Sunday, February 3, 2008

Compendium of Recent Catholic Anti-Gay Initiatives

The following chronicle captures significant events in what commentators are seeing as an unprecedented attempt of the Catholic church to influence government policies regarding LGBT persons as 2008 begins. The Vatican’s direct intervention in many of these instances represents a new development in how the Catholic church relates to the political sphere (at least from a 20th-century perspective)—an attempt to control, rather than dialogue. At the very center of this renewed political activism on the part of the Catholic church is a persistent attempt to undermine initiatives to afford equal rights to gay and lesbian citizens of various nations.
I am offering this chronicle to assist anyone tracking these developments to see them as a single narrative, rather than disparate strands. This is a selective list. I am not even touching on some similar controversies or initiatives in the Catholic nations of the former Eastern bloc, where the church has recently become similarly belligerent.
This is a narrative that should concern LGBT persons and their allies everywhere, as well as anyone interested in safeguarding human rights and preventing violence.
30 Dec. 2007: The tenor for Vatican involvement in politics affecting the lives of LGBT people was set as 2007 ended. On 30 December, when Pope Benedict addressed the faithful in St. Peter’s Square for the noon Angelus on the feast of the Holy Family, he was simultaneously beamed to a large “pro-family” demonstration in Madrid organized by the Spanish bishops.
The demonstration, spearheaded by Cardinal Antonio María Rouco Varela of Madrid, was well-organized and carefully orchestrated. The European media reported that busloads were brought from all over Spain and Portugal. Reports on European websites noted that demonstrators also came from France, Germany, and Austria. Though the Madrid police reported the numbers of demonstrators at 150,000 to 200,000, several right-wing Catholic websites had the figure as high as 2 million.
Huge television screens were set up on which Benedict addressed the crowd in Spanish. Benedict told the crowd that Catholics must resolutely hold to the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman for life. At this comment, news reports say, the crowd roared approval. Rouco Varela informed the faithful gathered for this political rally that Spain's ordinance permitting gay marriage violates the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. Another speaker at the mass demonstration, Archbishop Agustin García-Gasco of Valencia, said that the current Spanish government’s policies re: family "effect the dissolution of democracy."
The Secretary of Spain's governing party, José Blanco, responded by describing the Madrid rally as an overt political action on the part of some Spanish Cardinals, designed to challenge the Socialist party in Spain's upcoming elections by signaling how "authentic" Catholics will cast their vote.
Blanco noted that the comments of the two Archbishops appealed to "false realities and data" (that is, they distorted the truth). He noted that, in addition to legalizing gay marriage, the current Spanish government has implemented a system of financial support for all couples who have babies. The facts, in other words, support the conclusion that this government which has accorded civil rights to gays is pro- rather than anti-family.
Blanco also zeroed in on Rouco Varela's astonishing claim that acceptance of gay marriage contradicts the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights. Blanco asked Rouco Varela to corroborate the claim. To my knowledge, the Cardinal has not yet done so.
Another commentator, Gaspar Llamazares, Coordinator General of Spain's Izquierda Unida party, argued that the mass demonstration harmed the church, since it allowed the extreme conservative wing of the Spanish church to represent itself as the voice of Spanish Catholicism. Polls indicate that the large majority of Catholics in Spain favor gay marriage.
Following the rally, the Spanish prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, reiterated that gay marriage is supported by the "immense majority" of the Spanish people, adding that in Spain, everyone has rights. Following the Madrid demonstration, 150 grass-roots Catholic communities in Spain issued a statement accusing the bishops who orchestrated the event of ignoring the will of the vast majority of Spanish Catholics, who are strongly committed to human rights for all.
Both in the past year and recently, several Spanish bishops have sought to portray homosexuality as either pedophilia or mental illness. In 2007, Bishop Bernardo Álvarez of Tenerife equated homosexuality with pedophilia, a statement for which the Spanish Federation of Lesbians, Gays Transsexuals, and Bisexuals (FELGTB) has filed suit against Álvarez.
