Benedict XVI: Marring the spirit of Christmas with his vitriolic obsession with homosexuality
London ~~ December 24, 2008
Pope 'spreading fear' with claim that Man needs protection from homosexualityBy Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
The Pope has been condemned by clergy and gay rights campaigners for arguing that mankind needed protection from homosexuality much as the rainforest needed protecting from environmental damage.
Roman Catholic leaders in England, traditionally a liberal province, sought to distance themselves from the Pope’s remarks, claiming that he had been misrepresented because he never used the word “homosexual”.
A close reading of his annual Christmas address to cardinals at the Vatican makes clear that homosexual and transgender people are the targets of his comments on creation, order, gender and the manipulation of human nature.
The Pope said that the Church had a duty to “protect Man from destroying himself”. He called for an understanding of the “ecology of Man” as well as of the environment and said that the “natural order” of human beings as man and woman should be respected. Gender theory had led Man away from God, and marriage, a way of life not permitted to Catholic priests, was a “sacrament of creation”.
Referring to the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, which banned artificial contraception and which is ignored by hundreds of thousands of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics, he said that the intention of its author, Pope Paul VI, “was to defend love against consumer sex, the future against the exclusive claim of the moment, and human nature against manipulation”.
The strength of the reaction against his remarks from bloggers and other online commentators worldwide gave one of the clearest indications to date that the row over gays that has taken the Anglican Church almost to a schism is one that is close to erupting in the more tightly ruled Roman Catholic Church as well.
The Church has become increasingly entrenched in its insistence that homosexuality is ordered towards an “intrinsic moral evil” and that gay people are “objectively disordered”.
One Vatican official referred to homosexuality this year as “a deviation, an irregularity, a wound”. The Vatican has also this year approved psychological tests to make sure that men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” or “uncertain sexual identity” are not admitted to seminaries for training for the priesthood.
The Rev Giles Fraser, vicar of St Mary’s Church in Putney, southwest London, and founder of the pro-gay Inclusive Church movement, said: “I am extremely disappointed. This is not much of a Christmas message. This will not change anyone’s mind.”
He added: “I thought the Christmas angels said, ‘Fear not’. Instead, the Pope is spreading fear that gay people somehow threaten the planet. And that’s just absurd. As always, this sort of religious homophobia will be an alibi for all those who would do gay people harm.”
Mark Dowd, campaign strategist at Operation Noah, the Christian group campaigning against climate change, who is gay and a former Dominican friar, said that the Pope’s remarks were “understandable but misguided and unfortunate”.
He said: “The problem is that if you study ecology seriously, as any intelligent man would do and the Pope is a fantastically intelligent man – you realise that ecology is complex. It has all sorts of weird interdependencies and it is the same with human sexuality. It is not a one-size-fits-all model.”
Bishop John Arnold, an auxiliary to the Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, defended the Pope, saying: “He never uses the word homosexuality.”
He said that the Pope’s reflections on the environment were inspiring. “The Pope said we have to be speaking out on the environment but we cannot divide the physical environment away from the human ecology.”
London ~~ December 24, 2008
Why the Pope is right - and wrong
Biology is as important as culture in shaping sexual behaviour, including homosexualityBy Mark Henderson
It's not often that a science writer gets to say this, but the Pope is right. It's not as if he's always right: where scientific matters are concerned, Benedict XVI has displayed precious little infallibility. He has shown a disquieting sympathy for the rebranded creationism of intelligent design, and his views on embryonic stem cells, IVF and contraception are inimical to medical progress. But in attacking the notion that sex roles are invariably ordained by culture and not biology, the Holy Father has said something that needed saying.
As the Pope is finding out, anyone who criticises this “gender theory” invites vitriol from its liberal champions. Scientists such as Simon Baron-Cohen and Steven Pinker, who suggest that differences between typical male and female behaviour may be biologically influenced, have been accused of rationalising patriarchy and discrimination.
