Tuesday, April 19, 2005

New pope selection angers many gays

Tom Musbach, PlanetOut Network

SUMMARY: The white smoke-and-bells symbolism heralding a new pope lacked joy for many LGBT Catholics once they learned he is Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany.


White smoke rose above the Sistine Chapel and bells heralded the election of a new pope on Tuesday, but the symbolism lacked joy for many LGBT Catholics once they learned the new pope is Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany.

The 78-year-old ultraconservative cardinal has been the doctrinal guardian for the church as prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith since 1981. Liberals often refer to him as "God's rottweiler" because of his reputation for cracking down on dissenters, including those who have challenged the church's teachings on homosexuality.

Ratzinger, who takes the name Benedict XVI as pope, has been one of the most powerful men in the Vatican and was Pope John Paul II's chief theological adviser for the past 20 years.

After the traditional white smoke signal and bell-ringing in St. Peter's Square, the new pope greeted a cheering crowd on Tuesday and offered his first papal blessing.

Cheering was not offered, however, from many liberals and gay Catholics.

"I am very disappointed at the selection of Cardinal Ratzinger as pope," said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which serves U.S. gay and lesbian Catholics. "He has been a lightning rod for the anger that many lesbian and gay people and other progressive Catholics have felt during the papacy of John Paul II."

"He has been notorious in his resolve to silence discussion," DeBernardo told the PlanetOut Network. "He authored the 1986 'Letter to the Bishops on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,' which attempted to end welcoming pastoral approaches to lesbian and gay people, and tried to end the discussion on homosexuality."

Matt Foreman, a gay Catholic who is also head of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, called the new pope's record "one of unrelenting, venomous hatred for gay people."

"Someday, the church will apologize to gay people as it has to others it has oppressed in the past," Foreman said in a statement. "I very much doubt that this day will come during this pope's reign."

"It's a full-scale attack on the reformist wing of the church," wrote conservative political blogger Andrew Sullivan, who is a gay Catholic. "The swiftness of the decision and the polarizing nature of this selection foretell a coming civil war within Catholicism. The space for dissidence, previously tiny, is now extinct."

Laura Montgomery Rutt, a spokeswoman for the U.S. group Soulforce that fights "spiritual violence" against LGBT people, recalled trying to meet for a dialogue with Ratzinger in Rome in 2001. His administrators refused and threatened to call the police.

"His refusal to meet with us indicates his unwillingness to even acknowledge the Spirit evident in the lives of LGBT people," Rutt said. "The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, the office from which he was promoted, was the old office of the Inquisition, and now he brings the Inquisition to his appointment as pope."

DeBernardo noted that Catholics who support LGBT equality in the church are hearty, having survived the 26 years of John Paul II's pontificate.

"That experience has taught them to remain steadfast and prophetic," DeBernardo said. "I hope and pray they will do the same under the new pope. We will not be overcome."

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