The idea that a “gay lobby” inside the Vatican was working as a pressure group on papal decisions has once again surfaced, this time coming from Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI. In a new book to be published in September, the former pope said he was aware of a “gay lobby” but that he effectively stopped them.
“During the days following his historic resignation, many observers speculated that an alleged ‘gay lobby’ within the Vatican had pressured Benedict XVI to step down. In a new interview-book, the emeritus pope admits to the existence of such a lobby, but says it had only ‘four or five members’ and that he’d managed to dismantle it.
“Benedict XVI, Final Conversations is the title of the book to be released worldwide on September 9.
“This is the first time a pope, or a pope emeritus, has acknowledged on the record that the Vatican either has or had a ‘gay lobby’. . . “
Since there had been so much speculation about the existence of such a group since 2013 when Benedict resigned, it was easy to believe that such a group was just a product of the rumor mill. Yet, while it seems that Benedict’s confirmation of the group points to the veracity of its existence, I am still not so sure.
First of all, from the news reports about the book, it doesn’t seem that Benedict has produced any evidence of such a group’s existence. He doesn’t seem to have named names or given any details about how they worked or what policies they tried to influence.
While I don’t doubt the sincerity of Pope Benedict, I do question his perspective. From the time he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and up through his eight-year papacy, Benedict was staunchly opposed to any overtures or reconciliation with the LGBT community. His public statements and official documents depicted LGBT people and issues in strongly negative terms. He was the creator of the term “objectively disorder” to describe homosexual orientation and “intrinsically evil” to describe same-gender sexual activity.
Given his history and perspective, it is no wonder that Benedict might think of any person or group of people who might be asking for reforms of church teaching, policy, or pastoral practice on LGBT issues as a “lobby.” “Lobby” is not just a neutral word. It has strongly negative connotations of manipulation and undeserved influence. Given his negative view of LGBT topics, I would not be surprised if Benedict were to say that Pope Francis is a member of a “gay lobby” because he called for the Church to apologize to lesbian and gay people.
In other words, one person’s “lobby” is another person’s “ministry.”
I’ve worked full-time in LGBT ministry for over 20 years. During that time, I have been called a “lobbyist” for LGBT rights many times by people who oppose the work I do. Conservative Catholic groups have often referred to New Ways Ministry as a “gay lobby.” But neither of those depictions objectively describe the work that I or my organization do. “Lobby” and “lobbyist” are often used pejoratively by opponents.
Another problem with the term “gay lobby” is knowing exactly what it means. Were these supposed gay lobby members gay themselves, or were they individuals who advocated for change in the area of gay issues? It’s hard to tell whether the term refers to the composition of the group or the topics which they tried to influence.
And if a gay lobby did exist, why is that so wrong? Are there no other “lobby” groups in the Vatican? Is no one else trying to get their points of view to be officially accepted? Wouldn’t it be accurate to say that there is a very large and effective “male priesthood only” lobby in the Vatican?
Finally, from most of the public evidence, it would seem that if a gay lobby existed in Benedict’s Vatican, they really did a pretty poor job. If they were really a manipulative, influential group, where is the evidence that anything changed positively on LGBT issues under Benedict’s reign? From the evidence, it seems that there was a much larger, more powerful, and more effective anti-gay lobby working behind the scenes. About the only thing that may be empirically verifiable from Benedict’s revelation about a gay lobby is his claim that he dismantled it. And given their apparent ineffectiveness, it seems that dismantling such a group was probably a very easy task.
Of course, one way to solve the need for any sort of gay lobby is if the Vatican would be more transparent in its decision-making, more consultative in its process, and more open to public discussion about LGBT issues. Then, the Church could forget all this silliness and focus on performing the works of mercy for a world in so much need.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
National Catholic Reporter: “Report: Benedict XVI’s memoirs say ‘gay lobby’ tried to wield power”
Bondings 2.0: “Vatican Gay Lobby? Really?”