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No Hope for the Pope
I t should have come as no surprise, but somehow liberal Catholics in the U.S. were caught off guard when the conservative Cardinal John Ratzinger became Benedict XVI. With this new hardline Pope in place, U.S. liberals, both Catholic and non-Catholic, are going to have to come to terms with some hard realities about the Pope and the Vatican.
As became very clear in the media commentary on the papal election, the world-wide Roman Catholic church—especially the rapidly growing communities in Africa and Asia, as well as large parts of South America—is deeply conservative on issues of moral and sexual theology and orthodoxy. While Catholics in the United States, as well as European countries such as Germany and Ireland, are far more inclined to be liberal leaning in their stands on sexual morality, they make up just over 10 percent of world Catholics. The fact that Roman Catholicism—which under the pastoral care of Pope John Paul II had become aggressively involved in secular politics—takes an overwhelmingly right-wing, condemnatory stance on anything it sees as deviating from traditional Catholic sexual morality is going to present an unprecedented problem for progressives in the United States and around the world.
Since his election the U.S. media has attempted to separate Pope Benedict XVI from his former persona as arch-conservative Cardinal John Ratzinger. Noting his humility and conciliatory statements—he stated that he was “a simple and humble worker in the Lord’s vineyards”—even the New York Times , which had been highly critical of Ratzinger’s work as the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, managed to rehabilitate him as “shy, orderly, funny” and printed charming stories of his drinking German beer and playing Mozart on his piano.
For decades the U.S. liberal establishment and U.S. Catholics have held onto a fantasy of Vatican II as the defining moment of post-war Catholicism, not just for Europe and the Americas, but for the world. John XXIII was, in many people’s eyes, the Kennedy Pope and Vatican II was his Camelot—a glorious, Roman Catholic version of the New Deal and the New Frontier that would move Catholicism from the medieval past into the beautiful future of social equality in which mass would be celebrated in the vernacular, nuns’ habits would be modernized, and the Pope mobile would replace the traditional chair as a form of papal transportation.
While Pope John XXIII was a progressive pope in many ways— his love of the people was a direct and moving contrast to the public austerity and rigidness of his predecessor Pius XII—he also vigorously upheld traditional Catholic morality. In his 1959 Ad Petri Cathe- dram he proclaimed that there was one revealed truth, which was to be found in Catholicism, and that to hold this in “contempt” would “result in incalculable losses to the individual and the whole social structure.” In his 1961 Mater et Magistra he affirmed that, according to natural law, the role of human sexuality is permissible only in marriage and that, “Everyone [i.e., non-Catholics as well] without exception is bound to accept these laws.” Most important, John XXIII urged new efforts in the Third World and the ordination of “native clergy” to work with their own people. This was the beginning of a massive church effort of conversions akin to those that occurred in the great territorial conquests of the 15th and 16th centuries—and the basis for the cultural and theological makeup of the church today.
Under his successor Paul VI there was a shift to a more hard line on issues of personal morality as he reaffirmed the church’s stand on birth control, divorce, and celibacy for priests. Along with urging more missionary work in the Third World, he also insisted on a larger role for non-European and U.S. Catholics and clergy, thereby shifting the makeup of the College of Cardinals to make sure some of them came from Third World countries.
Of course, the greatest shift in tone came from John Paul II who, following the lead of his predecessors, made insistent demands that the church’s teachings on sexual morality and reproduction be followed not only by Catholics, but be enacted into secular law. He issued numerous statements condemning legislation that promoted reproductive rights, abortion, access to alternative means of reproduction, anti-discrimination laws to protect gay people, and laws protecting alternative families.
Benedict XVI’s honeymoon period will undoubtedly end soon, given the fact that the day before his election he spent considerable time in a homily decrying “the dictatorship of relativism.”
The reality is that the church has hardly changed its mind about sexual issues—ever—and is not about to now. But there is a second liberal illusion about the Vatican and the Roman Church that goes hand in hand with this—i.e., that the Pope and his faithful followers do not have a great deal of power. This may have been true 75 or 100 years ago, but is not true now. The Roman church, in the last 50 years, has regrouped and reinvigorated itself as a player and is more powerful than it has been for almost 200 years. On the world stage this has been seen over the past 30 years, beginning with the papacy of Paul VI and the Vatican’s unceasing efforts to stamp out liberation theology in South and Central America. But that was only the beginning.
One of the most important places that this power may manifest itself—aside from the Vatican attempting to influence U.S. politics—will be in the United Nations as primarily Catholic Third World countries will be voting on funding for birth control, AIDS prevention, and sex education. (Already we have seen alliances between some primarily Catholic countries and Islamic countries on votes about freedom for women and sexual issues, especially the relaxing of regulations on homosexuality.)
In November 2003, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, the Vatican’s spokesperson on family affairs stated, “Relying on condoms is like betting on your own death,” claiming—as scientific fact—that condoms are too permeable to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS. Although the World Health Organization countered this with the information that condoms are a highly efficient means of preventing the spread of HIV, Trujillo responded, “They are wrong about that.... This is an easily recognizable fact.”
This blatant, deadly, and intentional misstatement of scientific fact has been carried from the Vatican by bishops and cardinals, mostly in Asia and Africa where the church is growing quickest and where AIDS is spreading the fastest. For example, 20 percent of the population of Kenya is HIV positive, but the Roman Catholic clergy has repeatedly condemned condom use as immoral, stating that as a form of birth control it is against “natural law” and promotes promiscuity. The church also publicizes and reiterates the lie about condom permeability. As AIDS spreads across these countries, the death toll climbs higher and higher.
This is, sadly and ironically, history repeating itself. In the middle ages and the Renaissance the Vatican’s Inquisition would kill people for not adhering to church doctrine. Now people face a hastened death for following doctrine. Karl Marx succinctly noted, history repeats itself, “the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
Michael Bronski has been involved in gay liberation as a political organizer, writer, editor, publisher, and theorist since 1969. His most recent book is Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps (St. Martin’s, 2003).
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; email@example.com; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; email@example.com; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: email@example.com; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.