Stranger in your own land: How Polish LGBT+ people are battling discrimination

While Poland remains more socially conservative than many countries in Western Europe, attitudes to LGBT+ issues are changing. We speak to activists standing strong in the face of oppression.

by Will St Leger

In the lead up to the Polish elections in October this year, LGBT+ people became a central cultural issue in the country’s election campaigns. Law and Justice (PiS) – Poland’s Christian democratic and right-wing populist party – demonised the community to win votes in what is still considered a Catholic country. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s ruling party, used the populist playbook to identify perceived threats to society. According to Mr Kaczynski, those threats come from LGBT+ people and from Europe, where families can have “two mummies or two daddies”.

The Catholic Church’s anti-gay rhetoric has become the ruling party’s dominant theme. Recently the archbishop of Krakow, Marek Jedraszewski, described Poland as under siege from a “rainbow plague” of gay rights activists. In the past, the archbishop identified the “LGBT lobby” and “gender ideology” as the new threat to national freedom.

In Poland, same-sex unions are not legal. Gay couples can’t take out loans, settle taxes together, or inherit. There are no laws protecting LGBT+ people from hate crime. Life for Polish LGBT+ folk feels increasingly dangerous, especially in rural areas. Back in July, participants at a Pride parade in Bialystok in the east of the country were attacked by a violent mob, leaving many people injured. Scenes of these attacks sent shock waves across social media. In the same month, a right wing newspaper, Gazeta Polska issued “LGBT-free zone” stickers to readers which drew widespread criticism from Polish opposition parties and diplomats.

It’s midday, I’m in central Warsaw and I’m visiting the offices of Lambda, Poland’s longest running LGBT+ organisation. I’ve arranged a meeting with Krzysztof Kliszczyński, a seasoned Polish LGBT+ activist, and Sławomir Kirdzik, a 22 year-old student at Warsaw University and an intern with Lambda. I begin by asking Krzysztof about the recent elections and how anti-LGBT+ rhetoric is impacting life for the community.

Krzysztof begins, “One year ago LGBT+  people were not the topic of national political discussion, then in February this year, within days of the mayor of Warsaw signing a pledge to protect LGBT+  rights in the capital, the ruling party launched its attack on the LGBT+ community.”

Sławomir adds, “I come from Gdansk, so coming to Warsaw was not a huge change in the way I express myself. I have been attacked on the street and I know of many people who have been attacked leaving a gay club nearby.

“When I’m on the street I don’t have a problem expressing myself, because it’s more important that other young people see that there are people just like them.”

Sławomir points to his bag, which has a rainbow flag patch sewn on it, “When I carry this bag, I hear people behind me on the street calling me a ‘faggot’ nearly everyday, however there are lots of supportive people trying to help me.”

Krzysztof expands on the history of youth movements in Poland; “30 years ago, young people led the political wave against communist rule, my generation led the second wave of establishing LGBT+  groups like Lambda and greater rights for LGBT+ people, now we are seeing a newer generation of 15 and 16 year-olds that have witnessed the progress of LGBT+ rights throughout Europe who aspire and campaign for those rights too.”

Despite the violence and political rhetoric, Poland has seen an increase in the number of Pride marches and attendees. Two years ago there were seven Pride/equality marches, last year there were 70. Public opinion is shifting too – a recent survey showed 57 % support same-sex civil partnerships – the positive responses were mainly from younger people, especially women living in cities. Younger men in rural areas tend to have the most negative views of same-sex relationships and LGBT+ rights.

That evening, Krzysztof and Sławomir invite me to come back to the office as an LGBT+ youth group hold one of their weekly meetings. About 20 young people are sitting in a circle chatting among themselves. I’m introduced to a trans man called Hugo, I’m interested to learn about the legal and cultural status of trans people in Poland and find it’s not quite what I expect.

Legal gender recognition has been known to Polish courts since the late 1960’s. Changing a person’s gender marker is done through a court process known as the “assessment suit”, in which an individual has to literally file a lawsuit against their parents and both parents must agree.

