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LGBT Catholics welcome Francis’ comments on marriage

Pontiff says church has grown ‘obsessed’ with gay nuptials, abortion

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Pope Francis I, Catholic Church, gay news, Washington Blade

Pope Francis

LGBT Catholics have welcomed Pope Francis’ comments that the church has grown “obsessed” with same-sex marriage, abortion and contraception.

“We find much to be hopeful about, particularly in the Pope’s firm desire that the church be a ‘home for all people,’ and his belief that God looks on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people with love rather than condemnation,” Dignity USA Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke said in a statement on Thursday after America, a Jesuit magazine, published the pontiff’s extensive interview with with Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor-in-chief of La Civiltà Cattolica, an Italian Jesuit magazine, that took place during three separate meetings last month in Rome.

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry in Mount Rainier, Md., said Francis’ comments amount to a “new dawn” for the Catholic Church.

“Pope Francis’ words and example have opened up new opportunities for the Catholic Church to welcome and dialogue with LGBT people,” DeBernardo said. “His words will give courage and hope to thousands of pastoral ministers and Catholic faithful who have been doing this work for many decades, but who have often received penalties and discouragements from church leaders who did not share this pope’s broad vision.”

Francis’ comments come less than two months after he told reporters who asked him about the reported homosexuality of the man whom he appointed to oversee the Vatican bank on his flight back to Rome after a week-long trip to Brazil for World Youth Day that gay men and lesbians should not be judged or marginalized. The Argentine-born pontiff reiterated this statement during his interview with Spadaro.

“In life, God accompanies persons, and we must accompany them, starting from their situation,” Francis said. “It is necessary to accompany them with mercy. When that happens, the Holy Spirit inspires the priest to say the right thing.”

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Washington told the Washington Blade that Cardinal Donald Wuerl was traveling on Thursday and did not have any comment on Francis’ statements.

“He is a man who profoundly believes in the mercy of a loving God, and who wants to bring that message of mercy to the entire world, including those who feel that they have been wounded by the church,” New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in a statement. “As a priest and a bishop, I particularly welcome his reminder that the clergy are primarily to serve as shepherds, to be with our people, to talk with them, to be pastors, not bureaucrats.”

Dolan, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, further discussed the pontiff’s comments on “CBS This Morning” on Friday.

“If we keep [a] kind of a negative, finger-wagging tone, it’s counterproductive,” Dolan said.

LGBT Catholics greeted Francis’ election in March to succeed Pope Benedict XVI, who vehemently opposed same-sex marriage and condom use to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS and enforced the Vatican’s moral doctrine before ascending the papacy, with cautious optimism.

Francis, who is the former archbishop of Buenos Aires, in 2001 visited a hospice to kiss and wash the feet of 12 people with AIDS. He told Spadero he used to receive letters from gay people who said they were “socially wounded” because they felt “like the church has always condemned them.”

“The church does not want to do this,” Francis told Spadero.

The pontiff was among those who led the opposition to Argentina’s same-sex marriage law that President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed in 2010. Francis described the measure as a “machination of the Father of Lies that seeks to confuse and deceive the children of God” before Argentine lawmakers approved it.

Fernández herself criticized then-Buenos Aires Archbishop Jorge Bergoglio’s comments against the measure that included references to it as a “demonic plan.” Francis also called for a “holy war” against the gay marriage bill.

“He says not to interfere with the lives of gays, but in the countries where lawmakers are debating laws of equality, the Catholic hierarchy lobbies ferociously to ensure that these laws don’t advance (the same pope played a part of this in Argentina,)” Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans Federation of Argentina President Esteban Paulón told the Blade on Friday. “This leads us to ask ourselves who is the Pope? Is he the same Bergoglio of the holy war and demonic plan (about marriage equality) or the ‘compassionate’ Francis toward gays.”

Even though it appears Francis’ comments will have no impact on Catholic teachings on same-sex marriage and other social issues, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin on Thursday wrote to Dolan as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Knights of Columbus CEO Carl Anderson. He urged them to end their public opposition to pro-LGBT measures.

“Doing anything less will put you in direct conflict with Pope Francis’ message of welcome and mercy — and create an even greater gulf between you and the broad majority of the American Catholic laity, who support their LGBT neighbors’ freedom to marry the person they love in a civil ceremony,” Griffin wrote.

