Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Sex, Politics and Religion


The Eleventh General Assembly of the Synod of the Bishops has witnessed a marked shift in official Vatican rhetoric towards gay and lesbian members of the community.

Where the former pontiff Ratzinger referred to homosexuality as "intrinsically disordered", an interim report from the Bishops' conference states gay and lesbians have "gifts and qualities to offer to the Christian community".

Wow. How generous of them. It sounds about as patronising as a vote-hungry politician talking about the mentally handicapped, but hey, it's better than being deemed morally evil.

Unfortunately, "gifts and qualities" seems to be where the uncharacteristic positivity ends. The Bishops' dispatch goes on to say while the church can probably try at some point to think about discussing accepting gays and lesbians into the church "community", they cannot marry, nor will the church alter its discriminatory foreign and charitable aid provisions. After all, people fighting for equality in the community are merely "inspired by gender ideology".

While the Vatican's shift in rhetoric is welcome, rational people should not be too quick to applaud it. Like a despotic regime, the Vatican has a habit of speaking nicely when people are looking, but returning to the status quo when backs are turned.

The current Pope, the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been praised by some as a reformer, quite rightly in some regards. But he is still the head of one of the world's most conservative organisations. One committed, as ever, to its own mediaeval concepts of morality, sin and of total domination in this life and the next.

Take the Pope's own widely-reported comments on homosexuality ("If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge them?"). Praised as the mark of a new and open attitude from the Vatican, these remarks were swiftly followed-up with a statement that the Pope firmly believes in the sanctity of marriage; man and woman; homosexuality a sin...blah, blah, blah.

The song remains the same.

The Catholic church will not compromise any of its dogmatic obsessions, especially in the bedroom. Even these tiny alterations in rhetoric (concessions to humanity and reality, if you will) have brought swift and predictable condemnation from the most conservative of Catholic conservatives, some of whom have called the Synod's report a "betrayal" and one of the "worst official documents ever drafted in Church history".

But we should not be surprised. Despite the shiny new pontiff and his positive words, the Vatican still declines to co-operate fully with police investigations into child abuse, refusing most recently to hand over documents to our own Royal Commission into child sexual abuse. 'Disappointing, but not surprising' was the general consensus on the Vatican's decision.

And in the last bastion of medieval Catholicism, Africa, dozens of nations continue to criminalise homosexual acts and abortions. LBGT advocates are regularly persecuted and many have been found dead. All this in the name of the Vatican's loving god.

While it is genuinely nice to see a rhetorical shift in official Vatican attitudes towards gay and lesbians, it means nothing until it is backed up by action; action against the vilification and ongoing discrimination supported by many of the church's faithful against homosexuals. For that, I won't hold my breath. It doesn't seem a bunch of 60+ year old virgins will stop having their say in Catholics' sex lives any time soon.

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