The work of these researchers and others shows that gender theory is built on sand. Anatomical variations between the sexes are not the only ones with natural roots. Women tend to be better at empathising, while men are more likely to excel at understanding systems from motorbike engines to offside laws, and there is growing evidence that these traits are influenced by testosterone exposure in the womb. They may also be linked to the recent discovery of hundreds of variations in the way that genes are switched on and off in male and female brains. If social factors are important in shaping gender roles, it is increasingly apparent that biology matters too, and recognising this in no way justifies sexism. Sex differences in behaviour apply only on average, across populations, and people should be considered as individuals.
It is refreshing to see the Pope taking the right side in this argument - not least as it bucks the Jesuit maxim of “give me the child and I'll show you the man”. This shouldn't be taken, though, as a sign of new-found pontifical respect for the latest science. It is better seen as fresh proof that even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day. The reason is that while the Pope is willing to allow nature a role in shaping the sexes, and in requiring respect for the idiosyncracies of each, he has no time for its implications for sexual orientation.
Religious groups who object to homosexuality, including the Roman Catholic Church, like to present it as a moral choice that lies outside the norms of human behaviour. In October, a senior Vatican official described it as “a deviation, an irregularity, a wound”, and the Pope's remarks betray similar sentiments.
There was a time when mainstream science would have agreed. Homosexuality, after all, was removed from the American Psychiatric Association's list of disorders only in 1973. The Pope would be hard-pressed, though, to find a respected modern expert who thinks it is an irregularity, still less a wound. For evidence is mounting that it is at least as strongly guided by biology as gender roles are.
Homosexuality is natural, occurring across the animal kingdom. It is well documented in more than 450 species, from rams to swans and dolphins to giraffes. In humans, it is seen in every known culture.
Identical twins are more likely than fraternal sets to share a sexual orientation - a firm sign that genes are involved. The search for “gay genes” has so far drawn a blank, and there is certainly no gene that invariably makes people homosexual. But a consensus is building that genetic factors may predispose people to such preferences, in concert with environmental triggers. There are even good explanations for how such genes could have survived the obvious evolutionary drawbacks of gay sex. A genetic variation that promotes homosexuality in men, but makes their mothers and sisters more fertile, could easily thrive and spread.
The natural history of homosexuality, too, goes beyond genetics. Birth order, for example, is known to exert an effect. A man's chances of being gay grow with every older brother he has, probably because successive male pregnancies affect the hormonal balance in the womb. The effect does not apply to men with older adoptive or stepbrothers, which implicates biology and not family circumstance. It would be mischievous to suggest that this might have affected the historical practice of youngest sons making a career in the Church.
Homosexuality is not biologically determined - almost no human behaviours are. But it almost certainly begins with a delicate combination of genetic, gestational, environmental and social cues, which together forge a person's sexual orientation.
Few gay men and women feel they have chosen a way of life, and the science is with them. Their preferences are as much a part of normal human variation as traits such as height or intelligence, to which nature and nurture also both contribute.
In his address to Vatican staff, Benedict XVI declared the Church's belief in a natural order of men and women, and asked “that this order, set down by creation, be respected”. Science has made it clear that homosexuality is part of the rich diversity of that creation. That is something we should all respect - the Pope included.
Mark Henderson is science editor of The Times. His book, 50 Genetics Ideas You Really Need to Know, will be published in April by Quercus
London ~~ Wednesday December 24 2008, page 32
Christmas on planet pope
The Holy Father has got the spirit of the season all wrong with his message of fear and exclusionBy Giles Fraser
The Christmas angel tells us: "Fear not, for I bring you good news of great joy for all people." The pope, on the other hand, has been using this Christmas season to spread entirely the opposite message, a message of fear and exclusion that seems more bad news than good. For, apparently, gay people threaten the existence of the planet in a way that is comparable to the destruction of the rainforest. I guess the idea is that if we all were gay, then we wouldn't be making any babies. Yes, it's a bit like saying that if we all were to become celibate priests we wouldn't be making any babies either. Except that would mean the Catholic church has itself become a threat to the planet. OK, that's a cheap shot. But the Holy Father has the ability to put even a vicar like me in touch with their inner Polly Toynbee.
