunità ci appoggiarono immediatamente, manifestando con gioia un “Avanti!”, un “Finalmente!, un “Dobbiamo farlo!”.

Desidero parlare anche di un aspetto essenziale per comprendere la nostra realtà. In America Latina il sangue dei martiri è ancora fresco e sono stati loro (in grandissima maggioranza laici!) che ci hanno aiutato, con la loro vita, a comprendere cosa intendeva dire il Concilio Vaticano II con l’espressione “la Chiesa Popolo di Dio” (3), intimamente legata alle gioie e alle speranze di tutta l’umanità (“Gaudium et Spes” [4]). Essi ci hanno mostrato che essere cristiani equivale a un impegno totale per l’umana liberazione contro ogni oppressione ingiusta, a partire dal basso, dagli esclusi.

Questo fertile “humus” di cristianesimo si arricchì nuovamente nel 2012 con il brutale martirio del giovane omosessuale cileno Daniel Zamudio, assalito da un branco di umani ubriachi di omofobia, povertà e violenza. Daniel non è morto per volontà di Dio, è morto per volontà del peccato, ma il suo sangue ha sensibilizzato un intero Paese che ha assistito per televisione alla sua agonia e, tra le altre cose, ha aperto nuovi sentieri di accettazione alla Padis+. È stata la morte resuscitata di Daniel a ispirare alla CVX, durante la sua Assemblea Nazionale del 2012 (il suo massimo organismo di governo), la seguente dichiarazione: “Dio nostro Padre desidera che l’abbraccio del Figlio raggiunga tutti. Per questo, come membri della Chiesa, ci sentiamo inviati ad abbracciare e benedire, nel nome di Gesù, coloro che per vari motivi, molto spesso culturali, si sentono o sono stati esclusi dalla Chiesa, in particolare ai divorziati risposati e a omosessuali e lesbiche, a cui chiediamo perdono per la durezza del nostro cuore per poter integrare nelle nostre comunità le loro storie e le loro diversità”.      

A questo punto, accanto a grandi progressi, sperimentammo le prime difficoltà nel nostro intento di maggiore visibilità nella Chiesa. La novità della Padis+ catturò subito l’attenzione dei media del Paese. Mi fu chiesta un’intervista alla CNN locale e in seguito partecipai a un dibattito politico su un altro canale TV. Decisi di comunicare la mia partecipazione a questo programma molto popolare all’Arcivescovo di Santiago qualche ora prima della trasmissione, per telefono. Egli confermò la mia decisione di comparire nel programma per sostenere pubblicamente il cammino di solidarietà con il mondo GLB con il quale ero impegnato. La sua risposta fu un ringraziamento per la delicatezza di averlo avvisato; mi avvertì poi: “Le ricordo che lei è un sacerdote gesuita e pertanto qualsiasi affermazione che contraddica il magistero della Chiesa riguardo l’omosessualità le procurerà delle difficoltà”. Il programma era già stato lanciato e stava generando una grande aspettativa nel pubblico, in particolare tra i membri della Padis+. Tuttavia, questa risposta mi pose un serio dilemma: gettarmi, con le mie dichiarazioni, nella trincea dei contestatori, ottenendo il plauso dei progressisti e mettendo a rischio il futuro ecclesiale della Padis+, o salvare questa esperienza a costo della mia morte mediatica. Il risultato fu disastroso, e tuttavia fu una Pasqua. La mia cautela, la mia titubanza e moderazione produssero gran turbamento negli spettatori, turbamento prodotto della frustrazione evidente dal mio comportamento. Nonostante ciò, la gente seppe capire che non potevo parlare liberamente e, alla fine, i membri della Padis+ mi perdonarono perché avevano capito le mie ragioni. Sentii tale perdono in queste parole di un membro: “Ho sofferto per l’”accerchiamento” a cui è stato sottoposto dagli intervistatori, e da quel momento ho provato empatia nei suoi confronti. Lei ha vissuto in pubblico quello che noi viviamo da sempre”.

