Thursday, September 15, 2016

On the De-Gaying of Popes (and Saints): The Media May Sell, But I'm Not Buying

At Catholic news and blog sites, I'm now reading comments the gist of which is to say that if the media and biographers have declared Pope Benedict XVI to be heterosexual, then heterosexual he must be. I wonder about the credulity that seems to me to lie behind such acquiescence in this media meme.

If the media declare that Hillary Clinton has 1) a battery in her brain, 2) suffers from seizures, 3) has heart problems, 3) cannot walk up stairs without someone shoving her from behind, 4) must be propped up by pillows, 4) has Parkinson's disease, 5) has syphillis — then must Hillary Clinton really have this congeries of illnesses? Who creates media memes, and why are they created?

As David Gibson notes in reporting on the emerging and already powerful new meme that Pope Benedict was quite the looker who was very attractive to women in his younger days, and infatuated with at least one woman, 

In these days of great anxiety in the church about the role of gays and gay rights, leaking stories about papal crushes can also be useful for signaling that a pope is straight, and not just straight but also virile and seriously attractive to women, an attraction he naturally must renounce. 
But it's still a balancing act — trying to advertise a pontiff's shared humanity with the flock while not encouraging prurient speculation.

If nothing else, this new meme is telling us that heterosexuality is the default — the only thinkable — definition of human sexuality for Catholics, and no pope can ever be anything other than heterosexual. Q.e.d.

It's a bit shameful, isn't it, though not surprising, that many media commentators continue to be willing to slap non-heterosexual Catholics and non-heterosexual human beings in general in the face with this talk of the "normalcy" of heterosexuality and heterosexual popes like Benedict XVI? Do journalists developing this meme really never stop to think about the implication of memes about normalcy that automatically exclude whole sets of human beings from the category of normalcy?

Benedict the normal. St. Benedict Just a Regular Guy, ora pro nobis. (But none of this sits easily with what I've heard about Joseph Ratzinger as a young priest from people who knew him back when and are, I have every reason to think, credible sources.)

This Vatican-generated, media-and-academy-abetted story is most certainly being generated because the pope emeritus is nearing the end of his life journey, and it has now become de rigueur to rush any dead pope to sainthood soon after he has died. But a gay pope? A gay saint?

Does not compute. Cannot be. Is not possible. Ask John Henry Newman and Ambrose St John, whose specific wishes (written in Newman's will) to be buried together in the same grave Catholic officials sought to violate by disinterring Newman's body and to move it to a shrine in Birmingham separate from St John — though I've read that Newman and St John foiled this scheme by turning out to be so completely decomposed that there was nothing left to move when the grave was opened.

Should we believe media memes simply because they are media memes, because the media tell us so? Ask Rock Hudson and Liberace if you want an honest answer to that question.

De-gaying obviously gay people of prominence is hardly a new media scheme.

The photograph of John Henry Newman and Ambrose St John is from Wilfrid Ward's The Life of John Henry Cardinal Newman (London: Longman, Green & Co., 1912), p. 80, and is in the public domain.

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