So where does this religious obsession with making babies come from? I had a moment of epiphany some years ago in a refugee camp in southern Gaza. So many families had so many children, often a dozen or more. It was explained to me that the Palestinians' secret weapon against the Israelis was "the Palestinian womb". That women were regarded as part of a wider demographic struggle, and that having babies was vital to the war effort.
The writers of the early Hebrew scriptures were similarly caught up in a struggle for survival that made having babies a part of one's moral duty. Right at the beginning of the Bible, Noah is told by God to "be fruitful and multiply". Later Abraham complains that "I continue childless", to which God replies: "I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it for ever."
This is the great obsession of much of the early history of the people of Israel. From this perspective, fertile women are politically valuable, and infertile women, homosexuals and eunuchs considered almost traitorous. Thus, for instance, the rather bizarre stuff you get in Deuteronomy that "no one whose testicles are crushed or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord".
But there's a twist here. For when it comes to the book of Isaiah, Jesus's favourite book of the Hebrew scriptures, this more enlightened biblical author realises that the obsession with children has warped the moral values of his culture. In direct opposition to the theology of Deuteronomy, Isaiah writes that "to the eunuchs that keep my Sabbaths and hold fast to my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name that is better than sons and daughters". Note: better than sons and daughters. And what is true for eunuchs is true, by direct analogy, for people who are gay. Inclusion is not a piece of trendy modern theory. It is a biblical imperative.
Those who take the Bible as if it were a reference book cannot mentally accommodate the idea that the story being told is about the developing consciousness of the people of Israel, of how they got it wrong and how they are led to a new understanding by God. For Christians especially this new understanding is that God is there for all; that, as St Paul is very keen to insist, you don't even need to be a Jew for God to be there for you. Which returns us to the message of the angel: that Christ is good news to all. This is the ultimate communication of religious inclusion.
The broader theme of the pope's address concerns gender theory. His idea is that trendy philosophy has obscured the distinctiveness of male and female, which ought to be regarded as rooted in the order of creation. As it happens, evangelical Christians are often incredibly suspicious of this sort of line. They are afraid that it endorses the argument that, because homosexuality is actually prevalent in nature, and because people seem to be "born gay", natural law ethics could be won round to regard homosexuality as natural and thus good.
In light of this, conservative evangelicals have begun to take an interest in precisely the sort of gender theory that the pope excoriates. It seems bizarre to me that evangelicals have started to read postmodern philosophers such as Michel Foucault with approval, but what they argue is that because our sexual inclinations are not stubbornly rooted in nature, they are more plastic and thus they are capable of being changed. In this way they can argue that gay people are not gay because of intransigent nature but because of wilful disobedience. Foucault would turn in his grave.
And one last thing. Why on earth did the pope think Christmas a good time to ignite this sort of row? For while we are all spitting tacks, those worryingly androgynous angels are trying to get their own message across: peace on earth and goodwill to all. And all means all.
• Giles Fraser is the vicar of Putney
December 24, 2008
Pope's 'gender' warning angers gaysAgence France-Presse
A SUGGESTION by Pope Benedict XVI that homosexuality is as much of a threat to the survival of the human race as climate change has sparked outrage among gay rights campaigners.
VIDEO: Gay anger at Pope pronouncement
Pope Benedict says saving humanity from homosexual or transsexual behaviour is as important as protecting the environment.
“It's the latest homophobic attack by this Pope,” said Gustav Hofer, co-director of a documentary on the life of a gay couple in Italy called Suddenly Last Winter.
“The Vatican talks about homosexuality or transsexuality as if it were a whim, never as suffering,” said Hofer, adding that the Roman Catholic Church “reduces sexual orientation to the sexual act as if it had nothing to do with a person's identity.”
In his end-of-year speech at the Vatican on Monday, the Pope said gender theory blurred the distinction between male and female, and he called for “an ecology of the human being” to protect mankind “from self-destruction”.
Gender theory, which the Pope referred to in English, explores how society designates fixed roles to people based on their gender and many gay groups see it as helpful to improving tolerance and understanding.
