Thursday, December 25, 2008

And a Merry Christmas to You Too, Papa

Various news agencies are reporting that in his “holiday address” to the Roman Curia, Pope Benedict XVI implied that saving humanity from homosexual behavior was just as important as saving the environment from destruction.

Following is how Phil Stewart of Reuters reports on the incident:

VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict said on Monday that saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behavior was just as important as saving the rainforest from destruction.

“(The Church) should also protect man from the destruction of himself. A sort of ecology of man is needed,” the pontiff said in a holiday address to the Curia, the Vatican's central administration.

“The tropical forests do deserve our protection. But man, as a creature, does not deserve any less.”

The Catholic Church teaches that while homosexuality is not sinful, homosexual acts are. It opposes gay marriage and, in October, a leading Vatican official called homosexuality “a deviation, an irregularity, a wound.”

The pope said humanity needed to “listen to the language of creation” to understand the intended roles of man and woman. He compared behavior beyond traditional heterosexual relations as “a destruction of God's work.”

He also defended the Church's right to “speak of human nature as man and woman, and ask that this order of creation be respected.”

Hmm . . . I’m sorry, but the equating of homosexuality with the destruction of the earth’s rainforests is one of those increasingly all too frequent Vatican moments when the classic words of comedienne Catherine Tate’s character Nan Taylor automatically come to mind: “What a load of old shit!”

And you know what? My sense is that most Catholics would concur. Indeed, the Vatican has absolutely zero credibility when it comes to pontificating about issues relating to either gender or sexuality. And given its embarrassing level of understanding of both of these issues, and its sordid history of sexual abuse, secrecy, and cover-ups, this is totally understandable and probably just as well.

I don’t intend spending too much time and energy on this latest homophobic statement from the halls of the Vatican (for one thing, I don’t want to spoil my Christmas by dwelling on such ignorance!), but I will share a few initial thoughts.

Narrow understanding

First, I can appreciate the pope’s desire to ensure that people live lives of fulfillment, and his belief that the journey to and experience of such human flourishing deserves to be safe guarded. But why such a narrow understanding of these journeys and experiences?

The vast majority of people – gay or straight – do not flourish living lives of celibacy (which is what the Roman Catholic Church insist that gay people do). Rather, they flourish when they engage in and build relational lives that are experienced and expressed sexually. Actual sex acts (the “homosexual behaviour” that the pope is fixated on) are just one aspect of such relational lives. It’s the quality of these relationships that the pope should be concerned about, not so much who puts what body part where and with whom. This latter type of fixation is typical of the psycho-sexually stunted. Surely those charged with leading the Church should be open to developing and articulating a healthier, more holistic, sexual theology. Oh, and I’m all for “listening to the language of creation” so as to help develop such a theology. Doing so, we’ll discover just how “natural” homosexuality and its expression is.

Where’s the evidence?

Second, where is the evidence for the pope’s contention that homosexual activity (which, as noted previously, he limits to homosexual genital acts; breathing, after all, is also for a homosexual, a “homosexual act”!) is as destructive as environmental degradation? If you’re going to drop a clanger like this, than you’d better have the hard evidence to back it up. Not surprisingly, none is forthcoming from the pontiff - as there is none! It’s all just the rhetoric of a discriminatory ideology.

And finally, what a pity that that part of the Roman Catholic Church that gets the most media attention is also the part that is the most regressive and ignorant when it comes to issues of gender and sexuality. I worry about the impact that media coverage of such papal ignorance has on young gay people and to youth questioning their sexual orientation. Imagine being one such youth and hearing that the expression of the sexuality of which you’re becoming aware is on the same level of destructiveness as global warming! For most adults, such a comparison is just plain loopy . . . “a load of old shit.” But sadly for questioning youth or for anyone struggling to live a life of integrity and integration as a gay or transgender person, there’s an added layer to the pope’s words - one that makes them, and the ignorance behind them, both dangerous and reprehensible.

In short, I think it’s the pope’s ignorant words that are destructive, that need to be confronted and transformed; not the loving expression of sexuality - gay or straight - engaged in by consenting adults. That’s my Christmas message to Benedict XVI. And my prayer is that he finds within his heart the courage to open himself to God’s transforming spirit, to be liberated from all ways of thinking that blinker and obstruct seeing the Light of Christ present and active in the lives and relationships of all. Amen.

