A former priest and LGBTQ activist who has blessed same-sex unions in Pope Francis’ home country, Argentina, is leaving the Roman Catholic Church after the Vatican issued a pronouncement this week that priests may not perform such blessings.
Andrés Gioeni delivered a letter disavowing his faith to the bishopric in a Buenos Aires suburb on Wednesday, the anniversary of his ordination as a priest in 2000 and two days after the declaration from the Holy See.
“I do not want to continue being an accomplice to this institution, because I realize the harm they are doing to people. I am not renouncing my faith in God but rather I am renouncing a role and a rite,” said Gioeni, 49.
He spoke in an interview with The Associated Press at the home he shares with his husband, 50-year-old Luis Iarocci, and their three dogs, a few blocks from the cathedral in San Isidro north of the capital.
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Like other LGBTQ Catholics, Gioeni was shocked by Monday’s proclamation, which argued that clergy members cannot bless same-sex unions on the grounds that they are not part of the divine plan and God “cannot bless sin.”
The Vatican says LGBTQ people should be treated with dignity and respect, but that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered” and same-sex unions are sinful.
The declaration from the Holy See’s orthodoxy office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was authorized by Francis, who prior to assuming the papacy supported legal protection for gay people in civil unions in the country as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires.
“There is no mention in any book (of the Bible) of consensual love between two people of the same sex and God telling them no,” said Gioeni, who has blessed at least four such unions.
Born in Mendoza province some 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) west of Buenos Aires, Gioeni pursued a religious vocation as a young man despite being tormented by doubts about his sexuality. He even “outed” to his superiors three fellow seminarians who had confessed attraction to him.
“All throughout seminary I was terribly homophobic,” Gioeni said. “It was a defense.”
After ordination he rose quickly in the provincial church, while secretly exploring chatrooms for the local gay community. He had his first sexual encounter with another man, broke it off to continue the priesthood, but then saw the man again. Gioeni told the bishop he needed to leave.
The church did not offer him psychological help, just a room next to the organ of the Buenos Aires cathedral where he was to confront his supposed crisis of faith.
“That was my descent into hell. … There I realized that I was considered like the Hunchback of Notre Dame — a defective being who could not go out into the world because he would be criticized and singled out,” Gioeni recalled.
Gioeni’s superiors became aware of his sexual identity in 2003, when he appeared nude on the cover of a gay magazine, and barred him from exercising priestly ministry.
He studied acting and worked as a waiter in a disco, where he met Iarocci. Together for 17 years now, they wed after Argentina became the first Latin American nation to legalize same-sex marriage in 2010.
In recent years Gioeni has become an LGBTQ activist lobbying for a more open Catholic Church.
Severing formal ties with the institution doesn’t change his faith in God, he said.
“I continue believing in God and He will be my God. In that, my spirituality is unchanged,” Gioeni said. “I no longer have a label. ‘What religion are you?’ I believe in God.”