Amid a global financial crisis, “does it really seem appropriate to talk about `gender' to all these poor folks who are unemployed or vulnerable and don't even know what the word means?” left-wing Italian MP Paola Concia wrote in an open letter to the Pope.
“People need words of comfort.”
British campaigners, including some priests from the Church of England, also took the remarks as an attack on homosexuality.
Reverend Sharon Ferguson, chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, called the comments “totally irresponsible and unacceptable”.
“When you have religious leaders like that making that sort of statement, then followers feel they are justified in behaving in an aggressive and violent way because they feel that they are doing God's work in ridding the world of these people,” she said.
Reverend Doctor Giles Fraser, president of the pro-gay Anglican movement the Inclusive Church and vicar of a London parish, said: “The Pope is spreading fear that gay people somehow threaten the planet, and that's just absurd.
“As always, this sort of religious homophobia will be an alibi for all those who would do gay people harm. Can't he think of something better to say at Christmas?” he asked.
Mark Dowd, campaign strategist at Operation Noah, the Christian environmental group, said the remarks were “understandable but misguided and unfortunate”.
Mr Dowd, who is gay, said: “If you study ecology seriously as any intelligent man would do, and the Pope is a fantastically intelligent man, you realise that ecology is complex, it has all sorts of weird interdependencies, and it is the same with human sexuality.”
The Pope's remarks “betray a lack of openness to the complexity of creation”, Mr Dowd said.
The Catholic Church has repeatedly spoken against gender theory, but Monday was the first time the Pope referred to it directly.
The remarks follow hard on the heels of the Vatican's refusal to join a United Nations appeal for the universal decriminalisation of homosexuality launched on December 18 by 66 countries.
More than 80 countries have laws against homosexuality, including nine in which it is punishable by death.
The Vatican is a staunch opponent of the death penalty, but fears the proposed UN resolution would encourage gay marriage.
London ~~ Wednesday December 24 2008
Meditation on gender lands Pope in hot water
Benedict accused of encouraging homophobia among his followersBy Peter Popham in Rome
The Church, Pope Benedict XVI told cardinals and senior Vatican staff, must not only defend nature as "gifts of creation which belong to all. It must also protect man against destruction by himself" (Getty)
Gay rights groups reacted angrily to the Pope's Christmas message yesterday, in which he said preserving traditional gender identities was as important as protecting the tropical rainforests.
The Church, Pope Benedict XVI told cardinals and senior Vatican staff, must not only defend nature as "gifts of creation which belong to all. It must also protect man against destruction by himself. It is necessary for there to be something like an ecology of man... it is not an outdated metaphysics, if the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected." To show disrespect for "the language of creation," he said, would mean "the self-destruction of man and thus the destruction of the work of God itself".
He added: "The tropical forest deserves our protection, but no less so than does man as creation." Man's nature, he said, is "a message that does not signify the contradiction of our freedom, but its condition".
The speech came only a week after the Vatican tried to torpedo a European text intended for the United Nations aimed at de-criminalising homosexuality, which it said went too far. Though carefully nuanced and avoiding rhetoric, the latest declaration by Pope Benedict was seen as another anti-gay broadside by a Pope who has made his refusal to soften the Church's line on sexuality a key theme of his papacy. It was stingingly criticised by gay voices both inside and outside the Christian churches.
The Rev Sharon Ferguson, chief executive of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, said: "It is comments like this that justify the homophobic bullying that goes on in schools, and ... that justify gay-bashing. There are so many instances of people being killed around the world, including in Western society, purely and simply because of their sexual orientation or their gender identity.
"When you have religious leaders like that making that sort of statement, then followers feel they are justified in behaving in an aggressive and violent way, because they feel that they are doing God's work in ridding the world of these people."
George Broadhead, of the Pink Triangle Trust, a gay charity, said: "This must be the most outrageous and bizarre claim yet made by the Pope, who has already got a well-deserved reputation as one of the most viciously homophobic world leaders, on a par with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe."
He added: "The Vatican has already reinforced its anti-gay reputation by strongly opposing a UN declaration calling for an end to discrimination against gays, but this latest papal outburst is clear evidence of an obsession about homosexuality which is tantamount to paranoia."
