February 12, 2013
The Pope’s resigned! What does that mean for LGBT people?
Yesterday, 11 February 2013, Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican enforcer, “God’s Rottweiler” and paradoxically, the “teaching Pope” and author of a pastoral letter to the world’s Catholics praising sexual love, has today announced that he is resigning from his position due to “advanced age”.
Pope Benedict is the first pope to resign since Clement V in 1415. To say the world was shocked was an understatement.
It was clear from comments that he’d made while Cardinal Ratzinger, that he had thought that resignation was an option for an infirm Pope. He was 78 then. He’s 85 now, and has arthritis, using a mobile throne to get around. He was already exhausted before he was elected Pope, and he’s had some nasty falls in the last few years.
It must have been really upsetting watching John Paul II slowly decline in office and claiming that he was inspiring people with his suffering. He may well have been inspiring people, but if he’d been a bit more with it, perhaps a lot of the scandals that exploded under Benedict’s watch, and the substantive decline in church-going in Europe, could have been dealt with a lot earlier.
I admire Pope Benedict as a person for his personal integrity and intellectual depth, an integrity that this resignation only confirms. I’ve read eleven biographies by and about Pope Benedict, and I really appreciate his concern for clarifying and discerning truth – I keep this quote from him on my Facebook profile:
“God speaks quietly. But He gives us all kinds of signs. In retrospect, especially, we can see that He has given us a little nudge through a friend, through a book, or through what we see as a failure — even through ‘accidents.’ Life is actually full of these silent indications. If I remain alert, then slowly they piece together a consistent whole, and I begin to feel how God is guiding me.”
Another: “truth is not determined by a majority vote”.
I personally always interpret that as a clarion call for the rights of gay people regardless of the will of the majority. But sadly Pope Benedict has a less-than-progressive view on LGBT people. He stated as recently as December 2012 that gay marriage was a threat to world peace (seriously). He delivered a Christmas speech to the Vatican in which he stated:
“People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being,” he said. “They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.”
Basically, gays aren’t cool.
And I like Pope Benedict, but I’m LGBT, I’m a woman, I’m Jewish. I’m offended when Pope Benedict announces that gay marriage is the greatest threat to world peace or says that a woman was born to be a mother and can’t be a priest, or reinstituted a Latin rite that prays for the conversion of the Jews. I’m not Catholic because I don’t believe in the theology that leads to those beliefs.
But being surprised that the Pope opposes gay rights is like being surprised to discover that bears defecate in the woods.
Neither Benedict’s successor nor perhaps his tenth successor, is going to say anything different what is currently written down in canon law. We can’t be surprised by that. All we can do is suggest that they focus on different things and maintain a dignified silence when it comes to the human rights of homosexuals, secure an exemption for religious conscience in the gay marriage laws, and get on with their lives. I think that’s the most we can hope for from the Catholic Church, and some dioceses are already taking that option. I think we should encourage it, not talk about them “discrediting the faith”. What bishop cares about what you and I think of his faith?
Pope Benedict’s comments make sense in context, sort of. He has tried to focus his papacy on what he calls the “New Evangelisation” of an increasingly secularised Western Europe.
Part of that challenge, for him, is what he considers to be the temptation of a false understanding of human rights. For him, rights come only from Christ, and Christ, through his Church and the Catholic tradition, has a very fixed idea of the roles of men and women and the position of sexuality in a human life.
So everyone suddenly introducing gay marriage and bringing the Christian heritage of Europe crashing down around him must be very disconcerting – he’s trying to shore up his support, as it were.
But in the eyes of the Catholic Church, being gay is largely on the same level as masturbating. Now, obviously, I think that’s still terrible. And the Catholic Church has campaigned quite hard, if fruitlessly, to prevent gay marriage and gay adoption (and presumably trans rights). But even the Church has explicitly condemned the use of state penalties for gay acts. And being gay doesn’t mean you’re going to go to hell.
Westminster Cathedral held “Soho masses” for years for gay Catholics (until Archishop Nichols cancelled them this year as revenge for gay marriage coming in in the UK), with the idea being that gay Catholics are as much sinners as every other Catholic and should be welcomed into the Church. The Vatican has grumbled, but not actually stepped in.
Because of the length of John Paul’s papacy, only two cardinals under the age of eighty were eligible for the conclave who had been appointed by the previous Paul VI, and one of them was Cardinal Ratzinger himself.
As John Paul and Benedict went out of their way to appoint cardinals that agreed with their rigid conservatism, it is unlikely that the Church will take much of a new direction on theological matters, but we can hope that they will write off things like gay liberation – the Catholic Church is going crazy in Italian politics at the moment on the subject of gay marriage, and the Church in America is opposing the Obama’s administration immigration reforms that they used to champion because they explicitly include LGBT immigrants.
We can hope the new Pope might instead focus on more pressing matters for Church, like the fact that there’s a ratio of one priest to every 8,000 Catholics in Africa, for example. That is not a small deal for a church that believes that eternal salvation depends on priest-dependant baptisms, confessions, participation in mass, etc.
Fact is, when you have nations from Vietnam to Nepal drawing up equality legislation, it’s a lost battle. And at some point, a Pope is going to hold up his hands and say “We can’t win this”.
Our best bet as LGBT activists is to try and persuade the Catholic hierarchy of that as soon as possible and direct that energies into more meaningful and useful things like poverty, debt forgiveness, and environmental issues. Things that matter. Bashing gay people? That doesn’t matter. Except to us.
Another quote that I keep on my Facebook profile from Tory MP Francis Maud, whose brother is gay:
“It always seemed to me a bit pointless to disapprove of homosexuality. It’s like disapproving of rain.”
Shit straight girls say to lesbians
The lesbian version of the ‘shit girls say…’ meme that’s been doing the rounds.
April 17, 2012