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South America

Man convicted of killing Daniel Zamudio in Chile seeks parole

Raúl López Fuentes in 2013 sentenced to 15 years in prison

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Daniel Zamudio (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Vera)

One of the four men convicted of murdering a young gay man in the Chilean capital in 2012 is seeking parole.

Raúl López Fuentes in 2013 received a 15-year prison sentence after he was convicted of killing Daniel Zamudio.

Zamudio was a young Chilean man who became a symbol of the fight against homophobic violence in his country and around the world after López and three other young men with alleged ties to a neo-Nazi group beat him for several hours in Santiago’s San Borja Park on March 2, 2012. Zamudio succumbed to his injuries a few weeks later.

The attack sparked widespread outage in Chile and prompted a debate over homophobia in the country that highlighted the absence of an anti-discrimination law. Lawmakers in the months after Zamudio’s murder passed a law that bears Zamudio’s name.

Patricio Ahumada received a life sentence, while López and Alejandro Angulo Tapia are serving 15 years in prison. Fabían Mora Mora received a 7-year prison sentence.

López has asked the Seventh Santiago Guarantee Court to serve the last three years of his sentence on parole. Zamudio’s family and Jaime Silva, their lawyer who works with the Movement for Homosexual Integration and Liberation, oppose the request.

Movilh represented Zamudio’s family after his murder.

Zamudio’s mother, Jacqueline Vera, during an exclusive interview with the Washington Blade said López’s petition “provoked all the anguish, all the commotion of his time.” 

“It was very cruel because in fact two days before we were at Daniel’s grave, where it was 12 years since his death and the beating,” said Vera. “He really does not deserve it.”

“We have gone through very difficult moments,” she added.

The mother, who later created a foundation to eradicate discrimination in Chile, was emphatic in indicating that she and her family “do not accept the release of this guy because he is a danger to society and a danger to ourselves.” 

“At the last hearing where they were sentenced, they told us that we are going to remember them when they get out,” said Vera. “They threatened us with death. There is a video circulating on social networks where they were in front of me and they laughed and made fun of me. They told me that I remembered that I had three more children.”

Daniel Zamudio’s mother, Jacqueline Vera. (Photo courtesy of Jacqueline Vera)

Regarding the possibility that the Chilean justice system will allow López to serve the remaining three years of his sentence on parole, Vera said “with the benefits here in Chile, which is like a revolving door where murderers come and go, it can happen.” 

“In any case, I don’t pretend, I don’t accept and I don’t want (López) to get out, I don’t want (López) to get out there,” she said. “We are fighting for him not to get out there because I don’t want him to get out there. And for me it is not like that, they have to serve the sentence as it stands.”

LGBTQ Chileans have secured additional rights since the Zamudio Law took effect. These include marriage equality and protections for transgender people. Advocacy groups, however, maintain lawmakers should improve the Zamudio Law.

“We are advocating for it to be a firmer law, with more strength and more condemnation,” said Vera.

When asked by the Washington Blade about what she would like to see improved, she indicated “the law should be for all these criminals with life imprisonment.”

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District of Columbia

Four LGBTQ candidates running for delegate to Democratic National Convention from D.C.

Thirty-two candidates competing for 13 elected delegate positions in April 20 party caucus

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From left, candidates include John Fanning, Jimmie Williams, Monika Nemeth and David Meadows. (Photos courtesy of the D.C. Democratic Party)

Four LGBTQ Democratic Party activists are running for election as delegates from D.C. to the Democratic National Convention at an April 20 local Democratic Party caucus election in which all D.C. voters who are registered as Democrats will be eligible to vote.

The four LGBTQ candidates are among 32 candidates competing for just 13 elected delegate positions. D.C. will have a total of 51 delegates to the Democratic Convention, but the other 38 include elected officials and party leaders who are considered “automatic” or appointed delegates. The convention will be held in Chicago Aug. 19-23,

Under the delegate selection process put in place by the D.C. Democratic Party, six of the thirteen elected delegate positions will be elected by voters in a section of the city designated as District 1, which includes Wards 1,2, 6, and 8. The other seven elected delegates will be chosen by voters in District 2, which includes Wards 3, 4, 5, and 7.

The LGBTQ candidates include longtime gay Democratic activists David Meadows of Ward 6 and John Fanning of Ward 2 who are running in District 1. Transgender rights advocate and Democratic Party activist Monika Nemeth of Ward 3 and gay Democratic activist Jimmy Williams of Ward 7 are running in District  2.

