The Vatican City State is surrounded by the nation of Italy, and so the Catholic Church has a great influence on Italian politics and social life, especially in regard to LGBT issues. But Italian Catholic LGBT people have been organizing and working to spread a more positive message about LGBT issues than most church leaders offer. Many of the major Italian cities have religious LGBT organizations, often heavily populated by Catholics, and a national federation of Christian LGBT groups, Cammini di Esperanza, recently formed.
Vice magazine recently had a short interview with Iacopo Ialenti, a young gay Catholic man in Florence, Italy, who is a member of Kairos, that city’s Christian LGBT organization. Kairos made headlines in 2013, when early in the pontificate of Pope Francis they wrote an introduction letter to him and received an affirming, handwritten response.
Ialenti’s story gives some insight into the struggle of LGBT people in this country heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, but it also shows the power of how personal witness and faith can overcome even the most challenging situations. For example, Ialenti described his parents’ reactions to his coming out as gay:
“My parents didn’t take it that well; my father told me that he’d rather have a disabled son. . . .One day, my mother came to visit, and I took her to a lectio divina (divine reading) with Kairos members. When we got back home, I told her, ‘Mum, they were all gay.’ She almost fainted. My parents have changed since then. Now my father is looking for a husband for me.”
Being a gay person of faith has its challenges, but Ialenti shows that he is working at overcoming them. He describes what is probably the biggest challenge:
“. . . [T]he toughest part is coming out to yourself—as a Christian, you have to face an internal homophobia, which makes you your worst judge. And then there’s the law of God; when you are told you are unnatural, it’s oppressive.”
He explained, though, that he has decided to remain a Catholic, despite challenges not only from the Church, but from the gay community itself:
“When you came out, did you consider walking away from the church?
Just because I’m gay doesn’t mean I’m an atheist. And I feel sorry for those who deny their sexuality in the name of religion.
“Have you ever felt excluded from the gay community because of your faith?
My whole life is discrimination! You have no idea how many guys dumped me after discovering I was a Catholic.”
Ialenti also described an important action that Kairos took a few years ago, and some of his hope for the future of the Catholic Church:
“During the 2015 synod of bishops, we asked the church to stop considering homosexuality a tendency and start to consider it an affection. But the power of the church is based on the people’s perception, and until the believers change their point of view, Rome won’t change. I still hope that a kamikaze pope comes along and writes an encyclical letter saying that homosexuals are the same as straight people, in God’s grace.”
While he acknowledges that it may take “centuries” before such a pope is elected, he does see change happening in small ways. Last year, Kairos helped organize Florence’s first gay pride celebration, which Ialenti notes brought many disparate groups together. One small detail stuck out for him, though, as a sign of things to come in the Church:
“There was even Sister Fabrizia, who hosted us in her convent. So let’s hope they all start to open their eyes.”
To read the entire interview with Ialenti, click here.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 31, 2017