Celebrity's funeral fuels debate about church and homosexuality


ROME LETTER:IS NOT the Catholic Church’s teaching that homosexuality represents both a “grave depravation” and an “intrinsic disorder” a total hypocrisy? That oft-posed question has been doing the rounds in Italy in recent days following events at the funeral of the popular singer/songwriter Lucio Dalla.

The debate was sparked by the fact that a moving and emotional funeral oration was given at Dalla’s funeral in the Basilica of San Petronio by his 31-year-old partner/companion/lover, Marco Alemanno. Total hypocrisy, screamed commentators who suggested the semi-state basilica funeral and the lover’s oration had been tolerated not only because Dalla was a practising Catholic but because he was famous, successful and private about his sexual orientation.

“Lucio Dalla’s funeral represents a very clear example of what it means to be gay in Italy today. You go to church, they grant you a funeral and they bury you according to the Catholic rite, just as long as you don’t say you are gay,” said television presenter Lucia Annunziata.

“Marco Alemanno embodied in a church and in a totally public ceremony all the dignity of love between men. However, you would have to ask yourself how many less famous Catholic homosexuals, less protected by the charisma of their art, would have been able to feel themselves so fully members of their community.

“We would like to think that Marco’s brief oration for Lucio has established a precedent. For those homosexuals who are not Catholic, church teaching on the subject does not matter a damn, they could not care less. But for Catholic homosexuals, it is a huge problem. And it is to them that the thoughts of all decent-minded people turn, when we see Marco Alemanno praying for his ‘man’ beside the basilica altar,” commented writer Michele Serra.

In the heat of the moment, various bloggers reported that the Catholic Church routinely refuses to grant a funeral service to gays. Given much publicised incidents such as in 2005 when San Diego bishop Robert Brom originally denied (he later relented) a Catholic funeral to gay nightclub owner John McCusker, such misinformation is hardly surprising.

Funeral or no funeral, however, Catholic teaching on the “moral disorder” of homosexuality remains uncompromising. The person who most clearly embodies this hard line, obviously, is Pope Benedict XVI himself. In Light of the World, his 2010 interview/conversation book with German journalist Peter Seewald, the pope tried to soften the hard line by saying that gays should “not be discriminated against” and “deserve respect”.

However, the pope goes on to say that human sexuality has “an intrinsic meaning and direction, which is not homosexual”. Rather it is about “the union of man and woman”, a union that guarantees our future through procreation.

Church teaching must remain firm on this point, he says, “even if it is not pleasing to our age”. Furthermore, Pope Benedict infuriated many gays by touching on the nature/nurture argument, saying that “we still don’t know” whether homosexual inclinations are innate or arise early in life.

Whichever it was, he adds, these “inclinations” represent “a great trial” for the homosexual.

Just to make it clear, he concludes: “But this does not mean that homosexuality thereby becomes morally right. Rather, it remains contrary to the essence of what God originally willed.” Not much leeway there. While no one could expect the Catholic Church to change its line on homosexuality, certainly under while Pope Benedict, a number of commentators seized the Dalla funeral controversy as proof that the time has come for Italian state legislation to finally acknowledge same-sex unions.

“Now is not the moment to waste time discussing the hypocrisy of the institutional church or why Italians tend to handle their private affairs without any form of ‘outing’. The question is another. If even the church hierarchy now finds it impossible to publicly condemn the gay life, it is hard to understand why the Italian state still has not passed legislation allowing two homosexual partners to publicly testify to their life union,” wrote church commentator Marco Politi.

He has a point. Since at least 1986, many different civil union Bills have been proposed, but all have fallen. Various centre-right formations, aided and abetted by the Italian church, have successfully opposed such initiatives. Even this week, the PDL party of ex-prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has played the anti-gay card, with party secretary Angelino Alfano arguing that if the centre-left wins the next election, it will introduce same-sex marriage legislation, similar to Spain.

We have not heard the last of this argument.