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No Pope

Pope John Paul II, the third-longest-sitting pope in the Catholic Church’s history, whose many statements condemning homosexuality and the rights of gays and lesbians routinely angered members of the worldwide gay community, died on Saturday evening. He was 84.

Notes The Advocate . And yes, that just about covers it in the short run. The long run is bit different.

While official Catholic doctrine describes homosexuality as a “disorder,” the Catechism also insists that gays “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.” Celibacy is required for Catholic gays, who cannot carry out God’s sole purpose for having sex–procreation. The Vatican has never accepted any of the arguments offered by those who want to change chruch policy on homosexuality, but it did make a number of statements during the 1970s that were treated as hopeful by gay and lesbian Catholics. New ground was being covered on the issue.

Ah the 70’s! Used to run into priests all the time at the baths back then. Some were remarkably good in bed. Others so terrified they just sat there babbling. Being a polite young man I put on my towel and slipped out of the room quietly without further comment.

The church itself never really interested me, save as spectacle. (Great sets, geat costunes, the music is beautiful, but the book needs work. ) And that’s largely because the Sky Pixie held no special place in heart. And as I never went to Catholic school I wasn’t subject to priestly rape. I could tell how unhappy they all were, however and how pathologically mean the nuns who taught after school Catechism classes. Not very good advertising for a religion. By the time I’d come of sexual age I’d long put its nonsense aside, save as camp –most beautifull rendered in Ronald Firbank’s masterpiece Concerning the Eccentricities of Cardinal Pirelli

The Church itself, as The Advocate notes, had no sense of humor, particularly under the guidance of the just-departed.

But under Pope John Paul II things began to take a decidedly conservative turn. John Paul’s first major statement on homosexuality was not made until 1986, but it marked a significant departure from the hopeful changes, which had begun to mark the previous years. In a “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” the pope stated: “Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil; thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder. Therefore special concern and pastoral attention should be directed to those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not.”

The Church’s own “living out” was to be rigorously ignored. hence the cascade of priestly corpses produced in the early years of the AIDS epidemic were buried lickety-split, with all traces of the deceased’s sexual histories buried with them.

The key in the letter was “objective disorder”– the Vatican had not used such language before, and it outraged many. John Paul II was saying that even if homosexuality is not freely chosen by each individual, it is nevertheless inherently and objectively wrong.

Wow. Faster-acting than Original Sin !

As a result of the letter, American Catholic support for the Vatican’s position dropped from around 68% to 58%.

Quel surprise.

The Vatican’s attack on gays and lesbians living in the United States continued five years later when gay rights initiatives began to appear on ballots in several states. A directive to the bishops titled “Some Considerations Concerning the Catholic Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons” was issued, declaring: “Recently, legislation had been proposed in some American states which would make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal…. Such initiatives, even where they seem more directed toward support of basic civil rights than condonement of homosexual activity or a homosexual lifestyle, may in fact have a negative impact on the family and society…. Even when the practice of homosexuality may seriously threaten the lives and well-being of a large number of people, its advocates remain undeterred and refuse to consider the magnitude of the risks involved.”

The “risk” of love. The “risk” of human happiness. The “risk” of a life well-lived in Truth and Honesty.

The pope’s position on homosexuality only grew more harsh over time. In his 2005 book Memory and Identity, John Paul labels homosexuality an “ideology of evil,” saying, as part of a discussion of same-sex marriage, “It is legitimate and necessary to ask oneself if this is not perhaps part of a new ideology of evil, perhaps more insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man.”

It is legitimate and necessary to ask, “shouldn’t his holiness put down the pocket mirror?”

The Catholics of Boston, Ground Zero for the long-simmering pedophile priest crisis that finally split wide and very publically open only a few short years ago, would certainly seem to think so.

“I think that it’s fair to say that John Paul had kind of a love affair with Boston from the time he was archbishop of Krakow and he made a trip here,” said Dr. James E. Post, a Boston University professor who is president of Voice of the Faithful, a lay Catholic group that formed in response to the sexual abuse crisis. Adding to Boston’s sense of connection with the pope, he said, was the appointment of Boston’s former mayor, Raymond Flynn, as American ambassador to the Vatican in the mid-1990’s. “There was always a perception of a warm relationship between the people of Boston and the Holy Father.”

