POPE’S PREMISE: GAY PEOPLE ARE NOT THAT BAD (provided they behave themselves)

By Paul

I guess it’s better than being told that we are “intrinsically disordered,” or that being gay is an “intrinsic moral evil,” as Benedict XVI used to say.   And no one is arguing that Pope Francis I isn’t a much humbler man, and a more human and humane individual than the previous pontiff, who was as stiff and as formal and as rigid as the crosier he carried.  Still, the hullabaloo made over the new Pope’s recent comments about gay people seems a little overblown to me.

First of all, he did not say, “who am I to judge gay people?”  That seems to be the way that it has too often been portrayed by many news sources.  In fact, what he did say was that, if there are gay priests, and so long as they remain completely celibate (as all priests are supposed to, at least in theory), then in that case he would not judge them.  And, yes, that is something.  As mentioned above, it’s better that this be his first statement about gays as the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, than to condemn all gay people as evil and disordered.  But it’s not as earth shattering as it is being made out to be.

Let us remember, first of all, that the Catholic Church still preaches that any sexual expression on the part of gay people is a mortal sin, which, if unconfessed  (and if you believe such things), means that your “soul” will be condemned to hell for all eternity, should you die in that state.  So, the message, as much as it may currently be couched in a slightly more palatable package, remains exactly the same.   The most that a believing, practicing gay Catholic can hope for is to live a life of enforced celibacy (more or less like Catholic priests, again, at least in theory), and never experience the joy of sharing him or herself intimately with another man or woman.  To put it, in fact, more bluntly, the message basically is: keep your mouth shut and your pants on and don’t touch anybody, and then we won’t judge you.

Well, thanks but no thanks, Your Holiness.

The mark of the papacy of Francis I so far, there is not doubt, has been one of social justice.  The Pope scolded the elites of Brazil, clerical and secular alike, in his recent visit to that country, and he seems truly to relish being a man of the people, among the people.  He said he wished he could knock on every door of every person in the country, ask for a glass of cold water or a cup of coffee, and sit and talk with families.  We have no reason to doubt the sincerity and the compassion that is clearly behind such an extraordinary statement, especially inasmuch as what Francis does and says as Pope flows naturally from what he did as a simple priest, and then later on as Archbishop of Buenos Aires.  Whether this scolding of the rich and powerful will do much good in the long run remains to be seen.  A great deal will depend on whether he can ultimately convince his brother bishops in Latin America and around the world to take on his own love of the poor and the dispossessed, a thing that has not been seen for a long time among many Catholic prelates.

His simplicity of manner, and his preference for living a normal life, has shown itself in many ways.  Not the least of these has been his eschewing of the lavish papal apartments in the Vatican in favor of living in the nearby guesthouse.  As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he lived in a small apartment, and took public transportation to work every day, a path not followed by the great majority of cardinal archbishops of the world, who live in elaborate mansions and travel about in chauffeur-driven cars.

All of this, we understand, he does and has done not only because it seems to be his own personal preference, but out of solidarity with the poor of the world, who know pretty much by definition, and by force of circumstances, know how to live simply.  All these are good things, and bring to mind some of the better qualities so admired in the late Pope John XXIII.  And no doubt, as with Pope John, they cause a certain amount of consternation not only among the current pope’s security people, but more to the point among the conservative elite of the church, who believe that the Supreme Pontiff ought to be more admired from afar than accessible to the many.

But would it, in fact, be too much to hope that Francis I might show as much love and compassion to the gay people of the world, as he does to the poor?   I think we have to admit that there is virtually no chance whatsoever that the Pope will change his mind on the idea of gay marriage.  That is a bridge too far, to be sure, for this, or for any pope in the foreseeable future.  The Catholic Church is too locked into a literal reading of the bible for that to happen, even if it has no problem dismissing the notions of slavery, or some of the more stringent dietary regulations the bible teaches, as no longer being applicable or appropriate for the modern world.  This picking and choosing of what is essential, and of what is really God’s immutable word, is a hallmark of most Christian faiths.  The same bridge too far, or at least a parallel one, could be cited in regard to the marriage of priests, or to the Church’s ever allowing women to become priests.  Still, even so, the Pope has said that it will be one of the important tasks of his papacy to make the voices of women, and their role in the governance of the Church, much more prominent than they every have been before, and that too is a good thing.

If he shows some movement in regard to women, then, is it too much to wonder if he will do so when it comes to gay people?  My prediction is that we will see little change in this regard more than the slight shifting of tone that we have already witnessed, and beyond that, there will be little if any substantive difference.  Francis I may be a man of the people, he may honestly express and truly feel compassion for and solidarity with the poor of the world, but doctrinally he is as conservative as all of the other modern popes who have been his immediate predecessors.

The message is, and will remain, that gay people are not in and of themselves sinful, but that any actual expression of who they are, any attempt at living a normal life of love and of companionship will be condemned by the Church as an offense against the law of God.

And no slight modification in tone, no simple adjustment in verbiage can, in the end, make up for the intrinsic evil done by this rigid, unbending, and ultimately un-Christ-like doctrine, and its vilification of gay people, or of how they live and love in the world.

RETIREMENT, A DEGREE OF RETRENCHMENT, BUT NOT RETREAT

By Paul

What are we to make of Benedict XVI’s recent announcement that he is abdicating the papacy and retiring?

