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The gay theologian who set himself on fire in the Vatican to protest against sexual discrimination in the Church

After Alfredo Ormando's suicide, LGBT organizations in Italy regularly protest in front of St. Peter's Basilica, the place where the theologian blew himself up
After Alfredo Ormando’s suicide, LGBT organizations in Italy regularly protest in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, the place where the theologian blew himself up

On the morning of January 13, 1998, alfredo ormando he arrived in Rome from Palermo without luggage, but with a decision made. He did not want to look at the streets or the people, much less the churches. He walked always looking ahead, on a predetermined route that, he knew, would take him to Vatican City. He just stopped at a gas station to buy a can with gasoline. It was all he needed to do what he had decided.

“I can’t wait to get on my way to finish it off in Saint Peter’s Square. The pain of feeling myself burning alive no longer scares me. I will suffer for a few minutes, then the endorphins will help me bear the agony. Compared to my life it is much better, at least it will last a few minutes. It’s stupid of me to keep repeating the same things over and over again, I’ve already said it all. You know why I came to this solution ”, he had written a week before to a friend who lived in Reggio Emilia, perhaps his greatest confidante, the only one who knew his plans.

At 7:30 a.m. he arrived at the Plaza and continued walking through it until he stopped in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. He looked at her for a few seconds, maybe a minute. He didn’t let another moment go by – the one in which doubt or fear could make him give up – to take off his coat and leave it on the ground with a letter in one of her pockets. He moved away a few meters and sprayed his body and clothes with gasoline from the can., pouring it on his head. She needed to flick her lighter once to catch fire.

A Swiss guard and two policemen ran towards the human pyre and the two agents tried to put out the fire with their greatcoats who was merciless with Ormando’s clothes and body. The ambulance did not take long to arrive to take him to the Sant’Eugenio Hospital.

There he agonized for ten days with 90 percent of the body burned, until he died.

The exact place in Saint Peter's Square where Ormando set himself on fire
The exact place in Saint Peter’s Square where Ormando set himself on fire

“The Catholic hierarchy will go so far as to say that I take my own life out of folly or weakness, and not to yell at them about the injustice being done to homosexuals in this country. And that is why in my coat, which I placed on the ground, on the flagstones trampled on by thousands of faithful, I left a letter of complaint. At least the words of a dead man, of a martyr, will be read. You have to kill yourself to be heard.”had left written in one of the paragraphs.

Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, never referred to that death to the bonzo in the Plaza de San Pedro.

The only reaction from the Vatican was through its spokesman, Ciro Benedettini, and more than regretting the fact, he tried to get the Church off the ground. For the Holy See, the poet, writer and student of theology Alfredo Ormando, 39, a practicing Catholic and confessed homosexual, had committed suicide due to “a difficult family situation.”

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Ormando agonized for ten days in the San Eugenio hospital.  She had 90 percent of her body burned (Wikipedia)
Ormando agonized for ten days in the San Eugenio hospital. She had 90 percent of her body burned (Wikipedia)

In the statement, Benedicttini denied that there was any connection between the suicide bomber’s homosexuality and the place chosen to make his gesture: “In the letter found in Ormando, it is not stated in any way that his gesture is determined by his alleged homosexuality or by protest against the Church”.

Quite the opposite of what Ormando had written in dozens of letters.

The official versions wanted to show the suicide of Alfredo Ormando as product of a fit of madness or the despair of a moment. Something difficult to reconcile with the actions of a man who travels from Palermo to the heart of Vatican City to set himself on fire in Saint Peter’s Square, right in front of the Basilica.

The dissemination of Ormando’s letters ended up collapsing those versions and established, without any doubt, that he had decided and planned his suicide as a protest against discrimination who suffered because of his homosexuality, especially from the Church in his native Sicily.

Although Pope John Paul II never referred to the issue, Vatican spokesman Ciro Benedettini said that the suicide was due to Ormando's family problems, which was inaccurate (Wikipedia)
Although Pope John Paul II never referred to the issue, Vatican spokesman Ciro Benedettini said that the suicide was due to Ormando’s family problems, which was inaccurate (Wikipedia)

Not only he felt marginalized and accused for his sexual choicealso considered himself censored because, one after another, different publishers had denied him the publication of his writings.

