(This article was first published on 31 December 2012). Writing for PinkNews.co.uk, Adrian Tippetts argues that the recent series of public attacks on equal marriage by senior Catholic leaders throughout the Christmas period is a reminder of the church’s continued intolerance towards LGBT people.
It would be reasonable to assume that in Britain, at least, the Vatican’s Christmas media blitz of bigotry has failed to win any new souls. The spectacle of evil morons given free airtime, attacking the dignity of LGBT people and sticking their fingers into the lives of people they do not know or understand would have been offensive to a great many Catholics, as well as most of the 66% of people who had no intention of visiting a church over the festive period.
All well and good that these revolting sentiments were met with rolling eyes, but where was the dissenting opinion, apart from a blog by Lynne Featherstone?
Perhaps the nation’s politicians remained stony silent because of what happened to Nick Clegg, who was forced to make contrite apologies after calling the Catholic bishops ‘bigots’ for opposing marriage equality. They know wrong when they see it, but can’t articulate why. Let us take, by way of example, the speech on World Peace Day, when Pope Benedict signalled the Vatican’s intention to work with other religions to stop marriage equality, claiming the family was threatened “to its foundations” by attempts to change its “true structure”. That speech gives us four reasons to charge the Catholic Church of having a hate agenda against LGBT people: seeking to demean gay people as “intrinsically disordered” and thus lesser, unauthentic human beings; seeking their exclusion from society; seeking to scapegoat them for society’s downfall by promoting blatant untruths about the nature of gay people and their relationships; and fourthly, an initiative tantamount to incitement to murder: forming a coalition of faiths against LGBT people.
We know that wherever religion mixes with power, the results are fatal for LGBT people. In Iran, and Iraq, hundreds have been murdered and mutilated in the most grotesque ways imaginable, because of their sexuality. The abductions and death squads were a direct result of similar hate-inciting preachments in Baghdad soon after the fall of Saddam. The fact that pews are emptying in Europe is of relatively little consequence. It is in regions like Africa, where the Catholic Church’s influence and following is growing, and where both Christian and Islamist extremism is on the march, where the Pope hopes his message will hit home, and precisely where LGBT people are in fear of their lives most in the Christian world. It is therefore vital that we – the progressives, the media and politicians – speak out against this.
Opportunistic extremism, tamed by civil rights
Time and again, the media portray the Catholic Church as merely “fighting gay marriage”. This is not true, and here is a fifth reason to accuse the Catholic Church of having a hate agenda: in the west today, civil rights successes have tamed its aspirations, but wherever it has influence, the church seeks to limit or prevent inclusion and acceptance of LGBT people in society, right up to and including criminalisation of gay people. In Spain, the bishops actively campaign to repeal marriage equality legislation; in America, they lobbied against the repeal of the ban on gay people serving in the military and the Defense of Marriage Act; in Italy, the bishops have coerced politicians into blocking any recognition of same-sex relationships or passing hate crime legislation in a country where homophobic violence is rife; at UN level, the Vatican works with Islamic and African nations to undermine resolutions condemning the criminalisation of homosexuality; the Catholic Church in Uganda actively called on the government to pass the notorious ‘kill the gays’ bill. Pope Benedict even blessed the speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, a clear endorsement of the draconian bill that would imprison even relatives who refuse to inform on gay family members.
The other question: does the Pope know he is telling untruths about the queer community? It is telling that when one looks behind the nasty rhetoric, the grandeur of the World Peace Day ceremony, and the air of power and divine authority as the heir to St Peter, the Pope’s claims are as flimsy as the Emperor’s New Clothes. The source of research for this mighty proclamation to 1.2 billion of his followers was the assertion by Gilles Bernheim, France’s chief rabbi, that children raised by gay couples would be more “objects” than individuals. This is of course, at odds with expert opinion on the matter of human sexuality and parenting, about which there have been several peer-reviewed studies over the last decade, with no evidence to show children are disadvantaged by having gay parents. Mr Bernheim almost certainly came to his conclusions about the motivations of gay parents by private meditation, rather than scientific method. Nonetheless, the Pope referred to this as a ‘study’, which was dutifully, lazily reported as such by the world’s news agencies.
It is not just that the Pope is at odds with all expert opinion on the natural diversity of human sexuality and relationships; attitudes have changed because many people know open LGBT people, and have a better understanding of their relationships and their families. In tolerant societies at least, the prejudices on which the Pope would have been able to incite fear or hatred of LGBT people, like his predecessors did against Jews with conspiracy theories in centuries past, can now be challenged.
Senior Catholic figures are falling over themselves to spread untruths and attack gay people. In Cameroon, the Archbishop has taken his cue from the Pope this Christmas to declare LGBT rights a crime against humanity; the English Bishop of Shrewsbury compared the call for marriage equality to the growth of Nazism; and in Scotland, the Catholic Church of Scotland seems to wish homosexuality were a criminal offence, just like in Uganda. Its head, Keith O’Brien, in an interview with Scottish Catholic News declared in 2011: “same-sex relationships are demonstrably harmful to the medical, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of those involved, no compassionate society should ever enact legislation to facilitate or promote such relationships…” His colleagues resort to telling blatant lies about gay people to argue why same-sex relationships are dangerous for society.
