These days, there’s not much that makes me really angry. I guess the older you get, the more you’ve seen it all before and can let it go like water off a duck’s back. Oh sure I get irritated and positively grumpy at times, especially at perceived injustices, but I'm never really angry to the point of rumbling, blood boiling rage. Then a rather frail, 85 year old man said something that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and made me angrier than I have been in years.
He was born Joseph Aloysius Ratzinger and is now Benedictus XVI, the 265th Pope, head of the Catholic Church and spiritual leader for millions. He also happens to be at best misguided and at worst, a mean-spirited and hate-filled politician who has deliberately chosen Christmas to condemn individuals in a section of society, by denying their right to love each other.
Now I’m not a person of faith; any faith. In fact, I take pleasure in smiling sweetly at door-to door evangelists and informing them that I’m a devil worshipper. That said I’ve never felt that my atheism is any more valid than anyone else’s firm belief in a one and only deity. I went to Sunday school as a kid, granted under duress, but I liked the tunes and was confirmed as a member of the Church of England. But as soon as I could make a decision as to whether this was anything for me, I dropped it and got into hippy New Ageism and eventually Cynicism instead. I was shocked when my parents, who had forced me to go to church, confessed later that they didn’t believe either but at least I made my choices, having seen a bit of how it all works.
I’ve never personally understood how LGBT people can be believers in any faith either (hedonists don’t count). Since the eighties, I’ve always believed that if that was a God at work during the worst of the plague years, then it was a cruel and vengeful deity and I wanted nothing to do with it. Then again, many LGBT people are religious and hold deeply held beliefs and who am I to criticise? I suppose we can only speak for ourselves and in my case, there’s no room for religion in my life.
So, most religious leaders' speeches have left me cold. The papal rejection of condoms since the Fifties, which resulted in Third World famines, poverty and death due to over-population and later HIV, were shockingly unjust but that brought not much more from me than a shake of the head over the breakfast table. Notwithstanding, by 2012, I assumed that common sense and reason had taken a stronger role and even in large, traditional Catholic populations, condom use was seen to be the sensible thing to do. Abortion began to be accepted as a recognisable need for some women, even in Catholic countries, and pragmatism seemed to have taken hold.
Unfortunately the Catholic hierarchy has also noticed the influence of the Church being eroded to the point where several sacred taboos have become acceptable. LGBT relationships in general and gay marriage in particular are increasingly being seen as a basic human right and spreading (however slowly) across the world. The Church sees this as a huge challenge to its moral authority and has begun significant moves to re-establish the status quo.
"Well now Ratzinger and his cronies have stepped over my own personal line and if I could, I would take him to the European Court of Human Rights and have him charged for discrimination and the spreading of religious hate."
We should not underestimate what the people in the upper ranks of church hierarchies are capable of. At that level, they are top politicians first and clerics second.This organisation has had hundreds of years to fine tune its tactics and make no mistake, the Vatican is a well-oiled political propaganda machine but hey, as long as they left us alone, right! Well now Ratzinger and his cronies have stepped over my own personal line and if I could, I would take him to the European Court of Human Rights and have him charged for discrimination and the spreading of religious hate.
A couple of weeks after the latest school tragedy where a very disturbed person took his mother’s guns and took his frustrations out on the innocent, the Pope has taken the opportunity to sow the seeds of hate in the minds of huge numbers of people across the world. Who knows what sort of unstable character may take his words as being visionary and wreak vengeance yet again in the name of the Lord! Extremists across the world, whether Islamic, revolutionary, Christian or any other group who feel they have divine permission, only need a trigger and hopefully the Pope has not provided one.
It does no good to scream and shout at these people; the Catholic church has had centuries of getting its own way, however understandable and the protestations of its target demographic will just confirm their opinions and their prejudices. You can rage against the machine but in this case, the machine has centuries of experience of suppressing dissidence (ask the victims of the Inquisition).
Let’s begin by contradicting what many people think in that this was the text of the Pope’s Christmas message from St Peter’s. It wasn’t, it was an annual address to the Vatican big-wigs, the Curia, in the Clementine Hall at the Vatican and in a way this was far more important than the message to the world’s Catholics because he was rallying the generals for the fight ahead. It’s building up quite nicely because a week ago he again took on gay marriage, in his annual ‘peace’ message:
"...abortion, euthanasia and gay marriage bring 'irreparable' damage to world development, peace and the environment".
