Wednesday, December 24, 2008

On what the Pope said, didn't say and what people say that he said

I suppose I must. Hurl myself into the mêlée of infuriated condemnation and denunciation which followed Pope Benedict's end of year speech to the Curia that is. First thing's first, it's worth taking a look at what the Holy Father did actually say, as opposed to what he didn't.

What he did say

“[The church] must defend not only the earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to all. It must also defend the human person against its own destruction. What’s needed is something like a ‘human ecology,’ understood in the right sense. It’s not simply an outdated metaphysics if the church speaks of the nature of the human person as man and woman, and asks that this order of creation be respected.”

“Here it’s a question of faith in creation, in listening to the language of creation, disregard of which would mean self-destruction of the human person and hence destruction of the very work of God. That which is often expressed and understood by the term ‘gender’ in the end amounts to the self-emancipation of the human person from creation and from the Creator. Human beings want to do everything by themselves, and to control exclusively everything that regards them. But in this way, the human person lives against the truth, against the Creator Spirit.

“Great Scholastic theologians defined marriage, meaning the lifetime bond between a man and a woman, as a sacrament of creation, which the Creator instituted and which Christ – without changing the message of creation – then welcomed into the story of his covenant with humanity. This witness in favor of the Creator Spirit, present in the nature of this bond and in a special way in the nature of the human person, is also part of the proclamation which the church must offer. Starting from this perspective, it’s important to re-read the encyclical Humanae Vitae : the intention of Pope Paul VI was to defend love against treating sexuality as a kind of consumption, the future against the exclusive demands of the present, and the nature of the human being against manipulation."

What he didn't say

All gay people are destined for damnation.

Gay people should be exterminated/expelled from Christendom/forced to wear pink badges in public.

Gay people spread disease/poison public water supplies/are a blight on civilisation.

Gay people are paedophiles.

Transexuals should be burnt at the stake.

God-fearing heterosexuals should be protected from gay people.

He said none of that. As Damian Thompson and Andrew Brown who both know what they're talking about noted, he merely reiterated the Church's teaching on sexuality. Pope revealed to be Catholic, shock. He also did something more interesting than that. In rejecting the gender theories most associated with radical feminism, he implicitly argued that they pointed the way to the ancient but quintessentially modern heresy of Pelagianism.

But all that was unapparent to the swarm of angry commentators lining up to register their outrage at what they imagined the Pope had said in increasingly excitable terms. The Rev Sharon Ferguson of the LGCM described the Pope's remarks as "totally irresponsible and unacceptable in any shape or form." Sweetly oblivious to her own preposterousness she continued, "It is more the case that we need to be saved from his comments. It is comments like that that justify homophobic bullying that goes on in schools and it is comments like that that justify gay bashing". Rentagob revisionist Anglican cleric, Rev Giles Fraser wrote something or other not worth the trouble reading. Philip Hensher expostulated, Ruth Gledhill wrote one of her typically sexed up pieces. The normally unflappable Iain Dale wondered why the Pope didn't just join the BNP and have done with it. Brett Lock of Harry's Place took up the theme, declaring that the leader of the world's 1.1 billion Roman Catholics was a "hate mongering lunatic" and that "the Catholic Church is fast becoming to sexuality what the BNP is to race." David T who came as near as damn it to admitting that he didn't know what Benedict actually said opined, "What the Pope appears to have done - depending on the interpretation one gives to his words - is to put himself fully behind a political agenda that has successfully provoked the systematic persecution of gay people throughout the world. He has preached a gospel of hatred and denigration." And on and on.

You wouldn't guess from any of this that in two recently issued statements the Vatican argued that homosexuality should be legal and gay people protected from all forms of physical violence. Of course you wouldn't. Popes aren't judged on what they say but what people imagine that they say; reason has long since departed the place where faith and sexuality are discussed.

Update: My friend Austen Ivereigh has an interesting and very Jesuitical take on the story, entitled Gays, Gallileo and the Message of the Manger, which is well worth a read here.


Blogger madame evangelista said...

Many thanks for this balanced view of the Pope's comments, which I have found extremely helpful. I must respectfully disagree with your last paragraph though - the Holy See may be against the decriminalization of homosexuality, but as I understand it, this comes only in the context of opposing the French-led UN resolution to include sexual orientation in the universal declaration of human rights.

12/26/2008 8:59 AM  
Blogger Red Maria said...

Thankyou, madame evangelista, one tries.
There's been an enormous amount of excitable rubbish written about the Pope's speech in the print media and blogosphere alike. Cool, reasoned analysis has been sadly lacking in this debate; the two writers who have managed it are Andrew Brown and Damian Thompson.
I think you misread my last paragraph which noted that the Holy See supports the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
You're right to note that she opposes the French-led UN resolution however and this is because she fears it would lead to countries being pressurised to recognise same-sex marriage.