A person going through gender recognition in Poland is subjected to physical examination, along with psychological and psychiatric evaluations. After those are fulfilled, the diagnostician decides whether to prescribe hormones. While it is possible to receive hormonal treatment without the diagnosis, this practice might be problematic for further court procedures.

To gain legal recognition as a woman one has to undergo several months of hormonal therapy. Recognition of masculinity requires undergoing chest surgery as well. In this case, one could say that Poland is strictly divided into west Poland, where trans men are not forced to undergo any surgeries, and east Poland, where mastectomy is often required before the court process can begin. Mastectomy is labeled as a condition for receiving the relevant documents needed for the lawsuit (against your parents). Some good news came in 2016, when a court in Warsaw issued a decision that allowed a Polish citizen, who transitioned legally in Germany, to change her personal data (gender marker, and first and last name) without obtaining a transsexual diagnosis and going through a civil court case in Poland.

I asked Hugo about his real life experience of being trans in Poland. He said, “It took my mother time to adjust but recently she has started using he/him pronouns when addressing me and that made a big difference.”

The Catholic Church’s grip on the country also seems to be softening. Poland is now experiencing the same scrutiny about historical sexual abuse within the clergy as the Catholic Church in Ireland did in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. This year, an independent Polish documentary directed by Tomasz Sekielski called Tell No One unearthed cases of child sexual abuse. The film addresses the issue of responsibility of the Episcopal Conference of Poland for hiding paedophile priests from the law. It was posted on YouTube in May, 2019, and received over a million views in the first five hours – a new record for Polish YouTube. Seven months later it’s had over 23 million views. Following the film, the National Public Prosecutor’s Office stated that they had established a team of prosecutors, whose task it is to analyse the cases presented in the documentary.

From the outside, Poland may seem an outwardly conservative country out of step with progressive Europe regarding LGBT+ rights, however, looking closer, I see a country that is not dissimilar to Ireland in the late ‘80s. The government are deflecting their economic failures by creating misdirection and stirring up hatred against LGBT+ people and immigrants. As the cracks appear in their cover up of clerical abuse of children, the Catholic Church are under scrutiny and using the age-old tactic of blaming LGBT+ people for their own sins. The next few years will be crucial for LGBT+ people. If broader society can continue to mobilise behind the community, Poland could to shift from a theocratic state into a more modern and pluralist society.

Complete Article HERE!

Confessions of a Gay Priest – Book Review

by Linda LaScola

Editor’s Note: Last autumn, Alexis Record and Tom Rastrelli appeared together in one of many blog posts here that commemorated The Clergy Project’s 1000 Member Milestone. I thought they were a good example of the variety of religious backgrounds that people who leave religion come from. Now they are back together in what I think is even a more interesting way – a former fundamentalist reviewing the memoir of a former Catholic priest.  /Linda LaScola, Editor

First, with permission from the publisher, Alexis starts with excerpts from the prologue:

            The Church needed something new. In January, the Boston Globe had exposed Cardinal Bernard Francis Law for covering up the sexual abuse of minors by priests. As the months before my ordination passed, a mounting number of bishops fell in shame. I doubted my calling. But the Church was different in Dubuque. My archbishop hadn’t harbored pedophiles. He’d turned them over to the police. He’d offered their victims support and healing. I would do the same. 

            After the archbishop completed the prayer, a priest lifted the deacon’s stole from my shoulder and replaced it with a priest’s stole. Over my head, he lowered a chasuble with gold-and-blue embroidery matching the archbishop’s. I crossed from the center of the sanctuary to the cathedra, the ornately carved oak throne where the archbishop sat. I knelt before him. From a crystal pitcher, he poured syrupy chrism–holy oil scented with balsam–over my upturned hands. Pressing his palms against mine, the archbishop smeared large crosses as he prayed: “The Father anointed Our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God.” He folded his glistening hands around mine. His dark eyes were absolution. I would sacrifice myself for him, for God.

