March 12, 2013 | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Gay Vatican suicide now documentary film
Vatican, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

St. Peter’s in Vatican City. (Photo by Jean-Christophe Benoist via wikimedia commons)

Gay activists in Italy say Italian gay writer Alfredo Ormando is credited with triggering Italy’s version of the Stonewall rebellion in 1998 when he took his own life by setting himself on fire in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican to protest the Catholic Church’s condemnation of homosexuality.

A documentary film called Alfredo’s Fire, which tells the story of Ormando’s struggle to cope with anti-gay bias and religious intolerance, and the subsequent gay Vatican suicide, is intended to send a message to the Vatican and the new Pope, according Andy Abrahams Wilson, the gay American filmmaker who is nearing completion of the documentary.

“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,” Wilson said in a statement.

He told the Blade he’s been working on the film for fifteen years, while working on other projects, and considers it a labor of love. Among other things, he hopes the 40-minute documentary will enable the tragedy of Alfredo Ormando’s death to shed light on how religious teachings can result in dire consequences for LGBT people.

The film is expected to be released in late spring or early summer, Wilson said. He plans to submit it to various international film festivals and will enter it as a potential nominee for a short film-documentary for an Academy Award.

As a conclave of cardinals from throughout the world gathers at the Vatican to select Benedict XVI’s successor, Abrahams Wilson and his non-profit film company, Open Eye Pictures of Sausalito, Calif., are making an appeal for contributions to help cover post-production costs for the film.

He said the film will be made available to faith-based organizations and LGBT groups for viewing as an educational tool to address anti-LGBT prejudice and discrimination.

“On January 13, 1998 Alfredo Ormando, a 39-year-old Italian writer, arrived in Rome just as the sun was rising,” a promotional write-up released by Open Eye Pictures says. “After a long journey from his native Sicily, he found his way to the empty plaza of St. Peter’s Square and, facing the entrance to the Basilica, knelt down as if to pray,” the write up says.

“He made a rapid hand gesture and suddenly was engulfed in flames. Before the Church and God, Alfredo Ormando had lit himself on fire,” the write-up says.

In letter he sent to a friend about a month before his death, Ormando said, “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.”

Wilson said he began filming the documentary in 1998 shortly after Ormando’s death. He said he returned to Italy in 2000 to continue his work on the project during a week when Italian and European LGBT activists held an international LGBT Pride festival and parade in Rome. The LGBT events took place during the Catholic Church’s Year of the Jubilee in Rome celebrating 2000 years of Christianity, which attracted thousands of Catholics throughout the world.

In a protest at the Vatican at that time, Wilson and several American gay activists, including Rev. Mel White of the U.S. group Soul Force and members of the U.S. gay Catholic group Dignity, joined Italian gay activists in demanding that the Catholic Church modify its stance on LGBT people.

While carrying poster size photos of Ormando, the protesters planned to deliver a letter to then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who later became Pope Benedict XVI, according to Wilson. At the time, Ratzinger was in charge of the Church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which several years earlier issued a statement written by Ratzinger calling gay people “intrinsically disordered.”

Although the protesters were unable to deliver the letter to Ratzinger, Wilson said the gathering inspired him to examine the life of Alfredo Ormando through interviews with those who knew him and through his numerous writings.

Wilson said he hopes to premiere the film in Palermo, Sicily, in June, in the Italian region where Ormando was born and raised, during Italy’s 2013 National LGBT Pride celebration, which takes place in that city.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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