A Catholic priest refused to bless the palms on Palm Sunday in protest against the Catholic Church’s ban on blessings for same-sex unions.
Father Giulio Mignani of Bonassola, near La Spezia in Italy, is an ardent supporter of same-sex marriage, according to local media reports.
The priest told his congregation on Palm Sunday that he would not be doing the routine blessing, which occurs on the Sunday before Easter, in protest after the Vatican forbade clergy from blessing same-sex couples because God “cannot bless sin”.
“If I can’t bless couples formed by persons of the same sex, then I won’t bless palms or olive branches either,” Father Mignani told the crowd that had gathered for mass on Sunday (28 March).
Catholic Church ban on same-sex blessings has ignited fury
Mignani’s intervention is just the latest in a string of furious responses from figures within the Catholic Church to the Vatican’s ruling.
There was widespread condemnation when the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith issued an explanatory note on 15 March telling priests that they must no longer bless same-sex couples.
The letter, which was approved by Pope Francis, said a blessing can only be conferred on a couple that lives according to “the designs of God inscribed in creation”.
While the note insisted that God loves all his children equally, it went on to say he “cannot bless sin”.
James Martin, a Jesuit priest known for his LGBT+ advocacy, said he hasn’t seen so many people ready to leave the church since the child-sexual abuse scandals hit.
“Not since the anger over sex abuse in 2002 and 2018 have I seen so many people so demoralised, and ready to leave the church, as I have this week,” Martin wrote on Twitter.
“And not simply LGBT+ people, but their families and friends, a large part of the church.”
Meanwhile, former Irish president Mary McAleese – a vocal Catholic who also has a gay son – hit out at the Vatican’s statement as “unbearably vicious”.
In a letter to Catholic archbishop Eamon Martin, McAleese said Pope Francis’ “chummy words to the press often quite reasonably realise hopes of church reform which hare subsequently almost invariably dashed by firm restatements of unchanged church teaching”.
She said the Vatican’s statement was “fired like a missile from the centre of governance of the church” and had caused “heartache and hurt” for many.
Fr Paddy Byrne, from Portlaoise, was responding to a recent report from the Vatican which ruled that the church cannot bless same-sex unions as ‘God doesn’t bless sin‘.
In the ruling, the CDF stated that while “God loves every person and the Church does the same”, and rejects all unjust discrimination, the church cannot bless a same-sex union as it does not follow the plan of the Creator.
The blessing of same-sex unions, the CDF said, is not “licit” and “there are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family”.
The ruling insisted that this is not a “form of unjust discrimination” and that a gay person can be blessed individually, but the blessing of a same-sex union cannot take place as a “reminder of the truth… of the very nature of the sacramentals”.
Fr Byrne, who is a part of the Abbeyleix Parish, yesterday took to Twitter where he lamented over the ruling, citing his own experience in blessing “ceremonies of every description”.
Over the past 20 years, Fr Byrne has blessed “pets, cows, crops, rings, cars, tractors,” he said.
“Yet a same sex couple who request a simple blessing on their union must be turned away.
“This is not Christianity,” he said.
The ruling from the Vatican was a blow for Catholic members of the LGBT+ community, who were hoping for progression from their church, and Fr Byrne’s words have resonated with people across Ireland and beyond, garnering almost 5,000 ‘likes’ on Twitter.
“I feel so sad for the church,” one person wrote in response to Fr Byrne’s post. “What I’ve learned about Jesus in my 48 years of life is he preached love not hate, inclusion not exclusion.”
Earlier this month, former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, criticised Pope Francis following the Vatican ruling, saying she was bitterly disappointed by what could be perceived as Pope Francis raising and subsequently dashing hopes that LGBT Catholics were close to being accepted by their religion.
As reported by The Irish Times, the former president criticised Pope Francis as a populist whose “chummy words to the press” makes people believe the church is becoming a more progressive and accepting place– before the Vatican dashes such hopes soon afterwards.
