It was the year 2000, the Year of the Jubilee, and I was on location in front of the Vatican as part of production for the upcoming documentary “Alfredo’s Fire”. Together with organizers and advocates from around the world, including SoulForce and Dignity USA, we stood united in St. Peter’s Square against the spiritual violence of the Catholic Church.
The protestors planned to carry a letter personally to Pope Benedict XVI, although then he was not Pope Benedict but Cardinal Ratzinger, who oversaw Church doctrine as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This protest letter was an appeal for the Church to acknowledge the ways in which its actions and teachings contributed to the harming and, in some cases, killing of LGBT people around the world. Alfredo Ormando was one such person.
Two years earlier, Alfredo Ormando had set himself on fire in St. Peter’s Square, giving his own life as a plea for change:
“I hope they’ll understand the message I want to leave. It is a form of protest against the Church that demonizes homosexuality and at the same time all of Nature, because homosexuality is her offspring.”
At the time, in part guided by Ratzinger’s prefecture, Alfredo’s gesture was downplayed by the Church as a desperate act of a lost soul.
It was Alfredo’s memory that was invoked at that Jubilee year protest and in the protest letter that never made its way to Cardinal Ratzinger, despite our attempts.
In Alfredo’s name and in the names of countless other LGBT people–from those burnt at the stake in the Middle Ages, to Alfredo’s fire, to the lives and spirits that are routinely extinguished because of the Catholic Church’s anti-gay teachings–may Pope Benedict XVI’s abdication signal new light and hope for all of us.