Don Marco Bisceglia, the founder of the organized gay movement in Italy was a Catholic priest.
(Rome) He was a rebel, was suspended by the Church a divinis, was a supporter of the most radical enemy of the Church, known as a homosexual and founded together with Nichi Vendola, the Communist-Green Prime Minister of Puglia from 2005 to 2015, the largest sodomy organization in Italy. When all of his ideological "friends" had left him and he was alone and gravely ill in old age, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger picked him up again. This is the in many ways tragic story of a lost priest, which is also an extraordinary story of conversion and reconciliation. It’s one of those stories that testify to God's infinite mercy, but also the horrible confusion that people and even priests can make, and the great harm they can do. The story is retold following the reconstruction of Pino Suriano.
For many who know nothing about it, it may be an absurd invention, but it is simply fact: Arcigay was founded by a priest. In fact, the most influential and numerically significant LGBT association in Italy goes back in its core to a devotee who was himself a homosexual.
It happened in Palermo in December 1980 and the then almost 60-year-old priest, who had been suspended for several years a divinis, was called Marco Bisceglia, for everyone, he was simply Don Marco. His comrades in arms and, in the following months, also a housemate, was a young conscientious objector, Nicola Vendola, called Nichi, who did his civilian service at the ARCI Social and Cultural Association, which is close to the Communist Party of Italy (KPI).
In the biography of the priest, several precipitous breaks can be seen, which are also directly related to his own lifestyle. Pino Suriano speaks of the "three lives" of Don Marco.
At the side of Communists and pro-abortion advocates
In his "first life," Don Marco Bisceglia, in the left-wing ideological current of his time, was a priest of struggle. Born in 1925 in southern Italy, Lucerne, Bisceglia, he was ordained a priest in 1963. Already during his studies, he embraced the Marxist liberation theology, especially the teachings of the unorthodox Jesuit José Maria Diez-Alegria y Gutierrez (1911-2010), who was expelled from his order. When he is entrusted with his home parish church in Lavello, Sacred Heart, he wanted to immediately go to activism. The defense of the weak is for Don Marco the actual content of evangelization. Any Catholic would immediately sign for that if it were not for a definition problem: What is meant by "weak"? Don Marco defies everything he considers unfair. His main opponent is the Catholic Church. His fight is against celibacy, real estate investments, the "rich" Church. Don Bisceglia always finds new ways to rub against the Church with his Marxist world view. He fills his church with the supporters of the Communist Party, who have so far set foot in the church of the "class enemy". In the young priest they find a political comrade. The village church as a metaphysical ally of the local party committee of the KPI.
The comrades applaud enthusiastically whenever Don Marco publicly and vociferously emphasizes his opposition to the Church. It was not long before the differences with his bishop are getting bigger and bigger. Not only because of the politicizing ideas of the young priest, but also because of his urge for action. With the revolution of 1968, Don Bisceglia becomes the organizer and center of workers' strikes. Political forms of struggle that also bring him into conflict with the law. On September 30, 1974, after several calls and personal talks to reconsider his positions and reduce his activism, he is deposed by Bishop Giuseppe Vairo as Pastor of Lavello. The bishop had good reasons for his drastic decision. He was responsible, as the chief shepherd, to protect the herd from confusion, for among them was a wolf who drifted about in the robes of a priest.
The "revolutionary" way
Don Marco Bisceglia had become a class-warrior on the side of the Communists and on the side of the feminists as a pro-abortion advocate. He joined the Radical Party, a radical liberal anti-Catholic movement and supported its socio-political struggle for the legalization of the murder of unborn children and for the sexual revolution. He had converted his parish house in Lavello into the local seat of the referendum committees for abortion and divorce. In order to support his ideological comrades elsewhere and to be able to fight the "imperialist" and "repressive" forces such as the state and the Church, he was increasingly absent from his parish, instead of fulfilling his priestly duty there. The bishop, in his deposition decree, wrote that Don Bisceglia had taken a "revolutionary" path that led to an "open break with the bishop."
The Communist Party did not abandon its ally. It mobilized, without appearing directly itself, through its open and underground channels, the media public. Lavello was soon besieged by reporters and correspondents from Italy's most important daily and weekly newspapers, and some from further afield. In the town itself, the non-communist believers had long been marginalized in the institutional parish. The companions flocked to "their" pastor and rose against the bishop's deposition decree onto the barricades. Don Marco and his red sheep occupied the church. On the facade of the church a banner in the best communist style of militancy was installed: "The Church belongs to the people". The pastor of Lavello became an Italy-wide case. The left immediately expressed solidarity with the "people's priest" and his "people" against the bishop and the "official Church".
