Indian cardinal backs gay Catholic's LGBT helpline

Fashion designer aims to persuade sexual minorities to return to the church after straying because of negative attitudes
Indian cardinal backs gay Catholic's LGBT helpline

Wendell Rodricks (left) with Cardinal Oswald Gracias and Ruby Almeida of the Global Network of Rainbow Catholics. The cardinal has approved the fashion designer's project to start a helpline for sexual minorities in India. (Photo supplied)

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay has approved the efforts of a gay Catholic to start a helpline to encourage lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people to return to the Catholic Church.

Cardinal Gracias, a member of the nine-member advisory council of Pope Francis, said he was happy to know about the plan by Wendell Rodricks, an internationally known fashion designer.

"This is a great move to show love and compassion to the LGBT community as they are our own people," said the cardinal, who heads the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India.

Rodricks, 58, met Cardinal Gracias on Oct. 31. He said he was "moved to tears when Cardinal Gracias blessed me and my plan to start a helpline to support LGBT members."

Rodricks was awarded the Padmashree, one of the top Indian civilian awards, in 2014 for his contribution to attract international attention to Indian fashion design. 

The Catholic, who said he attends Mass daily, aims to design his helpline to bring back sexual minorities who have strayed away from the church because of the "negative attitude" of the church towards them in the past.

"With the approval and blessing by Cardinal Gracias, our helpline will reach out to these people and their families," Rodricks said.

He said as a teenager he and people like him suffered much in the church and society. The helpline would try to help them understand that they are a full part of the church despite their sexual orientation, he said.

"I don't want them to go through what I went through. I felt like a sinner, that I was not worthy to be Catholic and I lived in guilt and shame because of the condemnation," said Rodricks, who grew up in a traditional Catholic family in Goa, a former Portuguese enclave.

The condemnation forced hundreds of LGBT Catholics to run away from the church.

"Many hit the bottle, some took to drugs and some others attempted suicide … It was unfair, unfair treatment," Rodricks said.

"I know a young boy who confessed to the Catholic priest that he was gay. The priest told him to get out. Where he should go? Tell me."

The cardinal said much has changed in India and the church. India's top court on Sept. 6 ruled that consensual gay sex between two adults cannot be considered a crime. It also struck down a 157-year-old British-era law that criminalized gay sex.

The ruling sparked jubilation among members of the LGBT community.

"I have advised our priests and parishes to be compassionate and considerate to LGBT members," Cardinal Gracias said.

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However, he said, the church does not recognize gay marriages. "For us marriage is for procreation and mutual support and that does not change," he said.

Virginia Saldanha, secretary of the Indian Women Theologians' Forum and Ecclesia of Women in Asia, believes the church needs to do more for LGBT people.

"It is high time the church began to show sensitivity to sexual minority Catholic members in our parishes, recognized and accepted them," she said.

Saldanha said the church should integrate sexual minorities into regular marriage preparation courses "so that couples are not ashamed when such children are born to them."

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