Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Ken Briggs on the Shocking "No Big Deal" Approach of Pope Francis to Questions About Catholic Position on Condom Use and AIDS — The Moral Limits of Pretending That Some People Don't Exist

As Ken Briggs notes today in National Catholic Reporter, the "no big deal" approach Pope Francis appears to take to some issues causes him to hard-sell some topics (e.g., the need to respond to climate change), while soft-pedaling or bypassing others. The latter category includes, Briggs suggests, how the Catholic church should respond to LGBT people and to the use of condoms to combat the spread of HIV.

Briggs writes:

Two glaring evasions illustrate the point [i.e., about Francis's choice to soft-pedal and bypass controversial topics]. One was his dismissal of attacks on homosexuals with his brilliant "who am I to judge?" response which neither endorsed or overruled Catholic teaching but effectively removed him from the discussion for now at least. The other occasion took place only days ago when he implied that the church's refusal to accept condoms as a form of AIDS prevention was no big deal compared to the horrors of mass human deprivation. 
Condoms and the AIDS crisis might be a fit topic after these other causes of devastation had been dealt with, the pope said, but it would have to wait, and maybe even then it wouldn't claim priority. It was, quite frankly, a shocking reply. Like everyone else, the pope cannot pay attention to everything at all times, and by nature has his own ranking of those crises that warrant emergency action. But demoting a matter so critical to a horrifying world epidemic appears out of character for him, suggesting a disengenuous effort to preserve the church's controversial teaching. If he believes the church is right, why not just say so? Or was he trying to sidestep the hard reality of actual reform? 

Note the parallel between what Briggs is reporting Francis to have said in Africa and what Crux tells us a Spanish missionary in Uganda told Crux about Francis's silence re: the threat to LGBT rights and lives in Uganda: as I noted yesterday, the missionary told Crux that the pope naturally has to focus on real issues like poverty and social inequality and gender violence. Not on the imaginary issue of LGBT lives and LGBT rights . . . . 

As Ken Briggs notes, Francis's response when asked about the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV infection is that the church's refusal to accept condoms as a form of AIDS prevention is no big deal compared to the horrors of mass human deprivation — the real problems the church and world need to face. There are real problems and real people, and then there are, well, the ones we can ignore when we talk about social justice and human rights.

I'm with Ken Briggs in finding Francis's approach here "shocking," and with his conclusion that "demoting a matter so critical to a horrifying world epidemic" to the status of no big deal, nothing to see here, just move on is morally opprobrious. It is, of course, all of a piece with the broad insinuation of the Spanish missionary that threats to LGBT lives and rights are not real problems in contrast to problems like poverty and gender violence. It's also all of a piece with the dismissive remark of a Vatican spokesman that threats to LGBT lives and rights need not be mentioned by the pope when he talks about social justice and human rights, since those invisible, unnamed, always ignored folks are somehow "included" when these matters are under discussion. 

Though they certainly cannot be named.

A statement made by John Baptist Odama, the head of the Ugandan Catholic bishops' conference, and reported by Peter Montgomery yesterday at Religion Dispatches, suggests to me part of what's at the bottom of this shameful game of silence about LGBT human beings facing threats to their very lives in a Christian nation: Odama says that there's no need to address this topic, because the teaching of the church about it is clear, and in any case, the aim of the LGBT community "is not to promote life but to act against it."

The U.S. Catholic bishops have long since decided to conflate same-sex marriage and abortion and to insist that the former is on the same moral level as the latter because it's as much about attacking life as is abortion. The fact that Odama is parrotting this line tells us — as if we needed to be reminded of this — to what a great extent the U.S. religious right is driving the anti-gay movement in Africa and feeding its ideological venom to African Christians as they deal with the LGBT community.

Francis's silence in the face of all of this also tells us how comfortable he is with the ideology of the American religious right, when all is said and done — at least, when the topic under discussion is homosexuality and women's rights. In that regard, I like very much something Alan McCornick said here earlier today about why Francis refuses to engage questions about LGBT people and their place in the scheme of things, even when their very lives are at stake:

Condemning gays, resisting sex education, opposing condom use, keeping women in check - it's all of a piece, all part of a conservative fear of sexual enlightenment. Secrecy is not the central problem. Keeping the lights off is only the means to hide the central problem.

(P.S. I meant to append a note of thanks to Betty Clermont, who also noted Francis's shocking reply to a reporter about condoms and HIV in a comment here yesterday. And then I got rushed and forgot to do that, so I'm adding it now.)

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