Last month, the Vatican launched the first salvos after three American states approved gay marriage as a result of a democratic vote. It’s not difficult to see the trend and the political machinations behind all this and in many ways, you can almost understand it. The church is clearly in panic; watching the world slowly but surely move towards acceptance of LGBT people as equals in society. Same sex marriage (or at least civil partnership) is legal in Spain and Portugal and France may not be far behind. In South and Central America, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Uruguay, Costa Rica and Mexico (in the capital) all recognise single sex partnerships or marriage. These are traditional Catholic countries and former bulwarks of the religion and it must be a thorn in the Catholic hierarchy’s side that this has seemingly happened under their noses. The rest of the world may well laugh and say ‘ha, too late!’ but the Pope is still spiritual leader of 1.8 billion people and should never be underestimated.
"We can expect far more nasty sound bites to emerge from the Vatican in the years to come."
The church’s fight-back may seem to be a little late and behind the times but you can be assured that now they have woken up to the threat, the huge Vatican propaganda machine, with unlimited financial resources, is now getting up to full steam. We can expect far more nasty sound bites to emerge from the Vatican in the years to come.
Some people are saying that the Pope didn’t actually specify LGBT people in his address but you’d have to be naive to miss the message. He claimed that people have abandoned their God-given identities to suit their sexual choices, thereby damaging the ‘very essence of humanity’ in the process. So, with just a few words, our humanity is being thrown into doubt and our very being and existence is being de-validated in his heterosexual world. As I said, Vatican script writers have whole libraries of experience to draw on; they know how to mask meaning behind masked meaning and still leave nobody in any doubt who their target is.
We’re well used to the ‘family values’ tag being used against us. The world has just watched another great propaganda machine, on the political right in the USA, base their election chances on exactly this; they failed. The Pope has always maintained that the family is the basis of society and the absolute rock on which the Catholic Church is built. Same sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia are anathemas to the idea of the family and actually destroy it, according to the Church. What they fail to realise is that the nuclear family has long been on the skids and society has moved on to a veritable cornucopia of accepted relationships and family structures.
Since the 1st and 2nd World Wars, people have begun to realise that the traditional family structure based on fidelity and child-bearing is very often not a practical option and other structures are more fitting to circumstances. The idea of procreation within a formal structure is not exactly pertinent for LGBT people but the acceptance of one-parent families, or unmarried heterosexual partners with children, has enabled LGBT people to also establish their own relationships as being ‘normal’. The increase in LGBT couples having children shows that many people were just waiting for the climate to change to fulfil their dreams and create same-sex relationships including children. It’s over ten years since the Netherlands was the first country to legalise same sex marriage and adoption; the world has not ended and at 29% surprisingly the largest religious group in this country is Catholic.
In a bid to sway opinion in France, where same sex marriage is a political hot potato at the moment, the Pope quoted the chief Rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim as saying that the campaign for gay marriage and gay adoption is an assault on the traditional nuclear family:
"The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man's fundamental choice where he himself is concerned," he said.
Pope Benedict quoted Bernheim as deploring how a new thought process behind sexuality has emerged, whereby sex and gender are "no longer a given element of nature that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society."
Pope Benedict said: "When freedom to be creative becomes the freedom to create oneself, then necessarily the Maker himself is denied and ultimately man too is stripped of his dignity as a creature of God."
He also said God had created man and woman as a specific "duality" and "an essential aspect of what being human is all about."
So in this case we are accused of denying our nature which was defined by our genders when we were born. The Church is now saying that we are rejecting what God gave us in favour of making selfish sexual choices. It’s so ridiculous it’s almost laughable but this is the Pope’s line. Using a chief Rabbi from the country where the next battle front will be fought is a double barrelled attack. The Pope is actually saying; ‘see, even the Jews think like we do.’ The fact that Judaism in general is far more tolerant of same sex relationships than most other world religions seems to have passed him by. LGBT people can get married and adopt children in Israel!
It’s ironic that despite all, he seems to expect LGBT people to decide they’re oriented toward the opposite sex, if they want to belong to the family of man and that’s not a complete denial of nature right?
This Pope is known as a hard-liner and was a tough and intractable Cardinal who worked his way up the Vatican ranks until the Papal throne was within grasp. He was feared in the Vatican’s honeycomb of corridors and people crossed Cardinal Ratzinger at their peril. It’s in his nature then to be uncompromising, fiercely conservative and determined to rule with a rod of iron. That however, is no excuse for singling out a group in society and throwing the full weight of discrimination, demonization and threats of hellfire at them.