Pope Francis made headlines across the globe late last year when he appeared to voice his support for same-sex families and same-sex unions, as he spoke in a new documentary stating “homosexual people have a right to be in a family” .
“What we have to create is a civil union law,” he added. “That way they are legally covered.”
“[Gay people] are children of God and have a right to a family.”
“Nobody should be thrown out or made miserable over it.”
The setting, with its soaring cathedral ceiling and sacraments, is typical of any Catholic service, but the similarities stopped with this sermon: “Because if there’s anything that an LGBTQ person will know, it is that we’re going to face opposition,” said Father Greg Greiten.
Yes, Father Greiten said “we” members of the LGBTQ community. He is one of very few openly gay priests.
When asked how many there are, he said, “I’ve always heard the number thrown out, like, ten of us, that are really out there.”
There are roughly 38,000 priests in America.
Correspondent Seth Doane Asked, “What are you risking by being out?”
“Sometimes it feels like I have to walk on a tightrope,” he replied.
Father Greiten “came out” to his congregation in this Milwaukee suburb about three years ago, at age 51, when he announced, “I am a gay priest, and a celibate priest.” This moment came after a lifetime of struggle, serving a church that teaches that “acting on” homosexual feelings is a sin.
“I just want to break the silence,” he told Doane. “We’re here. And for me, Seth, that was part of the hypocrisy that I was watching happen.”
“Did you feel like a hypocrite when you were up here at the pulpit, and not out?”
“I personally did. It’s like wearing a mask. Every day I have to go up there and pretend I’m something I’m not.”
He pledged, as all priests do, to live a celibate life. For him, this was not about sexual activity, but identity. He found folks in his congregation were overwhelmingly supportive.
Doane asked Carol Webber, “Does it matter to you that the priest here is gay?”
“No, it’s a positive thing,” she replied.
Carol and Fred Webber’s son had come out to them years earlier. “We went into the closet for a while, until we were able to accept it,” she said. “Of course, we loved our son.” Later, they say having an openly-gay priest helped.
But the church itself has not been so pleased.
Father Greiten said, “The unwritten comment is, ‘Don’t talk about it. We know you’re there, but be silent.'”
“Father Frederick,” as we’ll call him, feared losing his salary, healthcare, church housing, pension, and the authority to minister. During his interview, “Sunday Morning” hid his identity. “I’m not courageous enough yet,” he said.
Doane asked, “What does it say that you need to do this interview in shadow?”
“It says that it’s not cool to be gay if you’re a priest. And if you are gay and a priest both at the same time, you’ve gotta hide one or the other.”
He likened that secrecy to the “double-life” of spies.
When asked if he has remained celibate as a priest,” Father Frederick replied, “No, I did not. I experimented. I struggled. There were liaisons, there were relationships. And there was love several times.”
Love and sexual intimacy with another man? “Yes.”
With other priests? “Once or twice.”
He said his seminary where he trained to be a priest was a “warehouse” of young men struggling with their sexuality. They were encouraged from the top, and the beginning, to keep quiet.
Doane asked, “What’s the effect of this culture of silence on the church?”
“It is a slow-moving cancer,” Father Frederick said.
While Pope Francis famously responded “Who am I to judge” when asked about gay priests during a papal press conference, he has also said that anyone with “deep seated” homosexual tendencies shouldn’t be a priest. “Their place is not in ministry or in consecrated life,” he said.
Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author, and the most high-profile advocate for LGBTQ Catholics, said, “I think that if you had suddenly all the gay priests in the United States come out, I think the Church would be forced to look at the question of homosexuality in a very different light.”
In 2019 Pope Francis requested a meeting with Father Martin: “The Vatican put our audience on the Pope’s official schedule. They sent out a picture. I met with him in the Apostolic Palace, which is where he meets with presidents and diplomats. It was a pretty strong sign of his support.”
“The tone is new; the teachings haven’t changed?” asked Doane.
