Wednesday, January 14, 2009

And the Lies Keep Pouring Out: Vatican on Gay Rights as Threat to Family

More big whoppers from authority figures of the religious right in the news today: Clerical Whispers carries a report of a press conference Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the pope’s Secretary of State, gave today as he heads to Mexico to represent Benedict at the World Meeting of Families (

As Bertone spoke about “the” family, it became evident that in 2009, the Vatican intends to keep promoting its end-of-year rhetoric from 2008 about gay human beings undermining the “natural” ecology of the human race, an ecology rooted in male-female complementarity. It also became evident that the Vatican intends to continue opposing the extension of the United Nations human rights covenant to gay persons, and to defend that position with outright lies about male-female complementarity as the basis of natural law and gay rights as threats to the rights of the family.

Bertone informed reporters that, "in our times, there is a deviation in favor of individual rights, as absolute rights, without taking into account their base, which is the nature of man and woman."

Human rights rights are based in the “nature” of man and woman: this is an outright lie. The natural law theology of Catholic theology has never claimed that male-female complementarity is somehow foundational for human rights, that we cannot talk about and pursue human rights if we do not safeguard male-female complementarity.

As I have noted in numerous postings on this topic, this claim that all Christian faith, and the natural law theology that sustains faith statements in Catholic tradition, revolve around and serve the biological complementarity of men and women is a recent innovation of the religious right (see, e.g., It’s one being pressed by those who resist gay rights in churches other than the Catholic church, though it employs bogus natural-law language that is antithetical to the theologies of most non-Catholic traditions. It pays a steep price for trying to keep homophobia alive: it distorts the scriptures by turning them into a grand story from Genesis to Revelations all about gender as the center of faith, and about threats to rigid gender roles as corrosive for “the” faith.

These claims blatantly distort natural law theology. They absolutize, in the name of faith, what cannot and never has been absolutized: gender roles.

After delivering the preceding whopper, Bertone went on to add several more to the record. He stated,

So, duties correspond to rights. After having celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we have to think of a Charter of the Duties of Man and Woman, and of institutions: of religious institutions and public ones.

And, in case the reporters attending his press conference might be in the dark about what this allusion to the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights meant, he added,

These days, civil rights -- merely individual -- are much emphasized and the rights of the family, as a fundamental, living cell of society and as an intermediate cell between the individual and the state, are not recognized.

More lies, and big ones: Bertone is alluding to the Vatican’s recent refusal to endorse a UN initiative that would have extended human rights protection to gay and lesbian citizens of the world. He’s seeking to defend that refusal by arguing that gay rights militate against the “rights” of “the” family, of families headed by a male and a female.

This is another outright lie. Recognizing the human rights of gay persons does not undermine or affect male-female complementarity and families premised on that complementarity in any shape, form, or fashion. Human rights are not some rare commodity that we have to safeguard, in the event that handing them out to everyone might undermine those already enjoyed by some persons or groups. Protecting the rights of gay and lesbian persons threatens reactionary Christians and their understanding of faith in one sense only: it threatens their continuing need to demonize and attack gay human beings, and to make such demonization and attack central to the life of the church at this point in history.

The attempt to play “duties” against rights, and to contrast the “merely individual” rights of human beings with the rights of institutions, furthers the lie Bertone seeks to tell here. The rights of institutions (including marriage) and of society at large are not superior to individual human rights: they’re founded on the rights of the individual. We cannot build a truly just society by trampling on the rights of individuals. Catholic social teaching about solidarity has always insisted on this point, and Bertone surely knows this as he delivers his whoppers.

This is yet another attempt on the part of a highly placed Catholic official to justify discrimination against gay and lesbian persons on the ground that gay persons are not capable of assuming the “duties” attendant on rights: to be specific, the duty spelled out by Benedict in his Christmas message, that of adhering to “natural” gender roles. This is a point that Bertone spelled out again in his press conference, as he noted that even Catholic countries are illicitly applying the notion of human rights today by approving laws that "are contrary to what we first call 'natural law,' and therefore, to the rights of the family as a union between man and woman."

A pack of lies. Allowing gay human beings the full range of human rights available to anyone else in the world does not undermine the family, militate against the male-female complementarity rooted in “nature,” or give license to immoral behavior that deserves no rights. What it does do—and what the Vatican does not want to see happen—is call religiously fueled hatred of gay and lesbian persons on the carpet.

It puts that hatred in the spotlight. And shows it for what it is: hatred bought at the steep cost of lying, and lying in the name of God, at that.

And as this lying spins forth right from the center of the Catholic church, from the Vatican, studies continue to show Catholic affiliation even in traditionally Catholic countries sharply declining. Clerical Whispers is reporting today that a recent study by Professor Pedro Gonzalez of the University of Madrid indicates that the percentage of Spaniards aged 15-24 calling themselves Catholic dropped from 77% to 49% in the last decade (

Why? The church’s intransigent position on issues of sexual morality and on gay rights. The wealth of the church. The inability of the church in reactionary mode to communicate religious ideas and values in a way that reaches youth today. These are the reasons those polled offer for their alienation from the Catholic church.

As I noted in my posting earlier today, young folks leaving the churches of the right are doing so because they do not find in those churches the kind of moral compass youth today are seeking—one that moves beyond genital fixations and easy answers delivered in dictatorial catechetical style. One that allows people of faith to engage the world positively and not always by saying no.

Lying on the part of key figures of the religious right is not going to save the day, and bring these youth back to the churches. It’s only going to succeed in driving them away decisively.