La Padis+ divenne sempre più forte e presto nacque il gruppo Padri e Madri con figli GLB. L’iniziativa partì da alcuni genitori testimoni della trasformazione che la Pastorale stava compiendo nei loro figli e dagli stessi figli che desideravano condividere la gioia della Padis+ con i genitori (5). Nel consolidamento del gruppo è stato fondamentale il sostegno di due membri laici della CVX: Soledad Vidal (+2015) e Pilar Segovia. Tutt’e due hanno innalzato con passione la bandiera arcobaleno e si sono trasformate in autentiche attiviste che accompagnano il doloroso processo di guarigione dei genitori, lo contengono e lo orientano verso la comprensione della realtà dei propri figli e la riformulazione delle loro convinzioni religiose omofobiche.

Padis+ Padri e Madri fu subito protagonista nel compito di pubblicizzare il nostro lavoro pastorale. Scrissero alla Conferenza Episcopale protestando contro la discriminazione da loro sofferta per mano della Chiesa nella persona dei loro figli. La risposta non fece certo onore a un Vescovo che tra le altre cose affermò: “Care Signore… le vostre affermazioni ripugnano alla verità di Gesù Cristo”. Questa reazione suscitò una discussione tra gli altri vescovi della Conferenza Episcopale cilena, che si concretizzò in un’altra lettera di tono più conciliante, che inaugurò un dialogo franco con i nostri pastori che dura tutt’ora. Possiamo dire con orgoglio che un vescovo ha celebrato ufficialmente la messa per l’anniversario di Padis+ e che, in occasione del Sinodo della Famiglia, abbiamo consegnato i nostri contributi a tutte le istanze formali di consultazione, oltre a partecipare, con la nostra testimonianza, a un grandissimo numero di attività a cui siamo stati invitati: la Giornata Arcidiocesana dei Laici, l’Incontro dei Movimenti Apostolici, il Congresso Missionario Arcidiocesano, l’Incontro di Formazione della CVX, il Dialogo con la Delegazione Episcopale per la Famiglia, le Giornate di formazione per religiosi ed educatori sulle tematiche della diversità sessuale, etc.

Nello stesso periodo venne mossa contro di me un’accusa presso la Sacra Congregazione per la Dottrina della Fede (CDF) a causa di presunti errori dottrinali inferiti dalle espressioni da me usate in un video per la campagna di prevenzione del suicidio tra gli adolescenti promossa da “Todo Mejora”: “L’omosessualità è una cosa amata da Dio”. Fu un colpo duro, che gestii in privato per non distruggere l’autentica primavera della Padis+. Ebbi il sostegno incondizionato della mia Congregazione, che oltre ad aiutarmi a rispondere con obbedienza religiosa alle richieste della CDF mi incoraggiò a non ritrattare quanto avevo detto. Per più di un anno vissi nell’angustia di non sapere se il mio ministero sacerdotale sarebbe stato limitato, con il rischio di estinguere la Padis+. In linea di massima non avevo delle risposte che potessero soddisfare la CDF, fino a che il caso volle che ricevessimo un’offerta per un reportage da una rivista patinata di importanza nazionale, che voleva rendere nota la buona novella di questa iniziativa pastorale. Accettammo, anche se dentro di me sentivo che stavo mettendomi la corda al collo al posto di ricevere la risposta negativa della CDF alle mie giustificazioni. Di nuovo la morte si trasformò in vita perché fu proprio quel reportage, di grande qualità e contenuto, che mi liberò dall’indagine romana e mi fruttò una definitiva benedizione per il mio lavoro pastorale con la Padis+.

Oggi la Padis+ è un’unica pastorale della diversità sessuale con due branche attive: Padis+GLB e Padis+Genitori. Le due branche sono autonome negli obiettivi ma complementari nelle attività e nei contenuti. È amministrata da un Consiglio che riunisce i coordinatori di ambedue le branche e che nell’insieme propone a grandi linee i progetti della Pastorale per ogni anno. Oggi non si tratta più di offrire solamente riunioni di contenimento emotivo, bensì un piano di formazione strutturato in cicli che comprendono varie dimensioni, tra le quali spiccano la formazione teologico-biblica, gli investimenti per elaborare un progetto di vita, la formazione orientata a comprendere la sessualità omosessuale, gli investimenti per il servizio apostolico, la formazione nelle tematiche di genere, servizio apostolico, celebrazioni liturgiche etc.