The first letter in which he mentions his plans dates from the previous November 4, that is, more than two months before the suicide. There he writes to his confidant:

“I decided to end life, all illusions of redeeming myself through my writings collapsed. I’m tired of seeing myself isolated, marginalized. What is worth living when you are not loved and respected. I have maternal love and that of ‘Y’ (He refers to his partner, whom he never mentions by name), it is true, but that does not cover the ostracism of people and even family members. It’s too much, I can no longer find a valid reason to give meaning to my life, perhaps a tenuous, banal point of support… I feel like a victim of the plague, a leper with bells tied to my feet to warn people to stay away. to me. I can’t find a single reason why I should continue this torture…”

Also in that text he makes it clear when and how he intends to kill himself, but also some doubts:

“I’m thinking of spending Christmas in Palermo with mom and ‘Y’, In January I will go to Rome and set myself on fire in Saint Peter’s Square… but am I still of this opinion? There are still less than two months left, I will finally be able to start living, because dying is living (…) I don’t understand this fury against me. I am not diverting anyone from the straight path of heterosexuality. Anyone who sleeps with me is mature, adult, consenting, and gay or bisexual. I really want to finish it: finally I hope to succeed as soon as possible.”

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In several letters to his intimates, Ormando anticipated his decision
In several letters to his intimates, Ormando anticipated his decision

On November 27, in another letter, he mentions the idea again:

“I’m serious this time. If before I found many reasons to live, now I find many more to stop. I have reached the end of the line, my life cycle is about to end, I feel it inevitably. Now I have entered the tunnel of death where the only exit is Saint Peter’s Square… I realize that suicide is a form of rebellion against God, but I can no longer live; I’m actually already dead. I can’t wait to go to Rome and leave there a life that has always been a condemnation for me, ”she writes.

For Alfredo Ormando, as a practicing Catholic, Christmas is a significant date, in which it is important to meet with loved ones. Because He decides to spend Christmas Eve with his mother and his partner “Y”.

With this single fact – meeting with his mother and his homosexual partner – The official Vatican version of a “difficult family situation” collapses as a cause of suicide. Ormando feels supported by his loved ones, from whom he hides his plans to prevent them from trying to convince him to give up.

On Christmas day, he writes to his confidante and clearly explains where he is aiming with his death: “I can’t wait to finish my days; They will think I’m crazy because I decided to set myself on fire in Saint Peter’s Square when I could have done it in Palermo too. I hope you understand the message I want to give: is a form of protest against the Church that demonizes homosexualitywhile demonizing Nature, because homosexuality is her daughter”, he tells her.

Commemoration of one of the anniversaries of the suicide of Alfredo Ormando in the Plata San Pedro del Vaticano (Wikipedia)
Commemoration of one of the anniversaries of the suicide of Alfredo Ormando in the Plata San Pedro del Vaticano (Wikipedia)

However, in the new year he seems to falter. She writes to her friend and confidant again to describe her state of mind.

“A new year has begun but it is not for me, within a month I will have already implemented my fateful purpose. Last Wednesday was a good day for me, the preparations for the New Year’s dinner had made me want to live, but it only lasted one day and that was it, Funeral thoughts come back to keep me companywrites.

The last letter is dated January 4. There everything is already decided. Alfredo Ormando spends the following week defining the practical aspects of his plan and writing a text that he will title “For posterity.”

On Tuesday, January 13, at 7:30 in the morning, after walking through Rome and arriving at Saint Peter’s Square, Alfredo Ormando performs one last action before dousing himself with gasoline and setting himself on fire: he takes off his coat and deposits it carefully on the floor tiles. Then he steps away so that the coat is safe from the flames. What he wants is to preserve his last writing, the one he intends to leave for posterity:

“I apologize to the whole world for my heinous crimes against that nature so dear and desecrated by Christianity.

Protest in memory of Alfredo Ormando.  Vatican, Rome, January 12, 2008 (Wikipedia)
Protest in memory of Alfredo Ormando. Vatican, Rome, January 12, 2008 (Wikipedia)

“I apologize for having come into the world, for having polluted the air you breathe with my poisonous breath, for having dared to think and act like a man, for not having accepted a diversity that I did not feel, for having considered homosexuality as something natural, for feeling equal to heterosexuals and insurmountable, for coveting to be a writer, for dreaming, for laughing, for killing my mother and a loved one with the bloody repression of my useless existence.

“The monster leaves so as not to cause you any more problems and offenses, so as not to make you blush and embarrass yourself with his ignoble presence, so as not to upset you and turn your back when you meet him in the street”.

In accordance with Ormando’s wishes, his mother had his remains cremated and scattered the ashes on the Roman countryside, to “be at least useful as fertilizer.”

Since 1999, every January 13, groups of LGBT activists meet in Saint Peter’s Squarein front of the Basilica, to remember the fatal gesture of Alfredo Ormando and claim for their rights.

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