LGBT Christians must be welcomed fully into the church, said an Italian bishop, because what matters first is their identity as Christians who are wholly part of the baptized faithful.
Bishop Marcello Semeraro of Albano spoke to Italy’s National Forum of LGBT Christians during an assembly it hosted this month, just outside of Rome. Semeraro told some two hundred LGBT people, family members, and pastoral workers that before referring to LGBT Christians as LGBT, the church should see them as baptized Christians:
“You are Christian groups and this means a title of fraternity. ‘Christian is my name’, wrote Paciano of Barcelona in the fourth century: this allows all Christians to call each other by name. This is the title for which I recognize you as siblings. It is the truth of all time, it is the truth of Baptism that has impressed in us a seal of ancestry and of fraternity (baptismal character) that nothing, not even sin, will ever succeed in destroying.'”
“From all the interventions [at the Forum’s assembly] emerged the urgency for an anthropological, biblical and theological study of the homosexual phenomenon; the necessity – also on the basis of what was asked by Semeraro – of an inclusive pastoral care, no longer a niche, today promoted and implemented in an almost revolutionary way to defend oneself from possible attacks by those who do not lose the opportunity to tear their clothes and shout scandal; the opportunity for Christian communities to live in the reception and effective recognition of the personal dignity of the children of God in ways that are concretely possible, but without ever losing sight of the logic of discernment. To summarize these needs, the bishop of Albano also took a cue from the document sent to the Secretariat of the Synod by some young LGBT people, by which the Church hopes for greater closeness and asks to continue questioning so as to understand what to propose to young people who “decide to form homosexual couples” and yet continue to be close to the Church.
“Semeraro recalled that these young people often feel hurt, but added: ‘The ‘wounded’ are adults too, we want to accompany you and support you’, and fragility can help discover tenderness, solidarity, awareness of one’s own limitations.”
Bishop Semeraro also addressed parents of LGBT children, many of whom expressed the difficulties they experienced being people of faith with a child who had come out:
“To the many Christian parents with homosexual children who came to listen to him, the bishop of Albano, Marcello Semeraro, recalled the beauty of a creativity that is able to welcome even in complex, unexpected, sometimes difficult situations. When a homosexual child expresses their orientation the parents who welcome them and reassure them on their affection ‘perform a creative and regenerative act’.
“In the same way, explained Semeraro, the Church can truly say that she loves a child “when she holds them in her arms.'”
Jesuit Fr. Pino Piva helped organize the assembly, which included ministers from the Waldensian and Methodist churches, Dominican nuns, parishioners from the church which hosts Florence’s Kairos group for LGBT Christians, and an Italian theologian, Cristina Sominelli. She called for a “purification of mind,” or renewed thinking, in the church “because today too many homosexual people still feel despised, offended, or are forced to camouflage because they are considered unwelcome in their ecclesial environment”
Fr. James Martin, SJ, author of Building a Bridge, also addressed the assembly. Martin reflected on the differences between the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus, as they related to LGBT Christians and the church today. John the Baptist first required conversion to welcome people into the community, but for Jesus, the community was first and all were immediately welcomed from which they then could undergo conversion. Likewise, the church should welcome LGBT Christians before asking for their conversion (by conversion, Martin references the call to deepening discipleship to which all follows of Jesus are called and not any kind of repentance for LGBT people or conversion therapy).
At first reading, Bishop Semeraro’s call to recognize LGBT Christians first as Christians could be considered similar to more conservative voices who have objected to the use of words like “LGBT” and “gay” because, they claim, people cannot be reduced to their sexuality or gender. But the bishop is doing something different, something far more inclusive. His call is for the church to prioritize baptism as the primary factor on which being siblings in Christ is based, but not to the exclusion of other identity markers which remain relevant to knowing and to describing a person. In this way, his call to focus on LGBT Christians first as baptized people becomes not a limiting force, but a starting point of welcome from which Christians can walk together in discipleship, practicing unity from baptism in the diversity of life.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 11, 2018