"First Homosexual Marriage" in the history of Italy
But that wasn’t enough. A few days before the publication of the suspension decree, Don Marco took a step that became even more of a stumbling block and would be discussed for years to come. He celebrated what was to be the "first homosexual marriage" in Italian history. One day, of course not coincidentally in Lavello, two homosexuals presented themselves and wanted to be married ecclesiastically. Don Bisceglia was immediately on hand to manipulate Catholic doctrine and ecclesiastical order and to give the two men a straightforward lie: "Your marriage is already a sacrament before God," was how the priest explained his view of things.
Don Marco Bisceglia 1981: Activist for ArciGay and other "progressive" forces
But the two men were not really a homosexual, but the two journalists Bartolomeo Baldi and Franco Iappelli of the Conservative Monday magazine Il Borghese, publish Don Bisceglia’s idiosyncratic attitude towards the Catholic doctrine in great detail. On May 9, 1975, the bishop takes further action. Don Marco is suspended a divinis, banning him from practicing his priesthood.
This is clear after a long period of confusion clarity. Above all, it leads to a clear dividing line for the Catholic faithful. For Bisceglia, of course, a decision of the Church hierarchy he opposed is not a drama, so everything goes on as before. He celebrates Mass and other liturgies, offers the sacraments and proclaims the word of God. Of course it was a brand self-made a lá Marco Bisceglia. However, the connection with the faithful becomes weaker. The Communists needed him for their fight, many believers avoided him in the neighboring villages. Now others stayed away, more and more.
The first time after the "church occupation" the church of Lavello was full. The zeitgeist seemed to inflate the sails of the deposed pastor. It would be a short straw fire. The full church became an empty church. The contrast is documented by photos. The photo of the last Mass celebrated by Don Marco in Lavello on April 25, 1978 shows him in front of a handful of old women, surrounded by a cordon of Carabinieri and police officers. Of course Bisceglia would not be Bisceglia if he had not chosen a political act for this last act as a "pastor". April 25 is the leftists’ holiday par excellence in Italy. On this day, against the background of a transfigured-distorted view of history, the "liberation of Italy from Nazi fascism" is celebrated. It is an event successfully usurped by Red Partisans.
A priest as a candidate of the most anti-Church party
Don Marco was now alone, without work, without a recognizable future and above all with a completely broken relationship to the Catholic Church. An "unemployed" man looking for a new home. He could not make the leap over his own shadow. He continued to talk about himself. That seemsed important to him. He wanted to change the world. According to his mind. On the 3rd of June 1979 parliamentary elections took place. The killing of unborn children had just been made a law in the previous year. Just a few months before election day, Marco Pannella, the old comrade in charge of free sex and feminist emancipation, announced his opposition to the unresolved dichotomy that has been feigned for decades at the expense of women's reconciliation. Pannella offers the clearly underemployed ex-pastor a new field of activity. Bisceglia is to run for the Radical Party. Don Marco agrees. For Pannella a euphorically celebrated triumph: a Catholic priest as a candidate on the list of the most anti-Church party. "If you want to be free, you have to be heretical. Personally, I can not help but be one of their own ", with these words Bisceglia justified his candidacy for the radicals. His name on the list provides a forum for discussion and gives the list media attention. For Don Marco, however, the preferential votes are not enough to make the leap into parliament. As before, for the Communists, Bisceglia, as a priest, was a welcome sign to the radicals for their political struggle, but nothing more than that.
In those months when the suspended priest was active for the radicals, he met in Enrico Menduni in Rome who from 1978 to 1983 was ARCI chairman, the "classic" among the left-wing cultural associations of Italy. Menduni offers Bisceglia to take care of the organizational part of the civil rights department. This can be described as the "birth" of the LGBT organization ArciGay. And the idea for the organization including "copyright" lay with Marco Bisceglia. The official foundation was not until 1985, but on the page of ArciGay one can read:
"The first group of Arci-Gay emerged on an informal basis on 9 December 1980 in Palermo due to an idea by Don Marco Bisceglia, Catholic priest of contradiction."
For years, Bisceglia had been hanging around homosexual circles. In 1982 he was written about for his homosexuality with an article in the weekly magazine Europeo, it sounded like everyone knew about it anyway. The connection between his sexual, political and anti-Catholic confusion thus became obvious to many observers.
Living with Nichi Vendola
"There are gay priests, but only one has declared himself publicly," wrote the Europeo. And this one was Marco Bisceglia. The friendship and the cohabitation with Nichi Vendola goes back to that time in the 80s, whom Don Marco repeatedly referred to as a "teacher". For a few months they lived in Monte Porzio Catone in Bisceglia’s home. In 2005, Vendola, a member of an old communist party, was elected head of a left-wing alliance to head Puglia.
