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APRIL 8, 2005
A papal smear
Against the torrent of media coverage
of the pope as much-beloved, we should not forget
the human cost of his policies on gays and condom use.
By CHRIS CRAIN
T WAS LIKE RONALD
Reagan all over again. For
the second time in less than
a year, we have witnessed a
tremendous outpouring of
grief and love for a major
historical figure whose
record on HIV/AIDS and the treatment of
gay people was disturbing, at best.
Except this time the mourning masses
and fawning media coverage has been
worldwide, not nationwide, and the historical record is downright pernicious,
rather than unforgivably neglectful.
We all knew Ronald Reagan, even if he
wasn't a friend of ours, and Pope John
Paul II was no Ronald Reagan.
Where the former president responded
in an irresponsibly slow manner in the
early years of HIV/AIDS, the former
pope actively blocked HIV prevention in
an unconscionable fashion. Where
President Reagan largely ignored early
attempts to enact gay rights legislation,
Pope John Paul heartlessly campaigned
against gays and their families.
The laudable role played by the Polish
pope in bringing down the totalitarian
communist states of Eastern Europe has
been told and retold countless times since
his death. But as was the case in the days
following the death of the former president, the media has reduced to passing
mention — or ignored entirely — the former pope's controversial record on the
issues of particular importance to gays.
THERE ARE VARIOUS THEORIES
about why this pope was so aggressively
regressive in his views about sex in general, and homosexuality in particular.
Some say he had been sheltered in
Poland by the Iron Curtain from the
growing scientific, psychological and
social understanding of homosexuality
and the aspirations of gay people. Others
argue that he was more concerned about
re-establishing authoritarian order in a
church whose believers had largely
rejected Vatican teaching on sex. Like all
priests and nuns who take a vow of
chastity, he was uniquely unequipped to
plum the complex depths of human sexuality in any meaningful fashion.
Whatever his reasons, his record is
clear. John Paul II inherited Roman
Catholic doctrine that viewed "homosexual acts" as "intrinsically disordered," and
he quickly expanded that insulting label
to mere "homosexual attraction" as well.
In the face of a universally recognized
population explosion of crisis proportions, and the global pandemic of AIDS
that was killing millions and orphaning
tens of millions, this pope adhered to traditional Catholic dogma that the use of
condoms is a sin.
And more than that, he used the influence of the church, especially as it grew in
the Third World countries of Africa and
elsewhere, to discourage condom use, and
to block HIV prevention programs that
dared to differ. The human cost of those
choices will be tallied for generations, but
it's already clear the body count for which
John Paul bears responsibility is far larger than the several million who have
flocked to Rome to pay him last respects.
IN THE LATTER YEARS OF HIS
papacy, John Paul II aggressively breached
the wall between church and state and lobbied Western governments against treating gays equally under civil law.
This campaign came even as a shocking scandal of sexual abuse by priests,
facilitated by the active neglect of the
Vatican, was proving once more that the
Roman Catholic leadership lacked basic
understanding of adult sexual behavior.
Any non-religious institution facing such
clear evidence of misguided thinking, negligent oversight and active cover-up would
have been so thoroughly discredited that
its views on anything related to human
sexuality would be rejected out of hand.
But Pope John Paul n, after only
addressing the issue directly a handful of
times and acting in baby steps only after
the outcry was impossible to ignore, was
undaunted. Rather than retreat to reconsider whether centuries-old thinking about
sexuality and celibacy caused or contributed to the crisis, the pope's spokesman
joined a chorus of cardinals and bishops
blaming the inexcusable sexual abuse of
boys and teenage males on — you guessed
it — gay priests and homosexuality.
If the pope were Jewish, such scape-
goating might quality as chutzpah of epic
proportions. As he was not, the more
Catholic description of "intrinsically dis
ordered" or "evil" seems more apt.
Whether as a distraction or because
the arrogance of papal "infallibility"
knows no bounds, Pope John Paul continued until his dying months to attack any
effort to lend civil legal recognition to
gay couples, even though doing so would
expand health insurance coverage and '
ensure a more stable home and protected
future for children raised in gay families.
THE PRESS EVENTUALLY GOT AROUND
to filling in the dark side of Ronald
Reagan's legacy and there's every reason to
believe they'll do so with this pope as well,
especially as the cardinals meet to choose
his successor Hopefully the Gay & Lesbian
Alliance Against Defamation and our other
advocacy groups won't lose their voices for
fear of offending "people of faith," everyone's favorite post-election focus group.
Don't expect the next Roman Catholic
pontiff to hand down or even allow a more
tolerant posture on gays or condoms, much
less apologize for John Paul's shameful
record. The Vatican waited until 1992 to
finally apologize for forcing Galileo to
recant his view that the earth revolved
around the sun, and it was eight years
later before" John Paul apologized for two
millennia of Catholic Church actions that
mocked the teachings of Jesus Christ.
If we are to challenge religious tenets
like those of the Roman Catholic Church,
we should be direct and straightforward.
So far, gay rights groups have joined
Democrats in ceaseless talk about "having conversations" with people of faith,
which comes off sounding like an especially meaningless episode of "Oprah."
Catholic and non-Catholic heterosexuals need to understand that the church's
teaching on homosexual sex is essentially
the same as their own sexual behavior:
Every act is sinful unless specifically
intended to pro-create; that means no
marital sex for pleasure and no condoms
or birth control. Because our homosexual
behavior can never have that aim, and
our "homosexual attraction" is recognized to be "innate," gays are to be entirely chaste: no love, no sex, no nothing.
Even Catholic priests, who at least can
marry the church, have proven incapable
of living up to that restriction.
The Catholic doctrine on homosexuality is indefensible, and when it is fully
explained, is completely out of step with
accepted modern ideas about human sexuality Sometimes it takes a few good
funerals for real progress, but don't
expect the burial of
Pope John Paul II help
the blind men in
charge at the Vatican
to finally see.
Chris Crain is
it executive editor of
the Houston Voice
and can be reached at