Oggi siamo molto lontani dall’ermetismo delle prime riunioni, alle quali potevano aggregarsi solamente le persone invitate da qualcuno che già partecipava. Al momento offriamo ogni due mesi un processo di introduzione per l’accoglimento di nuovi membri che ci conoscono principalmente attraverso le frequenti apparizioni nei media, dove siamo invitati per condividere la nostra testimonianza. Ci soddisfa constatare che tutti i mesi riceviamo vari inviti presso istituzioni ecclesiali e centri universitari. Quena Valdés RSCJ è stata eletta, attraverso una votazione aperta e pubblica, “Donna d’Impatto” per il 2014, come riconoscimento del lavoro con Padis+.

A partire dal 2014, il secondo fine settimana d’agosto, Padis+ organizza la “Cena dell’Inclusione”, che riunisce 300 persone in una condivisione della mensa senza distinzioni, per celebrare il Regno di Dio già presente in mezzo a noi; con gli occhi della fede riconosciamo il privilegio di essere chiamati a partecipare da protagonisti in questo banchetto finale, in cui tutti e tutte senza condizioni ci incontreremo come espressione della ricca e diversificata creazione di Dio, per sempre riconciliata grazie a Gesù Cristo, il Signore. La risposta della Chiesa di base a questa iniziativa di Padis+ è stata tanto generosa da permettere di finanziare, l’anno scorso, il viaggio di una delegazione di 5 persone a questa stessa conferenza fino ai confini del mondo, a Roma, dove abbiamo avuto occasione di assistere in prima fila all’Udienza Papale e ricevere il suo affettuoso saluto e la sua benedizione. Abbiamo sentito l’anelito dei credenti eterosessuali per la costruzione di una Chiesa di verità inclusiva, sempre più evangelica e con sempre minor potere di questo mondo.

Celebriamo il “Già” ma non nell’autocompiacimento, in quanto sappiamo che il “Non ancora” è il nostro spazio missionario nella Chiesa. Partendo da questa coscienza ci facciamo carico delle sfide che ancora abbiamo davanti a noi e che ci richiederanno nuove svolte in profondità nella nostra conversione e un discernimento spirituale sempre più raffinato.

Per concludere, voglio condividere le nostre principali sfide sotto forma di domande. Più tardi, se il tempo lo permetterà, potrete commentare più in dettaglio degli aspetti particolari con qualche membro della nostra delegazione qui presente:

Come integrare nella nostra pastorale i diversi settori sociali del nostro Paese, segnato da un profondo classismo e da disuguaglianze strutturali? La Padis+ è nata in un settore della classe medio-alta: e gli altri settori?

Come assicurare una permanenza più stabile nel tempo dei nostri membri? Sono molti quelli che passano e pochi quelli che restano; è però vero che chi se ne va, quasi sempre lo fa con una profonda gratitudine.

Come continuare a collaborare alla visibilità delle donne lesbiche in maniera da favorire sia l’integrazione che la differenziazione, in un ambiente dominato dalla prospettiva maschile omosessuale?

Come favorire la crescita dei nostri membri che li porti all’autonomia morale, che da una parte li aiuti a vivere la fedeltà alla propria coscienza e dall’altra non li induca a respingere l’insegnamento tradizionale in blocco, per partito preso?

Come sensibilizzare i nostri membri a superare la tentazione dell’intimismo religioso e assumersi la responsabilità politica di essere persone GLB nella Chiesa e nella società?

Occasioni come quella che ci offrono la recente Red Global Arcoíris de Pastorales de Diversidad Católicas (Rete Globale Arcobaleno delle Pastorali Cattoliche della Diversità) e la conferenza The Ways of Love ci spingono ad andare avanti, lavorando giorno per giorno insieme a voi perché la Buona Novella raggiunga tutti e tutte e trasformi le nostre vite.

