(Vatican City) A small group of Americans held a silent vigil yesterday to remember Alfredo Ormando, a gay Catholic academic who set himself on fire in St. Peter’s Square in 1998.
The Americans, from the LGBT religious group Soulforce, were led by Rev. Mel White. They called on Pope Benedict to apologize for the treatment of gays by the Catholic Church.
A number of pilgrims to the Vatican stopped to ask the group about Ormando, but no officials approached the group.
On Jan. 13, 1998, Ormando entered the square, knelt, and set himself on fire. He died of his injuries 10 days later.
In his suicide note, Ormando wrote at length of how he felt rejected by the church and the pain it had caused him. To many gay Catholics he has become a symbol of what they see as the intolerance of Italian society and the Roman Catholic church.
Prior to his suicide Ormando wrote in a letter: "I ask forgiveness for coming into this world, for having poisoned the air I breathed, which now poisons you with my breath, for having dared to think that I could behave like a free man, for not having accepted a difference in me that I could not feel, for having considered homosexuality as natural, for having felt equal to heterosexuals and second to no one, for having striven to become a writer, for having dreamed, for having laughed."
Soulforce, a nondenominational group, regularly demonstrates at the US Bishops’ Conference and at gatherings of other denominations that are homophobic.
New regulations for the priesthood that would ban gays from seminaries were prepared by the Congregation for Catholic Education and Seminaries – the body that oversees all Catholic seminaries. The document has been given to Pope Benedict but he has yet to implement it.
Next month the Benedict will send investigators to the US to gauge the scale of the child abuse scandal that has rocked the American church and to determine how many gay priests are in the priesthood.
Since his election to the papacy in April, Benedict has reaffirmed the Church’s anti-gay stand. In June, he issued a stinging condemnation of gay and lesbian families.
Repeatedly driving home his point that marriage can only be a union between man and woman, the Pope called same-sex unions "pseudo-matrimony."
Before becoming Pope, Benedict had long history of attacking same-sex unions. As Cardinal Ratzinger he was the Vatican’s most outspoken opponent of gay marriage.
Ratzinger was the author of the a 2003 Vatican directive to priests around the world calling for a proactive stand to stop governments from legalizing same-sex marriage and for a repeal of those those already on the books that give rights, including adoption, to gay couples.
The 12 page document called on Catholic bishops and lawmakers to oppose the legalization of same-sex unions.
He opposes contraception and the use of condoms to combat HIV/AIDS, advocates a diminished role for women in the Church and has called for mandatory celibacy for priests.
In 1999 he ordered two Americans, Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent, to end their associated with New Ways Ministry which provides educational programs for gay and lesbian Catholics nationwide.
Prior to the Pope’s visit to Cologne, as part of World Youth Day earlier this month, European gay groups tried to arrange a meeting with Benedict in an effort to resolve their differences. The Vatican never acknowledged the invitation.