The outing of Vatican highflier Monsignor Tommaso Stenico in a secretly filmed TV sting where he tells a young man he saw nothing sinful in having gay sex and then asks the young man if he “likes” him ... offers a real insight into the struggle the Roman Catholic Church is having in its home country over homosexuality.
Not so long ago the idea of exposing a Catholic priest’s peccadilloes would have been an anathema to most Italian media outlets. The fact that the Vatican has its fair share of gay priests, bishops, Cardinals and Popes was universally known and privately acknowledged but rarely if ever reported there.
This cosy relationship fractured when countries began introducing legislation recognising the civil rights of homosexuals and giving their partnerships the status of family. The Vatican has been a violent opponent of this process and opposed Civil Partnerships and gay marriage across the world and lately in Italy where the conflict between Church and liberal reformers has been heated.
An attempt earlier this year to bring civil partnerships to Italy foundered in part due to the massive lobbying from the Vatican and attitudes in Italian society hardened on both sides. Fr Tommaso is just the latest victim in this battle and he will not be the last.
The issue of homosexuality has taken an unexpected leap in relative importance among Christians of all shades in recent years. A matter seen in the past to be of minor ethical “third order” importance – now seems to be for many Christians a “first order truth” demanding absolute obedience.
The Anglican family of Churches is tottering on its foundations over the place of lesbian and gay people in its hierarchy, divided between those who see homosexuality as an acceptable deviation and no bar to office and those who privately might still enjoy a bonfire or two with gay people as both passive and active participants.
For let’s be clear gay Christians have not just been the fuel for these bonfires. Homosexual priests, bishops, cardinals and Popes have been amongst the most enthusiastic to set the fires and throw on the victims as an attempt both to disguise and deny their own sexuality. Fr Tommaso’s defence that he met the young gay man "to better understand this mysterious and faraway world which, by the fault of a few people — among them some priests — is doing so much harm to the Church” may be a painful reminder to all of us of this.
People of the same gender having sex together were certainly something some Biblical writers were uncomfortable with. There are a few passages that clearly see that type of sex as abominable, yet scholars are divided as to whether these verses can apply when we understand human sexuality so differently today.
We no longer put insolent children to death, nor execute women who wear trousers – we lend and borrow money, deplore slavery and embrace women’s equality while recognising that the Bible is not diminished by a faith that witnesses to the spirit rather than the letter of its teaching.
Many Roman Catholics do not accept the teaching of their Church on homosexuality – the day will come when their voice will be heard and justice, reason and good sense will prevail and God’s Church will come closer to the truth it claims to guard.