„Sex saved me”
Mario Bonfanti on gay cure and the joy of gay sex
A former Catholic priest was dismissed after his bishop tried to put him into „reparative therapy” but the priest refused. Now he is happier than ever.
Mr. Bonfanti, your church sent you to Venturini in order to cure you – how did they find out you were gay in the first place?
First of all I want clarify I had never hidden my homosexuality; and I had never screamed loud “I’m gay” as well, when I was in my process towards priesthood. I started my pathway when I was 15. I was very young. During my teens, I felt inside me a struggle between my call to priesthood and my sexual interest in males: I grew up in a catholic environment and in my family “sex” was a tabu so I was confused and I hadn’t tools to understand what was happening inside me; so I talked about it with priests and superiors because I needed to know me better and have more clearness about that.
My “problems with catholic hierarchy” started when I took sides with a gay boy: he was in monastery with me and he was found having homosexual meeting and so he was immediately thrown out and the superiors told us to meet him never more; I was upset by those words and I answered I had never read something like that in the Gospel and I’ll meet him again because Jesus taught us to look for the “lost sheep”. They told me: “Okay, you can do”.
Finally I found a bishop that accepted me in Sardinia
But a mobbing against me began, day by day it got stronger, till I decided to go out of the monastery. I stayed some years out of the process towards priesthood because I needed to understand better inside me if it was my real path and “God’s call”. When I realized it was my path, I decided to start again the way to priesthood… but I had a lot of difficulties and “slammed doors”. Finally I found a bishop that accepted me in Sardinia… and some years later I was ordained priest. When the bishop retired, the new one, as soon as heard I’m gay, called me and said me I had to go to Venturini’s monastery. And when I asked why and I understood it was because I was gay and he wanted me there to be “healed” from my homosexuality, I firmly refused.
You refused to go to the monastery, but do you know what happened there?
I refused to go to Venturini. The bishop pressed me to go but I stand in my position so that he got angry. Then I decided to leave Sardinia and came back to my home parish where I helped the priest in his ministry. I don’t know what happens there and what they do with gay priests. But I can guess they practice “reparative therapy” even if they never use those words.
Do you know people who went there: In what way were they changed by what happened in the monastery?
I met two gay priests that went there (one of them for a sexual meeting). I tried to ask them what was the “reparative program” they were subjected to and what they did in the monastery where they were sent to be healed… but I hadn’t exhaustive answers. They only said they had some psychological meetings each day (individually and in group too) and they had a prayer life and community moments. Nothing else. But I was really amused during Christmas days, when one of them sent me a MMS with a very risqué Santa Claus. I laughed out loud and I had the evidence it is not possible to change an homosexual person into heterosexual. And I also felt joyfulness because, even though he was there for a “healing program”, that priest succeeded in remaining himself: gay and sexually alive.
How old were you back then?
I was about 34 years old. I didn’t have a boyfriend in that period. Sometimes I met gay people to have sex and play together, of course. But I didn’t have a partner.
You started a career within the Catholic Church although you knew you were gay. Didn’t you expect to be dismissed?
When I started my catholic pathway towards priesthood I was 15. So I had not the self-consciousness I have now, that I’m 44. I knew only the Catholic Church, because I grew up in a catholic environment; and becoming a priest was for me the only way to carry out “my call”. So – I often say to explain that – I put an “ex” before gay and I had no one sexual experience: I respected celibacy in the first 10 years of my pathway towards priesthood. But I was not myself and I didn’t respect my inner deep identity. But when I realized it and life “obliged” me to have sex with a man (obliged because I met a man that became my first boyfriend against my expectations) I felt God touching me deeply. And now I can say that “sex saved me”.
As soon as I had sex, something deeply changed inside me and I became a new person.
In fact when I was pure and chaste and I observed celibacy, I remember I was a severe person: I often judged and condemned myself and the others, having no mercy. On the contrary, as soon as I had sex, something deeply changed inside me and I became a new person: I felt I was human as the others (no longer “saint” or “angel”) and I became more compassionate and inclusive. Having sex was a real conversion for me.
You were dismissed but the members of your parish wanted you to stay. Did they know you are gay?
Yes, of course. People sometimes are most advanced than the hierarchy.
You were dismissed because of your homosexuality but you still call yourself “Don Mario”.
I was dismissed by the Catholic Church and excommunicated, too, because I didn’t lived hidden in a double life (being outside a good priest and having secret sexual relations) but I take the courage to say always “I’m gay”. And that was unbearable in Catholic Church. So Vatican started a process to fire me. But I preceded them and I went out of Catholic Church before the process could begin. Now I’m in the process to transfer my ordination into Metropolitan Community Church, a movement of Christian churches around the world totally inclusive where I can be gay and priest together and also have a boyfriend or have BDSM sex (as I practice). And so I still call myself “Don Mario” because, even if not in Catholic Church, I’m still a priest and I have a community, too. After I went out from catholic church, some people followed me in a free spiritual research; and now we are creating a MCC congregation, in the area where we live (in the north of Italy). We call our group “the Circle” because we are different and equal as well, like the points in a circumference, we share power (and there is not a guru or teacher), we worship and dance in circle and we speak one after the other with respect waiting each one’s turn and giving the gift of our word. And we often have meals together sharing what each of us bring to eat.