T"he seasonal message is peace on Earth and goodwill to all men, unless you are LGBT"
In the same speech, he calls for world peace and resolving of conflicts in Syria, and elsewhere in the Middle East, as well as other conflicts across the world. Preaching love, compassion and peace as well as hate and discrimination in the same speech is a carefully thought out tactic. At Christmas, the Catholic world is concentrating on the birth of Christ and all that that has meant. The seasonal message is peace on Earth and goodwill to all men, unless you are LGBT. We may curl a cynical lip but there are still millions of people who hang on to the Pope’s every word, especially at such an emotive time of year.
The dichotomy of his message is reflected in the official Catholic line regarding LGBT people. Homosexuality is ‘intrinsically disordered’ yet non-heterosexuals should be treated with compassion and dignity. Shake our hands and stab us in the back, why don’t you! The history of Popes suggests that it was always thus!
The current Vatican approach doesn’t only deny us our own nature and essence of humanity because we don’t marry, breed like rabbits and stay together for life; it strips us of our ability and right to love. This Pope is saying that LGBT people cannot possibly love each other because that destroys the purpose God has already created for us. If you are a man, you should love a woman and vice versa; anything else is unnatural and against the will of God. If you deviate from that then your essence of humanity doesn’t exist anymore. Any love you might feel for the same sex is negated, doesn’t have validation and you will be excluded from the Kingdom of God. That makes us somehow less than human then, a sort of untermensch (and I choose my word carefully). If just a million of the 1.8 billion Catholics across the world believe this, this will set LGBT rights back a decade in many parts of the world.
That’s why I’m so angry with the Pope’s current singling out of LGBT people as being responsible for the breakdown of marriage and the family. Really Benny, heterosexuals have been doing a great job of breaking down the institutions of marriage and family for decades now – without LGBT input I might add. If he wants to focus on marriage and family then he should be looking at the reason why straight relationships break down so easily these days and why the divorce courts are full to over-flowing. He should be picking up the spiritual pieces for kids who are abandoned in the divorce courts, or are used for slave labour in Third world sweat houses, or who become victims of abuse in all its forms. Save them and you may save the Church as an influential institution for another century. Attacking LGBT people who just want to prolong and extend loving relationships is both hypocritical and short sighted. This Pope and his Curia are victims of centuries of super-glued dogma that means they can’t modernise, move with the times and adapt. We know what happened to the dinosaurs, don’t we!
Someone should make an example of Benedict XVI in the courts, if only to persuade him that he needs to think again, in 21st century contexts. Nobody will. The European Court of Human Rights, in whose jurisdiction he sits, just wouldn’t dare because of the influence of millions of newly resurrected Catholics in Eastern Europe. That, by the way, is another worry facing the Vatican: Russia and many eastern European states are part of the Orthodox Church and are suddenly very relevant. The Vatican must be shivering in its boots at the idea of another renewed centuries-old, power struggle with the Byzantines of the Orthodox Church. Under Communism they could be ignored but freedom has suddenly created another huge religious faction to question the Vatican’s edicts. These people can be relatively intense in their belief, if only because, after years of repression, they can! Look to the East Pope Benedict; or to Islam, or Confucianism and Buddhism, or Hinduism because that’s where the philosophies and belief structures of the world will be formed in the future.
All this makes it even stranger that the Catholic Church is mounting such a vehement and stigmatising campaign against LGBT people. Granted, the ‘war’ for souls is also being fought again abortion and euthanasia but we seem to be disproportionally targeted. Actually, it’s a story as old as mankind itself: the people with power are predisposed to making sure that that power is both maintained and unquestioned. Gay marriage, abortion and euthanasia are all questions of choice; the Vatican wants to remove those choices by claiming as they have always done that God wants it that way. Well sorry guys but that sort of argument just doesn’t cut it anymore and we don’t buy it. Luckily, it seems that more and more people across the world aren’t buying it either and are granting basic civil and human rights to LGBT people.
There is so much still to be done and so many minds of all beliefs that need to be changed but the ball has started rolling and may not be able to be stopped, even with the might of the Vatican against it. We’re not asking for the Earth, and many of us aren’t particularly interested in the kingdom of Heaven but we are asking to be treated the same as everyone else, both legally and morally. Hopefully, the Pope’s latest diatribes will be seen as out of touch and unrealistic in the modern world and that eventually he will see that as well but I’m not holding my breath.