It has been said that he is the first pope in almost 600 years to do so, ever since Gregory XII in 1415. But that may not be a fully appropriate comparison, inasmuch as Gregory’s stepping down was done under a good deal of duress. It was the time of the so-called Great Western Schism, and there were simultaneously as many as three popes, all claiming legitimacy: one in Rome (Gregory XII), one in Avignon (John XXIII), and another in Pisa (Benedict XIII). Things got very messy for a while, but finally the first two resigned (again, under a good deal of pressure). Benedict XIII refused to do so, however, and got himself excommunicated instead. Finally, Martin V took over, and things began to stabilize a bit.

What may be something of a more even match is the freely, indeed eagerly, tendered resignation of Celestine V in 1294. Known for his great asceticism, Celestine (who had founded a stricter order of monks, subsequently referred to as the Celestines, under the general rubric of the Benedictine rule) was virtually almost forced into accepting the papal role. He even tried to hide in the forest when they came to get him, but the pursuing cardinals eventually caught up with him. He reigned for just over 5 months, ineptly so according to all accounts, probably because he had no interest in it and did not want the job in the first place. When he finally resigned, he said that he did so because of “the desire for humility, for a purer life, the deficiencies of his own strength, the perverseness of the people, and his longing for the tranquility of his former life.”

I’m not sure that people are any less perverse today than they were in the 13th century, but that is not among the reasons Benedict XVI has given for his retirement. It seems as though it’s because he feels himself to be too old, too infirm, and just no longer capable of attending to his duties as Supreme Pontiff. Fair enough, I guess. He is, after all, an 85 year old man with Parkinson’s disease.

Still, this decision leaves a lot of questions in its wake. Let’s just say that the papacy is not immune, nor has it ever been throughout most of its history, from politics. How could it be? The position, and therefore the man (never a woman, it goes without saying) who holds it, wields far too much power in the world. This remains true even in today’s admittedly more secular society. A friend of mine, who will remain anonymous because I don’t have his permission to name names, believes that Benedict might have resigned specifically so that he could have a hand, albeit covertly, in the selection of a new pope. The thinking, apparently, goes that Benedict, realizing his growing physical and mental weakness, decided to throw in the towel while he still had control of his faculties. And that he did this so as to have the opportunity to manipulate things behind the scenes in the upcoming conclave (the assemblage of voting cardinals that choses the new pope), with the express purpose of ensuring that a fully vetted conservative would take over as his successor.

I have no way of knowing if this was actually part of Benedict’s thinking, but again he would clearly not be the first pope in history to make a decision based on the desire to advance a certain political agenda. Indeed, Benedict’s record is a distinctly mixed one, to say the very least. On the one hand, he comes across as a somewhat benign white haired old man, a shy hermit, and a scholar. He may in fact, as an individual, possess these traits, but as pope it cannot also be denied that he has done some very damaging things.

The first, and possibly most injurious, among these is the great pedophile scandal of the Catholic Church. I am not suggesting that the pope himself physically harmed any children. However, in his role as cardinal – and later as pope – there can be little doubt that he knew of many hundreds of priests, possibly more, who did do personal and psychological harm to children under the guise of their priestly duties. And he did nothing to bring this to light. Instead, time and time again, just as we saw with Cardinal Law of Boston and Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles, to name only a few co-conspirators, he made decisions which held the reputation and the finances of the organization of the Church as paramount, to the detriment of the wellbeing of children who had been grievously harmed by priests and other religious.

Other dubious acts, decisions, and hurtful comments come to mind, as well. He showed himself inordinately insensitive to Muslims early on in his career, he did little to shed light on the scandalous and illegal practices of the Vatican bank, and he inflicted great harm on gay people the world over. His extraordinary comments regarding the latter will, in fact, go down as among the most ignominious in history.

Benedict XVI has said that homosexual acts are evil and “intrinsically disordered.” Regarding same sex marriage, he is on record as accusing gay people of manipulating their God-given identities in order to suit their sexual choices, and in so doing actually destroying the human creature in the process. In regard to the adoption of children into loving gay homes, he has said that this represents an attack on the family, and has even gone so far as to claim that it is a threat to world peace. He appears to insist that being gay is a choice, not a fact of nature, and has said that, in “choosing to be gay,” man is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God. Are these, we have to ask, the words of a shy and benign hermit/scholar?

And yet, in spite of all, I do not wish the pope ill. Indeed, what I wish him is enlightenment. And I can only hope – and yes, even pray – that he will some day come to see the error of his ways, and recognize that the inertia and inaction he has demonstrated when it comes to protecting children, the intransigence and obfuscation he manifested regarding the Church’s finances, and the harsh and hateful words he has spoken about gay people and others all have consequences in the real world.

I wish him enlightenment, but I frankly do not expect it. What I expect instead is that some day in the not too distant future, Benedict XVI (or however he chooses to call himself once he resigns), will be walking along the well-tended garden path behind St. Peter’s Basilica, and he will run into the new pope. I expect the conversation will be brief, but pointed, and that he will urge his successor to follow all the misguided promulgations and policies that he, himself was responsible for. In other words, I expect retirement from him, and a degree of retrenchment as an individual. I expect he will spend his time in prayer and reflection and study, and I can only hope that in the process he achieves a modicum of wisdom. But, sadly, what I do not expect is a clear statement, or any retreat whatsoever, from the hurtful and damaging declamations and policies the retiring pope has unnecessarily inflicted upon an already distressed and suffering world.