“Alfredo’s Fire”: The Self- Martyrdom of Alfredo Ormando

In January 1998 Alfredo Ormando, an Italian writer, set himself on fire in St Peter’s Square in the heart of the Vatican. Ormando was Catholic, and gay.

In Catholic hagiography, the most famous image of a martyr burned at the stake is that of St Joan of Arc, condemned by the approved theologians of the Church as a heretic and martyred by the church, essentially for her transgression in dressing as a man. In the centuries that followed, thousands more were burnt as sodomites. These were viewed by the church as irredeemable sinners – but later history may come to view them differently. The church now views Joan as a canonized saint. Pope Benedict has explicitly acknowledged the clear lesson – official theologians may be wrong. In years to come, those burnt for sodomy may also come to be more widely recognized as collective martyrs – martyred by the church, for the nature of their love.  In his horrifying echo of the centuries – long great persecution of sexual minorities, Alfredo Ormando’s suicide after years of attempting to stifle his sexuality in accordance with Vatican rules, may be seen as a unique act of self-martyrdom.

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2 thoughts on ““Alfredo’s Fire”: The Self- Martyrdom of Alfredo Ormando”

  1. I'm sorry to say it, but people kill themselves because they hate themselves. This man must have hated himself a great deal. He could not accept God's forgiveness because he could not forgive himself. And it seems probable that he could not forgive himself because he could not seek forgiveness from himself. His id knew that he needed God's forgiveness but his ego could not accept this, and in the end this conflict within his own psyche destroyed him. It could have been resolved in the Confessional or, to a lesser extent, in some other sort of therapy. The only question for us now then is why the Church was not there for him when he burned.

  2. And I'm sorry to say in reply: suicide is a complex business, as I know from personal experience in my own family. I agree that it is simplistic to say glibly that his action was caused solely by the Church's homophobia: I was careful to note that he was depressed, and this included issues of difficulties with family and getting published.However, it is equally simplistic to dismiss the role of church teaching. Certainly, he had grown to hate himself: that much is clear from the letters. The real question is, why did he hate himself, just for being as God had made him? For years he had been trying to conform to clerical expectations, by prayer and self-mortifications, without success. And here the answer is clear, from his writing, and from the stories of countless others, especially young people. LGBT men and women who are unable to successfully integrate their sexuality into their personalities, and attempt to force into heterosexual patterns in conflict with their natural orientation, have much higher rates of suicide, substance abuse and homelessness than others of their age groups. It is clear from the research evidence that the well-publicized hostility of the churches (Catholic and other)to "homosexuality", is a contributory factor to this self-loathing. The Catholic Church doctrine is that violence and malice, in speech or in action, should be opposed – but this is seldom seen in practice.

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