            Hands dripping with chrism, I stood, turned, and walked to my spot at the foot of the altar. I glanced at the front row into my parents’ eyes. They were crying, grinning. I smiled through tears. I was a priest. 

[—]

            Less than two years later, I turned my back on the archbishop. This time, I held my tears. I rushed from his office into February’s darkness. The frigid night air burned my cheeks. In the corner of the icy parking lot, my black pickup offered refuge. My only private space, it was where I retreated to sing, talk on my phone, and cry–all the things a young priest didn’t want his pastor or cleaning lady to witness. I drove through blocks of Catholic neighborhoods, people who trusted the archbishop. Now, I had to obey his command by covering up sexual abuse.

[…] 

            On the north end of town, a boat ramp would provide easy access to the frozen Mississippi. My plan: drive until the ice buckled under the weight of the truck. 

Tom Rastrelli

Confessions of a Gay Priest: A Memoir of Sex, Love, Abuse, and Scandal in the Catholic Seminary

By Alexis Record

For half a decade now I have been a Free Hugs Mom at our local Pride parade with Sunday Assembly San Diego. I become everyone’s mom despite age differences and embrace hundreds of people while making sure they’re drinking water and wearing sunscreen in the summer sun, you know, Mom concerns. Most importantly of all, I tell folks I’m proud of them. Most laugh or smile at my apron, some cry, and a few collapse into my arms as if a stranger’s acceptance might squeeze their fractured parts into some semblance of wholeness. As our group discussed doing an emotionally exhausting two-day Pride event this year, I was still recovering from finishing my tear-stained advanced copy of Tom Rastrelli’s book, Confessions of a Gay Priest: A Memoir of Sex, Love, Abuse, and Scandal in the Catholic Seminary. It solidified my resolve to love on those kids.

Recently it felt as if an additional child was in my home: young Tom Rastrelli. I poured my love and support into him as he navigated pure hell. “Oh baby,” I’d tell him as he doubled down on homophobic lessons and planted deeper roots into his own victimization, like a vulnerable plant choosing the darkest corner where growth was promised.

What makes Rastrelli’s story so compelling are his flourishes of detail. His experiences are incredibly visceral–a real strength of his writing–which in turn make the abuses he suffered that much more excruciating. Each page is pure beauty and heartbreak. I found myself unable to put it down, needing to know what happens next. Needing to know Tom would be okay.

Rastrelli excavates the darker parts of his theology and clerical experiences without being anti-Catholic. In fact, I was struck with the humanity of his fellow seminarians and priests. The religious boy’s club included drinking, swearing, smoking, sexism, and jokes about pedophilia as the topic of the day which would not look out of place among a group of men in any other part of society. These boys grow through spiritual practice into priests. They are portrayed with a fair hand, not as monsters, but as loving servants of congregants who become unwitting facilitators of abusive and inhumane doctrines. They encouraged counseling, but not from women who pointed out sexism within the system. They practiced forgiveness, but used it to sweep grievous abuses under the rug. They offered real friendship, but caused their friends to hate their sexualities. They were real people, good people, doing the best they could with the tools they had. It made me want to take my local priest out to coffee to see how he’s holding up.

I’ve never been Catholic. The closest I’ve come is years ago working as a priest’s sign language interpreter during Mass. I outed myself as protestant by signing each word of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” instead of crossing myself and as a result wasn’t asked back. Yet, I did not need to be completely familiar with all aspects of Catholic tradition to follow this story. Any conservative Christian will recognize, as I did, the strong desire to be lost in God’s presence, the pressure to cover up for the sins of godly men, and the deep self loathing after every masturbatory orgasm.

Rastrelli takes the reader on a unique journey most of the faithful never see. Like many of the other wide-eyed liberal students who loved the Church, he set out to affect change from within it only to be gradually and incessantly chiseled into the very shape of those hard beliefs he did not think reflected Christ. Seminarians during this process swallowed larger and larger boluses of cognitive dissonance until they were either consumed from within or vomited out of God’s presence. They were told not to make waves and not to confuse the faithful with their own doubts about the system. It was amazing to me just how so many good people became unwilling participants in facilitating horrific evils. Offering a holy profession for homosexual men who would never be allowed to have sex within the confines of that system and then laying all the blame for child predation upon the gays is just one of those evils.