“The teachings haven’t changed, but the tone is very important.”
And, Father Martin says, ultimately Catholic leaders need to shift their thinking: “It’s a life issue. We have high suicide rates among LGBT youth, and we also have places in the world where gay people can be arrested and executed for being gay.”
He calls Pope Francis (the first pope to use the word “gay” publicly) the most pro-LGBTQ pope ever, though acknowledging that’s “not a high bar.”
“One of the things I lament is, if there were a case of, say, bullying in a parish or in a school, it would be wonderful for the gay priest to get up and say, ‘Look, I was bullied as a boy,'” Father Martin said. “So, there are these life experiences that I think people are missing in the church.”
Doane asked. “How many gay priests do you think there are?”
“I’m guessing maybe 40 percent. Who knows?” he replied. “If it was 40%, I wouldn’t be surprised; if it was 80%, I wouldn’t be surprised.”
“It is a large, silent community, a vast silent majority,” said Frédéric Martel, a French author who spent four years researching his book, “In the Closet of the Vatican,” about the gay underworld there.
He said he interviewed hundreds of priests, even cardinals: “It’s ‘Fifty Shades of Gay.’ I mean, a lot of different kind of gay.”
He suggests the largest group of men in the Vatican may be gay, but do not practice, and can actually be the most homophobic – and in interviews discovered a real range of sexual identities. “Each of them, each of them is totally singular in his little closet,” Martel said.
Francesco Mangiacapra is a sex worker with a law degree who found one priest client led to another, and another. When Doane asked how many priests he had slept with, Mangiacapra replied, “I think about 100. We have in Italy many, many thousands of priests, so 100 is not so much.”
Over roughly five years, Mangiacapra compiled a 1,200-page “dossier” of personal profiles, graphic photos and text-message exchanges with roughly 50 of the priests who were his clients. He submitted it to his local archdiocese of Naples – he says – as a political act.
“This demonstrates that there’s a flaw in the system – a system which tolerates certain behavior but makes it so these behaviors are hidden,” he said.
Mangiacapra admitted the dossier had scared off some priest-clients, but not all, adding: “The libido is higher than the fear.”
It’s important to note: the priests “Sunday Morning” spoke with, as well as the Vatican itself, see no connection between homosexuality and the clerical sexual abuse crisis. A five-year study by New York’s John Jay College, commissioned by bishops, found “the data do not support a finding that homosexual identity is a risk factor for the sexual abuse of minors.”
Doane spoke with about two dozen priests, who told us they were gay, but few would share their stories publicly.
Father Frederick said, “I admire priests who are willing to stand up, come out of the closet. That’s courage.”
Most told Doane they felt forced into the closet. It’s a painful, confining place, particularly in a church community where they’re expected to be role models.
Father Greg Greiten, faithfully serving his parish in Wisconsin, said secrecy is a scourge in the church, so the first step for him is being open and honest.
Doane asked, “You signed up to work for an institution that thinks being gay, acting out on that, is a sin.”
“Correct. But the difference is, this is my spiritual home. This is where I was baptized. This is where I received my first communion. And so, this is my home. And I don’t believe that the home should be throwing out its children.”
Pope Francis has named a gay man to a commission that advises him on protecting children from pedophile priests.
Juan Carlos Cruz — a survivor of clerical sex abuse in Chile — was named to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. The Associated Press on Wednesday reported nuns, laypeople, a bishop and a priest are among the commission’s other members.
Cruz on Wednesday told the Blade during a telephone interview from Chile that Francis “decided he wanted me on the commission.”
“I’m very honored,” said Cruz. “I’m a survivor. I’m gay. I’m a lay person. I’m Catholic.”
Cruz is among the hundreds of people who a now-defrocked priest sexually abused in his parish in El Bosque, a wealthy neighborhood in the Chilean capital of Santiago over more than three decades.
