Homophobic: Pope Benedict XVI
While some LGBT religious groups have cautiously welcomed the shock resignation of the homophobic Pope Benedict XVI, it appears unlikely that the top contenders for the position will improve the Catholic Church’s anti-gay stance.
Benedict’s election by the Vatican to its highest office in 2005 saw a renewed conservativism sweep the Catholic Church, with the Pope championing the ancient institution’s anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-birth control and anti-women positions.
This included intensified action against gay candidates entering the clergy as well as vocally opposing growing support for same-sex marriage rights, especially in Europe and the USA.
In 2008, the Vatican announced that it would introduce psychological tests to screen out gay men vying to become priests, even if they are celibate, because, it said, they possess a “tendency towards an intrinsic moral evil”.
Throughout his papacy Benedict was never shy of repeatedly condemning same-sex marriage in a bid to stem growing popular support for marriage equality. He called same-sex marriage a threat to “the future of humanity itself” and warned that a “blurring” of genders could lead to the end of the human race.
He described the call to recognise same-sex relationships as “dangerous” and “insidious” and argued that gay marriage “violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed”.
The Vatican also put its money where its mouth is and funded campaigns against same-sex marriage in the US and used its influence in Europe and South America to put pressure on governments to keep marriage a heterosexual privilege. It often failed in these bids.
Despite the Church’s assertion that gay people should not be discriminated against, it supported doing just that when it came to gays becoming priests or getting married or working for catholic institutions or even sending their children to catholic schools.
Benedict also saw it fit in December to bless Uganda’s Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga; one of the key backers of the Ugandan Anti-Homosexuality Bill (which if passed would put gay people in that country to death).
There’s little surprise then that America’s Advocate magazine last year chose Benedict as one of its “45 Biggest Homophobes” of the previous 45 years.
A number of LGBT groups, including those working for LGBT inclusion in Catholicism, have expressed a measure of relief at Benedict’s resignation.
America’s Equally Blessed coalition said that the Church now has “an opportunity to turn away from [the Pope’s] oppressive policies toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics, and their families and friends, and develop a new understanding of the ways in which God is at work in the lives of faithful and loving people regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity”.
Giuseppina la Delfa from the Italian LGBT group Famiglie Arcobaleno told Gay Star News that Benedict has been “obsessed by homosexuality” and called on the Vatican to realise “that they have made a lot of mistakes, on human rights, on LGBT rights, on condoms, on new families and on modern needs of contemporary people”.
While who Benedict’s successor will be is far from certain, a number of the leading candidates mentioned in the media are also deeply conservative. These include Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze and Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet.
Turkson last year justified anti-gay laws in Africa on the basis of traditional values and culture. Reacting to efforts by the UN to push countries to recognise LGBT rights, he told the National Catholic Register: “Just as there’s a sense of a call for rights, there’s also a call to respect culture, of all kinds of people.”
He added: “We [the Church] push for the rights of prisoners, the rights of others; and the last thing we want to do is infringe upon the rights of anyone. But when you’re talking about what’s called ‘an alternative lifestyle,’ are those human rights?”
Arinze has been quoted as equating homosexuality with pornography, infanticide and adultery while Ouellet has lobbied against same-sex marriage in North America and called homosexuality an “abomination”.
Pope Benedict’s resignation comes into effect at the end of February. The next Pope is expected to be elected before Easter by 117 cardinals in a sealed meeting held in the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican.
Whether the cardinals will use this as an opportunity to usher the Roman Catholic Church into the modern world or entrench it as an increasingly out of touch and irrelevant institution remains to be seen.