Pro tip: If you subscribe to a faith system that isn’t centered around loving and caring for other human beings, then you’re not really religious, you’re just in a hate group. (Text of a popular Internet meme)
To the average person, Joseph Ratzinger, also known as Pope Benedict XVI, may be most well-known as the first pope in centuries to resign. Popes traditionally die in office, so when Benedict stepped down citing ill health in February of 2013, he created a bit of havoc. If you follow mainstream news sources, you might think the havoc surrounding his untraditional funeral is the most significant question his New Year’s death raises.
LGBTQ+ people cry foul. We would like to raise points the mainstream press are downplaying or ignoring. LGBTQ+ Catholics are speaking up forcefully, but journalists are mostly whitewashing. Let me raise four critical points, then hand the mic over to a prominent Catholic.
1.) Let’s start with Benedict’s horror show denying science to focus hate on gay people
If you read mainstream obituaries, you won’t see much about Benedict’s cruel and hateful practices, like decreeing — against all medical evidence — that gay people are “objectively disordered.” He did this as leader of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (once known informally as the Inquisition) during the time of Pope John Paul II. In that role, Ratzinger earned the nickname “God’s Rottweiler,” in reference to his authoritarian character and his snarling appearance advancing the Church’s cruelest teachings and practices.
Benedict as Cardinal Ratzinger doubled down on stigmatizing LGBTQ+ people just as medical science coalesced around the understanding that Catholic notions of “disorder” are wrong. While many other churches were busy adapting beliefs and practices to new and more accurate human knowledge, Benedict doubled down on ignorant hate speech.
Benedict didn’t care about the science or, apparently, about Jesus’s love teachings. The former pope is personally responsible for much of the anti-LGBTQ+ hate speech in the Catholic catechism, including the vicious (sorry, can you think of a better adjective?) “grave depravity” and “objectively disordered” assertions that remain officially central to Catholic teachings.
2.) Let’s talk about how Benedict’s lies caused countless AIDS deaths
You won’t read in most obituaries about how Benedict barred Catholic social services agencies from distributing condoms in Africa — while HIV and AIDS were claiming frightening numbers of lives. You won’t read about how public health authorities in Africa had to divert critical resources to fight Church lies that condoms don’t protect well against HIV transmission — lies that Benedict repeated often.
Know what you probably will read?
Most mainstream sources are reporting that Benedict once said that a male prostitute wearing a condom might represent “a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility.”
I’m having a hard time understanding why that backhanded compliment appears in so many Benedict obituaries while his condom suppression and lies about condom science don’t make the cut.
3.) Let’s talk about how Benedict covered up priestly sex abuse and blamed it on the queers
You probably won’t read in obituaries that Benedict, even after stepping down, literally blamed the Catholic sex-abuse crisis on gay people and on gains in queer equality. Unless you really dig, you won’t learn that Benedict himself covered up for at least four priests who abused children in the Munich diocese he once led. You won’t read that Benedict got caught lying to investigators about that coverup. You won’t learn that Benedict (as Ratzinger) personally helped reassign at least one of those priests to a diocese where he victimized more children.
You surely won’t read about how, much later in Ratzinger’s career, he and other Church officials personally intervened to stop proceedings against a priest accused of molesting up to 200 boys in a Wisconsin school for the deaf. A New York Times investigation found that Ratzinger’s cover-up helped create more victims.
To the day he died, Benedict and his conservative supporters, who include a majority of U.S. Catholic bishops, insisted the Church’s enabling of abuse was the fault of “the gays” and not of the bishops, like Ratzinger himself, who did the actual covering up and reassigning.
4.) Let’s talk about Benedict’s dehumanizing rhetoric
During Pope Benedict’s final year in office, he spoke out against the trend of legal same-sex civil marriage, saying it “destroyed the essence of the human creature.” He further claimed that gay people who adopt parentless children represent an “attack” on the “traditional family.”
Benedict did not explain how a loving couple legally committing to one another destroys anything. Gay people, including many gay Catholics, insisted that their human essence was just fine, thank you very much. They noted that the legal protection they gain from civil marriage hurts literally nobody.
Benedict did not explain how caring for children in need attacks anything, let alone other families. Gay people, including many gay Catholics, wondered out loud what Jesus would say to Benedict on the subject of caring for needy children, given Jesus is forcefully on the record on that subject. Some people rather snarkily asked where Benedict would prefer parentless children go — perhaps to a Catholic school for the deaf in Wisconsin?
LGBTQ Catholics speak out. Dignity USA takes point.
I first learned about Pope Benedict’s death when I opened a press release from Marianne Duddy-Burke as I woke up on the morning of New Year’s Eve. Marianne is the executive director of DignityUSA, a group of U.S. Catholics who have worked for decades to advance “respect and justice for people of all sexual orientations, genders, and gender identities — especially gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, asexual and intersex persons — in the Catholic Church and the world through education, advocacy, and support.”
Dignity have their work cut out for them.
The Catholic hierarchy in the U.S. is notoriously reactionary and cruel, with a majority of bishops aligning with Benedict’s hateful rhetoric. Lay Catholics watch with dismay as bishops all over the U.S. ratchet down with hateful practices that quite match the rhetoric.
Given that Benedict’s death had been anticipated, the folks at Dignity must have been working on that release for some time. I felt encouraged by Marianne’s tough language and unflinching fact reporting. By encouraged, I mean I believed her timely release would influence at least some mainstream reporting. Dignity gets a lot of respect in certain circles. When Marianne talks, many journalists listen carefully.
I was disappointed this time. I’m not seeing her words circulating. Almost all mainstream journalists seem bent on saying kind things about Benedict while avoiding the harsh realities. I wish that were not so. I wish truth and love mattered more … to more people.
Please click here for the full text of Marianne’s statement, while I pull out a few sentences that desperately need mainstream attention:
The death of any human being is an occasion of sorrow. We pray for Pope Benedict’s soul and express our condolences to his family, friends, and loved ones. However, his death also calls us to reflect honestly on his legacy. Benedict’s leadership in the church, as Pope and before that as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), caused tremendous damage to LGBTQIA+ people and our loved ones. His words and writings forced our community out of Catholic churches, tore families apart, silenced our supporters, and even cost lives. He refused to recognize even the most basic human rights for LGBTQIA+ people. (Marianne Duddy-Burke, December 31, 2022)
Perhaps most importantly, DignityUSA are calling for Church leaders to use the occasion of Benedict’s death to reflect on the great harm he did and to move toward repentance and reconciliation.
Let me end with that. Could I ask you to think about that popular Internet meme I led off with while you read more of Marianne’s powerful words?
We pray that the church will use the period of reflection following Pope Benedict’s death to acknowledge that in many cases he used his power in ways that failed to further the Gospel message of love, human unity, and the responsibility to care for the marginalized. This moment calls us to prayer, repentance, and recommitment to the core value of our faith, which is love. (Marianne Duddy-Burke, December 31, 2022)
Former Air Force intelligence analyst, longtime LGBTQ activist and alumnus of Queer Nation and Act Up NY, James Finn is an essayist occasionally published in queer news outlets, an “agented” novelist and a runner, Marine, Airman, polyglot and self-proclaimed “middle-aged, uppity faggot.” He blogs at Medium.