A complex situation has arisen in Spain’s Canary Islands after a bishop made LGBTQ-negative remarks that prompted both an opportunity for reconciliation and a criminal investigation.
In January, Bishop Bernardo Álvarez of Tenerife made comments during a television interview in which he compared homosexuality to alcoholism. More specifically, Álvarez suggested initially that gay people “know it is wrong,” but “do it, without being conditioned by anything,” adding a gay person “is like the person who drinks and when he drinks he does whatever nonsense. Of course, what he has to do is not drink.” La Provincia noted further:
“This is not the first time that the Bishop of Tenerife has inveighed against the integrity of the [LGBTQ] group. In 2007, he ‘justified’ the sexual abuse of minors by saying that ‘there are children who provoke’, which he finished with [saying] that ‘homosexuality harms people and society’, then tried to rectify his words.”
Álvarez’s interview comments prompted an intense backlash from the wider community, even as the bishop apologized. He stated, in part:
“First of all, I apologize to all those I may have offended with my words, especially to people LGTBI, to whom I express my respect and consideration. I must admit that I was not successful in answering some questions that require more careful reflection and explanation. I did not want to promote discrimination, nor compare homosexuality, alcoholism or any other reality.”
The bishop’s apology has been well received by some. CRISMHOM, a group for LGBTQ Christians in the Madrid region, issued a statement thanking Álvarez:
“We want to thank the Bishop of Tenerife for having the courage and dignity to recognize his mistake and ask for forgiveness. We also appreciate the use, [which is] quite novel among the hierarchy, of the term ‘LGTBI’, as opposed to the more restrictive ‘homosexuals’. It is comforting.
“Listening to his clarifications, we realize that there is still a long way to go to overcome these type of unfortunate situations, as well as to acknowledge the reality of sexual and gender diversity in the Church’s own doctrine. However, gestures like this [apology] make that path smoother, and one travels with more joy and hope.”
Still, reactions are divided, both inside and outside the church.
The apology did not prevent officials at the prosecutor’s office in his region of Spain from investigating whether to criminally charge the bishop for his words, reported La Provincia.
Some local and regional government officials, including Ángel Víctor Torres, president of the Canary Islands’ government, have called for the bishop to face sanctions, reported La Provincia. At least one LGBTQ group is calling for Álvarez to resign.
But, Bishop José Mazuelos Pérez of the Canary Islands, rejected claims that Álvarez hates of LGBTQ people, say it was “very clear” there was no incitement, according to another report from La Provincia.
The question of whether Bishop Álvarez committed a hate crime when linking homosexuality to substance abuse is one left to Spanish officials, though such charges seem excessive. More relevant to Catholics is the example of reconciliation in this case made possible by both the bishop’s forthright apology and CRISMHOM’s acceptance of it. Hopefully, Bishop Álvarez’s apology is but a first step on his journey to greater understanding of and engagement with LGBTQ people.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, February 17, 2022