In January, 2008, Bishop Rafael Palmero of Orihuela-Alicante stated to the Valencia newspaper Levante, "Biology says that normally it's an illness. What happens is that in some case there might be a concrete situation that has another explanation and such, but normally no one wants to be a homosexual." Palermo added that "same sex marriage" is unnatural and wrong.
More information on these events is in postings I made on 3 Jan. and 10 Jan. to the National Catholic Reporter’s thread, “The Intrinsic Disorder Question Revisited (Again)” at
As the preceding account indicates, the Vatican and other senior Catholic officials appear to have made a deliberate decision, as the new year begins, to mount a strong attack on gay marriage (and gay rights in general). At its level of highest official leadership, the Catholic church seems intent on making the gay issue a central political-religious issue for this year.
1 Jan. 2008: On new year's day, Pope Benedict fulfilled a promise he made in mid-December, when he first issued the text of his new year's address, to make the so-called attack on the Christian model of the family the centerpiece of his new year's statement. In it, Benedict declares that "everything that serves to weaken the family based on the marriage of a man and woman ... constitutes an objective obstacle on the road to peace." Gay unions threaten world peace…. (again, for my take on this statement, see my 3 Jan. posting at NCR
7 Jan. 2008: As the Jesuits gathered in Rome to elect a new Father General, Cardinal Franc Rodé, head of the Vatican congregation that oversees religious communities, gave a homily at their opening Mass of the General Congregation. In the homily, he gave the Jesuits a dressing down that some commentators have found rather harsh: he spoke of his “sadness and anxiety” about aspects of Jesuit life today, and said, “I see a growing distancing from the hierarchy.” That these remarks had, in part, an anti-gay subtext became apparent in a letter Pope Benedict sent the Jesuits on 10 Jan.
10 Jan. 2008: Pope Benedict sent a message to the Jesuit General Congregation. The letter was made public on January 18. It calls on the Jesuits to renew their fidelity to the papacy. In particular, it addresses the Jesuits' position regarding certain "neuralgic points" in the dialogue between the church and contemporary culture. These include "the pastoral care of homosexual persons." (For my take, see a posting I made on 25 Jan. at NCR’s intrinsic disorder thread,
17 Jan. 2008: Italian Justice Minister Clemente Mastella resigned after he and his wife were implicated in a cash-for-favors scheme. According to the Italian newspaper La Stampa, before doing so, Mastella consulted with Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, head of the Italian bishops' conference. It was foreseen that Mastella’s resignation would bring down the center-left coalition government of Romano Prodi. Previously, Mastella had stated that his party would continue to support the Prodi government. However, at the time of his resignation, Mastella reneged on this promise and denounced Prodi. La Stampa reported that the Vatican had leaned on Mastella to change his mind in order to bring down Prodi, stating, “Prodi’s government dared to challenge the ecclesiastical hierarchy for the second time and this time it has had its hands burned.” Among the most neuralgic issues in the dealings of the Italian government with the Vatican is gay marriage. Last year the publication The Trumpet noted that the Vatican had been seeking to force Prodi to toe its line when it came to same-sex unions.
20 Jan. 2008: another mass demonstration was organized at a Sunday Angelus gathering in Rome, this time to show solidarity with the Pope, who has been portrayed as embattled following protests preceding a lecture he was scheduled to give at Rome’s La Sapienza Univeristy. Following the 20 Jan. demonostration, on 23 Jan., Christoph Prantner wrote in the Standard (Vienna) that European politics were being “retheologized” through Vatican intervention. Prantner interpreted papal involvement in the political life of Spain and Italy as an attempt to stage "a politicized Reconquista."
In a 21 Jan. article, the German paper Die Welt characterized the 10 Jan. Angelus demonstration as the "largest demonstration of solidarity with the Papacy since the Middle Ages." The following day, John Hooper of the English paper The Guardian recounted how the “long arm of the Vatican had been reaching into current Italian politics. (For more on these stories, see my postings at a thread of the National Catholic Reporter café,, 17 Jan. and 25 Jan.)
22 Jan. 2008: Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, whom Clement Mastella had consulted before he resigned, bringing down the Prodi government, gave an interview to Osservatore Romano. In it, he mounted a head-on attack against the Prodi government and called for Catholics to enter the public square courageously and promote "non-negotiable values" there. The phrase “non-negotiable values” echoes a statement made by Pope Benedict on 13 March 2007, in which he says that Catholics must not vote for laws that contradict the Catholic position issues where “non-negotiable values” are at stake. The statement specifically draws attention to gay marriage as such an issue.
