“I am a Catholic priest who is often not very in agreement and often in dissent with the Catholic hierarchy. But I think that dissent is necessary in bettering my faith, to be in such a way that my faith is lived better, and I think that dissent is also necessary to better the church that I belong to.”
Don Vitaliano Della Sala calls himself “The Disobedient Priest” and he praises the essential role of disobedience in an unjust society. Today, he runs a “virtual parish” in Italy, having been removed from his parish in 2002 for his activism. Activities such as marching in the Gay Pride parade or his many demonstrations against globalization have not sat well with the Catholic hierarchy. His main causes today are the plight of Kurdish refugees, aid for the survivors of the August 2016 earthquake in central Italy, and speaking out against sexual abuse in the church. His aim is to be “a parish that remains close to the homes that populate the global village-on line.”
I asked Don Vitaliano “How do you reconcile the obedience of being a priest with the disobedience you practice?” and he taught me that St. Augustine said “when a law is unjust, to disobey is an obligation.” This gave me a new understanding of faith: in order to live a life devoted to something bigger than my own ego, I have to be on the lookout for injustice and I must publicly, not just privately, oppose it. I remember being an “ally” to my many LGTBQ friends for many years, but not being willing to speak out about jokes being made about gay people. Or even closer to home, I remember hearing people joke about or stereotype Jews in my workplace and I did not speak up because I didn’t want to rock the professional boat. But when I withhold speaking out, a part of me dies because it has to live in conflict.
And so the portrait of Della Salla Vitaliano in front of the magnificent edifice that is the Vatican reminds me that I have to speak out against unnecessary accumulation of wealth when others are hungry and dying or abused. So today I will ask myself “Am I vocal and visible enough in my disagreement with injustice? Am I willing to compromise my own comfort to help others?”
This has never rung more true than with the results of last week’s US presidential election. I realize that I have not been caring enough for those left behind by the new economy. And I also realize that I must be relentlessly in opposition to anything in our new president’s agenda that even hints at discrimination, not valuing of every human life and the life of our precious planet. Della Sala Vitaliano’s portrait reminds me that I must be vigilant with any injustice.
Don Vitaliano continues his work, and you can find what he’s up to, in Italian, on his website.