But, Dr. Post said, “His behavior in response to the sex abuse crisis disappointed many Catholics. He seemed very reluctant to remove Cardinal Law or accept Cardinal Law’s resignation. His personal relationship with the cardinal seemed to stand in the way of his being willing to address the problems of the archdiocese.”

Dr. Post said Boston Catholics appreciated some of what the pope eventually did, including meeting with American cardinals about the crisis.
“But when he brought Cardinal Law back to Rome and gave him the appointment at Mary Major, that was more than puzzling – it was deeply disturbing to Catholics in Boston,” Dr. Post said. “It seemed that he was being rewarded for bad behavior, and run-of-the-mill ordinary Catholics just saw this as de facto an insult to the people of Boston.”

Rather than face the music, and quite possibly prison, Law was rewarded with a more exalted office at the vatican, where he will shortly vote for the next Pope. Neat, hunh?

“I think especially now, people of goodwill have a sense of admiration and loss,” said Peter Meade, executive vice president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. “The man has accomplished so much, and I would hope people would let him be at peace.”

But Bernie McDaid, who said he was abused by the Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham, was one of those wrestling with conflicting feelings. Father Birmingham, who died in 1989, was accused of molesting dozens of boys.

“I do not dislike the pope personally – he’s probably a good man – but as far as this issue is concerned, there’s been so much misunderstanding and fear,” said Mr. McDaid, who along with a group of victims sought a meeting with the pope two years ago, and instead met with a Vatican official in Rome.

“They raped and robbed my soul, and there’s almost a shame and a fear to acknowledge this and deal directly with this issue,” he said. “I certainly felt stonewalled all the way up from the Boston diocese to Rome. I don’t want to come off as callous and full of malice. But I had personally hoped that this pope would have been the one to come out publicly on this issue.”

Fat chance.

Dr. Post said he hoped that the next pope would “recognize that the sex abuse crisis worldwide is not over,” and he added that there needed to be a “restoration of the church’s moral integrity.”
Father Cuenin said he expected that the new pope would be “a little more moderate, and perhaps someone who’s not going to be pope for a long time.”
“They have a saying in Italy now that the new pope will be old, Italian and not like to fly,” he said. “Sometimes a shorter papacy is desired so the church can shift gears a little bit. And there is another saying that after a thin pope, you need a fat pope.”

Or maybe No Pope at all.

“Two Popes, my love!” gushed Nico in the Bassano di Sutri sequence of La Dolce Vita , a film made 45 years ago that seems as fresh as milk.

Fellini, deeply marked by Catholicism, yet proundly irreverant towards it, begins his film by replacing a statue of Christ with a statue-like pseudo-oriental dancer in a Roman night club. This cheapjack deity is himself a stand-in — marking time for the appearance of a True Goddess, Anita Eckberg. But no sooner has she departed than we’re whisked away to the pandemonium surrounding a phony “visitation of the Virgin” that looks like a dry run for the Terri Schaivo uproar in which we were asked to believe that twitching corpse was a real live woman, and that a cerebral cortex was as optional as a tonsil. Catholic priests littered that Felliniesque scene too. But they barely kept pace with “fundamentalist” hysterics and right-wing snake-oil slaesmen of all sorts. Even a corpse-coveting Jesse Jackson joined the fray for good measure.

Thankfully that circus has left town, though its stench remains. And so does the stench of horror wafting across the middle east where murderous adepts who claim Islam as their calling murder each other as enthusiastically as they do the troops sent to do the bidding of BushCo’s oil-lusting business masters.

But that’s a much larger subject. Let’s think instead of the Pope whose expiration wasn’t as happy as that of Firbank’s Cardinal Pirelli, expiring froma heart attack brought on by chasing an altar boy too strenuously.

“Up and down , in and out, round and round ‘the Virsin,’ over the worn tombed paveing through Sain Joseph, beneath the cob-web banners from Barocco to purest Moorish, by early Philip, back to Turan-Shah –‘Don’t exasperate me, boy’ — along the raised tribunes of the chorister and the echoing coro — the great fane (after all) was nothing but a cage; God’s cage; the cage of God!…”

Somebody leave the cage open.