Voices left out of the Papal Visit to Paraguay

The many peoples in Latin America and the United states both in and outside the Catholic sphere are taking the opportunity of the Papal visit to the region to manifest their truths challenging the Vatican's policies and calling upon their current highest representative to clarify his actions and beliefs with respect to their communities. In Leon Condeu de Asuncion, Paraguay the Pope will meet with 3,000 members of civil society which received invitations to appear although they are not guaranteed an official audience with the Pontiff. Some groups refused the invitation highlighting the harmful impact that relations with the Vatican have had for their groups. For example, Iren Rotela, president of Panambi, a local transgender rights organization released a statement to the press covered by Ultima Hora explaining why her group would not meet with the Vatican's emissary.

According to the article, Rotela closed the statement demanding that the Vatican "dejen libre al Estado para que puedan hacer políticas públicas que beneficien a todo su pueblo, y que las personas LGBT existimos dentro." "leave the State free to make public policy that benefits all of its people, of which LGBT people are a part." Rotela refers to the way that despite modern constitutions that speak to the separation of church and state, countries like Paraguay which are officially 92% Catholic, are impacted by legislators and leaders that use their faith to make declarations and laws that contribute to violence and discrimination towards people that the Vatican does not champion. For example, according to the article current president of Paraguay Horacio Cartes was asked what he would do if his son came out and he responded: "Me voy a pegar un tiro en las bolas, porque no comparto, sinceramente (a mi hijo) no le falta nada." "I would shoot my balls, because I don't share, but sincerely (my son) is not missing anything." This dismissiveness is striking in the face of the violence faced by LGBT people in Paraguay according to reports. Rotela pointed out that 80 transgender women have lost their lives in Paraguay and the article notes that 54 of those cases have been documented for a hearing before the Inter American Court for Human Rights, a body that many LGBT people in the region are turning in the face of their own government inaction to violence.

Simon Cazal from SomosGay did accept the invitation and has received considerable media attention for doing so. In the profile of him in The Guardian he highlights the 54 cases mentioned by Rotela and adds reports that his organization has recieved of instances of beatings and "corrective rape" that gay and lesbian people have reported to his organizaton. In fact, of the 6,000 LGBT people that are reffered to their office each year, 93% report that they have been victims of violence. Cazal hopes to speak past the Pope to the Catholics in the streets who are not part of the hierarchy. People like his own parents who rejected him when he came out to them as he relates in the article. Like Rotela he points out that leaders in the government do not accept their responsibility to their LGBT citizens. He cites an incident in 2014 during an LGBT demonstration.

When police attacked an LGBT demonstration in 2014 and hospitalized activists a senior minister told local press that “homophobia doesn’t exist in Paraguay”.

“They say these things because they know they can get away with it,” said Cazal. “It makes you feel like a stranger in your own country. It discourages you. But then it makes you angry. It makes you think we’re going to stay and fight … if not for ourselves, then for the next generation so they don’t have to go through the same things as us.”

The federation of indigenous groups in Paraguay (Federacion de Autodeterminacion del los Pueblos Indigenas) also chose not to accept the invitation and according to their leader quoted in Ultima Hora, Hipolito Acevai, they did not want to wait to "see if the Pope would skip protocol and choose to dialog with their group, because that would be like waiting for crumbs and that is not something they wanted to do," (translation of quote in the article.) To Acevai's point Cazal and others present during the visit are not on the offical agenda for audiences with the Pontiff, but Cazal notes that the media and hopefully the laity is paying attention to his presence there and that in itself will create more opportunities to engage with the policymakers and everyday Parauayans who contribute to the the homophobia and transfobia that impacts LGBT people there after the Pope is gone.

In September, the Pope will visit the United States and groups have already begun to reach out to him for an audience and for his attention to human rights conncers in the US, including thsoe of LGBT people. Throughout the region then there are calls for Papa Francisco as a leader of the Vatican State to confront the extensive impact that their policies and declarations have on civic society in countries outside their walls.

GLAAD reached out to Esther Baruja, a Christian lesbian woman who lives wtih her wife and new baby in Chicago but is originally from Paraguay for her experiences and reactions to the visit. Baruja graduated from Seminary and has continued to talk and write about being LGBT and a person of faith.

Pope Francis has said "Who am I to judge?" And many LGBT Catholics saw a light of hope in those words of his. But on other occasions he has said that same-sex marriage is a threat to the family and that it is a colonizing ideology from which Christian society should protect itself because it is so destructive.

In fact, the Papel encyclical Laudato Si once again defines marriage as solely that of a man and wife and in addition, says that we should accept our bodies just as we were born--and that last phrase is quite a severe message to the trans community.

One point must be remembered alongside the fact that the Roman Catholic church has an immense amount of power and influence in Latin America and in the Hispanic community in the United States: the ambiguity with which the Pope's messages are managed makes it possible for various different forms of discrimination to be maintained because the church thus shows itself inflexible and unwilling to change any of its dogmas regarding sexuality.

As a non-Catholic Paraguayan I exhort the head of the Vatican State that the institution over which he presides not interfere in the laws regarding sexual and reproductive health in a secular country, as Paraguay claims to be. I hope that some day they can change their position regarding the use of condoms to avoid HIV transmission among the population, and also that of respect for women to decide on their own about continuing a pregnancy or not.

I have faith that through a dialogue with civil organizations, it is possible to work together for the good of society, because I do believe that faith and respect for human rights are compatible.