With Pope Benedict XVI now formally resigned, this act is viewed by many as an act of personal humility that broke with a centuries-old tradition of popes dying in office and overcame a stigma against stepping down. Fr. Joseph Komonchak writing in Commonwealshifts attention from papal politics to the failings of every other Catholic since Vatican II to implement a more positive ecclesiology. In conclusion, he writes instructive words for the coming days:
“A certain paradox is visible in the events now unfolding. The very act that humanizes the papacy also produces the hullabaloo over the upcoming conclave, which tends to reconfirm the inflated notion of the Petrine office that has developed over the past two hundred and fifty years, and the impression is given, once again, that the future of the church hinges on the choice of a successor to the See of Peter. One can hear it from both sides: from traditionalists who want still-tighter disciplinary control over doctrine, worship, and practice; and from progressives who want a pope who will loosen things up in all those areas. They both want something from Rome; they want the new pope to do something about what they each perceive as critical points. But the church is not the pope, and the pope is not the church, and perhaps what we most need is a pope who will encourage and allow the laity, the religious, the clergy, and the hierarchy to assume their responsibilities for the difference the church is supposed to make in the world. Benedict’s resignation was a self-denying act of personal humility. What we need now in Rome are acts of institutional humility and self-denial.”
Recent discussions on Catholic LGBT issues sometimes hinge reform on the election of a more inclusive pope, and while this certainly aids the cause, Fr. Komonchak reminds us that we are church and responsibility for progress exists within each layperson, as well as the bishops and clergy.
As Pope Benedict XVI resigns today, intensified analysis of his tenure at the Vatican continues while speculation over the next pope heats up. Undeniably, the outgoing pope’s record on LGBT issues is extremely negative. Looking to the Church’s recent history to help formulate the future is an essential task as we transition, and many Catholic commentators approach Benedict’s tenure within the larger context of a Church still uneasy with sexual orientation and gender identity.
Writing in National Catholic Reporter, Thomas Fox details the intricate relationship the institutional Church has had with LGBT matters, placing Pope Benedict XVI as a central figure in creating a hostile environment:
“For at least the last five decades, Catholic pronouncements on gay Catholic issues have been at least ambivalent and even sometimes contradictory. They have included exhortations on pastoral care and inclusivity and at the same time admonitions against gay lifestyles and warnings to gay Catholic organizations…
“Much of the current theological and social environment in which the church ministers — or does not minister — to gay Catholics was formed during the papacy of Pope John Paul II when Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued statements on homosexuality.
“Repeatedly, Ratzinger placed doctrinal enforcement over pastoral considerations. In the process, he built the reputation of being ‘God’s Rottweiler.’”
Fox elucidates on the main documents and moments since Vatican II that have created a pendulum-like engagement by the bishops, heavily emphasizing that Cardinal Ratzinger, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, led the charge against pro-gay Catholic organizations and figures. Now, as a new papacy is to begin, some of Pope Benedict’s victims speak optimistically of moving forward:
“New Ways Ministry’s executive director, Francis DeBernardo, said he is cautiously hopeful looking into the future. He said he hopes the next pope will be listener.
“[New Ways Ministry co-founder Sr. Jeannine] Gramick said she wants the papal war on gay people to end.
“‘The church,’ she said, ‘requires a future pope with a pastoral heart who is willing to listen and engage in dialogue.’”
At least in this sede vacante [“empty seat”] period, hopes for a positive papacy arriving in March persist. Theologian Hans Kung, speaking to the German magazine Der Spiegel, expressed the following desires for a new pope that would move Catholicism forward:
“A pope who is not intellectually stuck in the Middle Ages, one who does not represent mediaeval theology, liturgy and religious order. I would like to see a pope who is open first to suggestions for reform and secondly, to the modern age. We need a pope who not only preaches freedom of the Church around the world but also supports, with his words and deeds, freedom and human rights within the Church — of theologians, women and all Catholics who want to speak the truth about the state of the Church and are calling for change.”
“One day we will have a gay pope, as we’ve had before and that would be terrific…It’s probably too early now, but I would certainly expect that there will be a time when there will be a pope who is openly gay and willing to admit it. That would be a sign of health in the Church.”
Whether a openly gay pope emerges from the Conclave or not, LGBT advocates must now enter into a prayerful period that an accepting and welcoming Spirit will come upon whichever cardinal assumes the papacy.
The Diocese of Phoenix publicly announced on Monday its opposition to proposed expansions in that city’s non-discrimination laws to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals under protected categories. On Tuesday, the Phoenix City Council approved the expansion in a 5-3 vote after a heated five-hour hearing that displayed the best and worst of Phoenicians, reported at AZcentral.com.
