In December, 2008, France introduced a Declaration to Decriminalize Homosexuality at the United Nations Assembly in New York City. The Statement condemned violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization, and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It also condemned killings, executions, torture, arbitrary arrest, and deprivation of economic, social, and cultural rights noting that in 77 member countries, homosexuality is illegal; 7 countries declaring it punishable by death.
Almost immediately following the Declaration’s introduction, the Holy See issued a statement opposing it and suggesting that it could lead to same gender marriage acceptance.
In response, Soulforce pulled together a team to confront the Holy See. We sent a letter to the Ambassador’s office asking them, to withdraw its opposition to the Declaration and to meet with us in order to begin a dialogue on the destructive nature of heterosexism. By late March, Soulforce had negotiated a meeting with two of our representatives with Father Bene, an assistant to Archbishop Migliori, the Ambassador. Fr. Bene, while friendly, appeared surprised to hear that American gays and lesbians experienced any kind of discrimination. During the meeting we pressed for a meeting directly with the Ambassador and were told they would get back to us, which they never did.
Our Soulforce team decided to vigil at the Holy See’s embassy in late April. For two days, the Holy See’s response was to shut down the embassy. We were told by people in the neighborhood that they had never seen the offices closed down in the middle of the week and were offered no explanation by Holy See officials.
Several weeks later, as we persisted in trying to meet with the Ambassador we were able to persuade the Ambassador to sit down with our representatives. The meeting was again, cordial and the Ambassador indicated that he would be discussing the Statement with the UN when they meet in Switzerland this summer for their summer sessions. This meeting was significant in that after eight years of trying to negotiate with the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church this was the first time we were able to sit down with a high ranking representative of the Holy See.
Given the years of hostile rhetoric between the Holy See and the LGBT community, we are hopeful about the improvement we have made in helping the Holy See understand the sacredness of LGBT lives. Soulforce will continue to monitor the situation and will keep people up to date.