Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Times: Blog: Fr. Joe Borg: Is Pope Benedict anti-gay?

Monday, 29th December 2008

Aldo Gatt’s postings under my blog “Christmas: a subversive feast” shows how hurt he is by what Pope Benedict said during his annual state of the world address to high officials of the Vatican on December 22. Like many people who are hurt Mr Gatt is also very angry. I empathise with him. People who feel hurt deserve our attention and love.

What did the Pope say?

Several media reports said that by this speech the Pope was stoking homophobia and that he also was gay basher. Is he?

In an interview Cardinal Ratzinger gave to La Repubblica in 2004 he said: “Above all, we must have great respect for these people who also suffer and who want to find their own way of correct living.” Does he now believe that gays do not deserve respect? Not at all.

There is perfect continuity between Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope Benedict. Both make a very important distinction between the human person and the acts committed by a human person. Even when the acts committed deserve one’s condemnation the human person should always be respected and loved. But on the other hand this love and respect should not preclude anyone from clearly stating that someone’s actions are to be condemned.

This distinction is very important to understand the substance and the spirit of the December 22 speech by Pope Benedict.

The Pope in his speech said, in other words: if we respect the environment and protect it we should respect the human person who crowns the environments; this respect includes the defense of human sexuality as expressed in marriage which by its very nature is a union between man and women.

The Pope said that the Church “ought to safeguard not only the earth, water, and air as gifts of creation, belonging to everyone. It ought also to protect man against the destruction of himself. What is necessary is a kind of ecology of man, understood in the correct sense.”

The Pope than outlines what the Church believes is this ecology of man:

“When the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected, it is not the result of an outdated metaphysic. It is a question here of faith in the Creator and of listening to the language of creation, the devaluation of which leads to the self-destruction of man and therefore to the destruction of the same work of God. That which is often expressed and understood by the term ‘gender;, results finally in the self-emancipation of man from creation and from the Creator. Man wishes to act alone and to dispose ever and exclusively of that alone which concerns him. But in this way he is living contrary to the truth, he is living contrary to the Spirit Creator. The tropical forests are deserving, yes, of our protection, but man merits no less than the creature, in which there is written a message which does not mean a contradiction of our liberty, but its condition.”

No discrimination against gays

One can agree with what the Pope said and one can disagree. There is no problem there. But do the Pope’s words contain any hint of hate? Definitely not. The Pope’s words express the position of the church: gays should be respected but homosexual acts are to be condemned. When the church says this thing it is not discriminating against gays. The church’s teaching applies to gays and straights. Full sexual acts are to be left to the intimacy of marriage which can only exist between man and women. The church does not condemn only homosexual acts but it also condemns sexual acts of heterosexuals outside of marriage. There are heterosexuals who disagree with the teaching of the church on pre-marital and extramarital sex as there are homosexuals who disagree with the teaching of the church on homosexual acts. Should heterosexual feel offended when the church condemns heterosexual acts outside of marriage and says that these undermine marriage and the family and as a consequence undermine society? I can understand those who disagree but I cannot see how one can say that by teaching this thing the Church would be stoking hatred against heterosexuals. The teaching of the church is no discrimination.

The comparison the Pope made between the protection of the rain forest and the protection of marriage between man and women is a good and intelligent comparison. Alas it is also an example that can be caricatured and made to look grotesque. This speech, like the Pope’s speech in Regensburg, is logical and intellectually sound. But perhaps the comparison is not very media savvy and friendly.

Discrimination against heterosexuals

The 33-year-old German philosophy scholar Raphaela Schmid some years ago gave a speech explaining why denying marriage to homosexuals is not a form of injustice. Society has long given advantages to married couples for reasons of procreation and socialisation. A married man and woman typically produce, raise and educate children -- a vital process of social renewal that deserves preferential status. A homosexual union is just one of many types of stable relationships that do, and should, not enjoy the status or benefits of marriage. Schmid says that this is not unjust discrimination. On the contrary, she said, legalisation of gay marriage would represent a form of discrimination against all those who live in unmarried relationships of a nonsexual nature: sisters who share the same house, an unmarried woman who takes care of her mother, etc. To the objection that many marriages fail, with consequential damage to the couple and the children, Schmid said the proper response is not to give up on marriage but to take steps to strengthen it.

Schmid then turned the discrimination accusation around. She said those who believe homosexual acts are immoral deserve to have their views heard in the public debate on homosexual unions. To dismiss these views as "irrational" because they are based on religious faith would be discriminatory, she said. Finally, she said, the fight against gay marriage should not be seen as a Catholic battle. "The difference between homosexual relationships and marriage has not been invented by Christianity, nor is it upheld only by Catholics," she said.


I am sure that Aldo Gatt does not agree with this line of thinking. But I hope that he will not be offended by it as I will not be offended by his defence of homosexual marriage. I respect him though I do not agree with him and I am certain that he will return the favour.

Till next time I wish you all good bye and good luck.

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