Recommended Off-site Link:
The Vatican, Homosexuality, Yada, Yada - Iosephus (Salus Animarum Suprema Lex, December 28, 2008).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Catholic’s Prayer for His Fellow Pilgrim, Benedict XVI
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
Making Love, Giving Life
Listen Up, Papa!
What the Vatican Can Learn from the X-Men
The Triumph of Love: An Easter Reflection
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation
John McNeill’s Message to the US Bishops: “Enough!”
Relationship: The Crucial Factor in Sexual Morality
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
Joan Timmerman on the “Wisdom of the Body”
What is a “Lifestyle”?
The Many Forms of Courage
Beyond Courage
What Is It That Ails You?
Compassion, Christian Community, and Homosexuality
A Catholic Bibliography on Gay Issues


Terence said...

Later reports suggest that the man was seriously misunderstood: the remarks were made in a private staff briefing, and stated in dense theological shorthand. In fact, he never made the remarks attributed to him. Whatever.

The record shows that irrespective of the specific comments this week, he has repeatedly expounded views that are offensive to LGBT and other minorities in the church. I was so stung yesterday by the original reports, that I spent the evening rereading your excellent posts on dissent and authority in the Church.

On dissent, it occurred to me that the first great dissident in the Church was Christ himself, who got into a great deal of trouble with the religious leaders of the day for His troublemaking.

If we truly wish to follow in the footsteps of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must set aside our defensiveness and reluctance to criticise papal authority. We have a religious obligation to speak up, and to encourage others to speak up, on the reality of sexual lives.

One of the ways in which theology is created, is by prayerful reflection on our authentic experience. Experience in the sexual sphere is one area where we are surely better qualified to speak than the avowedly celibate old men of the Vatican.

CDE said...

Just as a point of fact: There was no mention of homosexuality in the Pope's address.

Instead, the Pope's reference to the creation of man and woman was spun by the media into an imagined slam on homosexuals. And virtually every other point made in the address was ignored.

So I think the anger would be more properly directed to the media sources that deliberately twisted his words, for reasons known only to the heart of God.

It isn't the Pope who is obsessed with the question of homosexuality; it is the media.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Courtesy of Whispers in the Loggia, here's that part of the pope's address from which the media, correctly, I would say, inferred a "slam on homosexuals."

It has a responsibility for the created order and ought to make this responsibility prevail, even in public. And in so doing, it ought to safeguard not only the earth, water, and air as gifts of creation, belonging to everyone. It ought also to protect man against the destruction of himself. What is necessary is a kind of ecology of man, understood in the correct sense. When the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected, it is not the result of an outdated metaphysic. It is a question here of faith in the Creator and of listening to the language of creation, the devaluation of which leads to the self-destruction of man and therefore to the destruction of the same work of God. That which is often expressed and understood by the term “gender”, results finally in the self-emancipation of man from creation and from the Creator. Man wishes to act alone and to dispose ever and exclusively of that alone which concerns him. But in this way he is living contrary to the truth, he is living contrary to the Spirit Creator. The tropical forests are deserving, yes, of our protection, but man merits no less than the creature, in which there is written a message which does not mean a contradiction of our liberty, but its condition. The great Scholastic theologians have characterised matrimony, the life-long bond between man and woman, as a sacrament of creation, instituted by the Creator himself and which Christ – without modifying the message of creation – has incorporated into the history of his covenant with mankind. This forms part of the message that the Church must recover the witness in favour of the Spirit Creator present in nature in its entirety and in a particular way in the nature of man, created in the image of God.

Anyone who knows the official sexual theology of the Vatican knows that the pope is alluding to things like "homosexual behavior" when he talks about "living contrary to the truth . . . living contrary to the Spirit Creator."

His audience was the Curia, whose members would know exactly what the pope is implying. To my mind, the media simply did its job and made the implications of the pope's "in-house" address clear to those "outside."

Am I wrong? If so, can we expect some form of clarification from the Vatican. Maybe an apology? I doubt either will be forthcoming. Indeed, I can't see the Vatican disagreeing with what the media reports are saying. They're simply putting in layperson's terms what the pope talked about in the rarified language of a certain type of theology.



CDE said...

I wouldn't deny that homogenital behavior is referenced here, among other forms of abuse of creation.

That is not a slam on homosexuals as such, unless homogenital acts are considered to be as essential to homosexuals as breathing.... Which, it seems to me, would be an impoverished view of homosexual persons and their freedom.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

The whole breathing thing was an attempt to say that there's more to being gay than sex.

Thus the Vatican's denouncement of "homosexual activity" has always struck me as odd. In a way, such "activity" includes and involves everything I do. I am, after all, a homosexual person.

Granted, this latter way of looking at things is holistic, as opposed to the Vatican's more rigid identifying and segregating of certain physical acts. I just don't think these "acts" that the Vatican is so fixated on, can or should be isolated from the context of relationship - a context that, ideally, integrates the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual.



kevin57 said...