 

1) Non includiamo la “T” nella sigla perché non si sono ancora avvicinate a noi delle persone trans. Speriamo di avere presto qualcuno/a di loro tra noi.

2) Espressione propria del linguaggio spirituale tradizionale che allude agli esseri umani che “si lasciano trasportare” dalla passione, che offusca l’adeguata comprensione delle cose e che pertanto non orienta l’azione personale nel senso corretto.

3) http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_it.html (Capitolo 2)

4) “Le gioie e le speranze, le tristezze e le angosce degli uomini d’oggi, dei poveri soprattutto e di tutti coloro che soffrono, sono pure le gioie e le speranze, le tristezze e le angosce dei discepoli di Cristo” http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_it.html (Proemio)

5) Va etto che solo una minoranza dei membri della Padis+GLB ha i genitori che partecipano a Padis+Genitori e viceversa.

GNRC WYD Special – Part III : A Young Pilgrim Experience

Universality, Unity and Inspiration were three values that the WYD assistant Eros Shaw found in his trip to Polland.

English / EspañolFrançaise / Italiano / Portugues

Chinese gay Catholic community logoBy Eros Shaw – Chinese missionary, activist of the Chinese Catholic LGBTQ Group China Catholic Rainbow Community (CCRC), GNRC Steering Committee member and participant of the China Rainbow Witness Fellowship.

 

I participated in the World Youth Day from its beginning and till its end, including all the preparatory activities during the previous week, from July 19th – 31st in Warsaw. Considering that this was my first WYD, there were a few points that had a profound impression on me.

  • The first one was the Universality of the Church/ Let´s remember that this is the original meaning of the word Catholic, where so many young people from different nations gathered in one place with no boundaries of race, gender or sexual orientation! About 1.5 million people attended the Pope Francis’ closing mass, according to the Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, so I couldn’t stop wondering how many LGBT people were among them.
  • The second point was Unity. Many of the assistants came from countries or regions with internal/external geopolitical conflicts, but the Catholic young people gathered there shared in the basis of a common faith and prayer. This is the thing that touched me the most. I´m a young pilgrim from mainland China, but I had the great chance to spend time with brothers and sisters from Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.
  • The third and last one was how Inspirational it was for me was to meet so much people expressing their love for God, their devotion for the Virgin Mary and respect for the Pope. In China, we Catholics, are a minority compared to the other Christian churches or religious practices, and so I often hear criticism and negative voices about us. The fraternity in Krakow fueled my beliefs for my personal mission, with so many lovely, young people united and on the same path.

I also participated in a LGBT friendly Café, organized by Wiara I Tecza, with Michael Brinkschroeder and Anna Kuliberda from Germany. There we shared the experiences of our LGBT Catholic local communities which was followed by a panel discussion. Even with so many people visiting Krakow we only had 20 assistants, many of them bravely carrying their WYD backpacks. This is a reminder of how much work we still have to do for Visibility and Inclusion of LGBTI people in the Church. I had a Gay Catholic friend from Hong Kong in the WYD that couldn’t join us because he was afraid of the exposure. Anyway, having had such a amazing opportunity to participate makes me feel really grateful.

For further information of the Climate around LGBT in the Polish Church, read Marcin Dzierżanowski´s Article. For An alternative perspective about the experience of the LGBT Pilgrim’s Haven activities, read Michael Brinkschroeder´s Article.

Chinese gay Catholic community logoChina Catholic Rainbow Community (CCRC) in an inter-regional mutual aid organization for Chinese Roman Catholic LGBT people. They provide counseling and spiritual companionship for LGBT Catholic believers.

 

 

13892294_281394845572815_2392434603705795154_nChina Rainbow Witness Fellowship (CRWF) is a LGBT Christian fellowship grounded in love and faith. The fellowship was established in 2009 in Beijing, with further groups established in Shangai and Hangzhou.

 

Inspirational Opening Day for LGBT Catholic Global Conference

It’s been a superb, inspirational day in Rome, at the foundation conference of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics.

