In Italy, new book suggests changes to Catholic doctrine on homosexuality

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A book published by an employee of the Italian bishops' conference, which claims to be inspired by Pope Francis' Amoris laetitia, suggests an approach to pastoral care that calls for changes to the church's doctrine on homosexuality.

The book "Chiesa e Omosessualitá, Un'inchiesta alla luce del magistero di papa Francesco," (Church and Homosexuality, an investigation under the light of Pope Francis' Magisterium") was released in Italy, shortly after the publication in Austria of a book considering how homosexual couples might receive a formal, liturgical blessing of their union in the Catholic Church. The Austrian book was published in response to a request from the liturgical committee of the Austrian bishops' conference.

The Italian book was written by Luciano Moia, longtime editor of a monthly insert in the official Catholic newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference, L'Avvenire.

The book includes a preface from Marco Tarquinio, director of the L'Avvenire and an interview/prologue from Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, Archbishop of Bologna.

Alongside Moia's own take on homosexuality in the first chapter, the book includes interviews from 12 "experts," of varying levels of professional status and credibility, on the issue of pastoral care for persons with same sex attraction, all of whom were interviewed by Moia  in 2018 and 2019.

The book also includes a chapter entitled "Io, omosessuale credente, vi dico che..." ("I, a homosexual believer, tell you...")

That chapter was written by Gianni Geraci, spokesman for a conglomerate of LGBT advocacy groups in Italy. 

In the text's introduction, Tarquinio explains that the book aims to offer testimonies, as a resource for pastoral accompaniment, and "a balanced and constructive contribution to the ongoing debate in the Church, according to the indications that have emerged from the latest synods of bishops and from the words of the pope."

The book offers "a proposal for reflecting upon and, if possible, understanding a bit better, a human condition in which the search for meaning is kindled and the question of God resounds as in every other," he adds.

But in the first chapter, Moia indicates that the intention of the book is to propose a change in Christian anthropology, a step that would call for theological and doctrinal changes away from the Church's teachings on homosexuality, as delineated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's statement on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,  which is not quoted by Moia.

Moia addresses the issue of chastity among same-sex couples, suggesting an analogy to marital chastity.

"An example among so many," writes Moia, addressing the issues at hand: "when one mentions the duty of chastity, what is meant? Respect, fidelity and commitment to mutual help in the relationship or absolute abstinence?"

"Do we always have the distinction between chastity and continence very clear?" he asks.

Moia analogizes same-sex relationships to marriage itself.

"Problems, already complex within marriage and for heterosexual couples, [are] terribly more entangled when the couple, even if stable and homosexual. In this case it would be taken for granted to understand chastity as a preclusive of any sexual relationship. 'The doctrine speaks clearly,' say those who use the norms as stones to be thrown into people's lives. Yes, but which norms?"

Moia argues that the meaning of chastity, among other issues, is open for debate, because it was mentioned within temporary drafts of the two Synods of the Family, even if not addressed by Amoris Laetitia.

"Maybe the desire to read the issue from a different lens, to open the debate, to listen to the perspective of the base could be the prevailing result, in the conviction that 'not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.' (AL 3.)"

Moia also highlights as a keen example of pastoral care for people with same-sex attraction the head of the Italian Archdiocese of Gorizia, Archbishop Carlo Redaelli, a protege of deceased Jesuit Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini.

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In 2017, the local leader of the Association of Italian Catholic Guides and Scouts (AGESCI,) Marco Di Just, "married" his same sex partner on July 2017 in a civil ceremony.

A controversy began when Di Just's pastor, Fr. Francesco Fragiacomo, requested that Di Just resign from his leadership position in the Catholic scouting group. The pastor said it was not Di Just's orientation, but the scandal of his public same-sex union, that could not be accepted by the Church.

"After the ceremony, they went to the village park and kissed in front of everyone. Maybe a little sobriety wouldn't have hurt. I repeat: it is one thing, as a Church, to be welcoming, another is to make normal and exalt something that is outside the magisterium of the Church," Fr. Fragiacomo said in an interview with the Catholic magazine Famiglia Cristiana, conducted four months after the issue began attracting media attention.

"The bishop told me not to create tensions and not to stir up controversy, perhaps he was worried about public opinion. In my opinion, the matter could have been resolved four months ago, by a phone call to the regional authorities of AGESCI, and the diocesan assistant, and a calm discussion of the issue. I do not enjoy raising the issue, I have never talked about it in public; I have only written a reflection in the parish bulletin," Fragiacomo said.

The pastor explained that he is engaged in pastoral care of men who identify as gay: "I walk with them, I hear their confessions, I advise them as a good shepherd must do. Sexual orientation is one thing. It is another to flaunt, go to live together, do everything publicly against the magisterium of the Church. In this case, at issue is the role of a youth leader, which is very complicated."

