Italian Archbishop Stresses Importance of LGBT Ministry

The cover of the Italian translation of Fr. James Martin’s “Building a Bridge”

At Thursday’s synod press briefing, one of the featured speakers was Archbishop Matteo Zuppi of Bologna, Italy.  As far as LGBT issues go, Zuppi is probably best known for writing the preface to Un ponte da costruire, the Italian translation of Fr. James Martin’s book, Building a Bridge, about improving the relationship between LGBT people and the Catholic Church.

Zuppi, who is known as the “Italian Bergoglio,” spoke eloquently about the church as a “communion.”  He described this idea of communion as antidote to “clericalism and nationalism”  which seek to exclude people and close doors.  “The Church speaks to everyone and with everyone.  No one is  to be left out,” he said.  His talk was one of the moving descriptions of Pope Francis’ new approach to pastoral ministry that I have heard hear at the synod so far.

During the question period, I decided to ask him for his impressions on how LGBT topics are being received within the synod.  So, I posed this question:

“In your preface to the Italian version of Fr. James Martin’s book on improving relationships between the LGBT community and the Catholic Church, you wrote:
These teachings  [about sensitivity, compassion, and respect for LGBT people]  have not been followed up with a commensurate pastoral program—one that doesn’t simply restrict itself to the cold application of doctrinal guidelines, but instead transforms them into a journey of accompaniment.’
“During your time in the synod, have you seen any bishops moving towards being open to this model of accompaniment for LGBT people or are they still holding on to the cold application of doctrinal guidelines?”
Because of translation problems, I’m not sure that he understood the precise question I was asking, but he did offer a response:

Archbishop Matteo Zuppi

“I believe that pastoral ministry for homosexual people is an important topic. There are different sensitivities, and we must also consider different situations on the basis of geographical areas. It is not viewed the same in  the West as it is in Africa.  It is not just a new issue. This is borne out by the fact that the group of Catholic homosexuals from Bologna is more than thirty years old. In my opinion, it is a pastoral question, and as such I believe it should be treated: when it becomes ideological it becomes more complex and it is better to leave it aside “

Zuppi’s reference to this issue as “important” and his recognition that people have been calling for LGBT pastoral ministry for a long while is good to hear.   I understand, too, his acknowledgement that different cultures approach the question from different perspectives and histories.  But, I fear that this acknowledgement can sometimes be an excuse to do nothing.  Yes, LGBT ministry will look different in Africa or Asia from how it look in the U.S.  For that matter, LGBT ministry will look different in Los Angeles from what it does in New York City, Peoria, Houston, Cleveland, and dozens of smaller U.S. cities.  But isn’t it the responsibility of Catholic leaders everywhere to teach the importance of “respect, compassion, and sensitivity” as the Catechism instructs.  Yes, the model of ministry may be different, but the message should be the same.
Similarly,  I would hope that church leaders would sensitively respect that cultures around the globe view lesbian/gay relationships and gender identity differently. Marriage equality is a reality in the West.  So, why are married lesbian and gay people fired from church jobs, shunned at some parishes, and treated differently by church leaders from other married couples?  Respecting cultural norms should work both ways, whether the norm is progressive or traditionalist.
I also agree, mostly, with Zuppi’s approach to LGBT issues as pastoral, and not ideological. But, where does pastoral end and ideology begin, or vice versa?  Drawing that line will always be a matter of prudential judgement.  For some the difference between pastoral and ideological is similar to the difference between spiritual and political.  But that doesn’t always hold up well from a Catholic perspective.  Protecting people’s human and civil rights should always be a part of pastoral ministry.  Focusing simply on the spiritual is not sufficient for a full gospel response.
Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, October 21, 2018
2 replies
  1. John Montague
    John Montague says:

    Thanks to Frank DeBernardo for devoting his energy to being a voice for us gay Catholics. This is who a prophet looks like in this century.

  2. Deacon Thimas Smith
    Deacon Thimas Smith says:

    This discussion deinds me of the current Presidential Nightmare we face as a nation. While so many complacently dismiss “politics” as a sore subject, they are also dismissing ethics. Jesus’ ethics surely motivated His politics. Similarly, our ideology should strongly influence our pastoral approach. Standing by silently witnessing GLBT Catholics suffer spiritual abuse and rejection is similar to allowing empoverished Americans to be deprived of healthcare. So, while our leaders remain reluctant to speak out publicly and challenge the anti-gay terrorist activities threatening our Church for fear of opening the “pandora’s box” of ideology, this shameful pastoral crisis continues. Yes, the USCCB needs to act like Jesus and stand with us “in the circle” as He did with the woman unjustly accused of sin, not on the outskirts, silently blending in with the accusers.


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