1985: Presentation of the new homo organization ArciGay. Bisceglia (2nd from the left), Vendola (2nd from the left)
The ARCI has been experiencing difficulties for some time, and the ex-pastor and ex-priest, as he was then called, quietly separated from the left showpiece club, or the former pastor separated. It did not come to an open break. The exact reasons of distancing can not be exactly reconstructed. So while his invention ArciGay flourished, he was quiet about the idea. So quiet that the traces of Bisceglia are lost. The years when the journalists ran after him were over. Now no one was interested in what had become of him.
If you know by now, it was because Rocco Pezzano was looking for clues. In 1987, Bisceglia was already far away from ArciGay. From his letters it can be seen that he was still in Monte Porzio Catone, where he had lodged a young homosexual named Dadi, who had come from the new mass immigration to Western Europe from Algeria to Italy. Pino Suriano interprets Bisceglia's correspondence with friends as a new phase in his life. A new "liberation" that he no longer sought in struggle and in an organization, but in the interpersonal relationship and in friendships.
AIDS and a new life
In the first half of the 90s, one day the phone rang in the parish of San Cleto in Rome. At one end of the line is Father Paolo Bosetti, the pastor of the Roman suburban parish. At the other end Msgr. Luigi Di Liegro, the founder of the diocesan Caritas of Rome. The Monsignor asks the pastor to accept a priest who has the “heavy burden": AIDS. "What should we do?" Asked the pastor. "Just do him good," replied the Monsignor. That's the way it should be. Receding from his political struggles and withdrawn from his sexual antics, Don Marco had taken himself to the terminus faster than he thought. Now begins a new life for Don Bisceglia, which he leads with the priests of the Congregatio Iesu Sacerdotis, who look after this newly established parish in Rome. There were few words, a lot of free time, and no obligations in the parish.
The days pass slowly, but it is a new beginning. After decades, the day moves back in order, with Lauds, Holy Mass and fixed mealtimes. Bisceglia begins to address fundamental questions, starting with what the priesthood is and what he is. He reads for the first time the counciliar decree, Presbyterorum Ordinis. Then also Optatam Totius for priestly training. He reads daily in the Holy Scriptures. And he reads it now with different eyes. He questions himself, as a human being and as a priest. His past is known to all. He does not talk about it. Only once did he say nothing to Father Paolo, but to distance himself from his past.
Application to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
His life at the side of other priests makes him want to celebrate the Holy Mass again. It has been 19 years since his ecclesiastical punishment and another eleven years have passed since he last unlawfully celebrated it. At some point he had stopped. The inner contradiction had become too big.
The priests advise on it. They want to rule out that it is only a momentary mood. The question is therefore deepened. The suspension a divinis is already in the way. After a long time, the Cardinal Vicar of Rome informs Ugo Poletti, who then represented Pope John Paul II as Bishop of Rome. The answer is: There must be an appropriate request. Don Marco picks up paper and pen and formulates a petition to be addressed to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. At that time, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, for many years the enemy of the paramilitary per se for the pink-deep red militant activist Bisceglia.
Finally comes the answer: The suspension a divinis is canceled. A few days later, Don Marco writes to his sister Anita:
"I am aware of my unworthiness as I sincerely and confidently hope for the forgiveness of God and his purifying and renewing action. I hope with his help to be able to make up for my mistakes and aberrations.”
He sent this letter from Loreto. Father Bosetti remembers:
"If one begins again with the celebration of the Eucharist, which is the body of Christ, one can not do so without reconciliation.”
On the day of the "first" Mass that Don Marco is allowed to celebrate again, a delegation from the priest's home diocese would arrive, led by Bishop Vincenzo Cozzi. A delegation of the local church that Don Marco rebelled against and resisted. Before Don Marco celebrated Holy Mass again, "the most beautiful day" of his life, as he would say, the bishop embraced him. It was a day that became visible proof that no past can prevail over the present, that conflicts, aberrations, and reservations are real facts, but not predominant. For where remorse and forgiveness are, there is also reconciliation.
"I was dead and raised to new life"
The last years of his earthly life were hard but intense. The life of an AIDS patient is full of challenges, numerous visits, many hospitalizations. However, Don Marco experiences this time in "inner peace", as companions of this last phase of life report. It is a calm that will strengthen other patients. Vittorio Fratini would ask Don Marco where he takes this pleasure from. The answer would impress him deeply:
"Remember, I was dead and I came to life again".
Don Marco Bisceglia dies on 22 July 2001. It is a day that should go down in Italy's history as a "day of conflict."
The political left mobilized to protest against the G8 summit in Genoa, which degenerated into violent action by left-wing extremist groups. On this day, when his former comrades continued their struggle, Don Bisceglia, far from this struggle that was no longer his own, is reconciled to God and to the Church. He was buried in the cemetery of Lavello, in the priest's cemetary.
Text: Giuseppe Nardi
Pictures: Tempi / Wikicommons / Wikipink (Screenshots)
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