Things became particularly polemical because the assistant priest at the parish, Fr. Genio Biasiol, supported Di Just, and attended the civil ceremony "both as a priest and as a friend of the couple."

Amid the controversy, the priests and the parishioners at Staranzano turned to Archbishop Redaelli expecting from him to resolve the issue. The archbishop took more than four months to respond. When he did, he released a lengthy letter calling for "discernment" and "patience."

"Our diocese has been the subject of attention, even at a national level, because of the episode that happened in Staranzano. As has been evident, thus far I have preferred not to intervene in this regard either in my personal name or in the name of the diocese, and I have also invited interested parties to avoid pronouncements and not to lend themselves to the amplifications sought by the media. However, I now consider it appropriate to offer some reflections from the point of view of pastoral discernment both to the presbyteral council and to the diocesan pastoral council. I hope that the criteria I will indicate can be applied to the concrete case with calmness, respect and discretion towards all parties involved."

The archbishop relinquished any responsibility to make a decision, writing: "A long time (must be taken) also by AGESCI and by other ecclesial realities of an educational nature that must face new issues, such as the need to propose certain values today with a different approach than in the past or even having to think about the training and accompaniment of their own educators, who sometimes make personal choices, especially in terms of affections, which until recently were almost not conceivable or in any case were perceived as obviously incompatible with their task."

"I insist," the letter added, "that these ecclesial organizations make the necessary discernment and come to some shared and wise decisions, not to escape my responsibility as a shepherd (which, moreover, I share with the most committed priests, deacons and Christians, such as the members of the diocesan pastoral council), but to avoid that my pronouncement can be seen as an 'authoritarian' intervention from above and therefore accepted 'by force,' and not instead as an aid to discern and fulfill the will of God, or used almost as an alibi to save the concerned parts in the church from the fatigues as well as from the positivity of a path of discernment that is not easy."

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The archbishop, in short, decided not to take any action, but the issue resolved itself: In August 2018, Fr. Fragiacomo was reassigned by Archbishop Redaelli out of Staranzano to the town of San Canzian d'Isonzo, where he became the pastor of five parishes.

Meanwhile, Marco Di Just remained in his position as head of the scouting group at Staranzano.

Before leaving his parish, Fr. Fragiacomo reflected on the controversy, and on how he was treated by Redaelli and some fellow priests: "What confidence can I have of my confreres who in the moment of difficulties instead of being close and in solidarity are absent, distant or even against. Instead of being in tune with the message of the Gospel, I am in complete dissonance with completely different doctrines, practices, methods and styles."

And again: "Instead of supporting me in a scandalous case that seriously compromises a positive educational message towards young people, they superficially minimize, accuse you, shoot you from behind or mock you publicly in national newspapers, giving you the 'young parish priest' treatment."

The ending of his post is direct: "Now I wonder what kind of Church is this? What does it offer? What great ideals do we present to young people?"

According to Moia, this controversial episode "deserves to be remembered with a little breadth because it exemplifies the difficulty to which Christian communities are called in the effort to understand, reflect, decide on how to welcome and integrate homosexual love."

Moia comments glowingly about Radaelli's response: "...the Archbishop of Gorizia, Carlo Roberto Maria Redaelli, threw everyone off. He refused the role of the judge, he didn't absolve but neither did he condemn. He invited the community to reflect together to understand if, even from such a divisive occurrence, one can receive aspects of grace. An intervention in search of moderation and of that invitation to welcome, discern and integrate that impregnates the magisterium of Pope Francis."

As emerges clearly from the Archbishop of Gorizia's letter-masterpiece," writes Moia "no one has preconceived prescriptions, no one is able to reveal, with the stroke of a magic wand, solutions capable of overcoming centuries of fears, prejudices and closures certainly far from the spirit of the Gospel."

For his part, Fr. Fragiacomo has questioned the wisdom of the archbishop praised by Moia, especially because he informed the archbishop about De Just's situation four years before the controversial civil ceremony: "Marco Di Just has been the group leader and AGESCI group leader for some time, he leads a group of twenty-five teenagers ranging from 16 to 18 years old. He has been living with his partner for nine years and last February he 'came out,'" he said in 2017.

"Four years ago I reported the situation to the Archbishop of Gorizia, Archbishop Carlo Maria Redaelli, to find out if this boy could count on a spiritual accompaniment given the delicate role he plays as an educator. Nobody answered me. The educational message that passes to kids is that joining up with a man is normal. As an educator he is a good leader, from the point of view of the faith, the whole scout group has many shortcomings because, in fact, there is no real path of (formation in) faith. I know because my nephew is part of it."

After holding up Radealli as a model of pastoral leadership, Moia turns to the largest study to date on the genetic basis of homosexuality, published Aug. 29 in Science magazine and based on the genomes of nearly 500,000 people in the US and the UK. The study, he claims, proves a biological disposition to homosexuality.
"No one in substance 'chooses' whether to become homosexual or heterosexual," he writes. 

