MEXICO CITY – A ministry for gay men and women operated by a northern Mexican diocese has come under scrutiny from the Vatican and might revert to its original status as an unaffiliated nonprofit organization.
Bishop Raul Vera Lopez of Saltillo told Catholic News Service July 31 that he is responding to questions from the Vatican about Comunidad San Aelredo, which began as a youth group for gay Catholics and recently became a diocesan ministry.
“I’m looking to resolve all of these kinds of questions and will do so gladly because I’m a Catholic bishop,” Bishop Vera said.
“I have to respond to all of the questions that they put toward me and the doubts that there are,” he added.
Specific concerns of the Vatican were not outlined.
Bishop Vera said the most recent controversy came after the Catholic news organization ACI Prensa reported information “that has nothing to do with kind of ministry we’re carrying out.”
The bishop defended the diocesan ministry, saying it was based in the Gospel and meant to promote expanded human rights protection while helping gay people develop a sense of belonging especially because they are not always made to feel welcome by the church as a whole.
The ministry, he explained, “is based in personal attention, in spiritual attention … to see that they have a place in the church, that they’re treated as dignified people.”
Comunidad San Aelredo began in 2002 after young gays sought out a local priest, Father Robert Coogan, for spiritual advice, believing an American clergyman might be more understanding.
The group sponsors a monthly Mass and has promoted a film festival, sexual diversity forum and lobbied for a same-sex civil partnership law, which was approved in the state of Coahuila, where Saltillo is located, in 2007.
Bishop Vera supported the civil partnership law as an extension of human rights and a focus of his pastoral work. His stance has been a source of controversy that has even brought death threats.
Anonymous banners were hung July 14 in a plaza facing the St. James Cathedral in Saltillo saying, “We want a Catholic bishop,” and, “We want the bishop to only speak about religion.”
The practice of hanging anonymous banners draws heavily on the tactic of violent drug cartels – who have threatened Bishop Vera – for intimidating rivals, politicians and the public at large.
Bishop Vera said attitudes have softened somewhat toward his outreach for gays and that Comunidad San Aelredo was made a diocesan ministry after broad consultations on forming a wide-ranging work plan for the Diocese of Saltillo.
“There hasn’t been total acceptance, but as people know the work that we’ve done, it’s diminished,” he said.
Noe Ruiz Malacara, president of Comunidad San Aelredo, said the group was founded as a nonprofit and has maintained that legal status, meaning it will continue convening events – and being Catholic – even if it is not affiliated with the Diocese of Saltillo.
“Whether or not the Comunidad San Aelredo belongs (to the diocese) or doesn’t belong, the spiritual aspect has to continue and it has to be there,” he said.