Italian cardinal calls for better spiritual guidance for gays, lesbians

Following in Pope Francis’ footsteps, an Italian archbishop invited Catholics to look at gays and lesbians ‘as God looks at them.’

New Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi shares a smile with Pope Francis during a consistory inside St. Peter’s Basilica, at the Vatican, on Oct. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Now more than ever, the Catholic Church has begun to address how to minister to members of the LGBT community, especially when it comes to spiritual guidance. Following in Pope Francis’ footsteps, an Italian archbishop invited Catholics to look at gays and lesbians “as God looks at them.”

“When communities will truly begin to look at people as God looks at them, then homosexual people — and everybody else — will begin to feel, naturally, a part of the ecclesial community,” said Cardinal Matteo Maria Zuppi, the archbishop of the northern Italian town of Bologna, in the preface of a newly released book.

The book, “Church and Homosexuality: An Inquiry in Light of Pope Francis’ Magisterium,” was written by Luciano Moia, the chief editor at the monthly magazine on family published by the Italian Bishops’ Conference. The book is hitting the shelves this week in Italy.

The Catholic Church considers gay and lesbian relationships as “intrinsically disordered” and does not recognize marriage between two people of the same sex. But starting with his famous quote “Who am I to judge?” in 2013, Pope Francis has promoted a more inclusive stance toward homosexuality in the Catholic Church. In his 2016 document on the family, “Amoris Laetitia” (the Joy of Love), Francis called for the need to come alongside members of the LGBT community, a position he has reiterated several times since.

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In the preface of his book, Moia interviews the archbishop on how to best put in practice Pope Francis’ appeals to offer spiritual guidance and welcome members of the LGBT community.

“The Pope, and the Church with him, isn’t interested in leading people to follow external rules,” Zuppi said. “His interest is in helping people do the will of God; meaning to enter a personal relationship with God and hear from him the appropriate Word for each life.”

Catholic communities, he said, often fail in listening to the needs of people from different walks of life. He voiced the need to not define a person based on a single characteristic.

“We mustn’t relativize the law,” he said, “but make it relevant to the concrete person, with their own peculiarities.”

When asked about creating spiritual guidance programs tailored specifically to members of the LGBT community, Zuppi said it’s more important to have a “specific outlook on people,” regardless of their characteristics.

“As Christians we must look at the person as a child of God, meaning with the full right to receive, feel and experience the love of God just as any other child of God,” he said.

Regardless of the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality, Zuppi specified that the doctrine distinguishes between sexual orientation and homosexual acts.

“What we cannot ‘welcome’ is the sin expressed in an act,” he said. “Sexual orientation – which nobody ‘chooses’ – isn’t necessarily an act. Also, it’s not separable from the identity of the person; by welcoming a person we cannot overlook their (sexual) orientation.”

Finally, the archbishop warned that even if an individual leads a lifestyle that is not approved of by the Catholic Church, this cannot mean that the person is not to be welcomed. At least, Jesus didn’t think so.

“If Jesus had this criterion, he would have required the conversion of Zacchaeus,” Zuppi said, referring to the sinner and tax collector in the Gospel of Luke. “Before accompanying the Samaritan to the adoration of God in Spirit and Truth, he would have asked her to regularize her marital situation. … Did Jesus act this way?”

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