The brutal parts of this story include the author’s homophobia recounted from his early years and directed selfward like a knife at his own throat, the sexual abuse the reader voyeuristically shares, and, almost worse, the excusing and minimizing of that abuse by the very men supposedly speaking and acting for God himself. Worshipping a tortured savior meant suffering throughout the story was almost always mistaken for love. Oh baby.

Silent no longer, Tom Rastrelli bravely reopens wounds and lays bare scars for all to see. His memoir is a breathtaking, priceless treasure–a bright light in the darkness. I’m proud to recommend it to believers and unbelievers alike. For victims of abuse, I suggest being gentle with yourself while reading. Also, drink some water, wear your sunblock, and avoid hazardous religious systems.

Confessions will be available April, 2020. Preorders available now, from Amazon.

Complete Article HERE!

German Bishops Rethink Catholic Teachings Amid Talk of ‘Schism’

Conservatives, particularly in the U.S., greet the prospect with alarm

Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich (far left) during an audience with Pope Francis (right) at the Vatican last year

By Francis X. Rocca

Germany’s Catholic bishops will meet in Frankfurt on Thursday to launch their most ambitious effort yet in their role as the church’s liberal vanguard: a two-year series of talks rethinking church teaching and practice on topics including homosexuality, priestly celibacy, and the ordination of women.

Conservatives in Germany and abroad are greeting the prospect with alarm, and nowhere more so than in the U.S., whose episcopate has emerged as the western world’s foremost resistance to progressive trends under Pope Francis.

The tension between the groups epitomizes significant divisions in the church, which some warn could lead to a permanent split.

Earlier in January, a group of conservative Catholics from various countries, including Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, a former Vatican envoy to the U.S. who has become one of the pope’s harshest critics, gathered in Munich to warn that the German initiative would result in “the constitution of a church separate from Rome.”

The event starting this week originated as a response to the scandal over sex abuse of minors by Catholic priests. A 2018 report on the crisis in Germany called for a more positive attitude to homosexuality and more attention to the challenge of celibacy. Catholic women’s groups later prevailed on the gathering to also address the question of gender equity in the church’s leadership.

The decline of the Catholic Church in Germany has accelerated amid the scandals and growing secularization. According to the church’s latest statistics, 216,078 people left the church in 2018—a leap of 29% from the previous year. A poll published in January by the Forsa Institute showed that only 14% of Germans trusted the Catholic Church, down from 18% the previous year. Trust in Pope Francis fell to 29% from 34%.

However, the church in Germany is prospering as never before in material terms, receiving a record €6.6 billion ($7.3 billion) through a state-collected tax in 2018. German bishops are among the biggest financial supporters of the Vatican and of Catholic institutions in the developing world.

German bishops have enjoyed rising influence under Pope Francis, reflected in his policies of greater leniency on divorce and more autonomy for local church authorities on matters such as liturgy—moves long advocated by German theologians.

The leaders of the German synod, which will include representatives of Catholic laypeople, say they are offering it as a model for the church at large.

Ludwig Ring-Eifel, head of the German bishops’ news agency, estimates that around two thirds of the bishops—the threshold for passing a resolution—support the ordination of married men and women deacons and half are in favor of blessings for same-sex unions.

American conservatives say that for a branch of the church even to consider such moves poses a threat to unity.

“The German bishops continue move toward #schism from the universal Church,” Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver said on Twitter in September.

A minority of German bishops share such fears—and look to the U.S. for support. Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki of Cologne, leader of the German conservatives, traveled last summer to the U.S., where he visited various church institutions and met with some of his most prominent American counterparts.

“Everywhere, I encountered concern about the current developments in Germany,” the cardinal later told his diocesan newspaper. “In many meetings, the worry was tangible that the ’synodal path’ is leading us on a German special path, that in the worst case we could even put communion with the universal church at risk and become a German national church.”