Cruz and two other men — José Murillo and James Hamilton — in 2010 went public with their allegations. Two Chilean cardinals later blocked Cruz from being named to the same commission to which Francis appointed him.
Cruz is the first openly gay man and the first person from Latin America to serve on the commission.
“I had lots of hits against me, but he trusts me,” Cruz told the Blade, referring to Francis.
“I’m honored,” he added. “It just renews my commitment to change things from within, for survivors, for every person who feels disenfranchised from the church. This is a place where we all belong, with no adjectives.”
The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which defends Catholic teachings, earlier this month published a decree that said the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions. Cruz, who met Francis at the Vatican in 2018, is among those who sharply criticized the edict.
“As a Catholic, I would immediately ask for a change in the leadership of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which every day resembles that of the infamous Torquemada himself and not that of the pastors that Francis proposes to us,” Cruz told the Blade, referring to the mastermind of the Spanish Inquisition.
Cruz in response to Francis’ decision to name him to the commission reiterated he is “really, really honored and will do my best to live up to his appointment and the commitment that I have with the people who are expecting so much from me.”
A former priest and LGBTQ activist who has blessed same-sex unions in Pope Francis’ home country, Argentina, is leaving the Roman Catholic Church after the Vatican issued a pronouncement this week that priests may not perform such blessings.
Andrés Gioeni delivered a letter disavowing his faith to the bishopric in a Buenos Aires suburb on Wednesday, the anniversary of his ordination as a priest in 2000 and two days after the declaration from the Holy See.
“I do not want to continue being an accomplice to this institution, because I realize the harm they are doing to people. I am not renouncing my faith in God but rather I am renouncing a role and a rite,” said Gioeni, 49.
He spoke in an interview with The Associated Press at the home he shares with his husband, 50-year-old Luis Iarocci, and their three dogs, a few blocks from the cathedral in San Isidro north of the capital.
Like other LGBTQ Catholics, Gioeni was shocked by Monday’s proclamation, which argued that clergy members cannot bless same-sex unions on the grounds that they are not part of the divine plan and God “cannot bless sin.”
The Vatican says LGBTQ people should be treated with dignity and respect, but that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered” and same-sex unions are sinful.
The declaration from the Holy See’s orthodoxy office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was authorized by Francis, who prior to assuming the papacy supported legal protection for gay people in civil unions in the country as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires.
“There is no mention in any book (of the Bible) of consensual love between two people of the same sex and God telling them no,” said Gioeni, who has blessed at least four such unions.
Born in Mendoza province some 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) west of Buenos Aires, Gioeni pursued a religious vocation as a young man despite being tormented by doubts about his sexuality. He even “outed” to his superiors three fellow seminarians who had confessed attraction to him.
“All throughout seminary I was terribly homophobic,” Gioeni said. “It was a defense.”
After ordination he rose quickly in the provincial church, while secretly exploring chatrooms for the local gay community. He had his first sexual encounter with another man, broke it off to continue the priesthood, but then saw the man again. Gioeni told the bishop he needed to leave.
The church did not offer him psychological help, just a room next to the organ of the Buenos Aires cathedral where he was to confront his supposed crisis of faith.
“That was my descent into hell. … There I realized that I was considered like the Hunchback of Notre Dame — a defective being who could not go out into the world because he would be criticized and singled out,” Gioeni recalled.
Gioeni’s superiors became aware of his sexual identity in 2003, when he appeared nude on the cover of a gay magazine, and barred him from exercising priestly ministry.
He studied acting and worked as a waiter in a disco, where he met Iarocci. Together for 17 years now, they wed after Argentina became the first Latin American nation to legalize same-sex marriage in 2010.
In recent years Gioeni has become an LGBTQ activist lobbying for a more open Catholic Church.
Severing formal ties with the institution doesn’t change his faith in God, he said.
“I continue believing in God and He will be my God. In that, my spirituality is unchanged,” Gioeni said. “I no longer have a label. ‘What religion are you?’ I believe in God.”