A statement from the Diocese echoes the message that Catholic teaching opposes discrimination against LGBT individuals, but concerns over religious liberty lead the bishops to oppose basic civil protection. The statement was released to coincide with Phoenix City Council hearings yesterday afternoon on the proposed changes, with an expected vote that same day. LGBT advocates and supportive government officials do not seem to pay much attention to the Diocese’s remarks. AZcentral.com reports that a Catholic mayor is seeking LGBT non-discrimination protections:
“Mayor Greg Stanton has pushed to amend the ordinance to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. City law currently offers few such protections for gay residents.
“Stanton, who is Catholic, said he respects the Diocese’s position but believes the city has an obligation to provide protections for LGBT residents. He added that welcoming diversity has economic benefits for the city.
“The changes would prohibit discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations, such as restaurants and hotels. Businesses and individuals that don’t comply could be criminally prosecuted and face a misdemeanor charge, punishable by a $2,500 fine.”
It is hard to believe the bishops’ argument for religious liberty in the marriage equality debate when such arguments surface in any matter of advancing LGBT equality. The Diocese of Phoenix’s statement replaces Catholic understandings of human dignity with sexual ethics more appropriate to individual consciences and pastoral settings. The statement puts any potential religious liberty conflict above protection of humans’ needs.
It is only a few generations removed from an era when Catholics, and the immigrant populations to which most belonged, suffered discrimination for their religious and ethnic identities. Legislation protecting individuals from discrimination based on anything, including sexual orientation or gender expression/identity, should always and everywhere be championed by the Catholic hierarchy. Persistent failures to endorse even the most basic LGBT-friendly legislation is isolating the bishops from fruitfully engaging on vital issues like poverty reduction and immigration reform where powerful Catholic voices for justice are sorely needed.
Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the leading Catholic prelate in the United Kingdom, announced on Monday that he was resigning as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh and that he will not attend the upcoming papal conclave as an elector. The cardinal, one of the UK’s most visible opponents of LGBT equality, is accused of improper conduct by four priests dating back nearly three decades.
While O’Brien denies claims published in a British newspaper on Sunday that he initiated inappropriate contact, this controversial Catholic has quickly removed himself from the public eye. Andrew Brown writing atThe Guardian sees the accelerated pace of Cardinal’s resignation as progress in handling sexual abuse claims, but mulls deeper over the issues of homosexuality and forced celibacy in this scandal:
“. . . [T]he story illustrates the grotesque and humiliating difficulties that the Roman Catholic church has knotted itself into where sex and gay people are concerned…
“Of course, the real problem is that the Roman Catholic church expects an entirely unrealistic standard of continence from its priesthood. Some priests can manage celibacy. The evidence from all around the world is that most can’t…In countries where that isn’t an available alternative, the priesthood becomes a refuge for gay men – especially in societies where homophobia is the public norm.
“This fact adds irony to O’Brien’s denunciations of gay marriage. You can’t really expect better from a church that still hasn’t come to terms properly with heterosexual marriage…And a church that can’t treat women as equals is certainly not going to be realistic about marriage between two men.”
Cardinal O’Brien’s legacy will be multi-faceted, but decidedly anti-LGBT given his repeated assaults on both legal rights and pastoral concerns. Bondings 2.0 reported stories throughout last year about O’Brien, including being named ‘Bigot of the Year’ by UK-charity Stonewall.
The realities of gay priests were further elucidated by Peter Stanford at The Telegraphin an article titled, “Too many priests preach truth, but live a lie”:
“…I’ve met many clerics. Many are openly gay. Or so open when not saying Mass that it is easy to forget I’m not meant to remember it when they are.
“In general, such double standards don’t overly concern me. Like the rest of us, priests, monks, bishops and even cardinals are as God made them. Whatever inner tension they struggle with as leaders in a Church that teaches that to be gay is – and I am quoting a document sent out by the soon-to-retire Pope when he was Cardinal Ratzinger – ‘a strong tendency towards an intrinsic moral evil,’ that is a matter for their own conscience.
“Tolerance wears a bit thin, however, when they start attacking gay marriage in such strident terms from the pulpit, and even signing letters en masse in protest at the Government’s proposals. It is getting dangerously close to hypocrisy.”