We began early with morning prayer (before breakfast), structured around some biblical texts on the importance of listening, followed by two reflections, and prayers of petition.

GNRC opening day

Following up on last night’s brief introductions, today our delegates introduced themselves, their countries and the groups they represent, speaking particularly to three topics:

  • What are the challenges you are facing?
  • What has been your greatest success?
  • What support / help do you need?

After these group presentations, we were invited to reflect on, and digest what we had heard. Continue reading

“Voices from LGBT Catholics in Western Africa” – Davis Mac-Iyalla

This report was commissioned by the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups being concerned, that the voices of LGBT Christians from Western Africa were not well heard in the on-going discussion about the Family Synod of the Roman Catholic Church. It presents current experiences of LGBT Catholics living in the region and their opinions on the Family Synod. The findings are based on interviews conducted by Davis Mac-Iyalla with Catholic LGBT people in Ghana, Togo, Benin and Nigeria held from 14−31 March 2015.1

Country Reports:

Ghana

Togo

Benin

Nigeria

Conclusions

West_Africa_map22

Davis Mac-Iyalla is a Nigerian Anglo/Catholic gay Christian and founder of Changing Attitudes Nigeria working for the affirmation and inclusion of LGBT people within the church and wider society. Due to persecution because of his sexuality he fled Nigeria in 2006 to neighbouring Togo to continue his activist work but due to further persecution and threats against his life he sought asylum in the UK in the summer of 2008. In April 2015 he was naturalised as a British Citizen. He is a well-known gay Christian Activist, researcher and author and is often asked to speak on the plight of LGBT Christians in West Africa. Davis lives in London.

LGBT Catholic Voices from W Africa: Ghana

ghana

I arrived safely in the city of Accra, Ghana on the 14th of March 2015. The last time I was in Ghana was in 2008 and I still have many friends there. The day after my arrival was Sunday and Mother’s Day, and I went with some friends to mass in Accra. After mass I was introduced to some of the LGBTI people present at church, some of whom sing in the choir. Some were very happy to share their stories with me, while others were more reticent out of fear that the information might find its way to the authorities and bring trouble for them. Under Ghanaian criminal law, same-sex sexual activity among males is illegal and can result in long prison sentences. The situation with lesbians is less clearly defined, but still highly problematic.

Rosebud, a Christian, lesbian and midwife who works for the government hospital, leads an informal group of Catholic lesbians. It started among fellow lesbians at her church, but women from other churches are discovering her group. She currently has members from the Anglican, Presbyterian as well Pentecostal churches. Although the group is based in Accra, it is growing to be Ghana wide. They have not given the group a name, but come together once a month to pray and listen to each other’s stories. With little support from their churches on the issues that their sexuality raises in society, the group has become their only means of support as they discuss and help each other on LGBT issues. They organize parties and social events, but have to be very discrete, so as not to incur the wrath of the authorities.

Rosebud thinks that in a homophobic society, “the churches should be the first places to welcome LGBT people, not persecute them.” She commented that lesbians cannot immediately identify each other, “people usually become friends first, and then when it is appropriate, a friend will ‘come out’.” She was not aware of the on-going Family Synod in the Catholic Church, explaining that in Ghana people only hear what the church leaders want them to hear. “Church matters are conveyed in an authoritarian manner as orders rather than issues up for discussion.“ Although the internet is available in Ghana, it is not cheap and frequent electricity blackouts make its use problematic for many people − making international media unavailable to most.

Rosebud has a son who is 14 years old. She has brought him up a Catholic and feels strongly that the church should see her and her son as a normal family, despite the fact she is a lesbian. “I know that God loves me. If I was standing face to face with any of the bishops who preach discrimination against LGBT people, I would look them in the eyes and tell them that I did not choose my sexuality.” She believes that God made her gay and trying to change her sexuality is like changing the will of God.1

Still in Ghana, I met Kelly, who identifies himself as a Christian Charismatic, bisexual man. Kelly let me record him, and concluded by telling me that he hopes support and education can be given to Ghana’s LGBT community, and particularly education regarding blackmail. Blackmail of LGBT people is on the rise because of an increase in the use of gay dating websites. Sometimes people pretend to be LGBT online, setup a victim and then blackmail them for money. With unemployment on the rise, youths in Ghana are being driven to raise money in this manner and sometimes, even LGBT people have raised money in this way. Sometimes the Ghana police have gone undercover to trap and arrest LGBT people in a similar manner. He said that the decriminalisation of homosexuality would be the best way forward to providing safety for LGBT people, but he has no idea how it can be achieved. He also thinks that education in areas of inclusive theology would be useful for the Ghanaian context.