But his conclusion is the opposite of what the study actually concludes, according to the magazine Nature: "'There is no gay gene', says lead study author Andrea Ganna, a geneticist at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ganna and his colleagues estimate that up to 25% of sexual behavior can be explained by genetics, with the rest influenced by environmental and cultural factors - a figure similar to the findings of smaller studies."

Moia closes his chapter with hope that his reflections have provided a model of pastoral care.

"If, thanks to these reflections, it will be a little less difficult to offer a more serene and more efficacious pastoral proposal for people who live a 'different' sexuality and who until now, in many situations, have felt left in the margins of the community, we will have brought our little seed, of useless servants, to the construction of a more welcoming and more authentically evangelical Church."

Before presenting the 12 interviews, the book offers a series of "quotes" from Pope Francis related to homosexuality. The collection includes several uncorroborated statements, including the claim from Chilean abuse survivor Juan Cruz that Pope Francis "accepted" his homosexuality, and an America Magazine account from Fr. James Martin of his meeting Pope Francis on Sept. 30th, 2019; an account that has been contested by some U.S. bishops.

"It should also be said that the pope's words were frequently misunderstood, manipulated, very often read out of context, to attribute different interpretations to them based on the opinion of those who reported them. Just to offer the opportunity to get an objective idea, not 'oriented,' we have put together, without comments, a short collection of the sentences of Francis on homosexuality," Moia wrote to explain the book's use of those quotes.

"The difference in depth and credibility between what the Pope pronounced during official travel and reported on the Vatican website and what, instead, told by the various interlocutors who report the words of Francis pronounced during private meetings is evident. We have chosen to give space to these testimonies, at least to the most credible ones, because they still represent a useful contribution to 'get an idea'."

Among those who offer personal testimony in the book is Gianni Geraci, who joined the group Il Guado – an Italian version of the U.S. organization "Dignity"- founded by Fr. Dominco Pezzini, a priest of the diocese of Lodi, who in 2010 was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the serial sexual abuse of an immigrant minor from Bangladesh.

"The problem is that we are still too few: there should be thousands of homosexual believers who, finally, find the courage to say in the parishes and communities where they work: 'Here. We who are the catechists of your children; we who sing and direct the choirs at our parishes; we who play the role of readers, acolytes, priests, educators and animators in the church. Here, we are homosexuals,'" Geraci, who opposes the need for a celibate life, said in a 2010 interview with

"There is a wrong idea of ​​Catholicism that can be summarized in this statement: 'Being Catholic means obeying the pope and the bishops, especially when they talk about faith and morals.'  I do not deny that many observant Catholics would endorse this statement, but this does not take away from its structural inaccuracy," Geraci added in that interview.

The book closes with some questions from Jesuit priest Fr. Giuseppe Piva, national coordinator of the apostolate of spiritual exercises and of the "Spirituality of the Frontiers," for the Jesuits.

"Let's ask ourselves: are we in favor of an integration of homosexual persons into our ecclesial contexts that doesn't hide but promotes respect for their orientation as something that - as the magisterium affirms - in itself has nothing of morally imputable?" Piva asks.

Asking next whether the Church can accept those who identify as gay in positions of pastoral leadership, Piva says his are "questions that do not implicate any revolution or revisitation of the doctrine; but rather they support the accents of the most recent pontifical magisterium that, in taking up points of the Catechism, very strongly underscore the refusal of any discrimination."

"A still more direct and no less urgent question: what should be the attitude of pastoral operators towards Christian homosexual persons who instead live as a couple and ask to be welcomed into the community?  Can we agree that the criteria of welcome, accompaniment, discernment and integration offered in Chapter VIII of Amoris Laetitia for 'irregular' matrimonial situations also apply to these situations of cohabitation?"

Piva's next questions, however, do suggest a shift from Catholic anthropology, asking:

"And then, beginning from what is affirmed in Amoris Laetitia on the theme of integration, we arrive to the most delicate and problematic question of today, both for 'irregular' matrimonial situations (cohabiting; divorced and in a new union,) and - to this point - also for homosexual unions: the necessary and opportune ecclesial integration of these 'irregular' couples, heterosexual and homosexual, after an attentive path of discernment that authentically evaluates in the internal forum the subjective and personal responsibility in these objectively disordered situations, could this arrive even to a sacramental integration? Or, more simply, could an opportune integration allow a person, despite living in situations of this kind, to receive an ecclesial educational responsibility (educator, catechist, animator, head, etc.)? This also considering other, no less essential aspects of his Christian testimony."

CNA asked the Italian bishops' conference whether the book represents the organization. A spokesperson declined to go on record, arguing that the book had "nothing to do with the conference," and that all questions should be addressed to the director of L'Avvenire, Marco Tarquinio, who has made his opinion known within the book.