Fifty LGBTQ Advocates Welcomed to Vatican by High Ranking Cardinal

Two participants in the meeting with Cardinal Parolin, Baroness Helena Ann Kennedy and Leonardo Javier Raznovich, talk to reporters in Rome

The second -highest Vatican official after Pope Francis received a delegation of advocates working to end LGBTQ criminalization laws and conversion therapy, a meeting described by one Catholic group as a “great step forward” but which should prompt further action.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, met with some 50 lawyers, politicians, and activists who presented him with research on anti-LGBTQ criminalization laws in the Caribbean that will be published next year by the Inter-American Institute for Human Rights. A statement from the Vatican Press Office, reported by La Stampa, described the meeting:

“Cardinal Parolin gave those present a brief greeting, reiterating the position of the Catholic Church in defense of the dignity of every human person and against all forms of violence. After listening to the speeches of some of the participants in the meeting, Cardinal Parolin then assured that he will inform the Holy Father about the contents of the research.”

The LGBT advocates included representatives from Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, the United Nations Latin American Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, and the International Bar Association. The three organizations released a joint statement after the meeting expressing their satisfaction with the gathering, but also outlined further requests they were making of the Vatican, including:

“We therefore humbly request the Church to declare that: Human dignity implies the respect of every person as created by God, hence criminalisation of LGBT peple is today, as in the darkest times in the history of humanity, a manifestation of irrational hatred for that which is different from the norm and that homophobia is, in effect, a feeling of hatred and rejection which the Church condemns, wherever it takes place.”

The groups also urged the Church to condemn anti-LGBTQ criminalization, to call on nations to implement non-discrimination policies to protect people based on sexual orientation and gender identity, to condemn so-called conversion therapy, and to instruct Church leaders globally to work for the abolition “of all forms of punishment for consented intimate sexual acts between adults, wherever they are still being criminally persecuted.” These appeals came via a joint statement from the

Baronness Helena Ann Kennedy, director of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute and a participant in the meeting, said Parolin was “very responsive” to the group’s input, and “accepted” the group’s main point about Church teaching requiring a defense of human dignity even if there are other doctrinal issues, according to Reuters.

Representatives of ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Association) and its regional affiliates also participated in the meeting. André du Plessis, executive director of ILGA World, described the meeting as a “deeply significant opportunity,” adding:

“This open door at the Vatican today is a true moment of grace for the future, even as we work for those whose lives are destroyed by discrimination, violence and exclusion at the hands of the Church. . .For the next steps of this dialogue with Rome, we simply say: we are ready.”

The meeting with Parolin comes after a week of disputed reports about just what would happen on April 5th. Initially, the LGBT advocates were slated to meet with Pope Francis and there were reports that the pontiff would give an historic speech denouncing anti-LGBTQ criminalization. But on Thursday, Alessandro Gisotti, interim director of the Vatican Press Office, rejected such reports.

Even though they did not meet with Francis, the pontiff  was had a role in arranging the meeting, according to participant Leonardo Raznovich. La Stampa reported:

“[Raznovich] reported in particular that at the beginning of the research the Belize Supreme Court declared the law criminalizing homosexuality to be unconstitutional, and the local Catholic Church has challenged this decision. According to the Argentine lawyer, the Pope, urged on the subject, ‘intervened’, the Church withdrew its appeal and today Belize has emerged from the ranks of countries that criminalize gays. . .

“Raznovich publicly thanked the Pope ‘who to some extent is responsible for this meeting. After intervening on the Church in Belize, he wanted to know more about this research, and this is why we are here today.'”

It is unclear why the group did not meet with Pope Francis. The Washington Post suggested a statement against criminalization might have been “considered too much by his religious and diplomatic advisers.”  Vatican officials may also have thought that a statement at this time could have been seen as a direct rebuke against Brunei, which just this week implemented a law that punishes lesbian and gay people with death by stoning, and therefore could have harmed relations with Muslims.

LGBTQ groups worldwide have welcomed the meeting with Parolin, but are clear that it must only be a first step towards dialogue. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said in a statement (available here) that the meeting with Parolin was a “great step forward. . .but more urgent statements and actions are needed.” DeBernardo continued:

“The meeting with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State, in the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace could be the beginning of a new era of dialogue between the Catholic Church and the LGBT community by working together for the common goal of ending discrimination, violence, and legal penalties against LGBT people around the world. . .As a next step, Vatican officials and Pope Francis need to clearly and forcefully denounce LGBTQ criminalization laws.  Decisive action is needed to respond to this terrible scourge which destroys lives and erodes human dignity.”

For Bondings 2.0’s ongoing coverage of anti-LGBTQ criminalization issues related to the Catholic Church, see the appropriate category in the righthand column of this page or click here. For more resources on ending criminalization laws, click here.  For a timeline of how Catholic officials have been involved, positively and negatively on the issue of criminalization  laws against LGBT people, click here

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 6, 2019

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