Washington Blade - April 22, 2005
Reaction to the selection of archconservative Cardinal Joseph
Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI has been met with understandable
despair by many gay Catholics.
After all, Ratzinger, dubbed "God's rottweiler" for his
unrelenting enforcement of traditionalist Catholic orthodoxy, has
been chief architect and attack dog of Pope John Paul II's
campaign against the dignity of gay people.
Ratzinger has written on the Vatican's behalf that homosexuality
is an intrinsically "disordered" condition, that gays are to be
condemned by our condition to lead chaste lives void entirely of
romantic love, and that our brazen efforts to build relationships
and families are a serious "evil" that must be fought by church
and state alike.
He is, in short, a gay Catholic's worst nightmare. That said, he
is also the absolutely perfect selection.
FOR MORE THAN a quarter century, Pope John Paul II has been the
benevolent public face of Ratzinger's cold-hearted anti-gay
The Polish Pope endeared himself to the masses by standing up to
communism, by repeatedly traveling the globe, by surviving an
assassination attempt, by waving from the "popemobile," and
ultimately by succumbing only after a long struggle with
The enormous outpouring of love and grief we witnessed after John
Paul's death had everything to do with admiration of his life and
almost nothing to do with the former pope's regressive take on
social issues and authoritarian rule over the church.
In Ratzinger, the College of Cardinals has selected a much more
genuine article: a man whose image will far more accurately
represent his doctrinal views. By all accounts, Ratzinger lacks
the many appealing qualities of his predecessor, and makes up for
these deficiencies by amassing in excess the intolerant
heartlessness that was always John Paul's dark side.
John Paul II, born Karol Wojtyla, came of age in Poland as it was
swallowed up by the Nazis, and he endured first that totalitarian
regime and then the communists who followed.
Joseph Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI, is only six years younger,
but instead reached adulthood in Nazi Germany proper, and even
joined the Hitler Youth for a time before serving in the German
military. Ratzinger has said his participation was mandatory, but
putting aside his culpability, the contrast in personal appeal
couldn't be more striking.
Ratzinger has never tended a parish. Physically, he is straight
out of central casting as the sharp-featured scary figure ready
to condemn us all to Hell. In that, he far more accurately
represents the embittered, arrogant and aloof men who have for
years run the church, protected by John Paul's relatively sunny
HAPPILY THOSE DAYS are gone. The curtains have been pulled back,
and the Wizard will be speaking for himself.
Now the world, especially Western Europe and the United States,
will more clearly see the Vatican for what it really is. Now
perhaps, we can more effectively make the case to our
heterosexual brothers and sisters that these condemnations of our
lives are in actuality condemnations of their own as well.
Media accounts typically lump together the Vatican's
condemnations of homosexuality with the church's opposition to
abortion and euthanasia, two obviously controversial and
unsettled issues within the church and society more broadly.
But in reality, that is "mis-lumping" our alleged sin. The
Catholic positions on abortion and euthanasia are drawn from the
church's so-called "culture of life," which also includes
opposition to the death penalty.
The condemnation of homosexuality, on the other hand, is properly
lumped together with the Vatican's long-discredited opposition to
premarital sex and birth control, positions that impact far more
people and which were long ago rejected by the vast majority of
the Western world.
Ratzinger has written on behalf of the church that homosexual
acts are an "intrinsic moral evil" because they cannot "transmit
life" through procreation. Putting aside the occasional lesbian
couple wielding a vibrating turkey baster, he's got us there.
But he's also condemning the use of condoms and birth control,
and the absolute commonplace view of sexuality as primarily an
expression of romantic love or attraction, not simply
procreation. And of course the church strictly prohibits
pre-marital sex, a doctrine widely ignored by most Catholics.
Our advocates need to make clear that Ratzinger's condemnation of
homosexuality is inextricably tied to his condemnation of
condoms, the pill and premarital sex. Ratzinger himself has said
that Catholic orthodoxy on these points is an all-or-nothing
proposition, and we can only hope he'll keep repeating that
Even more chilling to most will be the flipside of Ratzinger
Rules: what you are allowed to do. Unlike the more optimistic -
if ultimately baseless - claim by evangelical Protestants that
gays can change their sexual attraction, Ratzinger offers no
sugar-coated happy ending.
If you're gay, an orientation he has acknowledged that
"homosexual persons do not choose," then you are condemned to a
live an entirely chaste live, with no prospect of romantic love.
The same goes with condom use: Because it offends Vatican
teaching on sex and procreation, Ratzinger will continue John
Paul's heartless campaign to prevent the distribution of condoms
to fight HIV and AIDS, especially in Africa and Asia where the
epidemic is most devastating.
You don't have to be gay to feel the cold shoulder of Joseph
Ratzinger. And for that, we should all be grateful. Long live
Pope Benedict XVI.