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Larry Gross is the director of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and is a pioneer in the field of gay and lesbian studies....
Inventing Sin: Religion and Homosexuality
No matter their own scandals, religious institutions through history have a consistent scapegoat: homosexuals.
The Philadelphia legislation was defeated when City Council President John Street declared his opposition to the legislation in a statement that parroted Cardinal Bevilacqua’s words. When Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell later issued an executive order granting domestic partner benefits to mayoral appointees, Cardinal Bevilacqua held a news conference at which he warned that the executive order would end civilization as we know it in Philadelphia.
If civilization in Philadelphia was threatened by domestic partner benefits, Rome was even more alarmed at the increasingly successful movement to legalize same-sex marriage in Europe. Playing his familiar role as the pope’s enforcer, Cardinal Ratzinger took aim.
In July of 2003 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued yet another letter to the bishops of the Church, this time enumerating “Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons.” The purpose of the letter was to “provide arguments drawn from reason which could be used by Bishops in preparing more specific interventions, appropriate to the different situations throughout the world, aimed at protecting and promoting the dignity of marriage, the foundation of the family, and the stability of society, of which this institution is a constitutive element.” The letter also addressed Catholic politicians in countries or localities where same-sex marriage was being debated:
Then, during the 2004 U.S. presidential campaign Cardinal Ratzinger ratcheted up to direct intervention, telling American bishops that Communion must be denied to Catholic politicians who support legal abortion. In August of 2005, fulfilling the spirit of this injunction, Bishop Thomas Olmsted ordered that politicians who support gay rights and abortion be banned from speaking at Roman Catholic churches in the Phoenix diocese. In keeping with this order, Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano was forbidden to speak at a Scottsdale church.
The 2003 Letter also condemned the possibility of permitting lesbian or gay couples to adopt children: “Allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children, in the sense that their condition of dependency would be used to place them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development.” This Letter was promulgated, as many noted, at the same time that the Catholic Church was beset with its own ethical and legal travails over its failure to seriously address the problem of sexual abuse of minors by priests.
When the sexual abuse scandals broke over the Catholic priesthood in the United States in the late 1990s the Vatican responded by scapegoating gay priests, despite abundant evidence that pedophiles are not gay and that gays are not pedophiles. Vatican spokesman Joaquin Novarro-Valls broke the Vatican’s official silence on the scandal, telling The New York Times in March 2002 that gay men should not be ordained as priests. Philadelphia Cardinal Bevilacqua, returning from a meeting of cardinals with Pope John Paul in Rome, expanded on the Church’s increased hostility towards homosexuality:
In February 2005, Pope John Paul II published his last book, “Memory and Identity,” described by the Reuters news service as “a highly philosophical and intricate work on the nature of good and evil.” However, in his final months, ill and facing death, Pope John Paul’s highly philosophical ruminations did not preclude an attack on same-sex marriage, recently legalized in several European countries.
Referring to efforts in the European Parliament to promote same-sex marriage, he wrote, “It is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if this is not perhaps part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man.”
Despite the evident hostility of the Catholic Church, some lesbian and gay Catholics have searched wistfully for silver linings. Conservative journalist Andrew Sullivan tried to reconcile his homosexuality and his religion, arguing that the Church made a monumental concession by using the term “homosexual persons” because “the term ‘person’ constitutes in Catholic moral teaching a profound statement about the individual’s humanity, dignity and worth; it invokes a whole range of rights and needs.” But not, of course, the right to sexual expression; that, according to the Ratzinger Letter, is “behavior to which no one has any conceivable right.”
Sullivan seemed less concerned over whether his church grants him the right to express his sexuality than grateful that it found a place for him in the natural order. And what is this place? Sullivan writes, “As albinos remind us of the brilliance of color . . . as the disabled person reveals to us in negative form the beauty of the fully functioning human body; so the homosexual person might be seen as a natural foil to the heterosexual norm, a variation that does not eclipse the theme, but resonates with it.”
The view that homosexuality can only be seen as the distorted reflection of a heterosexual norm is not limited, of course, to tortured gay apologists. The religious right has placed what it calls “family values” as the centerpiece of its crusade against minorities (single mothers on welfare), feminism (women daring to seek employment and careers outside the home), and gay people (who “recruit because they can’t reproduce”).
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