It is hard to knock a Pope in Ireland without being seen to be taking sides in an old sectarian quarrel – or are we passed that?
When the MP Iris Robinson said that she found homosexuality an abomination she was gloriously pilloried by those of us who defend gays as equals and friends. Now the Pope has said that ‘human ecology’ requires the abolition of homosexual activity. Nasty old Nazi. Imagine saying a thing like that!
Pope Benedict has provided his critics with all the evidence they need that he is a throwback, except that you don’t get to throw a pope back to where you got him from; you are stuck with him until he dies.
He tells us from his wisdom that homosexual activity is something man has to be saved from, much as the earth has to be saved from the destruction of the rain forests. What offends here is not just the recitation of the old teaching that same sex union is sinful, but the sense of proportion implied.
You would think that, had the pope been looking for an example of sinful sexual behaviour that might be an affront to nature, from which our salvation is urgent, he might have noticed that his own priests have been molesting children in huge numbers and that his own office has been covering it up. Or is that below the belt?
Strangest of all about what he says is his assertion that he is defending human nature. The Catholic church theology of nature is shown now to be a fraud. Benedict understands human nature from his reading of the Book of Genesis, not from his reading of nature itself, which would show that some people are sexually attracted to and bond with people of the same sex as themselves.
Benedict does not want you to live by your nature but to fight against it, the way he fights it himself. Surely priestly celibacy is as much a divergence from nature, as he teaches it, as gay sex is.
But, some will argue, he has to say these things from time to time; you can’t expect him to change Catholic teaching on homosexual activity, or on a whole host of sexual considerations, like contraception or sex before marriage.
Well, the church does change its view of things. It no longer repeats the old law that the word of a Christian is always to be accepted before the word of a Jew, for instance. The hygiene laws of the book of Leviticus, which would seem to require you to ask a woman if she is having her period before you sit beside her on a bus, have also fallen into disuse.
Of course the papacy, we are often told, does not defer to public opinion, and this coming badly timed in the wake of Iris Robinson’s remarks, is beneath notice in the Vatican. So a few western liberals will be appalled, the world is wider than the West and many others will be impressed.
Pope Benedict, of course, may indeed be thinking more politically than morally, given how popular his words will be in some quarters. With the episcopal churches in Africa splitting the Anglican communion on gay ordination, Benedict might be effectively hoisting a sign to let them all know they would be perfectly at home in his church, which shares their horror and their sense of what Nature requires.
But there will be a cost for this among western Catholics, many, perhaps most, of whom are liberal in their theology and generous in their understanding of sexuality.They know the calamity for the church that past obsessions about sex have turned out to be, particularly the teaching on contraception, also grounded on the bizarre Papal understanding of the laws of nature, and integrally bound up with its abhorrence of homosexuality. As theologians explained at the time, if you couldn’t argue that sex was for procreation rather than pleasure, then you would have no argument against all the other things that couples do, or that people do on their own, that give them pleasure but don’t produce offspring.
These teachings, in Ireland anyway, are almost universally ignored and the loss of moral authority in the church, which followed from them, has been massive.
Pope Benedict has done a service to anti Catholic secular liberals every where; he has made himself an easy target.
But a Pope is never an easy target for liberals in Ireland. yet there has been speculation that he is coming here soon.
When he does, he must be met with a sea of pink derision. We should nopt be inhibited bythe legacy of sectarianism from giving him the full Iris treatment.