Not all critics focus on the visceral efforts that Cardinal O’Brien led as one of many outwardly anti-LGBT clergymen who secretly struggle with their sexuality. Instead, LGBT advocates in some quarters express hope for change in this transitory period. Pink News reports on reactions from pro-LGBT organizations, including that of Tom French of Scotland’s Equality Network:
“‘It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the allegations made against Cardinal O’Brien. Of course we hope that the Catholic Church in Scotland will use the opportunity new leadership brings to reassess its opposition to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality.’
“‘The Catholic Church does a huge amount of good work on issues like poverty, and it’s a shame that this important work is so often overshadowed by its position on issues of sexuality.’”
Sexual abuse claims laid against homophobic leadership detracts from the Church’s truest work of justice, and undermines the more progressive policies of those like Cardinal O’Brien, who just recently proposed a renewed discussion around married Catholic clergy. In this period of episcopal transitions worldwide, perhaps the hierarchy will critically address the sexual ethics it promotes instead of doubling-down on its anti-LGBT policies.
Unfortunately, there is nothing surprising when one hears of a Catholic priest protesting an LGBT event in a neighborhood. However, when the priest agrees to sit down with a drag queen and iron out their differences and come to a mutual understanding,thatis both big and good news.
“The Rev. Richard Baker walked into Lillie’s Times Square one day last week with a bone to pick. A drag queen named Epiphany and an event planner named Michael Fratz had planned to host a Sunday brunch drag performance at the Manhattan restaurant, which happened to be next door to his church, St. Malachy’s. Holding a flyer for the show in his hand, the reverend told the manager of Lillie’s he didn’t think it appropriate to have a drag show next door to his Sunday Mass.”
Though the restaurant owner acquiesced to the priest’s demand, the drag performer and event planner were, understandably, not happy. New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a lesbian with a Catholic background, stepped in to mediate the dispute. Her effort was successful:
” ‘Speaker Quinn’s office brought the two parties together to discuss the matter and both sides were heard,’ said Zoe Tobin, a spokeswoman for Quinn. ‘Each party acknowledged their differences, but figured out a way to live next door to each other in peace. New York’s strength is in its diversity, and the speaker is thankful to have helped achieve a successful result.’
“After the meeting, Baker said he now has no problem with the drag show brunch. ‘Its a very innocent show,’ he said. ‘I understand that now. We were able to talk, and it was awesome.’ “
The priest acknowledged that originally he had the wrong impression about the show:
“When Baker first heard about the drag show brunch, his mind immediately went back to a Times Square of an earlier era, when pornography, prostitution and drugs ruled the neighborhood. ‘I had a concern about what this means,’ he said, when he first saw the poster for the drag brunch. Recalling his predecessor at St. Malachy’s, Baker said, ‘He worked so tirelessly to fight the crime and the drugs and the prostitution, so when these things pop up I guess I got a little too overzealous.’ “
It’s wonderful to know that dialogue helped this story to have a happy ending. The fact that it was a problem in the first place shows the strong need for Catholic pastoral ministers to learn about LGBT culture so that future clashes can be avoided. It is sad that the pastor did not realize what happens at a drag show, particularly since his parish, St. Malachy’s, is known as “the actors’ chapel” and serves the Broadway theater district. A priest in that position should be aware of theatrical traditions such as drag.
This story does have a recent precedent on the West Coast last summer, when the pastor of San Francisco’s Most Holy Redeemer parish originally banned a drag show in the church’s auditorium, but then, after discussion, agreed to allow it.
Still, it’s commendable that the individuals involved were able to work things out by speaking with one another honestly and informatively. As the Huffington Post reporter opined:
“If only the Vatican could solve its dispute with the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community as easily.”
A 65-year old nurse in England has written a letter to Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Westminster, upbraiding him for his stand against marriage equality during that nation’s recent debate on the issues. Even though we may have heard some of these arguments before, this nurse, who has chosen to remain anonymous, makes the case with such simple force that they bear repeating here. Gay Star News printed the letter in its entirety, and it can be viewed here. The following are excerpts.
“I do not find it at all easy or even possible to uphold the church’s teaching on homosexuality. Among gay people of my acquaintance are those who have a deep spiritual life, to have one’s sexual orientation, an orientation that one is born with, described as an ‘objective disorder’ and to hear homosexual acts described as ‘intrinsically evil’ surely makes it almost impossible to feel at home or welcome in the church. It is utterly unrealistic to expect homosexual people to live celibate lives (We all know that many priests find this very difficult and sometimes impossible). The revelations of clerical sex abuse have led many of us to look with a very critical eye on the so-called celibate life and to realize that it has all to often lead to warped and destructive behavior.”