Also see:

“Voices from LGBT Catholics in Western Africa” – Davis Mac-Iyalla

Conclusions

LGBT Catholic Voices from W Africa: Togo

togo

Arriving in Togo was emotional for me, as this is a place I lived for many years, a place where I experienced much joy and also much sorrow. After settling into a guesthouse, I went to see the place where I was attacked in 2008. It had changed a lot.

Lomé, the capital of Togo is a lively city, but the police there is particularly merciless when dealing with LGBT locals and tourists, especially during the recent period of presidential elections. However, the law against homosexuality is not very clear, although homosexuality can be punishable by 3−5 years in prison. Harassment and blackmail are on the rise.

Additionally, so Sheba (23), a Christian and a lesbian currently studying law in Lomé, there has been an increase in reports of men raping underage boys. These men are labelled gay, and the LGBT community become scapegoats for these crimes. Accusations of rape accompanied by blackmail are a common means of extorting money from rich locals and foreign tourists. Most LGBT people in Togo live in fear because they don’t want to be disowned by their family, so they go underground. In Togo, LGBT people are called by the abusive term “Adowe”.

Sadly, the biggest threat to the Togo LGBT community is the church and religious leaders. The Catholic Church is very powerful there, strongly influencing moral, political and other issues. Specifically the Catholic Church and its bishops are highly regarded by people of the country. Sheba reflects that bishops and religious leaders in Togo frequently come on air to blame any mishap or natural disaster that happens in the country on homosexuals. Therefore, she would appreciate support and work with the LGBT community in the area of lobbying at the wider international / church level.

This anti-LGBT stance drives Catholics away from the Church. Edenedi, a bisexual woman who was baptized and brought up Catholic, is now worshiping in the charismatic faith. She feels she can no longer go to church on Sunday, sit down and listen to unchristian preaching about LGBT people. Despite this she still identifies herself as Catholic. Because of her work as an activist, she is sometimes invited as a guest on radio or TV shows. When a priest or pastor is a fellow guest, they always say negative things against LGBT people such as “homosexuality is not the will of God” and “those that indulge in it are living a sinful life.” It upsets her as a Christian to hear such things coming from the mouths of people who should be representing the loving embrace of Christ.

LGBT people in prison face appalling discrimination. There are reports of rapes by fellow prisoners, and LGBT prisoners do not have access to treatment for HIV and AIDS. Prison chaplains have refused to administer communion to LGBT people in prison services, asking them to repent of their sin of being homosexual. Edenedi is presently negotiating with the prison authorities to allow LGBT prisoners access to condoms; she said they are refused because the authorities say LGBT people should not be having sex. Because of these problems, training of activists who will act as Christian counsellors, visiting prisons and supporting the community, is needed. “Christian literature in French, which talks of an inclusive family and church, would be greatly appreciated here in Togo.”

Aziable is a well-known, prominent gay Catholic activist from Atapkame. Until recently, he was a Knight of the Church. Knighthood is an honour and invested upon those that the Bishop feels are actively contributing to the life of the diocese. Knights are charged by the church to utilize their potential for mission and evangelism. However, Aziable was dismissed from his knighthood once his sexuality became known. “I will never leave the church because doing so is giving victory to my oppressors,” he emotionally states. He feels that Church leaders need help and education to understand properly the gospel that they are claiming to represent.

