By: Andy Humm
Pope Benedict XVI, author of the Roman Catholic Church's hard line against homosexuality, will be met by some gay dissent during his trips to Washington, DC, April 15-17, and New York, April 18-20, but nowhere near the direct razzing he received in 1988 as Cardinal Josef Ratzinger. At that time, his visit to St. Peter's Church at Citicorp's Midtown headquarters building was so disrupted by gay and AIDS activists that his planned speech was cancelled.
Protests this time, mostly by Dignity, the LGBT Catholic group, will also be milder and smaller than those that greeted Pope John Paul II in 1987 in San Francisco and New York during some of the worst days of the American AIDS crisis.
"The gay Catholic community knows him well," said Jeff Stone of Dignity/NY, which is planning a demonstration in advance of the papal visit on Saturday, April 12 at 11:30 a.m. at 43rd Street and First Avenue, near the United Nations. "We're trying to bring attention to the mainstream public which doesn't know his long record of anti-gay rhetoric."
Dignity members will protest the pontiff's anti-gay policies, as well as his opposition to condom use.
In Washington, a demonstration is planned for Tuesday, April 15, along the pope's motorcade and on Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. outside his meeting with US bishops at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. For more information, go to www.dignityusa.org.
Brendan Fay, also of Dignity, is planning the only New York action during Benedict's stay here. When the pope visits Ground Zero on the morning of Sunday, April 20, Fay will lead an action, which he termed "an interfaith community witness and vigil of hope," at 8:30 a.m. at the corner of Church and Vesey Streets, honoring Father Mychal Judge, the out gay fire chaplain who died heroically in the 9-11 catastrophe.
"It was Benedict that issued documents that say gay men ought not to be ordained" in the wake of the US scandal over priests molesting youth, Fay said. "Had that been in effect before, the world would never have heard of Mychal Judge."
To Benedict, people like Stone, Fay, Judge, and all other homosexually-oriented people are "objectively disordered." Their sexual activity is, in the words of his infamous 1986 letter to bishops, an "intrinsic moral evil." In that edict, written in his role as John Paul II's head of the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith, he also argued that when gay people advocate "to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase."
The statement was unmistakably an argument that openly gay and lesbian people hold the primary responsibility for violence against themselves.
Benedict wrote that allowing adoption by gay people "would actually mean doing violence to these children" and that "all Catholics are obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions." He has called the progress worldwide in recognition of gay families an example of "violent attacks" on "the natural institution of marriage and the family" and "an objective obstacle on the road to peace."
He recently thanked the new US ambassador to the Vatican for this country's holding the line against same-sex marriage.
Marianne Duddy-Burke, director of DignityUSA, said, "The more hateful his rhetoric, the more Catholics see how in conflict with our core values he is." She noted that demand for tickets to the papal events is down precipitously from past visits.
"Our focus is the grassroots Church," she said. "The institutional Church is decades if not centuries behind the grassroots."
Stone emphasized that polls show 64 percent of rank-and-file Catholics support either same-sex marriage or civil unions.
But Reverend Mel White of Soulforce, whose New York chapter will join the Dignity action on April 12, said that while many Catholics can separate what they believe from the pope's teaching, "there are tens of millions who don't have that ability." He said Benedict is "directly responsible for the consequences of his teaching on homosexuality that has led to suffering and death for his people. I can't tell you how many gay Catholic kids I've buried who killed themselves because they didn't believe God loved them."
White led a delegation of gay Catholics to Rome several years ago. They went to Ratzinger's office and he called the Swiss Guard on them. Soulforce focuses its protests on meetings of US Catholic bishops, "implementers of his policies."
Benedict was also behind the silencing of eminent gay priest Father John McNeill, founder of Dignity/NY, and his expulsion from the Jesuit order. McNeill told Gay City News, "God blessed us with a fallible pope who misunderstands homosexuality. We have to find what God wants in ourselves. We depend on the fallibility of the pope to free ourselves of external authority and to mature," reminding us that "Jesus said I have to go away for the spirit to come."
McNeill acknowledged that Benedict is "an extreme homophobe. When you run into that, you are inclined to believe it is based on self-hatred." He said, "I don't feel animosity for him, I feel pity," adding that the pope is representative of "a patriarchy that has disappeared just about everywhere else."
Father Bernard Lynch, a therapist and out gay Catholic priest, said that Benedict is "more politically astute than his predecessor," John Paul II, "who was more obvious in his homophobia," but does not think that will make him any more effective.
"The Western World has completely passed him by" on gay issues, Lynch said, and now Latin America, predominately Catholic, is progressing in protecting its gay citizens. "We're now dealing with a Christianity of human rights rather than dogma."
Reverend Pat Bumgardner, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church, wrote in an email about reading a news report about people's expectations from the pope during his visit, and made the point, "Maybe we should expect the same kind of openness to cultural diversity that is expected of anyone else visiting a nation not their own, and therefore that he would at least engage an open and forthright discussion about all the persecution, harassment, and suffering queer people have endured because of the Roman Church's proclamations about our inherent moral evil. Maybe we should expect the media to take him to task in the same way it has seen fit to lay into the Reverend Jeremiah Wright."