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DignityUSA Participates in Int'l Assembly of LGBTI Catholics and Meets with U.S. Embassy to the Holy See in Rome

By Leo N. Egashira, DignityUSA Board member, Dignity/Seattle

DignityUSA sent two representatives to the inaugural assembly of “Global Network of Rainbow Catholics” (GNRC), which was held in Rome, Italy, October 1-4, 2015. Jeff Stone (DignityUSA Director of Media Relations, Dignity/New York, left in photo) and Leo Egashira (right in photo) were among the approximately 75 participants representing 31 countries as diverse as Tonga, China, Malta, and Botswana.

Reports and testimonies from each organization allowed us to get to know each other, and placed each of our unique journeys and circumstances in a global context. We heard first-person accounts from Africans who had to seek asylum in the U.K. because of their country's criminalization of homosexuality and the violence that results. Stories of violence and social repression were also heard from Brazil, Poland, and Central America. One undeniable truth is that the Church is strongly associated with anti-LGBTI rhetoric and political involvement. What must we do to ensure that the Church embraces all, and instead becomes recognized as a home and refuge for her LGBTI children?

Several themes and ideas resulted from small group discussions over two days: 

  • Sharing of our strengths: Resources from the North to the resource-poor South.
  • GNRC can serve as a hub for spokespeople to act; sex-positive theology.
  • Develop the voices of 31 countries represented here.
  • Radical transformation: Address misogyny; a theology that affirms all people.
  • Progress in other countries can be translated into local context.
  • Need more women, gender-non-conforming and trans at the forefront of radical transformation.
  • Same messages, different voices. Create safe spaces. Share, sustain, support. Create structure.
  • Human rights = church values. Must engage church at local level to make that happen.
  • We are flourishing to give: Not victims, but prophets, bearers of the Good News.
  • Need to challenge Eurocentric views; create forums to hear different voices.
  • With no narrative, we have no salvation. Need to create spaces to hear different narratives.
  • Need to have spiritual maturity to include LGBTI oppression among all other acknowledged oppressions.
  • My sexuality and vulnerability is why I remain a Christian today.
  • Ultimate mission is to spread the Good News to all communities: women, trans, heterosexual.

On the last full day of the Assembly, October 4, concrete organizational measures were taken: (1) Approval of a mission statement: “The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics (GNRC) brings together organizations and individuals who work on pastoral care and justice for LGBTI people and their families. The Network works for inclusion, dignity, and equality for LGBTI people and their and families in the Catholic Church and society.”  (2) Approval of the composition of a Steering Committee [six regional + 4-6 demographic members]. (3) Deferral of membership questions (e.g., organizations vs. individuals) and voting rights to the newly-formed Steering Committee. (4) Issuance of “Our Voice to the Synod,” GNRC's public message as the Synod on the Family got underway October 4, 2015. 

Two prominent visitors graced the Assembly during the weekend: The former President of The Republic of Ireland (1997-2011), Mary McAleese, gave a rousing faith-based speech debunking the institutional Church's anti-LGBTI position as theologically baseless and un-Christian. The farewell Mass was celebrated by Diocese of Saltillo Mexico Bishop José Raúl Vera López. In front of the altar was a portrait of recently deceased Fr. John McNeill.

The friendships and connections Jeff and I made elevated awareness of the work of DignityUSA. We also learned a lot about our brothers and sisters from around the world: We're on a common journey taking different paths and at different speeds; and we can learn from and support each other through the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics. https://rainbowcatholics.wordpress.com.

Meeting at the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See

(edited excerpts from a report by Jeff Stone)

On Monday, October 5, Jeff Stone and Leo Egashira had a very exciting, productive, and friendly meeting at the Embassy with Political Officer Thomas Montgomery and Public Affairs Officer Antoinette Hurtado. We met with them for almost two hours, far beyond the scheduled hour. The U.S. Embassy to the Holy See is in a complex of three palazzos (“palatial buildings”) at the top of one of the Roman hills in a fashionable neighborhood, an extremely impressive and beautiful campus, heavily fenced and fortified, which also includes the U.S. Embassy to Italy and a special Embassy to certain United Nations agencies.  DignityUSA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke was instrumental in setting-up the meeting, which was only confirmed after our arrival in Rome!

We did not know that the U.S. State Department just appointed a Special Envoy for LGBT Human Rights, Randy Berry. He is coming to Rome in November just before the Pope's upcoming visit to Africa. The goal is to do everything possible to influence the Pope and Vatican officials to say and do things that will improve the situation of LGBT people in Africa, which in many cases is truly desperate and dangerous. The officers urged us to try to arrange a meeting with him in Washington well before he leaves for Rome to help prepare him.

Both officers are very interested in advancing LGBT human rights as a major foreign policy goal, which they made clear several times is shared by the entire Obama Administration. Mr. Montgomery said achieving decriminalization of LGBT people was something they saw as being within reach. He asked how we thought he could be most persuasive with Vatican officials. We suggested using the language of the Church itself about social justice, including the dignity and inherent worth of all people, and against violence against any person, including LGBT people.

Tom said that elected officials in countries with some of the worst anti-LGBT laws often tell U.S. officials that this is what their populations want, and that they even try to make the situation less harsh. But we emphasized that Catholic bishops should not be allowed to make such excuses. They do not answer to voters but only to the Pope and the Vatican, and they are called by our Church's highest teachings to be prophets on behalf of justice, and that they have a responsibility to educate their people and help change their outdated attitudes. (We heard a lot of passionate rhetoric in this vein from Bishop Raul Vera of Mexico over this past weekend.)  Our Church is also open to science, as on the climate change issue, and it needs to look honestly at what science is now saying about human sexuality, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

Next, Antoinette would like to hold some kind of public function with Randy Berry when he is here in Rome, perhaps an address or conference that could be arranged in conjunction with some of the Italian LGBT Catholic/Christian groups. This would not be at the Embassy but in some public location that might be suggested by the local groups. Well, there are two right here in Rome, and we met key people from them this past weekend.

We asked for their help and advice on trying to arrange a meeting with the Pope and/or Vatican officials sometime in the near future. The difficulty of the request was underscored by their half-joking response, "Do you know any Argentinians?" 

Other topics we discussed at length included: Religious liberty, where we stated clearly that we stood with the Obama Administration and its approach to the issue, including on contraception and LGBT issues; the firings of LGBT employees of Catholic institutions, after announcing their marriages or not; condom use to prevent the spread of HIV in the Philippines and elsewhere, and the Church's opposition to it; the role of women in the Church; the need for full gender equality in the Church; and our conviction that homophobia will not end until misogyny is addressed; the reality of the lives of transgender and intersex people as well as LGB; and the need not only for decriminalization, but the creation of safe pastoral spaces for LGBT people, as is now happening in many countries we heard from this past weekend, including Poland, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, and others.

Perhaps the most gratifying aspect of our visit was the fact that our nation's career diplomats displayed such sincerity and interest on LGBT issues and women's issues, and that their personal values and the Obama Administration policies mirror our own. It was a seminal, productive visit that will open doors for DignityUSA.