On Oct. 11, a Catholic priest in Italy celebrated Coming Out Day in the truest fashion on Facebook. He posted, “I am a happily gay priest,” a note that received overwhelming support from his parishioners and disapproval from official church authorities.
The Italian church hierarchy already disapproved of Don Mario Bonfanti in March, when church officials kicked him out of his parish after he spoke in support of same-sex legal unions (and letting divorced people receive sacraments in the church). This caused an uproar in the Italian-language press and social media, and Bonfanti’s parishioners, (along with other notable Catholics throughout Italy) supported the priest and condemned his superiors.
On March 3, the Italian news site Journal Merate published over a dozen “Letters of Solidarity and Friendship to Don Mario Bonfanti.” (Translations from the Italian are all courtesy of Google Translate.) Another Italian-language blog, Pontilex, suggested that church officials who punished Bonfanti for his tolerant stances on divorce, gay unions, and other social issues were merely trying to draw attention away from their own scandalous or dishonest actions.
On the contrary, the Archdiocese of Milan released a statement accusing Don Mario of promoting “questionable behavior,” among other things.
So Bonfanti was already well-known in Italy on Oct. 11, when he outed himself on his Facebook and caused an immediate sensation in the Italian media. A group of Bonfanti’s supporters started the Facebook page, Io Sto Con Don Mario (I’m with Don Mario), and at the very top of the page is an “official statement from Don Mario.” In it, the priest says he had not made any formal media statements since granting an interview to Journal Merate last February and disavowed any media statements attributed to him since then.
Under Bonfanti’s statement, the organizers of the Facebook page reminded Don Mario’s supporters to not let their support for the priest turn into a protest against anything else [ellipses lifted from the original]:
“Support, affection, we write everything good he has done for us ... it may be helpful to write to the vicar etc.. etc.. Warning! No protest! It must be just a demonstration of support and affection for Don Mario! Refrain revolutionaries and rowdy! Thank you!”
The Facebook page and the posts on it were written entirely in Italian until the afternoon of Oct. 17, when Gay Star News wrote about it and English-language Facebook users started joining Io Sto Con Don Mario in solidarity.
When Barry Wilson of Pennsylvania joined the group and posted a message offering “Much love and respect to Don Mario,” Bonfanti personally responded. “welcome Barry,” he wrote. “I'm very happy to accept you here among us. Love and respect to every men and women in the world [winky-face] don mario.”
Photo via Mario Bonfanti/Facebook