The one form of intolerance which is fashionable and almost universal these days is of the Catholic Church, especially in its European, white male manifestations, writes Kevin Myers
The appalling headlines which greeted the election of Pope Benedict XVI - "The Vatican Rottweiller" - would never have found any such equivalent if the Pope had been African. And no newspaper anywhere would have spoken of an Islamic leader in such tones, not least because editors probably nurture fond ambitions to remain alive.
Self-hatred is now a defining feature of West European culture. An Italian politician states that he accepts the traditional Catholic teaching about homosexuality, and he is hounded from office. Can you imagine a Muslim MP in Britain suffering from the same fate for declaring his allegiance to the teachings of the Prophet? I've been here before, but I revisit this territory again, in part because of the continuing correspondence in this newspaper, but also because a visceral loathing of Catholicism is almost de rigueur in salon society. It is as if people across Europe wish the Catholic Church to cease to be the Catholic Church and instead become the Gay and Lesbian Rights Action Front, with the Pope its leader.
Áilín Doyle the other day repeated Brenda O'Hanrahan's quotations from the former Cardinal Ratzinger: "It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the subject of violent malice in speech or in action." But, she added, the cardinal then continued: "When such a claim is made [ that the homosexual condition is not disordered] and homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behaviour to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase."
Áilín Doyle declared of this: "It would be difficult to think of a more offensive statement." No, it wouldn't. It would be one the easiest things in the world. Death to all Fenians. Women are bitches.
You want I should go on? That she and I might disagree with the Cardinal doesn't mean that what he says is "offensive". Moreover, can anyone seriously believe that a prelate of the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church is going to actually approve of acts of sodomy? You don't really expect the Catholic Church to say that deed is as acceptable in the eyes of the Lord as the act of intercourse within the sacrament of marriage, do you?
The year is 2005, and the divisions between church and state are universal across Europe. Those divisions entitle churches to hold opinions which are not held by liberal secularists. They also entitle churches to ask of legislatures the politically impossible, and for law-making bodies simply to simply decline the request. But we live in a world of such moral complexity that it should be possible for people to state their opinions, especially when they are entirely free of hatred of any kind, without being accused of being "offensive". However, any conversation about the reality of homosexuality is now virtually impossible without the "o" argument rearing its head.
Few right-minded people would agree with Cardinal Ratzinger's opposition to laws permitting male homosexual acts. I emphatically would not. Yet nonetheless, is it not probable that the Aids epidemic that all but wiped out an entire generation of homosexual males in the US could not have occurred on the scale it did if the legal prohibition on sodomy had remained in place? The price of homosexual freedom can thus be measured in the tragedy of hundreds of thousands of lost lives, and the grief of millions.
That these are difficult questions, ones which are likely to trigger a generous use of the "o" word, should not prevent us from considering them. For the sexual revolution of the 1960s has left us with so many complex, perhaps insoluble problems.
In Britain teachers have reported an epidemic of "daisy-chaining", where children in their early teens retire to a room and have serial, unprotected sex with one another.
In Ireland, we recently heard of the practice of "snowballing", in which a girl will pretend to kiss a boy, but instead blows the sperm she has collected orally from another boy into the mouth of her victim. "Felching", performed by homosexual males, involves the use of a straw and is too disgusting to elaborate on.
Shocked? Of course you are. Which brings us back with a jolt to the kernel of Cardinal Ratzinger's concern: "neither the Church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase".
In other words, where does it all end? We know that the legal prohibition on sodomy did not work, was cruel and led to all manner of hypocrisy and misery. But the virtual removal of all sexual taboos has not just eliminated them from predictable practices, but from entirely unexpected ones also, such as daisy-chaining and felching.
The sexual revolution was predicated on the myth that, with full sex education and the elimination of obsolete and neurotic restrictions on sexual indulgences, human beings - even teenagers - would be unfailingly rational and wise in the way they pursued sexual pleasure: a simply preposterous belief.
But if it offensive for even the Pope to remind us of this, then who in the name of God is to do so?