Pope Francis himself has cautioned the Germans not to stray too far.

“Every time an ecclesial community has tried to get out of its problems alone, relying solely on its own strengths, methods and intelligence, it has ended up multiplying and nurturing the evils it wanted to overcome,” the pope said in an open letter to German Catholics in June.

But after meeting with the pope and Vatican officials in September, Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, chairman of the German bishops conference, said: “There are no stop signs from Rome.”

In fact, when Pope Francis has publicly entertained the possibility of a split in the church, it has been in regards to the U.S., not Germany.

“There is always the option for schism,” the pope said in September, in response to a reporter’s question about conservative American opposition to his agenda. “I pray that schisms do not happen, but I am not afraid of them.”

That lack of fear could be because only the pope can decide whether or not a state of schism even exists, said Adam DeVille, a professor of theology at Indiana’s University of Saint Francis.

“If things get too far out of hand one way or another, I can see him acting in extreme but selective cases,” to stop any separatist moves, Mr. DeVille said.

“All it would take would be the sudden forced ‘retirement’ of a couple especially outspoken or perceived troublemakers, in Germany or anywhere else, for the others to shut up, and fall docilely in line,” he added.

Complete Article HERE!

Defence minister apologises for Catholic priests who outed gay and lesbian soldiers

Johnny Mercer, Minister for Defence, People and Veterans, has now apologised for what happened

By Jimmy Nsubuga

A defence minister has said sorry after it emerged Catholic priests in the army broke the trust of gay personnel by outing them to bosses in the 1990s.

The chaplains broke confidentiality of confession when they revealed private conversations they had with vulnerable people, campaigners said.

The army personnel could have been fired and humiliated as a result of the breach of trust, they added.

Johnny Mercer, Minister for Defence, People and Veterans, has now apologised for what happened, the Times reported.

He said: ‘Our policy regarding LGB members in the military was unacceptable then, and as a defence minister, I personally apologise for those experiences.’

‘Pastoral encounters between service chaplains and personnel should be strictly confidential.’

Church of England chaplains working in the army were also accused of breaking confidences during the 90s.

On Thursday, Mr Mercer also apologised to a group of veterans for the harm caused by a ban on homosexuality.

The ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people serving in the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force was repealed on January 12, 2000.

People suspected of being LGB in the armed forces at the time were subject to a dishonourable discharge.

A damning judgment by the European Court of Human Rights in September 1999 said the policy was a ‘grave interference’ in people’s private lives.

Mr Mercer added: ‘It was unacceptable then and it is unacceptable now, and as the minister for defence, people and veterans, I wanted to personally apologise to you today for those experiences.’

Gay and lesbian veterans who served under a ban on homosexuality have reflected on their experiences on the 20th anniversary of the policy’s end.

Emma Riley, 47, from West Sussex, served from 1990 to 1993 as a naval radio operator but was arrested and discharged for being a lesbian.

Ms Riley, who is a lesbian, said: ‘I thought the person I told was my friend and at the time I told them seemed to be very supportive and OK with it and the next morning I got woken up at 6am and told to “get up, get dressed and go downstairs, you’re under arrest”.’

Ms Riley had been reported to the Navy’s special investigation branch and had her belongings searched and confiscated, including a video of Julian Clary.

She was subjected to a two and a half month “relentless” investigation where officers tried to find other LGB people in the Navy.

Ms Riley was one of the handful of LGB ex-service people who brought her case against the Ministry of Defence to the European Court of Human Rights.

The MoD now has an LGBTQ+ group within its rank to support service personnel and the Royal British Legion boasts its own LGBTQ+ & Allies branch, which celebrates its first anniversary on Sunday.

Complete Article HERE!

EGR priest denies Communion to gay judge

Judge Sara Smolenski

by:

Judge Sara Smolenski, chief judge of the Kent County District Court, has been denied Communion at the church where she has been a parishioner for more than six decades because she is married to a woman.

