GAY TIMES June 2005

I’ve just finished reading the press cuttings about the new pope and I’m fuming. So please, if you’re one of those Catholic gay boys who gets upset when people are rude about your church, stop reading now – because if you continue, you’re going to be really, really put out.

When it was announced that Cardinal Joseph Ratpoison (as Private Eye has so appropriately dubbed him) had been elected, my heart sank with disappointment. But, at the same time, it also fluttered with pleasure. It sank at the prospect of an unreconstructed, insulting, relentless fundamentalist bigot taking charge of the largest Church on earth, but it soared at the prospect of the damage he would inflict on that corrupt institution.

Ratzinger’s track record of persecution and defamation of gay people is well chronicled. It was he who wrote the condemnations of us as “intrinsically evil” and “objectively disordered” that were put out in the name of that other monster, John Paul (George and Ringo) II. It was he who described gay marriages as “the legalisation of evil”.

But as he came out on to the balcony – having assumed the rather camp stage name ‘Benedict’ – to acknowledge the cheers of the thousands of willing dupes in St Peter’s Square, there were already people on hand to say: “Well, he might be different now that he’s not the enforcer. Let’s give him a chance to show how lovely he is.”

Oh please. Someone who has stated categorically that the Church cannot change its teachings – one of which is that homosexuality is evil and must be opposed – is not suddenly going to become a gay-friendly nice guy.

Ask Sister Jeanine Gramick. She found herself on the wrong side of scary old Ratpoison when she, together with her collaborator Fr. Robert Nugent, were running a support agency for gay and lesbian people called New Ways Ministry. When Ratpoison – who was Grand Inquisitor at the time – found out about it he issued an order forbidding her, or Nugent, ever to minister to gay people again, unless they were prepared to do it his way.

Gramick told her story to The Tablet magazine, and still somehow she seemed anxious not to upset the new pope. “Both he and I are working in an institution that we believe in and where we have common goals, which is the spreading of God’s love,” she said. “I think we all have to give others the benefit of the doubt, to be able to walk in their shoes. It’s easy to demonise people.”

But Ratpoison doesn’t give gay people the benefit of the doubt, he makes no effort whatsoever to walk in the shoes of gay people. And he finds it very easy to demonise us.

Let us remind ourselves of what he wrote in his letter “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexuals” in 1986 (which marked the start of his anti-gay crusade). The letter warned of the “deceitful propaganda” of gay groups before referring to homosexuality as “an intrinsic moral evil”. At the same time, he began a campaign to censure or remove any Catholic Church leader who either accepted, or failed adequately to condemn, gays. Gramick and Nugent were only two of the victims of that. Another was the Archbishop of Seattle, Raymond Hunthausen, whose work with gay people Ratpoison also put a stop to.

And there is no sign that he is going to halt this persecution.

Almost as soon as he had taken up office, the Vatican threw down a challenge to the Spanish government, which has taken the first steps towards permitting gay marriage (it isn’t there yet, and despite newspaper reports, it has a long way to go and severe obstacles to overcome before it becomes law).

The pope’s placeman, Cardinal Alfonso Trujillo (the man who made the wacky claim that HIV could pass through the rubber of condoms) immediately went into that curious hate-speak that the Vatican specialises in. He said that the Spanish had “changed and falsified the very definition of marriage” and said that permitting same-sex couples to adopt children represented “moral violence” against them.

Not content with vilifying gay couples, he called on civil servants in Spain not to co-operate with the law, in fact to actively undermine it. “Christians, even if they are state employees, are asked to become conscientious objectors because the laws we are speaking of are deeply offensive to morality.”

Although the Vatican knows nothing about democracy, it is an old hand at interfering with the laws of democratic states. The attempts to undermine Spain’s elected government should set alarm bells ringing for anyone who treasures government by the people for the people, and who despises governments run by cruel, unelected, unaccountable clerics.

But that is not the only new piece of papal homophobia. There is a renewal of Ratpoison’s campaign to “purge” gay people from Catholic seminaries so that none will find their way into the hierarchy of the Church. The message is clear: the gigantic child abuse scandal that has had such an impact on the Roman Church is all the fault of gay people and taking them out of the picture at an early stage will stop that.

So, the Vatican is conducting an “evaluation” of seminarians. The New York Times reported: “Church officials conducting the review will inevitably take up complaints that gays are enrolling in large numbers in the seminaries and their sexual activities are tolerated at the schools… Some contend an atmosphere of sexual permissiveness – for straight and gay seminarians – was a factor in the child abuse crisis, which has led to more than 11,000 abuse claims in the last five decades.”

The paper reports that the “exact number of gay seminarians is not known. Estimates vary dramatically from one quarter to more than half of all priest-candidates.”

This blaming of gay priests for the sex abuse scandal was most plainly put by J. Grant Swank Jnr on the fundamentalist Christian website MichNews.com. “There is a righteous contingent within Roman Catholicism that has been utterly embarrassed and disheartened at the practicing homosexual presence within their own clergy. They have been sickened by children abused by such ordained priests. The Voice of the Faithful in particular has been in the front of the cleansing request, exposing especially child molestation cases nationwide. Voice of the Faithful has been particularly vocal in wanting sexual dysfunction, that is, sexual orientations not in keeping with Scriptures, to be dealt with promptly.”

Mr Swank Jr. says “It could be known as the ‘Homosexual Cleansing.’”

On another conservative Christian website, WorldNetDaily, a report tells us that the reason that there are so many homosexuals in the Catholic hierarchy is because the previous Pope “refused to believe reports that potential clergy held that orientation – a mistake that will not be repeated by Pope Benedict XVI”.

Apparently, “Whenever Vatican investigators brought the results of their vetting process regarding an individual’s candidacy for bishop, cardinal or other office, and they revealed he was a homosexual, John Paul II would refuse to believe it. He did so because accusing someone of homosexuality was a standard practice of the Communist government in his native Poland regarding anyone it regarded as an enemy of the state… Karol Wojtyla witnessed this personal destruction repeatedly. So traumatised, he summarily dismissed such accusations as pope, and would approve the elevation of anyone so approved.” That”, according to the author Jack Wheeler, “is why the Church is riddled with homosexuals today.”

But Ratpoison is inconsistent in his approach to child abuse. He has played his part in trying to suppress investigation into it. He even tried to blame the media for the crisis, saying: “I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign, as the percentage of these offences among priests is not higher than in other categories, and perhaps it is even lower.”

Oh, so that makes it alright, does it?

But now The New York Times reports that Ratpoison has re-opened an investigation that he had previously stamped on into the founder of a Mexican Catholic order who is alleged to have molested many boys under his care. The Rev Marciel Maciel Degollando, now 85, founded the influential Legionaries of Christ.

The original accusations were dismissed by Ratpoison because “Father Maciel was a person very loved by the pope and had done so much good for the church.”

But as John Paul II lay on his death bed, Ratpoison suddenly reactivated the case and sent out investigators to interview the men who had made the accusations.

Nobody knows why he suddenly changed his mind. But it seems pretty obvious that for someone as ambitious as him, the prospect of having this sleazy cover-up hanging over him would do nothing for the prospects of his election as pope. And where is his statement of concern for the victims of this crime – or for any other victim of the crimes of the Catholic Church?

Ratpoison is a man who will do his damnedest to hurt and damage gay people all around the world. He will damage not only Catholics, but all of us who have to constantly justify ourselves and see our hard-won legal and civil rights under attack from an institution that purports to be holy but is as corrupt and conniving as it could possibly be.

The Vatican has declared war on gay people. It’s time for us to stop being respectful and get out the big guns to fire back at Pope Benedict the Evil.

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