All four of the LGBTQ candidates have been active members of the Capital Stonewall Democrats, one of D.C.’s largest LGBTQ political organizations. Nemeth and Meadows are past presidents of the organization. Williams has served as chair of the Ward 7 Democratic Committee and is a current member of the committee. Fanning has served as an elected member of the D.C. Democratic State Committee from Ward 2 and served as a delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

A total of 12 candidates are running in each of the two districts. Under party rules the highest six vote getters in District 1 and the highest 7 vote getters in District 2 will be declared the winners.

The Saturday, April 20 caucus election for the delegate candidates will take place at the Walter E. Washington D.C. Convention Center. An announcement by party officials says two voting sessions will take place, one from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and the other from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Aside from the elected delegates, two prominent D.C. LGBTQ Democratic leaders will be appointed as delegates to the 2024 Democratic National Convention in their role as members of the Democratic National Committee from D.C.

They are Claire Lucas, a highly acclaimed Democratic Party and LGBTQ rights advocate and party fundraiser; and Earl Fowlkes, one of the lead organizers of D.C.’s annual Black LGBTQ Pride celebration and former president of Capital Stonewall Democrats.

Lucas and Fowlkes and the four LGBTQ candidates running in the April 20 caucus election are committed to backing President Joe Biden as the Democratic nominee for re-election.

Statements from each of the candidates running for delegate in the April 20 caucus election, including the four LGBTQ candidates, can be accessed here: Candidates for Delegate | DC Democratic Party

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European Union

Gay Polish government minister represents change of course

Deputy Justice Minister Krzysztof Śmiszek took office in December

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Deputy Polish Justice Minister Krzysztof Śmiszek. (Photo courtesy of Śmiszek's Instagram page)

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s only openly gay Cabinet minister on Tuesday spoke with the Washington Blade about the fight for LGBTQ rights in his country, Ukraine and U.S. politics.

Deputy Justice Minister Krzysztof Śmiszek assumed his post last Dec. 13 after Donald Tusk became prime minister. 

The Civil Coalition, a group of opposition parties that Tusk leads, two months earlier won a majority of seats in the Sejm, the lower house of Poland’s parliament. President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the conservative Law and Justice party who opposes LGBTQ rights, remains in office as part of the governing coalition.

Śmiszek, a member of the New Left party, has been a member of the Sejm since 2019.

He was born Stalową Wola, a city in southeastern Poland that is close to the country’s borders with Ukraine and Slovakia. Śmiszek now represents Wrocław, the country’s third largest city that is located in southwestern Poland.

He is a lawyer who worked for the Campaign Against Homophobia, a Polish LGBTQ rights group, for several years before he entered politics. Śmiszek’s partner is former MP Robert Biedroń, who is now a member of the European Parliament.

From left: Polish MEP Robert Biedroń and Deputy Polish Justice Minister Krzysztof Śmiszek. (Photo courtesy of Śmiszek’s Instagram page)

Śmiszek noted to the Blade during an interview in his office that the Justice Ministry has introduced a bill that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to Poland’s hate speech and hate crimes laws.

The Council of Ministers, which includes members of Tusk’s Cabinet, is expected to approve the proposal in the coming weeks. Śmiszek said MPs will support the measure, even though critics say it would limit free speech.

“It was quite natural for us, I would say, to agree on that,” he told the Blade. “We all witnessed all these statements and horrible actions towards LGBT (people during the previous government.)”

Duda became Poland’s president in 2015.

He said before he defeated Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski in the country’s 2020 presidential election that LGBTQ “ideology” is more dangerous than communism. Duda has also claimed LGBTQ Poles are “a threat to the family” and “want to sexualize children.”

Polish President Andrzej Duda (PBS News Hour YouTube screenshot)

More than 100 municipalities across Poland ahead of the election adopted resolutions that declared themselves “LGBT-free zones.”

The Law and Justice Party and Poland’s influential Roman Catholic Church supported them, while the European Union cut funding to municipalities that adopted them. The Warsaw Voivodship Administrative Court on Feb. 6 struck down the country’s final “LGBT-free zone” resolution that Mordy, a town in Siedlce County in eastern Poland that is roughly half way between Warsaw and the Belarusian border, adopted in 2019.

Tusk has indicated his support of a civil partnership bill, but Śmiszek conceded it will be a “huge” challenge to secure passage in parliament because it is not an official part of the coalition government’s manifesto. 

Śmiszek noted Poland has dropped its opposition to the case of a transgender man who filed a lawsuit in the European Union Court of Justice in Luxembourg after Romania refused to recognize his legal name and gender change that he received in the U.K. 

