LGBTQ leaders and human rights lawyers from around the world met privately with the Vatican’s secretary of state on April 5 to present research on criminalization of homosexuality and to push Pope Francis toward opposing anti-gay laws internationally, but the immediate reaction from attendees and queer Catholics is a mixture of encouragement and disappointment.
The International Bar Association, the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights, and the UN-based Latin American Institute were among those who met with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, as well as major corporations encompassing the Open for Business Coalition, which promotes LGBTQ business initiatives.
The pope was notably absent after attendees said he backed out of plans to attend the meeting and make a “strong statement” endorsing the decriminalization of homosexuality. Following the meeting, Parolin assured attendees that their research and messages would be passed along to the pope.
The Vatican did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the meeting or the pope’s absence.
Helen Kennedy, who attended the meeting in her capacity as the executive director of a Canadian LGBTQ human rights group known as Egale Canada, told Gay City News that it was unfortunate that the pope decided not to attend the meeting.
“However, I don’t think that the relevance of the meeting is lost on any of us,” she said in a phone interview from Rome shortly after the meeting concluded. “We are still very encouraged by the meeting that we had. We are still hopeful that a strong statement will soon be coming from the Vatican.”
Kennedy said she was especially happy to hear Parolin say that there is “common ground” between the two sides and that the Church endorsed “human rights for everybody” while condemning all forms of violence.
The meeting ended with Parolin leaving the door open for future discussion, Kennedy said, but specific details on plans for future interactions were not immediately clear.
“I think the statement that we have common ground is significant,” she said. “We just have to find those areas where we have common ground.”
Deutsche Bank board member, Karl von Rohr, similarly described the meeting as a broad commitment from the Church to condemn wider violence and establish mutual understanding, saying in a statement that Parolin established intentions to “collectively move forward with the conversation.”
New Ways Ministry, which has advocated for LGBTQ Catholics for four decades, called the meeting a “great step forward” but seeks much more urgency from the Vatican.
“We had hoped for a stronger statement from Cardinal Parolin in response to the information presented by the LGBT advocates on human rights violations,” the organization said in a written statement.
New Ways said “vague generalizations... will not suffice, nor will they be effective,” and the organization said the Vatican now must forcefully and clearly denounce LGBTQ criminalization laws.
Pope Francis’ reputation on LGBTQ issues has varied during his tenure in Vatican City. He has made comments indicating that he wouldn’t judge LGBTQ folks, signaling a shift from traditional rhetoric in Catholic leadership, but has just as often made it clear that he is not willing to make major strides on embracing queer folks. In December, Francis said the notion of gay priests is “something that worries me” and described being gay as a “very serious matter” and dismissed it as “fashionable.”
The April 5 meeting came at a time of significant movement on LGBTQ issues across different religious denominations. Just one day prior to the gathering, the Mormon Church suddenly changed its policies to allow children of LGBTQ couples to be baptized while also announcing that gay couples would no longer be considered “apostates.” Meanwhile, the Methodist Church voted in February to continue banning LGBTQ people from joining the clergy or getting married.
Moving forward, New Ways Ministry hopes that a new era of dialogue between the LGBTQ community and Catholic leadership can allow the two sides to join forces to fight against discrimination, violence, and legal penalties facing queer folks around the world. In the meantime, they stress that there is no time to waste.
“Decisive action is needed to respond to this terrible scourge which destroys lives and erodes human dignity,” New Ways said of anti-LGBTQ laws around the world.