Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent
ROME, June 24, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – At the end of the general audience in Saint Peter’s Square on Wednesday, Pope Francis spoke affectionately with a Dutch priest who had gained permission to present him with a compilation of funeral homilies about the theme of homosexuality. After the short meeting, Father Pierre Valkering, a parish priest from the diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam, told the press that he had been “profoundly touched” by the Pope’s welcoming attitude. Gay websites in the Netherlands gave prominence to the meeting, underscoring the way Pope Francis went out of his way to show his affection and interest for Fr. Valkering and his work.
[Note “Osservatore Romano” on the photos. Was this “tryst” reported in L’Osservatore Romano? I can find no mention of such, but it is very difficult to search issues on the day after and later (in this case, the June 23, 2016, issue) as well as to know in which “haystack” to look (i.e., language edition; in this case, possibly Dutch or German) to find the proverbial “needle.” The photos are mostly likely in L’Osservatore Romano’s photographic archive for the June 22, 2016, general audience. Feel free to search that haystack at www.photovat.com – AQ moderator Tom]
The book is a collection of about 30 sermons given by a well-known “chaplain of the gays” on the occasion of young gay men’s deaths in the 1980s and 1990s, most of whom died of AIDS. Father Jan van Kilsdonk (1917-2008), a Jesuit priest and student pastor, started reaching out to the gay community in Amsterdam in 1982 when he retired from his official job. He had a clearly unorthodox point of view, calling homosexuality a “brainwave of God” and seeking to value “homosexual love.” Even though Dutch Catholicism is renowned for its progressivism, Fr. van Kilsdonk did have problems with his superiors. His stance was all the more shocking because he saw the dark side of the gay lifestyle first-hand and yet he did not clearly preach the Catholic doctrine on repentance and the need for spiritual healing.
He became well-known on the gay night scene in Amsterdam and personally accompanied some 200 young AIDS sufferers to their deaths, with a great deal of warmth and pastoral care. There is nothing wrong with that; on the contrary. But Van Kilsdonk went a great deal beyond that, justifying their lifestyle and berating the Church for its lack of openness to their tendencies.
He was even to sign a petition launched in 1987 by a Dutch gay rights group, COC, asking the Minister of Justice to decriminalize sexual contact by and with young people under 16, recalls Pascal Beukers of Katholiek Nieuwsblad. It was in 2004 that Van Kilsdonk told the gay support group Mannenwerk (“Men’s work”) that homosexuality is not “an abnormality or a disorder” but “a brainwave of God.”
Fr. Valkering met Fr. van Kilsdonk during a sabbatical in Rome in 2003. It was then that Fr. Valkering decided to work on the Jesuit’s sermons and to edit and publish a selection of them. The two men were to meet often to talk about the project and Valkering was touched to see the profound feelings and memories stirred up in the “gay chaplain’s” mind – although it must be said that Van Kilsdonk never claimed to be homosexual.
The book, Farewell Young Man of Light, came out in Dutch a few years after his death in 2012 and has now been translated into Italian under the title Addio ragazzi di luce, with the gay rainbow symbol on its cover. It is the Italian version that was presented to Pope Francis on Wednesday morning.
“It was tremendous. I am so happy! It couldn’t have gone better,” Fr. Valkering said after the meeting. “I was sitting with a score of other priests right in front of the Basilica. The Pope came over to me. What a sweet, lovable man, he warms your heart! I put on my best Italian – and the Holy Spirit really helped me – and told him this book can encourage the Church to give more thought to homosexuality because it contains a treasury of experience on homosexuals, their loves, their lives and their sorrows. The Pope answered that he gives them a great deal of attention and that he always carries them in his heart.”
According to Dutch Vatican journalist Andrea Vreede, the fact that Valkering was allowed personally to present his compilation to Pope Francis is “remarkable.” “Every day, the Pope is overwhelmed by requests. It is he who decides to answer them or not. The presentation of this book was suggested to him, he thought about it and deliberately said ‘yes’,” she commented. The “taboo” of homosexuality is not going to disappear any time soon in the Catholic Church, she added. “But at least, this Pope is ready to listen.”
Gay news sites in the Netherlands are more forthright: commenting on the event, one of them recalled the Pope’s words “Who am I to judge,” and: “It’s not a problem to be a homosexual, no, we should be brothers.” They are definitely using the event as proof that the Church is changing.
That is exactly what Fr Valkering is working towards. He openly campaigns for the modification of Catholic teaching on homosexuality, according to the Catholic TV broadcaster KRO, which titled its piece on the event: “The Pope greets Dutch homosexuals.” “The Pope asked me to present his greetings to the homosexuals of the Netherlands,” Fr Valkering told the news source in a telephone interview. The article ends with a reminder of the Church authorities’ stance on homosexuality that Valkering wants to see changed: “Homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”
The working group of “Catholic Homo-Pastors,” WKHP, which welcomes activist homosexual priests and religious, greeted the event enthusiastically, hoping that it would have a “positive outcome on the way the universal Church and the Dutch ecclesiastical province think about the love-life of homosexuals.” “The WKHP is prepared to play a part in this!” according to their communiqué.
One can understand their point of view: over the last years and months, Pope Francis has gone out of his way to meet members of the LGBT community, including a transgender man and his “wife” and child from Spain in January 2015 and an old Argentinian friend and his lover during his visit to the United States last October. His insistence on giving prominent roles to clerics who favor the recognition of homosexual “unions” and who value their “fidelity” during the successive Synods on the Family points in the same direction.
The Dutch publisher of Farewell Young Man of Light, Valkhofpers, translated five of the homilies included on the book into several languages, including English, available online here.
Here is a short excerpt, from the funeral homily for Ronald Heitkamp, a general practitioner from a sturdy northern Dutch Catholic family:
Ronald’s development as a child and adolescent took place during the revolution of the Sixties, when a novel spontaneity immersed the age-old roles of man and wife into a melting pot. It must have been bewildering, especially for father Heitkamp, when Ronald – radiant, talented, virtuous, well-proportioned and no doubt the apple of his father’s eye – began to express the suspicion, indeed the certainty, that he felt himself to have been created – more even than for the intimate and fertile relations of man to woman – for the rather uncodified tenderness of a man to a man, of a boyfriend to a boyfriend. And that he perceived this deep experience not as some disastrous and dark fate but rather as a felicitous advantage from the Creator. But especially in his father’s conscience, it was as if something broke that had been deemed unbreakable. This was in part because the classic pattern of living as man and wife, stabilized in marriage and parenthood, was held to belong to the dogma of the Mother Church, which to the Heitkamps was something sacred.
Naturally this collision with his father left a trail of pain in Ronald’s soul. But this was only where the miracle began. Not for a minute did Ronald doubt the good faith of his father. He always felt that, in his heart, his father was better than this dogma and than this cultural model, even though the son understood very well that his powerlessness also had something to do with a certain diffidence and guardedness that was inherent to the Heitkamps.
Later on in the homily Fr. van Kilsdonk talks gushingly about Ronald’s physical attractiveness and his successive lovers. He called him “perhaps one of those 36” Righteous Ones who in the Old Testament are said to “bear the world.”