ROME – While clergy in the United States debate different approaches that Catholics should take on gay pride parades that will hit the streets in June, faithful in largely Catholic European countries are also split.
For some Catholics, the festive parades were “a demonstration of sin” and “blasphemous, iniquitous and detestable offences,” while others called for “equal dignity, regardless of sexual orientation” and “to cultivate a sense of respect.”
Rainbow flags, flashy costumes and glitter splattered the main cities of Italy, Greece, Latvia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland this weekend, provoking both outcry by conservatives and support by liberals in these largely Christian countries.
While secularized northern Europe has largely accepted homosexuality and adopted laws that recognize same-sex couples, the European peripheries often struggle with addressing LGBT issues, and gay pride parades can cause tension among Christians.
Large crowds celebrated Pride month in Greece, despite opposition from the Orthodox Church. Since 2015 the Greek government has recognized same-sex couples, authorized sex change for minors, and ruled in favor of adoption for homosexual couples.
Last week the European Union ruled in favor of Romanian Relu Coman’s right to have his U.S. same-sex partner come live with him, though Romania is one of the seven countries in the EU that don’t legally recognize same-sex couples.
The EU decision, which largely passed under the radar, decreed that the same-sex partners of its citizens have a right to move freely across European borders, even if the state does not recognize gay marriage as legal.
The thousands marching in the Gay Parade in Bucharest celebrated the decision in the hopes that it might lead to change in the country’s restrictive laws on same-sex unions.
Even Poland, a traditionally Catholic bastion, was overrun by festive gay pride parades despite strong opposition by religious and political conservatives. The clash of welcoming and opposing forces was also felt in the Balkan area, proving that the debate on same-sex unions is happening across the Old Continent.
Even Rome, the “Holy City” and home to the Vatican, hosted its annual, boisterous Gay Pride parade. High standing political representatives took part in the event, including the president of the Lazio Region Nicola Zingaretti and the Italian prime minister hopeful Emma Bonino.
There was no shortage of opposition to the event, which took place shortly after Italy’s new minister on the family and disability, Lorenzo Fontana, told the press that “civil unions don’t exist” under Italian law.
Social media was among the preferred arenas for this culture clash, with some calling out the parade for being disrespectful toward the Catholic Church’s imagery and symbols. A man dressed as Pope Francis, a usual happening at these events, walked and took pictures with participants, causing dismay among Catholics.
A group of about 50 people gathered at Piazza del Popolo in Rome for a prayer of reparation.
A group called the St. Filippo Neri Committee, organized the event “to obtain God’s forgiveness and avert the punishments that could befall society due to the blasphemous, iniquitous and detestable offences that will be addressed to the Creator on that sad day.”
In a statement, the committee said to “be perplexed by the deafening silence of the Roman Curia,” adding that they had received no answer to a letter from the Vicar General of Rome and soon-to-be cardinal, Angelo De Donatis.
The letter, organizers of the protest said, asked the vicar “to take a clear position” regarding Pride parades in Rome as a representative of the Holy Father.
The one in Rome was not the only reparation prayer scheduled in Italy on occasion of Pride month. The city of Varese, in Lombardy, has also planned a prayer meeting on June 16 to contrast the pro-gay manifestations across the peninsula.
Last month, the city of Reggio Emilia in Northern Italy became the backdrop for a prayer faceoff between two groups holding different positions concerning the Church’s position on homosexuality. In the parish of Regina Pacis, local Bishop Massimo Camisasca held a Mass against homophobia, while just outside others prayed against the gay pride celebrations.
“I am not here for an acronym, LGBT, which doesn’t belong to me. Nor for an adjective, gay. I am here for a noun, persons. You are persons,” Camisasca said during the homily, after testimonies by gay people. “Every person has equal dignity, regardless of their sexual orientation and deserves everyone’s respect. This has not always been in the past. It’s right therefore for society and faithful to apologize to those they have despised or put in a corner.”
According to a study by Amnesty International in Italy, over 40 percent of LGBT persons admitted to being discriminated against in their life and one out of five same-sex couples are still victims of homophobia.
So far, Vatican officials have remained quiet concerning the obvious tensions that the gay pride parades have inspired, a big difference from Pope John Paul II’s “deep sadness,” which he expressed before the “offence to the Christian values” at the Gay Parade of the Jubilee year 2000.
“The Church cannot be silent about the truth, because she would fail in her fidelity to God the Creator and would not help to distinguish good from evil,” he said.
Differing opinions within the Catholic world have taken over social media the past week, after Bishop Thomas Tobin of Providence, Rhode Island, warned Catholics to be cautious of Pride Month, which he said, “promotes a lifestyle and agenda that, in the extreme, is morally offensive.”
Jesuit Father James Martin, editor-at-large for America magazine, instead invited faithful not to be afraid of Pride Month and to treat LGBT people with “respect, compassion and sensitivity.” Martin will also be a speaker at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin this summer, which Pope Francis will also attend, in a country that has already voiced its dissatisfaction with the Church on sexuality.
Some people on the web drew on Francis as a supporter for both sides, with some interpreting his past remarks as gay-friendly and others, such as Tobin, saying that the pope “does not condone immoral behavior.”
“One thing I have always appreciated about the pope when he talks about this is that he says, ‘I am a son of the Church, and I believe what the Church teaches,’” said Daniel C. Mattson, author of the book Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay, in an interview with Crux last month.
The author, who is part of the Courage initiative promoting abstinence for people with same-sex attractions, is not a big fan of pride parades or Catholics who in his view are attempting to change or adapt the doctrine of the Church.
“Those people who want to change the Church’s teaching, let me show you the truth!” he said.