Gay Cats and Papal Pigeons

Pope Benedict

If gays think Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation is going to change things then they’re going to be disappointed. The Catholic Church will always ostracise gay people, but the gay community isn’t doing itself any favours by being catty about an irrelevant old man, says Dame Vesta Bules

There’s an awful sound reverberating around the land of Facebook and Twitter today and it almost sounds like gloating. Of course it’s the major news story of the day – not the fact that we’ve all been eating Romania’s answer to Red Rum for months, but rather that Pope Benedict XVI is to step down after just eight years in the papal office.

Some seem to believe that this marks the end of anti-gay policies emanating from Rome, that somehow the recent progressive tide that swept the gay marriage debate through the House of Commons has reached the Vatican and that we’ll see a Pope who actively welcomes homosexuals back into the fold. A Pope for Equality. The reality is that it’ll take more than Benedict XVI’s resignation to actively reconcile gays and clergy and here’s why: both sides hate the other and don’t really understand why.

As the ticker tape of breaking news runs across the bottom of your screen, you might be forgiven for thinking that Benedict has been a great reformer, a legendary Pope who has served with distinction and has revolutionised the Roman Catholic Church, in favour of its more conservative wing.

In truth, Benedict has been a relatively quiet pontiff who hasn’t done much in the way of change. Indeed, his statements on homosexuality have only been repetition of the statements made by his predecessor Pope John Paul II.

In his encyclical “Memory and Identity”, John Paul II addressed the notion of same sex marriage directly and said it was “a new ideology of evil which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man”. He regarded homosexuality as a particular brand of sin that required special attention and often referred to gay men as having “a condition”.

John Paul II’s failure to relax laws on condoms during the rise of HIV/AIDS, his promotion of strict traditional family values and his strong anti-gay marriage stance made him the perfect enemy for the gay community, but where does Benedict XVI’s legacy fit into all this?

Before he was pope, Cardinal Ratzinger was John Paul II’s right hand man. He served as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith – in other words, he helped JPII write his encyclicals. They shared the same views and therefore it’s no wonder that the reforms the gay lobby wanted were not forthcoming.

But those who think that a chapter has closed in the Vatican and that we’ll now see a progressive Pope will be sorely disappointed. Benedict XVI has spent his papacy creating lots of new European Cardinals who (for the majority) share his conservative viewpoint.

When John Paul II died, the Catholic Church had experienced a rift between centrists and conservatives which threatened to tear it apart. Benedict’s legacy to devout Roman Catholics will be the healing of this rift and the unification of the church by providing a new generation of Cardinals who share the view of John Paul II.

To his detractors, he will be the Pope that failed to address the issue of married clergy, of the acceptance of homosexuality and of the continued doctrine on the use of condoms. His successor will come from a conservative European diocese, from Africa or from Latin America, two continents that have enjoyed a meteoric rise in the number of faithful Catholics. In short, the Vatican attitude will not change after conclave. But should it really matter to gay men and women who aren’t Catholics?

Both sides are going to have to accept something; that like Bette and Joan, we simply don’t get along. The Vatican will never accept homosexuality as a norm and the gay community will never accept their refusal to do so.

In 1415 (the last time a Pope resigned), we were all resolutely Catholic and strongly bound to it. A change in the Bishop of Rome would have directly affected our daily lives and we would be right to fear it. But how many of the gay lobby can honestly say that any Vatican policy has prevented them from doing exactly what they have wanted to do in the past eight years? How many can hold their hand up and say that they truly know what kind of a Pope this man was and aren’t simply jumping on an anti-papal bandwagon?

In the gay marriage debate, I heard the very true sentiment that people choose their faith but they don’t choose their sexuality. If you have chosen a faith, you are bound by its doctrines and I suspect that’s why we’re not hearing much from the gay catholic lobby (and it does exist). But for those of us who have chosen not to be Catholics, let’s be aware of how we’re presenting ourselves today.

Claims of paedophilia and attacks on an elderly man forced from his position by ill health will only give rise to more division and isn’t it far better to turn the other cheek? We know what Benedict XVI thought of us and what his followers (and maybe his successor) will continue to think. Yet do we not also know that sticks and stones may break our bones, but the words of an increasingly out of touch church have no bearing whatsoever on who we love and how we live our lives?

Words: Dame Vesta Bules

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