EXCLUSIVE: LGBT Bar Association Director Offers Glimpse of Historic Vatican Meeting

D’Arcy Kemnitz

Two weeks ago, Bondings 2.0 reported on the historic meeting at the Vatican between Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the highest-ranking Vatican official after the pope, and a group of human rights leaders who were urging the Holy See to publicly condemn laws which criminalize LGBT people. 

The following post is an account of that meeting from an American lawyer who participated in it:  D’Arcy Kemnitz, the Executive Director of the LGBT Bar Association, the largest and most recognized organization of LGBT legal professionals in the U.S.A.


On the morning of April 5, 2019, I arrived at the Vatican to meet with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Holy See’s Secretary of State. He is responsible for all affairs of state and policy of the Vatican. I was part of a delegation from the International Bar Association. delegation that was granted an audience at the Vatican to discuss the global decriminalization of homosexuality and to urge leaders of the Catholic Church to actively support decriminalization.

This international legal delegation was composed of more than fifty leaders from dozens of organizations worldwide and included Mark Ellis, Executive Director of the International Bar Association; Baroness Helena Kennedy, the Director of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association; and the Honorable Michael Kirby, a Co-Chair of the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute. Both Baroness Kennedy and Justice Kirby are known worldwide for their commitment to human rights. It was truly humbling to be included in this gathering of top legal scholars, human rights activists, barristers, attorneys, and eminent religious leaders.

In the Vatican: after the meeting: Matthias Stupp, Co-Chair of the International Bar Association LGBT Committee, and D’Arcy Kemnitz, Executive Director of the U.S.-based LGBT Bar Association.

Since I was raised in the Catholic Church, attending a meeting at the Vatican regarding official recognition of the rights of my community was deeply moving. The mere fact that the Church accepted this meeting and is committed to a dialogue to help end the animus against LGBTQ+ individuals demonstrates the great strides made by the Church to support civil rights for all people.

Our meeting was both inspirational and productive. The Baroness Kennedy gave a particularly poignant speech about the plight of LGBTQ+ people worldwide and urged the Vatican and its representatives to see our meeting as a beginning of a communication on this matter.  Justice Kirby’s account of his personal struggle to reconcile his sexual orientation with the secular law and with a powerful faith like Catholicism moved me to tears. Cardinal Parolin and his attendants promised to take these views directly to Pope Francis himself.

After the event, the Baroness, Judge Kirby and Attorney Leonardo Raznovich held a press conference that was followed by a lunch meeting in which all esteemed individuals including powerful allies like Former Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico, among others, pledged to continue working against criminalization of our community.

As readers already know, criminalization of homosexuality is a pressing issue globally and here in the United States. Seventy countries currently criminalize homosexuality. In the United States, twelve states still have anti-sodomy laws even after the landmark case Lawrence v. Texas (2003) in which the U.S. Supreme Court found a compelling dignity interest for LGBTQ+ people and ruled the that sodomy laws violate the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. In the U.S., criminal sodomy laws or similar criminal provisions are still on the books in Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah. These laws continue to force LGBTQ+ people to live their lives in the shadows, under threat of criminal persecution, and relegate gay individuals to the status of second-class citizens.

It takes no leap of faith to tie these secularly abusive laws to subsequent hate crimes and criminal physical and mental abuse.  We implore the Holy See to take a stand against criminalizing LGBTQ+ individuals.

LGBTQ+ individuals will never be truly equal–or safe–as long as these archaic and bigoted secular laws continue to exist. The LGBT Bar is committed to ending the criminalization of homosexuality nationally and internationally, and urges the Catholic Church to join us – and the other representatives and groups in our historic meeting.

D’Arcy Kemnitz, LGBT Bar Association, April 23, 2019


Catholic editorial:

In its editorial (not available on line) about the historic meeting ,  London’s Tablet opined:

“Pope Francis, in his apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia, three years ago declared:  ‘We would like before all else to reaffirm that every person, regardless of his or her sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his  or her dignity and treated with consideration, while every sign of unjust discrimination is to be carefully avoided, particularly any form of aggression or violence.’

“This was welcome but does not go far enough. There are many countries where the Catholic Church has significant influence which needs this teaching to be unpacked as unambiguously as possible. The church needs to declare that criminalising gay men and women is contrary to their human dignity and a grave infringement of their human rights.”

Related post:

April 5, 2019: Vatican Meeting with LGBT Advocates Is a “Great Step Forward,” But More Action Needed  (New Ways Ministry’s Statement in Response to the Meeting)

For another description of the meeting:

Reuters: Meeting the Pope’s “prime minister” at the Vatican City provoked mixed emotions for the 50 LGBT+ advocates

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