The leader of Paraguay’s national LGBT-rights organization is very pleased at the way his inclusion in a meeting of other civic leaders with Pope Francis has gone. Simón Cazal, the director of SOMOSGAY (“W,e Are Gay”), was invited by the Paraguayan bishops’ conference to be part of a papal audience of 1,600 leaders from Paraguayan organizational leaders when Pope Francis visited the capital city of Asunción this weekend.
Yet opinion seems divided among some LGBT leaders in Paraguay and abroad over whether it was a good thing for Cazal to agree to participate in the meeting.
According to The Washington Blade, Cazal, who married his husband in Argentina after it became legal because of a law which then-Cardinal Bergoglio [Pope Francis] opposed, offered a very positive and hopeful response to the pope’s address to the selected civic leaders:
“Cazal told the Washington Blade during a Skype interview after the meeting that Francis did not “directly” refer to LGBT-specific issues, but ‘he did mention others in which they are included.’ Media reports indicate the pontiff was sharply critical of Paraguayan Catholic officials.
“ ‘There are no people of first, of second or third class,’ said Francis, according to a tweet that Cazal posted to his Twitter account after the meeting. ‘Dignity is for everyone.’
“ ‘The local church insisted on talking about the family and other conservative issues,’ Cazal told the Blade, referring to Francis’ visit to the South American country. ‘He distanced himself from this discourse and highlighted diversity in its place.’
“ ‘The pope’s speech was very productive,’ added Cazal.”
At least two other LGBT rights groups in Panama received the same invitation, which came from Paraguay’s bishops, not the Vatican, as had been reported earlier. Cazal was the only one who accepted. He explained his decision to The Washington Blade:
“ ‘I am not worried about the opinion of the other activists,’ Cazal told the Blade, responding to a question about any potential backlash his organization could face from other Paraguayan LGBT rights advocates over his decision to attend the meeting with Francis. ‘I think that each person in their context should be able to have the freedom to adopt what they believe are the best strategies. In our case, we are very satisfied with ours.’ “
In an interview with Reuters for their story on the Paraguayan audience, Cazal made this remark about the pope:
“I left with the impression that the pope really wants to change things.”
The Wall Street Journal also quoted from the prepared text of the speech at this meeting which the Vatican released to the press:
“Pope Francis refers to the need for dialogue among people in general ‘as a means to advance the project of a fully inclusive nation.’ He advocates ‘a culture of encounter’ that ‘acknowledges that diversity is not only good, it is necessary.’ “
“The group released a statement saying the invitation ‘symbolizes an openness and progress towards the LGBT community, remembering the ultraconservative context that has always characterized the Vatican.’ “
The Crux article provided the responses of the two LGBT rights groups which turned down the invitation:
“Rosa Posa, head of the lesbian rights activist group Aireana, said she received the same invitation but rejected it because, ‘There is a lot of marketing around the pope.’
“Referring to Cazal and SomosGay, she told local media that ‘If they think he’s going to listen, well, good luck.’
“Mariana Sepúlveda of Panambi said she rejected the invitation because it goes against the organization’s fight to promote a secular state.
“Cazal said he was happy to attend the meeting, even though he doesn’t expect much doctrinal change.”
” ‘We have to go. Ninety percent of the country is Catholic; they all love the Pope,’ Cazal said. ‘We have to take this step because otherwise we are the ones who are closing the doors.’
“Cazal said he also realized Pope Francis could be a powerful tool in the fight to stop violence against young gays and lesbians.
” ‘We need his strong voice on the side of defending the life and integrity of LGBT people,’ he said.”
“Helen Kennedy, co-secretary general of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association, the world’s largest gay human-rights organization, said the invitation to SOMOSGAY was significant even if Mr. Cazal doesn’t actually get to meet or speak with the Holy Father face to face.
” ‘They may not have access to the Pope directly, but the fact that they were even invited is very, very symbolic,’ Ms. Kennedy said. ‘I think the local LGBT community can use this as a conversation-starter with respect to anti-discrimination laws in that country.’
“That such an encounter would occur in Paraguay is surprising, said Pedro Paradiso Sottile, secretary general of Comunidad Homosexual Argentina, one of the region’s oldest gay-rights groups.
“While the invitation to Saturday’s meeting was welcome, Mr. Paradiso Sottile said, it would be more significant if the Church were to back measures protecting gay people against violence and discrimination. ‘Until now there have been only gestures but not a concrete action against the horrible things happening every hour, every day, against LGBT people all over the world,’ Mr. Paradiso Sottile said.”
I think it’s important to remember a few facts about this meeting: the Vatican did not issue the invitation; Cazal was one of a large group of people at the meeting (estimates vary from hundreds to 4,000; we reported 1,600 because that figure appears to have come from Cazal himself); the pope did not address LGBT issues directly at all.
So, was this meeting important?
Even though the Vatican did not issue the invitation, it did come from Paraguayan bishops, among the most conservative in Latin America. They must have sensed that this was an invitation that the pope would have wanted to extend.
Even though the meeting was large and not personal, we need to remember that the news coverage on Cazal’s participation has enlarged his presence there significantly, so it could not be lost on the pope and his entourage that a married LGBT rights leader was in attendance. And yet Cazal’s orientation and marital status did not exclude him from the event, which surely would have happened under the two previous popes.
Even though the pope did not address LGBT issues directly, his message was so absolute in its welcoming and inclusive tone, that people, particularly church leaders, will have the ability to interpret it favorably.
While I acknowledge that Pope Francis has not said enough directly regarding LGBT inclusion, and that he often speaks pointedly in favor of marriage only for heterosexual couples, I think we need to build on these small steps to help the Church, which is the entire People of God, become more inclusive and egalitarian.
A tip to Pope Francis and his event planners: The next step is to meet with Catholic LGBT people at the World Meeting of Families, and he can start with Margie Winters, recently fired from a Catholic school for being married to a woman. Margie and her wife, Andrea, will be right there in Philadelphia when the pope comes there in September, and have already requested that he meet with them..
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
U.S. News and World Report: “Paraguayan gay rights activist says some opposed him attending papal gathering”