Bishop of Glasgow Philip Tartaglia’s baseless assertion that 44-year old politician David Cairns’s premature death was due to his sexual orientation was no careless slip of the tongue: days later, the Catholic Church of Scotland’s press secretary Peter Kearney claimed the average lifespan of gay people was about 20 years shorter than straight people. The most basic web searches, e.g. here would immediately cast doubt on such claims that are most likely linked to the work of a discredited American Christian fundamentalist, Paul Cameron.
These are the kind of views we would expect from a fanatical placard-waving street preacher, yet they have become prime-time discussion points on television news, with the complicity of an unquestioning, unthinking, servile media and political landscape. The Catholic Church’s message is basically the same as that of the Westboro Baptist Church: “fags doom nations”, only the delivery is a little more sophisticated. It is bad enough that when clerics make such absurd statements from British pulpits, their pronouncements are given unquestioning, uncritical, deferential headline news coverage; but those who dare to criticise face the condemnation from all sides.
When gay rights group Stonewall called the Catholic bishops to account by nominating them for the Bigot of the Year award, the politicians and media pundits eagerly condemned Stonewall for trading playground insults, bullying, silencing dissent, acting “no better than their oppressors”. The Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond, called on Stonewall to wonder “whether pejorative titles like this do anything to enhance their cause,” because “personal insults are not conducive to a proper and dignified debate on the important issue of equality in Scotland.” But how selective the condemnation is: when O’Brien compared allowing gay people to marry to allowing slavery, the politicians were nowhere to be found. Indeed, what could be more personally insulting than intruding into the private affairs of gay people and declaring their relationships “spiritually damaging?” Instead, Salmond made every attempt to pretend to a cordial friendship, first-name terms, an “honest” disagreement over policy, and regards of the highest esteem, acting like a passenger-seat nodding toy dog during his televised audience with O’Brien.
The BBC provides a master-class in servility, again
During the Christmas period, the BBC and other news channels presented the clerical attacks unquestioningly, mostly without presenting the views of LGBT people. A few questions Robert Pigott and other holy publicists posing as ‘religious correspondents’ might consider asking include:
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- What does an elderly virgin, with no personal experience in a loving relationship, know about families, or indeed love?
- Since senior members of the Catholic Church have been implicated in covering up child rape on a global scale, why should we take the church’s views about a child’s best interests seriously at all?
- Isn’t this just a cheap ploy to shift the blame for the Catholic Church’s disastrous ban on condoms to a small vulnerable group of people, who mean no harm to others?
- It took the church about 350 years to realise that Galileo was right about the Earth’s relationship to the sun. How long will it take for the church to accept the overwhelming evidence about sexual diversity?
- On what authority do you claim to be so intimate with the mind of God, you know his opinion on whom we should sleep with, and in which circumstances?
- What kind of fools do you take us for?
What you can do
To state the obvious: the leaders of the Catholic Church do not reflect the vast majority of Catholics, who in surveys are shown to be tolerant, accepting of LGBT people and who have a more practical, kinder approach to birth control and the woman’s right to choose. If they are serious about their faith, then surely Jesus’s call in Matthew 5:15, to shine the light into the whole house and not hide it under a bushel, must be of inspiration.
Proclaim that spirit of acceptance openly to your church folk, question your priest and bishop about his position on loving gay relationships and their families. There are a number of liberal Catholic and ecumenical Christian groups, including Catholics for Choice, Inclusive Church and Ekklesia. Work together to make your voice heard louder inside your church and externally with the media. If you don’t, then the only voices we hear will be the extremists, and the consequences for the least of your brethren will be unimaginable.
Furthermore, those who no longer wish to be counted as Catholic should say so publicly. The church counts anyone who has been baptised as being of the faith, and this number is blindly quoted by the media. On this basis, the opinions of Catholic clergy are elevated beyond their true representation. Furthermore, the Holy See says it won’t recognise any application to formally defect from the church: a desperate admission that the numbers are a sham, and a sign of fear that it can expect a flood of requests if such an initiative received publicity. No matter: the internet and social media pages are all you need. In the Netherlands, where official figures say 25% of the nation is Catholic but of those, only 172,700 attend church services weekly (the number has halved in seven years), the latest comments by the Pope were the final straw.
A previously obscure website, www.ontdopen.nl enabling Catholics to publicly renounce their faith has had over 10,000 hits a day. This initiative in the Netherlands is not so surprising, given that only recently the Catholic Church’s monstrous programme of castrating gay youths in its care during the 1950s has just been exposed.
If, like the majority, you have no interest in religion, and share disgust, then write to your MP or newspaper. Join organisations like the National Secular Society, the British Humanist Association or the Richard Dawkins Foundation, who try to limit religious privilege in the public sphere, or support the human rights work of the Peter Tatchell Foundation. Complain to the BBC about biased coverage. Make yourself heard.
Finally, a note to the man who poses as @pontifex on Twitter: a century ago, your church demonised the Jews in a similar, tawdry fashion. Your bishops repeated the myths of a conspiracy to take control of the worlds banks and newspapers; a myth which inspired unimaginable horror decades later. But it is easy to pretend innocence of all consequences, for those preachments lie in dusty newspaper archives and bookshelves. Today, your clergy have found a new cause of all the world’s ills. But unlike a century ago, evidence of such revolting preachments will be easily accessible, digitally preserved and audible in full colour, as if it were made yesterday. And I bet it will be a better advert for non-belief than anything that even Richard Dawkins could muster.
Adrian Tippetts is a freelance journalist, human rights campaigner and PR consultant specialising in the graphics industry.
The views expressed in this article are his own and not those of PinkNews.co.uk