It is time to admit that the gay community has a gigantic Pope problem. Under the leadership of Benedict XVI, the Vatican has become an implacable foe of liberalism, modernity and basic rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Rome has eagerly jumped with both feet into America’s culture wars and is working on a global scale to punish or purge ideological dissenters within the church. This aggressive activism presents a formidable new front in the fight for parity – one with considerable political clout and financial resources.
Last week, a coalition of totalitarian religious activists and radical clerics joined forces to unveil the “Manhattan Declaration” at Washington’s National Press Club. This rambling manifesto, written by former Watergate felon Chuck Colson, called for “Christians” to disobey laws they didn’t fancy and to ignore civil rights laws that protected GLBT people from discrimination. It was a dishonest document filled with historical revisionism that promoted theocracy, encouraged anarchy and supported the dissolution of the rule of law. It falsely portrayed right wing Christians as victims, even as they pledged to work tirelessly to deny equality to those who would not adhere to their sectarian church rules.
An extreme manifesto of such breathtaking cynicism and insincerity is no surprise coming from what passes for “leaders” in today’s evangelical circles. It was striking, however, that more than 15 key American Catholic leaders signed on to the “Manhattan Declaration”. Signatories included heavyweights such as Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, DC. This was clearly a call to arms and a powerful signal that the Roman Catholic Church is taking the gloves off to fight political battles in America.
This hands-on involvement from Rome has passed the “trend” stage and appears to be official policy. Consider the significant involvement the Catholic Church had in stripping marriage rights away from GLBT couples in a Maine referendum held earlier this month.
In the same manner, on June 11, the Washington, DC Archdiocese threatened to abandon the homeless and quit charity work in the District if it had to comply with anti-discrimination laws. Catholic Charities had the audacity to believe it was entitled to collect $8.2 million in tax dollars meant to serve all DC residents, and then still get to handpick whom it deems worthy of assistance.
Catholic involvement with archconservative politics is growing by the day. In May, Catholic groups tried to stop President Barack Obama from speaking at a Notre Dame commencement ceremony because of his pro-choice position.
Earlier this month, Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin put the clamp on Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), banning the lawmaker from communion because he is pro-choice. This was reminiscent of The St. Louis Archbishop refusing to give communion to John Kerry during his presidential campaign.
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has suddenly begun to steer GLBT Catholics to 12-step programs that promise to “cure” homosexuality or support them in a lifelong celibacy. The Catholic Diocese in Sioux Falls, South Dakota urged its 128-thousand members to oppose an attempt to bring legalizing embryonic stem cell research to a public referendum. (I guess the sacrosanct “people’s right to vote” on controversial social issues only applies to same-sex marriage)
In fighting back, we must remember that the Vatican is launching these attacks from a position of weakness. It has yet to recover its moral authority from public exposure of rampant child sexual abuse scandals that cost the Church billions of dollars in legal settlements.
The Vatican appears to be acutely aware it is losing its worldwide market share. It is basically defunct in the Middle East, where the religion began, and on life-support in Western Europe, where it once prospered. In Africa, Rome competes with Islam and Anglicanism for a shrinking slice of the pie. South America, one of its few remaining strongholds, is losing Roman Catholics to evangelical faiths by the millions.
Instead of competing against the conservative evangelical brand, Pope Benedict has decided to embrace it, shaping a conspicuously political Catholicism that embraces extremism and drives out dissenters. The Vatican has become so doctrinaire that it recently launched an invasive probe into the lives of America’s 60,000 nuns to enforce anachronistic rules. In January, Benedict welcomed back excommunicated Bishop Richard Williamson who denied that millions of Jews died in Nazi death camps.
Fortunately, Benedict is a cold, unsympathetic figure and the majority of American Catholics often ignore his edicts. The strategy for the GLBT community should be to stand up to Rome and help mobilize mainstream Catholics to fight back against an authoritarian Pontiff who is hell-bent on making the Catholic Church as unpopular and unappealing as His Holiness.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”