A gay German theologist who used to work for the Vatican, says: Probably around half of the men working there are gay. What do you think?
I think much more. But this is not a problem. Rather I think being a LGBTI person is an advantage:There are some psychological evidences that show LGBTI people have a greater propensity towards spirituality. So it’s very good that much more than 50% of priest are gay. This should be considered a great gift from God. The problem is that Catholic Church look at that as a drawback and an obstruction. Since 2005 (when Vatican published a pamphlet about call discernment and homosexual people) no gay men can become catholic priest any more. This is terrible and is a severe loss in Catholic Church. As Matthew Fox (an Episcopalian theologian I work with) says – homosexuality is for catholic church like Galileo process: As centuries ago, bishops and popes fear to look into the modern telescope (that is homosexuality) and so they don’t listen to what psychology says about LGBTI people but stay still in literalist Bible interpretation (“God created mankind as male and female”). But some centuries later Catholic Church will beg pardon for that. But it will be too late; like it is too late now (and too simple) begging pardon in this century because of the crimes against heretics, witches, Galileo, Savonarola, waldesians and so on.
What do you expect of the major meeting of church leaders who have been discussing the Church’s stance on social issues such as divorce and homosexuality for the past three weeks?
I expect nothing. I think it is not possible in Roman Catholic Church really changing anything. There is a big problem about the power – as Hans Küng wrote in one of his recent book. Roman Catholic Church is really sick of power. And as long as only people having power (like popes, cardinals and bishops) will take decisions, nothing could change. So – first of all – a radical revolution of Roman Catholic Church structure is necessary . Without that, nothing could really change … Only the surface; like a beautiful makeup on an old face.
What role has Francis in this play? Is the pope able to modernise the Catholic Church?
Without a radical transformation from the roots, nothing could change in Catholic Church. And also Francis can do nothing significant. He can change his dwell, he can break Vatican protocol, he can pay cash by himself and so on… But these are only superficial and insignificant actions: they don’t change anything in doctrine. Doctrine is the real problem! Values and creeds, first of all; then actions accordingly come. Now I’m in a church (Metropolitan Community Church) with a big vision and mission and based on 4 core values that are: inclusion (everyone is welcome and all part of our human being are accepted at divine table), community (offering safe and open congregations for people to worship, learn, and grow in their faith), spiritual transformation (providing a message of liberation from the oppressive religious environment of our day and finding bridges between spirituality and sexuality) and social action (resisting the structures that oppress people and standing with those who suffer, being guided always by our commitment to Global Human Rights). Only if Catholic Church changed its values, too, it could be really changed and converted by Jesus’Gospel. But now no pope can do anything really new.
I saw a lot of religious people having sex.
What is your opinion on the approach of the Brazilian documentary „Amores Santos„, showing men clergymen having gay cam sex?
I’m very happy that nowadays different situations and affairs come out. In Catholic Church, during John Paul the Second, there was a policy of silence and concealment… also in very strong situations. For instance, if a priest has committed a crime of pedophilia, he had been moved to another parish and the victim was obliged to stay silent. Even if we don’t speak about those terrible crimes, I saw a lot of religious people having sex. But I think this is good. Every one of us need to live our sexuality. The problem are the inhuman rules in catholic church that oblige consecrated people not to have sex. And so a lot of catholic priests and friars and nuns have sex… but they need to stay in the closet, hidden in the tomb closed by the surface of chastity. And this is dangerous, because there is the risk of inner suffering, double lives and “schizophrenia”.
Do you expect the revelations of the documentary to change things within the church?
Of course not! But I’m happy, because hypocrisy can be revealed and unmasked by Amores Santos. It could be something like an “outing”: on one hand it pushes the clergy sexuality to come out and on the other it pushes people, too, to come out their prejudice and consider a priest/monk/nun a person with sexual energy like themselves. Sometimes people have a lot of barriers about sexuality of religious people.
When I wrote on my facebook page “I’m a priest and I’m happily gay” some people (gay, too) got upset and they reply me: “If you are priest you have not to have sex” and they contested also my coming out – I shouldn’t have done it. They couldn’t bear the idea (or image) of a priest that has sex… maybe with them. People need to come out from this prejudice and stand in front of their fear of violating the “sacred”. We have to “fuck God”: We need smashing the idol of a “god against sex”.
Sex and love among people is divine.
God is love – says the Gospel. And Hebrew (and early Christian) tradition said that the Song of Songs is the most sacred book in the Bible: and it’s a book where you cannot find the word “god” but love and sex between two people. And this is divine! Sex and love among people is divine: is like a great cosmic energy inside us that can create new life for the world. If we press it, it becomes like a volcano: a destructive force, as we can sometimes see in chaste religious people that use the power over the others as a way to vent their repressed sexuality. But if we let it flow from our pubis (the first chakra) up through the whole body, it can nourish and flourish our personal spirituality (the seventh chakra) that create a new world of justice and compassion. This is my pathway and experience. And this is what Metropolitan Community Churches are called to do all over the world according to the liberating good news of the Gospel of Jesus, who loved and was loved by Magdalena, Marta, Maria, Lazarus, John and many people more.