It is a move that for many was the final straw in a pattern of behavior that has them calling for the removal of a priest — a priest who came to St. Stephen Catholic Church about three years ago.

In 1966, under the leadership of Rev. Msgr. Edward N. Alt, St. Stephen Catholic School became the first integrated Catholic school in Metro Grand Rapids and had a student body that was nearly 40 percent non-Catholic.

This tradition of inclusion and acceptance would be the essence of the school and the church for 50 years.

But now, some here say that is changing.

“I’ve been a member of St. Stephen’s Catholic Parish for 62 years, basically,” Smolenski said.

Smolenski who has been on the bench for nearly 30 years, comes from a family of prominent community members, including her father who was also a district court judge, and her brother, a state appeals court judge.

“I was baptized there, my parents were married there, every one of my nine siblings went to school (from) first through eighth grade. We buried my parents out of that school,” Smolenski said. “This is a church that is a part of who I am. This is a church who helped form my faith.”

News 8 featured Smolenski in March of 2016, when she became the first Kent County elected official to marry someone of the same sex.

But it was just last Saturday that Smolenski got a call from the parish priest, Father Scott Nolan.

“The way he said it was ‘because you’re married to Linda in the state of Michigan, you cannot accept communion,’ that’s how he said it,” Smolenski explained. “I try to be a good and faithful servant to our Lord Jesus Christ. My faith is a huge part of who I am, but it is the church that made that faith, the very church where he is taking a stance and saying ho-ho, not you.”

It was a devastating revelation for the lifelong Catholic who months earlier gave $7,000 to the parish building fund.

“Oh my gosh, I’m not going to get Jesus at the church I have devoted my life to,” Smolenski said, fighting back tears. “I thought of my mom and dad who devoted their whole life to raising us Catholic, spending all that money at the Catholic education.”

Smolenski was not the first person to be denied, according to a dozen people News 8 talked to Tuesday, including one same-sex couple who was denied the Eucharist during their child’s communion service.

“The public shunning — everything about it was offensive,” Smolenski said of the denial months before her own.

It is part of a pattern, according to Micki Benz, a 40-year member of the parish who is a part of a group of members who have decided to speak out.

They point to the words of Pope Francis who wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation.

Evangelii Gaudium, translates as “joy of the Gospel,” that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak and the church is not a toll house but a place for everyone.

“(Nolan) has eliminated teachers who are gay. He has made it clear that gay people are not welcome,” Benz said.

For a period of time, Nolan forbade non-Catholics from participating in church services, including choir and reading before the congregation, members say.

Parishioners met with Nolan and were hopeful that he was changing his ways, until last Saturday when the beloved judge was denied Communion.

Nolan talked to News 8 briefly Tuesday, promising he would speak on the issue but then did not call back or return messages.

There are those who believe Nolan is in the right, but they would not go on camera. Others with kids attending school would not go on camera due to fear of reprisal, but all say they love the church and want healing.

“I love the St. Stephen’s I knew. I don’t love the St. Stephen’s of now,” Smolenski said.

Some members say it would be better overall for the church to change pastors.

“We don’t see Father Scott changing; therefore we’ve come to the conclusion that it’d be better for him and us if there were a change in our pastors,” Benz said.

Some parishioners have drafted a letter to Bishop David Walkowiak, bishop of the Diocese of Grand Rapids, explaining their position and asking for a meeting — a request he has not responded to in the past.

>> Inside WOODTV.com: Letter to Bishop David Walkowiak.

“We really, really want a meeting with him. Everybody is prepared to be very respectful. We just want him to know what this is doing to one of his parishes,” Benz said.

News 8 reached out to the Diocese of Grand Rapids who would not address the issue of whether Nolan’s actions are supported by the bishop.

A spokesperson did issue this terse statement presumably about what happened with Judge Smolenski: “This is a spiritual matter between her and her pastor.”

Smolenski says it is time to bring this into the light.

“I want to help somebody out there who’s never even been born to make their life a little bit easier — by standing up and speaking the truth,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!