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How dangerous is

How dangerous is


Maybe we should start by dispensing with the slurs. Benedict XVI is not a former Nazi; he's not Damien; he's not dumb. He's a deeply learned theologian with dozens of books and essays under his belt. It's also too crude to dismiss him as a homophobe. Homophobes, by and large, are unthinking bigots who dismiss gay people out of hand or harbor reflexive hatred for others unlike themselves. I'm not going to psychoanalyze someone I don't know, but the problem with the former cardinal Ratzinger is not what he feels but what he argues. Here are the key facts on Benedict's role on the morality of homosexual sex. In 1975 the Catholic Church definitively stated that for many gays, sexual orientation was "innate," unchangeable, and not in itself sinful. The church urged compassion for such people but still insisted that all sex outside of marital heterosexual intercourse without contraception was morally impermissible. It was an awkward compromise. On the one hand, none of the nonsense about reparative therapy or ex-gays that you get from fundamentalist Protestants. On the other, still no prospects for gay people except lifelong loneliness and celibacy. In 1986, Benedict, in charge of church orthodoxy, revised the policy. His revisions tell us a lot. He didn't fundamentally alter the teaching, but he finessed it. The good news is that Benedict said ministers should affirm the "God-given dignity and worth" of gay people and wrote, "It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice...." But then he seemed to go in the opposite direction at the same time. "In the discussion which followed the publication of the [1975] Declaration," he wrote, "an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder." What to make of this? The first thing to notice, I think, is that the church was busy tying itself up in logical knots. How can something not be sinful and yet be geared toward sin? If homosexuality is sinless in itself and fixed at birth, then how can it be an "objective disorder"? Benedict is saying that gay people as a class are somehow naturally more geared toward sin than others. Meanwhile, he goes out of his way to assert that gay people are human beings like anyone else. Every time I read the full document I come away scratching my head.

The deeper truth is that gay people represent a real threat, by our very existence, to Benedict's theology. He is insistent that humans are gendered male and female by God's design and that an integral part of this is being heterosexual. (According to Benedict, we even retain our genders in heaven. Who knew my wing wang is eternal?) But if that's true, why would homosexuality exist at all? Why would many human beings have been born that way? In all cultures, in all times? When you are wrapped up in such incoherence, when your theology is simply disproved by reality, you can change your theology, or you can close your eyes, put your fingers in your ears, and sing loudly. That's roughly what Benedict is now doing. He will be unlikely to surrender his illogic without a fight. Expect him to blame the effects of the church's own psychological torture of gay priests on homosexuality as a whole. Expect him to bar all gay men from seminaries, regardless of their commitment to celibacy. Expect him to be an ally of the religious right in this country in the attempt to strip gay couples of any legal recognition. But also recognize something else. He doesn't have logic or reality on his side. We have truth and morality on ours. In opposing him, we shouldn't demonize or slander him. That only hurts us. We should simply argue fearlessly with the compassion and confidence that comes from knowing that, in the end, the truth will win: that gay people are made in the image of God; that our quest for love and fidelity is as Christian as any heterosexual's. That's my faith. And that's the core of the church we must try to save.

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