“The ways of love.” Walking towards a pastoral reception of LGBT people

An interview with Andrea Rubera, co-spokesperson of the Conference. By Silvia Lanzi of the Gionata Project

Le strade dell’amore – The ways of love” is the title of the International Conference for a Pastoral Care of Homosexual and Trans People that will take place in Rome (Italy) on 3 October 2014. Also in Rome during October, the Extraordinary Synod on the Family will take place, and it is for this reason that many different Christian LGBT organisations are going to meet to review progress on an essential issue for people of faith: pastoral care. We asked Andrea Rubera, one of the two spokespersons of the conference, and president of Nuova Proposta, to answer to some questions about this issue.

Pope Francis, while promoting the Extraordinary Synod on the Family, sent a very detailed questionnaire to all the dioceses of the world, which included questions about homosexual people and their lives (including lives lived as part of a couple). It seems to me that this is the first time that the Roman Catholic Church is showing it cares about what the faithful think and feel. Is it a revolution?

Pope Francis has certainly started a process of change beginning with words. The spontaneous question he posed regarding gay people ¬¬– “who am I to judge?” – ratified a quite new and radical change of perspective: a switch from considering homosexual people as only worthy of addressing with prohibitions, laws and prescriptions, to a suspension of judgment. The questionnaire sent to the dioceses, then, has continued this semantic revolution: for the first time, I think, in an official document of the Catholic Church, not only are gay people explicitly mentioned, but also unions between persons of the same sex are acknowledged, and even the suggestion that these couples might have children is entertained.

One of the factors, I think, that has so far prevented homosexual and transgender people from being fully accepted within Catholic communities is the absence of any “acknowledgement” of the issues around homosexuality in daily life. It was only treated in a moral category, or at most as a “social problem”. So, yes, a process of change has started but it must now be transformed into something concrete. Suspension of judgment alone is not enough. It must turn into welcoming, pastoral courses, training and information to educators, catechists, priests, religious men and women.

This is the only way to prevent the centrifugal force that too often pushes homosexual people away from their Catholic communities because they do not feel part of them any longer. They cannot imagine that there is room, in those communities, for gay people to have a rich life, full of plans and possibilities, like other people, including the possibility to dream of a life filled with affection and love.

Why the need for an international theological conference about faith and homosexuality? What direction does the title “The Ways of Love: Walking towards a pastoral reception of LGBT people” imply we should take?

Italian LGBT Christian people have remained hidden for a long, long time; silent, waiting for something to happen, for someone who would do something for them. Most of the time these people have created protective niches for themselves outside of the parishes, in which they can meet to try to reconcile their faith and homosexuality. The established communities have not been able to welcome them because of prejudice and also misinformation. In recent years, however, parishes have become gradually aware of LGBT Christians beginning to participate directly, and find their places within the community of faith affirmed. They now want to share their own experience of life, including their perspective of love and affection, as a contribution to the stimulation and growth of the whole people of God.

The news of an Extraordinary Synod, dealing with the theme of pastoral care for the family, has triggered an unprecedented desire to be able to talk about themselves, their lives, and to produce material for the synod itself. This was a new cause for hope, a “living” hope, that makes you wish for change; trying to be yourself yet at the same time being an agent and example of the change itself.
At the beginning, efforts were directed towards responding to the questionnaire sent by the secretariat of the Synod to all dioceses, trying to give our point of view. The responses were written and sent by at least 7 groups of LGBT Italian Catholics.

Then, gradually, the need arose to be even more proactive. People have got together spontaneously and started the hard work of comparing stories, developing ideas, and creating working groups. From this bubbling up of activity, the idea of an international conference emerged, to give voice to this desire to have a pastoral care that, for the first time, could be truly inclusive of the lives and sufferings of everyone, including homosexual and trans people.
In addition to the conference, we are also writing an appeal, which will be distributed to participants at the synod itself, as well as read at the end of the conference. The appeal will be the contribution of LGBT Italian Catholic people to the Synod. It will contain our desires, our hopes, our life stories, so that the Church may welcome them, to watch over and take care of them.

What contribution do you expect from speakers?

To widen the perspectives and points of view of the whole community of believers. We chose to set the conference on an international scale to enable varied experiences to be shared. The speakers
who have agreed to join the conference are all outstanding, and able to suggest how we might design a new path that will lead, as the title of the conference suggests, towards developing pastoral care “with” homosexual and trans people:

• from Rev. Geoffrey Robinson, Catholic Bishop Emeritus of the Archdiocese
of Sydney (Australia), we will hear how the Catholic Church can move
towards a new understanding of the lives and loves of LGBT people;

• from James Alison (English theologian and Catholic priest) we will hear
about a new theological perspective that will broaden our horizons, opening the way for a new more inclusive Gospel message for all diverse sexualities.

• from the theologian and Dominican nun Antonietta Potente, we will
hear new encouragement for LGBT people to pass from
exile to inclusion, from expectation to participation.

• to the Waldensian pastor Letizia Tommasone (Chairman of the Baptist,
Methodist, Waldensian “Faith and homosexuality” commission) we will hear how Protestant churches have, over the years, moved from prejudice to full inclusion.

• Joseanne Peregrin, President of the Christian Life Community of Malta
and Catholic mother of a homosexual boy, will be the last speaker and
will tell us about the fears and hopes of the parents of LGBT people.

Who is behind the organisation of the conference?

Many people from so many parts of the world have contributed great work. In fact, two working groups (one Italian and one international) are working at the same time for the conference, both made up of people from LGBT Christian groups representing different nations. The groups have worked on the content of the conference, the appeal, the choice of speakers and on the communication plan.
The conference is sponsored by the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups [2] and is financially supported by the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture of the Netherlands.
An organization committee was also formed, composed of the people who are in charge of the organization:

• Francesco Boschi (REFO, Italy)
• Michael Brinkschroeder (European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, The Netherlands)
• Michael Clifton (David et Jonathan, France)
• Francis De Bernardo (New Ways Ministry, United States)
• Marianne Duddy-Burke (DignityUSA, United States)
• Gianni Geraci (Il Guado, Italy)
• David Musonda (Dette Resource Foundation, Zambia)
• Innocenzo Pontillo (Progetto Gionata, Italy)
• Andrea Rubera (Nuova Proposta, Italy)
• Diane Xuereb (Drachma LGBT, Malta)

So many people, so many lives, so many thoughts, so many hopes, so much energy, so much desire has, for the first time, come together collaboratively to write, produce and propose to the synod. I hope that the synod is aware of this reality, of these people who have been working for months to switch from waiting to participation. Another step in the direction of dialogue…