Peter Tatchell, the co-founder of OutRage!, said: "By choosing to highlight homosexuality instead of hunger, war and homelessness, the Pope has lost his moral bearings and sense of priorities. Free-market capitalism, and its culture of greed and consumerism, is a far greater threat to the ecological survival of our planet than homosexuality and trans-sexuality."
In Italy, the initial gay reaction to the speech was more guarded. "We have become an obsession for Ratzinger," said the gay rights organisation Arcigay. Imma Battaglia, the former leader of the Digay Project, said: "Can't we be allowed to enjoy Christmas, too?"
Vladimir Luxuria, Italy's first transsexual MP until her defeat in the general election this year, spoke for others like herself when she commented: "We don't feel like a crazy splinter outside the divine project but people just like everybody else who should not be condemned as sinners purely on account of being transgender.
"To insist that the body is more important than the spirit, as the Church does, seems to me a contradiction of what it always preaches. The alternative is to adapt our body to our spirit. If my interior spirit is feminine, then in reality I am not changing gender. If my emotions and my brain are feminine, I am simply adapting to my own true nature. To refuse to do so seems to me an act both simplistic and egotistical."
In his speech, the Pope, who as an academic theologian has for decades fought modern secularism in all its forms, was apparently taking up arms against the ideas about gender developed by the American post-structuralist philosopher Judith Butler. In her book Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, published in 1990, Professor Butler argues that our ideas about the categories of sex, gender and sexuality are not the product of biology but are culturally constructed in accordance with what a given society permits.
For orthodox Christians, however, the "normal" relations between man and woman are divinely ordained. "The life-long ties between a man and a woman," the Pope said in his speech, are "a sacrament of creation, instituted by the Creator."
What he said...
"The church has a responsibility for creation and must demonstrate this responsibility publicly... It must also protect man against destruction by himself. It is necessary for there to be something like an ecology of man. This is not an outdated metaphysics, if the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected.
Here we are dealing with the fact of faith in the Creator and paying attention to the language of creation, the disrespecting of which would be a self-destruction of man and thus destruction of the work of God. What is often understood by the word 'gender' finds its resolution in the auto-emancipation of man from creation and from the Creator. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Man wants to... control everything that concerns him. But in this way he lives against the creator. The tropical forest deserves our protection, but no less than man as creation..."
London ~~ Wednesday December 24 2008
Deborah Orr: We've had few words of comfort this year. And the Pope's not helping
It is easy to appeal to prejudice - and to do so is to guarantee instant attentionPope Benedict XVI has declared that while saving the rainforests is important, "gender theory" is just as great a threat to mankind. Well, he hasn't really. But a long speech to the Vatican's Curia has been reported in this fashion, and once again the church has exposed its unparalleled talent for lending itself to opportunistic rabble-rousing.
Perhaps the Pope regrets that his convoluted pronouncements against the intellectual validation of human sexual experience have been seized upon so colourfully. Certainly, they don't stand up to much scrutiny. Benedict believes that "gender studies' encourages people to "choose" homosexuality because it justifies activity that they may otherwise not have been chosen.
Yet even the Catholic Church travels some distance with "gender theory", and at least goes as far as to admit that homosexuality is not "a choice", in conceding that it is not a "sin" to be gay, only to act on gay impulses. Gay Catholics are perfectly at liberty to sign up to this self-denying ordinance if they wish to.
The history of sexual abuse and misconduct within the church is a perfect illustration of how the position is more easily parroted than adhered to. Still, it is worth mentioning that the Catholic Church is not actually as hysterical in its denouncements of homosexuality than some evangelical Protestant churches are, with those in the US so far managing to make the most cultural noise in the west. What is disappointing is the refusal of the Catholic Church to distance itself from those extremes, whatever direct they may come from.
For in reality, the Pope is not very likely to have much regret about the controversy his words have whipped up. Others may on this occasion have done much of his work for him. But in reiterating so trenchantly, once more, the implacable opposition of the Catholic Church to homosexuality, and also – to a lesser degree – the emancipation of women, the headlines have only delivered what the Pope knows, or thinks he knows, is a populist winner.