Michael, you and Clayton are at the heart of the issue; that is, whether homosexuality is constitutive of a person, or "just" an activity. All too many moons ago, in a CDF document, "homosexual persons" were identified specifically. The boys realized very quickly what a mistake they had made. Ever since then, you will find a lot of backtracking on that concept.

CDE said...

John Heard has an editorial about this in today's Australian.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

Thanks for pointing out John Heard's commentary.

I doubt he'll convince anyone (except those who, like him, are dedicated to defending the teachings of the church) that the Roman Catholic Church, "welcomes" gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people. For a start, rarely does either he or the church use the words "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual," or "transgender" - except when denigrating GLBT people's relationships. Case in point: The pope, writes Heard, "points the way out of a hyper-sexualised gay lifestyle."

Actually, I'm surprised Heard didn't say "the hyper-sexualized gay lifestyle," as according to the thinking of the Church, "gay" is a code word for a hyper-sexualized lifestyle. This, of course, is both erroneous and insulting. I wonder if Heard (or the teachings of the hierarchy he so vigorously defends) would concede that there can be a non hyper-sexualized gay lifestyle? I think the answer's clear. Why then simpoly not write "the hyper-sexualized gay lifestyle"?

And of course the word "lifestyle" itself, is a loaded term, a codeword, as my friend Paula Ruddy points out in this article.

The bottom line for me remains that for all the expressed outrage of the defenders of the pope's words, none of them can deny that the media's "paraphrasing of the pope" simply makes clear to laypeople what he was on about when he shared his thoughts with members of the Curia.

And as for the Pope's sexual theology being "intellectually robust," well, that's a bit difficult to support when it's so clearly unresponsive and embarrassingly at odds with the science and the lived experiences of real people.

I discuss this in this previous Wild Reed post, and note that:

[T]he failure of [the Church's sexual theology as expressed through the late] Pope John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” to speak meaningfully to and for people . . . [is] readily seen by the vast majority of Catholics to be the result of the institutional church’s dismal failure to integrate into its thinking and teaching the corporate body of Christians’ experience and wisdom regarding sexuality. And once one recognizes this failure, then the [Church’s view of] “objective reality” can be seen for what it really is: a discriminatory ideology; a closed system of ideas and beliefs that starts with a premise already inside the system.

For the architects and guardians of such a system [including John Heard], no experiences, insights, and questions that arise beyond the system can be tolerated. Indeed, they are routinely condemned and actively discriminated against.



CDE said...

rarely does either he or the church use the words "gay," "lesbian," "bisexual," or "transgender"

Why is it important that he do so? What do these words mean, that make them so essential?

As the Wikipedia entry for the word "gay" makes clear, the meanings of this word have varied across time and cultures, are multivalent, and therefore tend to confuse rather than clarify.

the media's "paraphrasing of the pope" simply makes clear to laypeople what he was on about when he shared his thoughts with members of the Curia

That depends on the sort of relationship media professionals desire to have with the truth.

In discussion of the eighth commandment, the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes the sins of rash judgment and calumny:

Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty:

* of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor...

* of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them.

To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

"Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved." (St. Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, 22)

Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one's neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity.

You also wrote:

as for the Pope's sexual theology being "intellectually robust," well, that's a bit difficult to support when it's so clearly unresponsive and embarrassingly at odds with the science and the lived experiences of real people.

The Pope wasn't taking issue with anyone's experiences, but with gender theory. Gender theory is simply that: a theory. Why is the Pope not welcome to doubt the veracity of it?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Michael. The church only ever uses the word "gay" to disparage people.

The church implies that "gay" refers to people lost in that "hyper-sexualied lifestyle" that people like John Heard like to imagine all gay people embrace. (What about straights who live "hyper-sexualized" lives? Should they now be called "gay" too?) And what exactly is a "hyper-sexualized lifestyle"? I can well see such a label being used to shame people who are simply living a sexual life - but perhaps in ways that don't conform to what others say is acceptable.

I know many gay people who live celibate lives - but not because of the reasons put forward by the church. They're open to being in a relationship but just haven't found the right person yet. Despite their celibate state they're still okay with being called "gay."

I don't know any gay person (and very few straight ones) who has a problem with the words gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The younger generations certainty have no hang-ups about them or lack understanding of their meaning. These words are how glbt folks - partnered, single, whatever - self-identify. Is it too much for the church to acknowledge and respect that?

Edward said...

Donna, really? Do you really expect the church to respect and acknowledge the terms we use to honor ourselves and our God-given sexuality? The current bunch of hierarchs are a lost cause. (This is not calumny as we have evidence of the instiutional church not acknowldging gays as equals,meaning with the same rights, privleges, etc. that should be accorded to all of God's children as taught by the example of Christ Himself.)

Until the instiutitonal church recognizes the priesthood of the baptized and the Magesterium of the people, there will be no respect for us.