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.

 

2 thoughts on “The Birth and Living of a LGBTI Pastoral Care Group: Padis+ Chile

  1. Pingback: El Nacimiento y Vida de un Grupo de Cuidado Pastoral LGBTI: Padis+ Chile | Global Network of Rainbow Catholics

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