It is easy to appeal to individual prejudices, and those willing to do so, as Benedict must understand, are guaranteed instant attention. But it is much more difficult to inveigh against widespread and institutionalised folly, particularly when your eye is fixed squarely on the main chance.
There are many lessons to be learned from the events of this momentous year, and few of them are comforting. Pope Benedict, however, appears to have taken a great deal of comfort from one or two of the more dispiriting lessons. He seems particularly to have decided that if there is just one thing his own church can continue to exploit, it is the block-headed, simplistic appeal of religious fundamentalism.
A sensible leader might have looked at the parable of Sarah Palin, and decided that the Christian fundamentalist enthusiasm she ignited was both ugly and limited. Few now view John McCain's recruitment of the rainforest-illiterate Alaskan politician as anything other than the cynical and crude mistake that it was. McCain himself became appalled by the divisive nastiness of the force that he had unleashed, as individuals at Republican rallies disgraced his party and his country, by shouting of Barack Obama: "Kill him." (That's ardent pro-lifers for you.) Yet there was still a significant victory for believers in the cleansing power of the culture wars on US election day. As Obama swept to power in California, the state also warned him that his message of change was not universally endorsed. Obama threw political caution to the wind when he emphasised in his acceptance speech that he stood for all Americans, "gay or straight", and that is very much to his credit. Yet those Californians who chose on that same election day to back Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage, now have their sights set on dissolving the partnerships of the 18,000 couples who took advantage of their six months of equality. This retrospective assault is particularly spiteful. Yet its proponents will find the Pope's message to be a vindication of their intrusive and repulsive sexual interfering, whatever church they may or may not belong to.
These are the least among the legislative assaults on gay equality that the Pope tacitly encourages. The Vatican this year refused to back a UN resolution urging the banning of criminal penalties against homosexuality, explaining that while it was against "unjust discrimination", it remained very much in favour of what it sees as "just discrimination".
Homosexuality is still punishable by law in 77 countries, including the US, and in seven of those, including four Muslim states, it is still punishable by death. While the Catholic Church declares itself to be against the active criminalisation of same-sex relationships, the Vatican places more importance on guarding against gay marriage in liberal countries than it does on challenging barbaric practices in draconian ones. In doing so, it shows an unseemly tendency to tolerate anything except toleration.
There may be a big dollop of media spin in the emphasis on "saving the rainforests". But Benedict did prefer to talk fairly elliptically about the twin perils of ecological and economic unsustainability, except for this one specific reference. Significantly, it is in the developing world that fundamental Christianity's recruiting grounds are most fertile. In invoking the rainforests, the Pope made a deliberate reference to those parts of the planet where the schism in the worldwide Anglican Church is most deeply felt.
The convulsions suffered by the Anglican Communion, as its most liberal proponents press ahead with the ordination of gay and female priests, have proved to be a rich motivator of Anglican conversion to Catholicism, especially in Africa. It was widely anticipated that the Anglican Communion would collapse under the weight of its own contradictions this year, as the Archbishop of Canterbury hosted a 10-yearly Lambeth Conference that was threatened by a powerful African-led boycott.
Somehow, the riots were averted, and this Christmas Williams has doggedly aimed his own Christmas pronouncements in the direction of those issues that really do threaten humanity. Williams is right in targeting Gordon Brown's logic-defying economic policies, which are all predicated on the impossible assumption that the bubble that has just been burst can somehow be gathered up, mended, and re-inflated (while the rainforests, miraculously, get saved). Williams has even declared that disestablishment would be not be such a bad thing, as it would at least free the Church of England to stand against the Government with greater strength.
But on the global stage, it is Benedict's soundbites that have popular appeal, not Williams's. It would be a luxury if one could dismiss the storm around Benedict's speech as of little importance. Instead it is a nasty reminder that much of organised Christianity is powerful only when it is sanctioning the persecution of individuals, and worse, seems entirely untroubled on the many occasions when it stoops to doing so.