Also see:

“Voices from LGBT Catholics in Western Africa” – Davis Mac-Iyalla

Conclusions

LGBT Catholic Voices from W Africa: Benin

benin-political-map

In Benin, I met with three people who identify as transsexuals and are also Christians from different backgrounds. They wanted to be interviewed together. Their words were heartfelt as they told me that all they wanted from the society and the church is acceptance. Benin does not have any anti-gay laws, but LGBT people are often disowned by their families, if their sexuality becomes known. People who are known to be LGBT are seldom employed.

The three explained that the Catholic Church, which is the dominant faith in the country and holds great power, influences social attitudes and fuels homophobic prejudice. The thing, which saddened me the most, was to hear that if a known homosexual dies, he or she is buried in a different cemetery from everyone else, a place where outcasts are buried. Marginalised and hated in life, marginalised and hated in death. The three interviewees wept as they spoke. One of them named Abib asked me to be honest in my reply and to tell them that if they died would they go to hell or heaven? “Priests say that transsexuals are demons in the kingdom of the devil.” This was very shocking for me to hear. In my years living in Nigeria and Togo I have heard much homophobia, and know well the negative attitudes of church and society towards gay people, but this priest’s words still shocked me. At this point I stopped interviewing them and spent the rest of our time together teaching and reassuring them of the unconditional love of Christ, and telling them that all baptised members of the church regardless of their sexuality, sex or gender identity are welcomed into the Kingdom of God.

Mary is a parent of a 21-year-old gay man living in Port Nova. She is a practising Catholic and told me that she knew that her son was different right from the age of 12. “He always wanted to play with girls and never with boys, loved wearing girl’s clothes and often told me he was a girl.” Initially Mary was worried about his behaviour and consulted her priest who advised her to give him time to grow up, but continue to pray for her son. She once was told by a fellow parishioner that her son’s female behaviour was because of a lack of a father figure in his life. This was so offensive to Mary that she reported it to her priest, but nothing happened as the priest agreed with what the parishioner had said. She feels angry about the attitudes of the church towards homosexuals and 4 single parents. “I love my church and my country, but I love my child more and I will do everything to protect him.”

Many LGTB people fear that their family will disown them if their sexuality was ever known. Many are subjected to pressure from their parents to get married and have children especially if they are the firstborn son. Dossou, a 39-year-old travel agent, is so concerned about this that he is currently trying to get a job in Nigeria where nobody knows him. He understands that Nigeria is also a difficult place to live if you are homosexual, but is not planning to come out any time soon. “I want to stay in Nigeria, improve my English and then find a way to travel to Europe where I can be free to be myself.” He feels that the church, which is supposed to be a place of hope, has taken the lead in discriminating against people like him. He ends by saying, “I will always be a Catholic, just as I will always be a homosexual. I know that I am loved by God.”

Also see:

“Voices from LGBT Catholics in Western Africa” – Davis Mac-Iyalla

Conclusions

 

 

 

LGBT Catholic Voices from W Africa: Nigeria

nigeria-map-prov

My next journey was to Nigeria, and I had to be extremely careful at this stage of my journey for my own safety and security. It was not easy crossing the border of Benin and Nigeria since the Nigerian Presidential election was coming up in few days time, so security was very high. I had wished to visit northern, southern and eastern Nigeria but could only visit Lagos, which is in the South West. However I did meet and speak to people from all regions of the country as Lagos is the most diverse cultural city of Nigeria.

In Nigeria, the church and the government both persecute LGBT people. On the 7th January 2014 the Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, signed The Same Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Act into law. This Act imposes lengthy prison sentences of up to 14 years on any person who attempts to enter into a same-sex marriage or civil union; who participates in a gay club, society or organisation; or who makes a public display of affection with a person of the same sex.

Rashidi is a trained science laboratory technician and an unapologetic human rights advocate especially for persons marginalized on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. He was brought up as Catholic. The strict observance of religion and faith in his family led him to begin to study the Bible at an early age, but the experiences and realization of his sexuality made him more questioning of the scriptures. As a young man, he was scared he was going to be consumed by fire whenever he stepped up to the altar. He feared that his homosexuality would be revealed to the church and he would become an object of mockery amongst his peers. He remarked, “Many homosexuals within the church in Nigeria still have those same feelings and are scared about people finding the truth of who they are.”

