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Benedict XVI: Still gays’ enemy?

Benedict XVI: Still gays’ enemy?


Many gay and lesbian Catholics in the United States consider the election of Joseph Ratzinger--who has a long history of stomping on gay rights--a betrayal by the church. But that won't keep them out of the pews

When the College of Cardinals came together on April 18 to elect a new pope, gay and lesbian Catholics around the world hoped they might pick someone who would at least be more compassionate toward gay people. They were crushed when exactly the opposite happened."As gay Catholics we're dismayed with the news that Ratzinger has been elected," says Sam Sinnett, president of the national gay Catholic group Dignity USA. "Many gay and lesbian Catholics view him as the principle author of the most virulently antigay statements that came out of the past papacy."Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, who was elected Pope Benedict XVI on April 19 in the first conclave of the new millennium, has been a hard-line guardian of conservative doctrine and a longtime confidant of John Paul II, who appointed the vast majority of the cardinals that elected Ratzinger. In his longtime role as prefect of John Paul II's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger helped craft numerous statements condemning homosexuality and gay rights. The former Hitler youth, who fled Nazi Germany near the end of World War II, personally led an unrelenting campaign against any pro-gay evolution in church teaching, even renouncing former church statements that seemed to support the idea."We do see Ratzinger's election as a profound betrayal by the leaders of the Catholic church," Sinnett says. "It's a betrayal of Jesus Christ, who reached out to the flock. Now we think the leaders of the flock are lost, and it is up to the flock to call them back."Ratzinger's antigay agenda began in earnest in October 1986 when he published "On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons." The letter warned of "deceitful propaganda" from pro-gay groups, including Dignity, and referred to homosexuality as an "intrinsic moral evil." Around the same time, Ratzinger embarked on a campaign to censure or remove any Catholic Church leaders who either accepted or failed to adequately condemn gays and lesbians.Such harsh words from the Vatican marked a dramatic turn from recent efforts to make the church more welcoming to gays, and much of it was directed at the United States, where acceptance of gays and lesbians had been growing. In July 1992 Ratzinger sent a letter to U.S. bishops that supported legal discrimination against gays in certain areas, including adoption rights and the hiring of gay teachers. In such situations, Ratzinger wrote, "it is not unjust discrimination to take sexual orientation into account." A few months later he published the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, which repeated the position that same-sex attractions were "intrinsically disordered."In July 1998 Ratzinger demanded changes to "Always Our Children," a regular letter issued by U.S. bishops to the parents of gays and lesbians. The changes included: referring to homosexuality as a "deep-seated" rather than "fundamental" dimension of personality; suggesting that gay sex acts by adolescents might not indicate homosexual orientation; and the addition of a footnote describing homosexuality as "objectively disordered." In response to pro-gay marriage developments in Canada and Massachusetts in 2003, Ratzinger's Vatican office, called Doctrine of the Faith, issued the statement "Unions Between Homosexual Persons," which said, "Those who would [favor] the legitimization of specific rights for cohabiting homosexual persons need to be reminded that the approval or legalization of evil is something far different from the toleration of evil.... Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children.""He has been responsible for some very insensitive statements toward gay people," Sister Jeannine Gramick, a longtime advocate for gay Catholics and cofounder of the gay-inclusive New Ways Ministry in Connecticut, told "His election is a great disappointment. I still hope for changes in the church, but they will not be coming as long as he is pope."Gramick knows a lot about Ratzinger. In 1999 the German cardinal personally imposed a lifetime ban on pastoral work for Gramick because of her focus on helping gays and lesbians.But the Vatican's official opposition to her work hasn't really meant much. "I am still in lesbian and gay ministry," she says proudly, noting that recent polls in the United States show that around 80% of Catholics support the type of work she is doing. "I just hope Ratzinger's election doesn't shake the faith of gay and lesbian Catholics and spur them to leave the church. We have to keep up our courage and keep on speaking the truth. I believe that the witness that lesbian and gay people give about their lives will be what changes people's hearts."Bernard Cissell, 29, isn't fleeing the church, but the unbending policies engendered by the Vatican have caused him to resign his post as a pastoral associate at a Catholic parish in Chicago, a decision made easier by the selection of Ratzinger. "As a lay minister and a gay man, I feel especially left out of the cardinals' decision," he says. "This man, who is my representative of Christ on earth, consistently supports teachings that go against my life. I believe that if Christ were here now, he would welcome me with open arms. But if Pope Benedict XVI were here now, I can only imagine that he would be telling me of my grave sinfulness."While Ratzinger's election will likely alienate many more U.S. Catholics like Cissell and those who support some measure of gay equality, it may prove constructive in conservative nations where gays and their rights are still overwhelmingly opposed. The Catholic Church needs to win the battle for new members in those nations, argues Paul Grifiths, chair of Catholic studies at University of Illinois, Chicago. He says the church is facing determined competition from other, even more antigay religions, such as Mormonism and Islam."The Catholic population in the United States remains pretty much the same," Grifiths says. "The perception is that the future of the church lies not in Europe or the United States: It lies in East Asia and Africa. Those countries would see things like gay rights as very wrong. The church needs to keep things the way they are."Will Ratzinger continue to be as vocally opposed to gays and lesbians now that he is pontiff? No one can really say, Sinnett says, but either way his group will continue its work."We've been a strong voice to counterbalance the statements of the Vatican in this country," he says. "Now we will be calling on our members to enter into prayer for our church."Gramick will be praying too, she says, while continuing her efforts to reach out to church members at the parish level. "I don't look to the pope to set the agenda," she says. "It's the people who are setting the agenda."

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