As world leaders talk peace, pope does opposite


OPINION:FIGHTING HOMOPHOBIA is as vital as saving the rainforests. That is not exactly what Pope Benedict XVI may have been hinting at last week, but let's run with this slightly amended version of those newspaper headlines reporting - or interpreting - the pope's address to the Curia just before Christmas.

"Rainforests deserve, yes, our protection, but the human being . . . does not deserve it less," he said.

I must say, I wholeheartedly agree. The man in the little red loafers who sits on a gold throne flanked by cherubs sure knows how to get our attention.

"It is not outdated metaphysics when the church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman, and asks that this natural order be respected," he said. He spoke of gender theories - that does include sexual orientation - "which lead towards the definitive emancipation of man from creation and from the creator".

The church, he said, "should also protect man from the destruction of himself. A sort of ecology of man is needed."

I agree with Il Papa, though his theological purple prose and pseudo-scientific Star Trek dialogue needs work. Otherwise, I couldn't have said it better myself. Hatred and prejudice does intolerable damage to humanity.

It's important, however, to put his words in their real context. The Vatican describes homosexuality as "objectively disordered". It says homosexual acts are sinful, though sexual orientation is not. Last October, a leading Vatican official described homosexuality as a "deviation, an irregularity, a wound". The pope's blurry statement gives him wriggle room, but it's almost certain that he was referencing gays, lesbians and the transgendered.

As opposition mounted to his speech last week, a Vatican spokesman disingenuously said he had not intended to specifically attack homosexuals or transsexuals: "He was speaking more generally about gender theories which overlook the fundamental difference in creation between men and women and focus instead on the role of cultural conditioning."

In other words, homosexuality and transsexuals. Either way, it was too little, too late.

As most world leaders talked peace and inclusiveness, the pope just couldn't resist doing the opposite. He is supposed to be an intellectual and philosophical man - or so he would like us to believe - and thus chooses his words carefully. He knew very well the impact these words would have. As such, his vagueness was cowardly, dishonest and inflammatory, like lighting a match in a forest, but then innocently standing back from the blaze.

With its cyclops eye on the possible legalisation of same-sex unions down the line, this month the Vatican also opposed a proposed non-binding UN declaration, supported by 66 countries including all 27 EU states, formally calling for the end to criminalising homosexuals. "Rainforests deserve, yes, our protection, but the human being . . . does not deserve it less." Remember? Yet some rainforests are more deserving of our protection than others.

In Iran, Yemen, Sudan and Saudi Arabia, among others, being homosexual can mean a death sentence. In case we need reminding, in 2005, two gay teenagers, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, were hanged in Iran's Edalat Square in Mashhad. Since 1979, when Iran became an Islamic Republic, it has systematically turned its homicidal mantra on homosexuality into harassment, lashings, imprisonment and, yes, executions.

The Vatican's permanent observer at the UN, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, said the Vatican "appreciates" the attempts made in the declaration on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity to condemn all forms of violence against homosexuals, including criminal penalties, but said, "At the same time, the Holy See notes that the wording of this declaration goes well beyond the above-mentioned and shared intent."

Migliore added, "In particular, the categories 'sexual orientation' and 'gender identity', used in the text, find no recognition or clear and agreed definition in international law . . . The Holy See continues to advocate that every sign of unjust discrimination towards homosexual persons should be avoided and urges states to do away with criminal penalties against them."

Considering its own shocking encyclicals, that last addition is a bit rich.

Knee deep in double-speak and faux-academic language, the church also has deep-seated avoidance tendencies. Amid calls for his resignation, Bishop of Cloyne John Magee said he takes full responsibility for the "errors" in relation to the mismanagement of child sexual abuse claims. Full responsibility does not include resigning and came after Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said he was "extremely concerned" about the matter.

Still, when it comes to its own problems of priests sexually abusing children, the church uses the most benign language. In May 2005, a priest at the Cloyne diocese was named in an allegation of child sexual abuse. Only on November 19th, 2005, six months after the authorities at Cloyne were made aware of the accused's name, were gardaí informed.

Errors? These were not "errors". Error doesn't come close to describing it.

While there was widespread revulsion over the pope's words, some from within the church, his "gender theories" trickle down to classrooms and workplaces, and give thugs on street corners and oppressive regimes their twisted "moral" clout.

Some advice for the pontiff: fix your own child protection policies and let the rest of us worry about protecting the rainforests.