Rashidi expressed his anger over The Same Sex Marriage Act. Many LGBT Catholics in Nigeria were very disappointed to read in the press that The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria made statements in support of the bill saying that the law was a “step in the right direction for the protection of the dignity of the human person”. Rashidi angrily commented, “I cannot understand how the church could support the persecutions of LGBT Nigerians and still call itself Christian.” There had been an increase in violent attacks against Nigerian LGBT people since the bill was signed into law. Painful for him is the lack of pastoral care and support from the Nigerian Catholic Church towards its LGBT members. While the Bishop pays ‘lip-service’ to human rights and equality, the Catholic Church does not seem to put these ideals into practice.

Rashidi followed the Catholic Family Synod through the international media. “Why the Catholic Church can’t be more like Christ to give everyone a place, I do not know,” he muses. He hopes to see the Nigerian Catholic Church becoming more open and welcoming to everyone. While the priests and bishops in Nigeria are publicly opposing homosexuality, he asks, “Does this mean that there are no homosexual priests or bishops in the Catholic Church of Nigeria, or are they just too afraid to accept themselves and speak out the truth which is first and foremost their calling?” He would love to see brothers and sisters from Europe and other parts of the world visiting Nigeria, sharing their stories and supporting the LGBT of Nigeria in their journey of faith. “What is needed most in Nigeria is material that teaches liberation theology,” he concludes.

I also met Grace, a Lesbian from Ojota. She is a Christian who discovered that she is a lesbian at a very young age. She is currently unemployed but does lots of voluntary work to support the LGBT community in Lagos. She is still very much in the closet but friends and family members often comment on how she dresses like a boy and behaves like a man. Her mother constantly reminds her that a woman’s place is under her husband and says she is praying for Grace to find a good husband. Since the passing of the anti-gay law in January 2014 Grace has become more careful. She recounts a story about an undercover policewoman who joined an online dating group to trap unsuspecting gay women. The policewoman met a female doctor who she subsequently reported to the authorities. The doctor lost her job and was forced to relocate outside of Nigeria. “Many people are using the anti-gay law to blackmail people for money,” Grace explains. In her eyes, Nigeria is a mob country where people are violently persecuted for being homosexual. She said, “I believe [LBGTIs] are one family and I hope that the worldwide Catholic Church and all Christians will come to realise this truth too.”

For many LBGTI persons, the only source of information is the press, which, on most occasions, condemns homosexuality. This can lead to a feeling of self-loathing, an inferiority complex and often a feeling of inadequacy in LGBTs. The condemnation of homosexuality by state and churches as well as the fear of being outed force LGBTs to hide their real sexual identity for a long time. Cynthia was one such person. The acceptance of herself only started when she found an online-group for same gender loving women. Through this group of lesbians, she became aware that love is natural and the greatest commandment of Jesus Christ. She feels that most LGBT Nigerians don’t know the full component of the anti-gay law. “The damaging effects of the anti-gay law are ‘crazy’: gay bashing, suicide, blackmail, rape and more is on the increase against Nigerian LGBT people since that law came into effect,” she explains. Cynthia wishes there was one bishop in Nigeria who was bold enough to stand up and challenge the church and government on their views and attitudes to homosexuality.

Cynthia explains, “I am born and raised Nigerian, if there is anything Nigeria needs it is answers to why a nation so blessed with natural minerals resources, is lacking and dying in poverty. What Nigeria needs is good roads, steady electricity supply, good healthcare and good social services. The problem for the ordinary Nigerian is how to have a daily meal.” In her eyes, the only people who are asking for anti-gay laws are politicians and religious leaders who are using LGBT Nigerians as a scapegoat for the problems in the country.

She asked to help drive education within the Nigerian LGBT Christian communities. This education should cut across spirituality, self and career development, and include legal and human rights. She wants LGBT Catholics from all over the world to keep close ties with the Nigeria LGBT Christians communities.

Also see:

“Voices from LGBT Catholics in Western Africa” – Davis Mac-Iyalla

Conclusions