Vatican clings to flat-world view of homosexuality

Mon, Feb 11, 2013, 00:00

AnalysisAs Britain moves to legalise gay marriage, Italian gays find themselves dealing with a rather less accommodating reality. In Italy last week, gay politician Nichi Vendola, leader of the SEL party in the centre-left coalition, complained that such was the climate of homophobia in the capital city that he preferred not to go out alone at night in Rome.

Just to underline his point, some enlightened person sprayed the message, “Resign, you queer” on the wall of a Roman high school, the Liceo Tacito, early in the week. Many in the school believe the insult was directed at 15-year-old “Giovanni” who was elected class representative last November.

“Giovanni” might be only 15 but he was able to cope with the offence. But “Giulio”, another 15-year-old Roman high school student from the Liceo Cavour, came home from school one afternoon last November and hanged himself.

As someone who wore pink jeans, make-up, nail varnish and a feminine hair style, Giulio was “eccentric”, perhaps gay. And this prompted much derision, which may have led to his suicide.

No Roman holiday

The mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, tweeted a rebuke to Vendola this week, arguing that he had “offended” Rome and pointed out that the Eternal City guarantees an annual gay pride march, and respect and acceptance for all. This defence ignores the reality in Rome, where the Catholic Church and the extreme right make for a less than welcoming environment for gays.

When denouncing homophobia in Rome, Vendola accused Alemanno, who comes from an old-style MSI fascist background, of having overseen a climate in which all sorts of groups “dedicated to the cleansing of the world” have flourished. He might have a point.

Every summer, on the eve of the gay pride march, prominent walls of the city are covered with posters comparing homosexuality to paedophilia or prostitution and demanding “Basta froci” (no more gays). As this comes from certain extreme-right quarters, none of this is surprising.

The Holy See

What is a matter of concern is the persistent rejection of any opening towards gay rights by the most authoritative institution in town, namely the Holy See.

Last December, in his World Day of Prayer for Peace address, Pope Benedict XVI suggested that attempts to equate marriage between a man and a woman to other types of civil union represented “an offence against the truth of the human person” and “a serious wound inflicted on justice and peace”.

Given such views, it is not surprising that Vendola has not been knocked off his feet with expressions of solidarity of the “We are all gay now” variety.

One Northern League deputy, Massimo Polledri, a psychiatrist who once said “homosexuality is a condition of unhappiness that can be reversed”, felt able to joke: “Oh, so Vendola is in Rome, is he? In that case, I’ll stay in my hotel and won’t go out.”

Curiously, last week witnessed a major flurry among Vatican watchers who concluded that some liberal-sounding words on Monday from Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Pontifical Council of the Family, might mean a change of Vatican thinking on gay rights.

Paglia is a media-friendly prelate who often manages to sound very reasonable, but Paglia is not the pope. And on the subject of gay rights, the pope continues to sound unreasonable. On the question of homosexuality, the Vatican world is still flat. Ask Galileo.