On other social ills:
“When I meet people in my day to day existence they talk about the economic climate (bad), lack of employment (bad), uncertain future for their children (bad), state of schools, hospitals (bad) – never ever has anybody expressed concern about a threat to their marriage by the proposed legalizing of same-sex marriage.”
On clerical hypocrisy:
“Sadly you still think your pronouncements will be accepted without question by a meek credulous herd. You have spent far too much time telling us just how sinful we are while drawing veils of respectability over your own grievous wrongdoings.”
On Jesus’ example:
“I sometimes despair of this church, this institution. It seems to me in my reading of the Gospels that Jesus had no problem whatsoever with those who were considered outsiders or exceptions. He appears to have happily shared meals with prostitutes, drunkards, lepers, Gentiles and I do not doubt with people of same-sex orientation since such an orientation has existed since time began. The church seems much happier with its version of order over compassion and love towards the so-called exceptions. It has an appalling history of excluding and torturing those who do not think or subscribe to its definition of ‘right’. “
On misplaced hierarchical priorities:
“The world is facing disaster on all levels and this church, when not obsessing about matters sexual, spends an inordinate amount of time on pointless activities such as changing the liturgy back to a correct translation of the original Latin – a language not spoken by Jesus but spoken by the oppressors of his time and country. Do you imagine that this obsession with precisely translated texts will win you a single new adherent? To me, you (particularly but not exclusively the hierarchy) appear to be a frightened group of men preoccupied with titles, clothing and other religious externals. You seem, with some wonderful and brave exceptions, to pay only lip service to ecumenism and matters of social justice. I would love to see the so-called ‘Princes of the Church’ (Where did all these triumphant, utterly anti-Gospel titles you award yourselves come from?) get rid of the silk, the gold, the Gucci shoes, the ridiculous tall hats, croziers, fancy soutanes etc etc and substitute bare heads and a simple pilgrim’s staff on all liturgical occasions and that might be taken as a small outward sign of your inner acceptance of fundamental Gospel values.”
On the threat to heterosexual marriage:
“I will always be unsure of the validity of any principle or opinion that makes one act in an unkind or intolerant way. Toleration, of course, has its limits, I want you to cry out against injustice and cruelty. Explain to me please exactly how marriage will be ‘changed forever’ by the proposed new laws, specifically tell me how my marriage will be threatened.”
A news story that sounds like the plot of a Dan Brown novel has been making headlines around the globe as it promotes the idea that Pope Benedict XVI was supposedly forced to resign by a group of gay prelates in the Vatican.
“A potentially explosive report has linked the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI to the discovery of a network of gay prelates in the Vatican, some of whom – the report said – were being blackmailed by outsiders.
“The pope’s spokesman declined to confirm or deny the report, which was carried by the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica.
“The paper said the pope had taken the decision on 17 December that he was going to resign – the day he received a dossier compiled by three cardinals delegated to look into the so-called ‘Vatileaks’ affair.
“Last May Pope Benedict’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested and charged with having stolen and leaked papal correspondence that depicted the Vatican as a seething hotbed of intrigue and infighting.
“According to La Repubblica, the dossier comprising ‘two volumes of almost 300 pages – bound in red’ had been consigned to a safe in the papal apartments and would be delivered to the pope’s successor upon his election.”
While such a story could be true, the sensationalism, coupled with the paucity of facts, and being based on a “secret” document, all inspire serious doubts about its legitimacy.
“I’m one of those who would say this is pretty massively overplayed. For one thing, Benedict’s resignation was most certainly the result of numerous factors, mainly revolving around the internal problems of the Vatican, of which sexual shenanigans were likely one — but hardly the only one, or even the principal one. His advancing age was the element that pushed it all to the brink.”
Reports such as this one, based on little fact, are dangerous because they perpetuate a myth that gay people are to blame for anything wrong or unusual in the church–the way that gay priests were scapegoated for the sexual abuse crisis. Furthermore, it paints gay people as manipulative, power-hungry, clandestine.
The tragedy is that such myths will continue as long as gay people serving in the church must do so in secrecy. By maintaining such a repressive atmosphere around LGBT issues, the Vatican has helped to foster a climate of suspicion and fear which paves the way for such speculation. Could a “gay lobby” exist in the Vatican? Given the repressive atmosphere, it seems very unlikely that any gay priest or prelate would have the courage to acknowledge his sexual orientation to another priest or prelate.
The sorry scandal of this story, which could be lost in the sensationalism around gay issues, is that power-mongering does indeed exist so blatantly at the Vatican. Whether by gay men or straight men, this power-mongering seriously harms the church’s mission and credibility in the world.