“We are trying not only to change the legal situation of LGBTI folks here in this country, but also we are taking a completely new approach, also of Poland, as a member of the European Union,” he said.

The Justice Ministry last month for the first time with LGBTQ activists.

Śmiszek said former Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, a member of the right-wing Sovereign Poland party, wrote many of the previous government’s proposals that targeted LGBTQ people and women. Śmiszek further described the ministry before the current government took office as a “governmental center of anti-LGBTI actions.”

“That was a very moving meeting that after eight years of hatred that was produced here in this ministry,” he said.

Śmiszek pointed out Duda’s first presidential veto was a bill that would have made the process through which transgender Poles could undergo gender-affirming surgery easier. Śmiszek said the new government wants “to make the lives of trans people a bit better and bearable in terms of relations with the state and with relations with the administration,” but conceded it “is difficult.” He also said Duda, the Constitutional Tribunal and the Catholic Church remain barriers to the advancement of LGBTQ rights.

“We are not starting from scratch in terms of new initiatives,” Śmiszek told the Blade. “We are getting back to the good solutions.”

“However, we are fully aware that there are plenty of conservative anchors and blockages in the institutional architecture,” he added.

Śmiszek also said his sexual orientation is not an issue to Tusk, to his fellow ministers and MPs.

“I haven’t heard any discussion or hesitation about should we have this guy in the ministry or not,” he said. “My sexual orientation is not an issue at all.”

A picture of Polish-born Pope John Paul II inside St. Catherine of Alexandria Church in Kraków, Poland. The Roman Catholic Church remains a powerful institution in Poland. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Poland knows Russia ‘very well’

Russia on Feb. 24, 2022, launched its war against Ukraine.

Śmiszek noted upwards of 2 million Ukrainians sought refuge in Poland, and many of them have remained in the country.

“Polish society passed its exam in terms of humanitarian aid and compassion for those who are victims of this aggressive war of Russia,” said Śmiszek.

A Russian missile on Nov. 15, 2022, killed two people in Przewodów, a village Hrubieszów County that is on the Ukrainian border. Another Russian missile on March 24 briefly entered Polish airspace near Oserdów, a village that is less than five miles away from Przewodów.

Śmiszek told the Blade he is increasingly concerned the war will spread to the Baltic countries — Lithuania, which borders Poland, and Latvia and Estonia — and to Poland itself. 

The Russian exclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea also borders Poland.

 “We are observing now, especially during the last few months, that something is going to happen,” he said.

Śmiszek acknowledged Ukraine in recent months has suffered setbacks on the battlefield, and the U.S. “is not very open to providing any help.”

“You can see Trump, what he is saying. You can also see some Western countries that are still hesitating,” he said. “This is a growing, unspoken emotion within Polish society that something is going to happen, the war will knock on our doors soon, in the next couple of years, and we are the second or third target of Putin if he’s not stopped by the united West.”

Śmiszek added Poland knows the Russians “very well.”

“That is why this is not something unusual when a Pole thinks about Russians invading our country,” he said. “It’s happened before.”

Tusk and Duda last month met with President Joe Biden at the White House in the hopes that Congress would pass a Ukraine funding bill. Śmiszek while speaking to the Blade criticized the delay.

“I know that they are trying to build their popularity, saying we should not spend billions of dollars for the wars that do not concern us and Russia will never attack us, blah, blah, blah,” he said. “In a way I do understand this rhetoric, but I don’t understand … it’s really a short-sighted approach.” 

“I really count on changing the approach of the U.S. because this is really a huge threat to world democracy, to human rights and we always perceive the U.S. as a kind of element of guarantees for democracy around the world,” added Śmiszek. “This time the U.S. is not passing its exam, especially the conservative part of American politics.”

A Pride commemoration in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on Sept. 25, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Sphere Women’s Association)

Śmiszek said Poland will continue to work with the U.S., regardless of who wins this year’s presidential election. He did, however, express concerns over former President Trump based on his positions on LGBTQ and reproductive rights, his U.S. Supreme Court nominees and Ukraine.

“This is kind of worrying,” said Śmiszek. “This kind of approach to fundamental issues very relevant to the stability of the world is now in the hands of the guy who you cannot predict what his decisions will be when the time comes and it will be a need for taking very serious decisions concerning the stability of the world.” 

“He portrays himself as quite unstable I would say in terms of values he wants to defend,” he added.

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