23 Jan. 2008: Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver published an article in the diocesan newspaper the Register. In it, he attacks a bill before the Colorado General Assembly which, as he described it, would restrict the ability of charities sponsored by religious groups to hire and fire personnel on the basis of religious beliefs. Specifically, if passed, the bill will bar charitable agencies that receive state funding from discriminating on the basis of religion in personnel policies.
Though media treatment of this story (other than articles by National Catholic Reporter’s John Allen) has ignored the fact, Chaput’s resistance to the bill is fueled by resistance to gay rights. In April 2006, the Boston diocese shut down the adoption services of its Catholic Charities program after it failed to win an exemption from a state law that required adoption agencies receiving public funding to provide services to same-sex couples. A majority of board members of this chapter of Catholic Charities resigned in protest against the church’s refusal to accord equal rights to gay couples.
Around the same time, the Archdiocese of San Francisco announced that it was re-thinking its involvement in a similar adoption program. In February 2007, the English government announced that adoption agencies refusing to serve gay couples would not receive government support, resulting in the loss of over $9 million annually to Catholic charities in England.
24 Jan. 2008: Archbishop Paul-Josef Cordes, President of the Vatican’s main charitable office “Cor Unum,” called for clearer provisions in the Code of Canon Law to underscore the duty and authority of bishops to defend the Catholic identity of church-run charitable agencies. This clearly reflects the Catholic Charities controversy discussed above.
On the same day, Romano Prodi resigned. As he did so, Cardinal José Saraiva Martins stated, “What has happened is a result of a lack of dialogue with Catholics, which has penalized Catholic values in particular. Without this dialogue, the country cannot go forward.”
28 Jan 2008: The homophobic subtext of the Vatican attack on the Italian government became explicit when the news media noted that Senator Stefano Cusumano of the Christian Democratic Udeur Party, to which Clemente Mastella belongs, had been spat upon in the Italian Parliament and called a “faggot,” “a dirty queen,” and a “traitor” after he broke ranks with his small Catholic-oriented party and announced he would vote to defend Italian Premier Romano Prodi against a resolution aimed at bringing down his center-left government. (For more on the story, see my 1 Feb. comments on NCR’s thread at
Jan. 30: the Spanish Bishops’ Conference announced that Spanish voters should not back parties that support gay marriage or other social reforms on which the church frowns. Spain will go to the polls in March—an upcoming event that clearly has motivated much of the church’s attempt to put pressure on the existing government, which has permitted gay marriage.
2 Feb. 2008: Cardinal Franc Rodé published his 7 Jan. remarks critical of the Jesuits in L’Avvenire, reiterating his concerns that the Jesuits display fidelity to the Vatican.
On the same day, the Spanish ambassador to the Holy See, Francisco Vazquez, met with a Vatican official to express "perplexity and surprise" over the 1 Feb. Spanish bishops’ statement. In announcing this in Cordoba, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said that the church hierarchy in Spain is reverting to a "fundamentalist and neo-conservative" position, and that the church does not represent a majority of Spanish Catholics. Moratinos accused the bishops of "using terrorism politically to divide all Spaniards."


colkoch said...

Bill, I think what you have started with this post is crucial to continue.

I don't believe for one second this 'cold war' the Vatican has decided to wage against gays has one thing to do with 'family values'. It's got to be about something else.

I keep wondering why it's still necessary to keep the Vatican as a monarchical governmental entity.

The Vatican is unique as a government, in that it has a long history of being unaccountable to other institutions, or even it's subjects. On the contrary, those subjects and institutions have enabled the Vatican to use any manipulative strategy it wants to protect it's own internal power structure. Secondly it enjoys global diplomatic immunity, which it also does'nt hesitate to abuse.

Who is really benefitting from this singularly unique city/state status? Pedophile priests and their criminally colluding bishop enablers certainly have, but I keep wondering who else benefits from the existence of such a uniquely autonomous political and governmental institution. I suspect it's not Jesus Christ.

colkoch said...

What if the Jesuits took a look at things and decided maybe they didn't need to give any allegiance to an institution which has once again become more of a meddlesome government than a spiritual movement?