12/26/2008 5:46 PM  
Blogger David Lindsay said...

Until the very last sentence, you need hold no supernatural belief to accept that the story of the Wise Men happened exactly as recorded by Saint Matthew.

They first follow the natural world (the Star), which leads them to the Bible (the Prophets referred to by Herod’s advisors), which leads in turn to the Christ Child.

And so to the Pope. The gender theory lot are half right. Sex is not just what is between your legs. But nor is it just what is between your ears, either. Rather, it is written into every cell of the body. You can cut up the tissue any way you like. The chromosomes themselves cannot change.

People seeking this surgery obviously do need help. But that surgery itself cannot be the help that they really need.

That is the Pope’s point. He is right. Most people know that he is right. They look at the world and see it: they follow the Star. Well, the Star leads to the Prophets, and the Prophets lead to the Christ Child.

And what of the Pope and homosexuality? What was he attacking? The idea that it is people, rather than acts, that are homosexual. That idea is not yet forty years old.

It post-dates by several years our own humane and necessary decriminalisation of male homosexual acts between consenting adults in private. It is historically and cross-culturally illiterate, as well as totally unscientific.

And it was invented by and for pederasts (many also engaged in “transgender” activities) in a network of bars – such as the Stonewall Inn, a major centre of the abuse of boys – in the urban, coastal America of the early 1970s.

Weakened by the liberal hijacking of the name of Vatican II, we all know what happened next in the Catholic Church. She is only just beginning to recover. But the Pope has made it very obvious that She is recovering. Deo gratias.

12/27/2008 8:13 AM  
Blogger DocRichard said...

Well done for finding the original text. I looked on the Vatican website but there was no speech to be found. At risk of going off on a tangent, you say "he implicitly argued that they pointed the way to the ancient but quintessentially modern heresy of Pelagianism".

But back in the 70s the Catholic Church went all Pelagina over nuclear weapons. The Pope said (and again, apologies for failing to find the original) that it would indded be a sin to USE nuclear weapons, but not a sin to THREATEN TO USE them in order to keep the peace. This doctrine assumes that the command and control systems, technological and human, are perfect and incapable of causing an accidental nuclear war. Such a belief in the perfectibility of human systems is surely a foray into Pelagianism, is it not?

12/27/2008 9:23 AM  
Blogger Voltaire's Priest said...

And it was invented by and for pederasts (many also engaged in “transgender” activities) in a network of bars

Ooooh Mr David Lindsay, Leader of the British People's Alliance - that sentence alone conjures an image!

12/27/2008 9:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ouch. What a Nazi!

One that got away in 1945

And your no 12 was a bit of a git too by all accounts. Holocaust? What Holocaust? The wanker.

12/27/2008 10:20 AM  
Blogger Red Maria said...

A few replies:

David Lindsay, I claim no expertise in the subject but I thought modern gay identity dated back at least to Victorian times. I understand that cultural historians consider the Labouchère amendment, the so-called "blackmailers charter", a wide ranging and vague piece of legislation which criminalised all homosexual relations between men as "gross indecency" and imposed a penalty of two years hard labour on those convicted, as particularly important in this regard.

I must say that I disagree with and consider quite perjorative your suggestion that gay identity was a pederasts' invention. I think, for example, of Peter Wildeblood, who together with Lord Montagu and Michael Pitt Rivers was charged with and convicted of homosexual offences in 1954. Wildeblood was only ever attracted to adult men. Reading Wildeblood's classic and moving account of his adult life, trial and imprisonment, "Against the law", published in 1955, it is clear to me that he thought of himself as gay well over a decade before the Stonewall riots.

Back in the 70s there were attempts by paedophile groups to hijack a number of civil liberties groups, including gay rights ones. However, gay groups have been commendably determined to resist the nefarious entry tactics of peadophile groups and are some of the sternest opponents of sexual abuse to be found.

DocRichard, your comments are interesting but I confess that I don't see how the Church's opposition to the use of nuclear weapons on the one hand but acceptance of threats to use them, are in any way evidence of Pelagianism.

Apropos the remarks on your blog, Jesus Christ was, of course, stringently critical of pharasaical hyprocrisy but that does not mean that He disputed the pharisees authority or the totality of Mosaic law, quite the reverse in fact. He enjoined his disciples to obey the pharisees.

Matthew 23:2 "The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you ..." Then and only then did he add: "... but do not follow their example. For they preach but they do not practice."
He condemned hypocrisy not observance of the law.

Nor should it be doubted that Jesus was anything less than utterly rigorous in his attitude to the Mosaic law.

Matthew 5:17-20 "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven."

Indeed, Jesus instituted a stricter, not a laxer sexual morality cf Matthew 5:32, Mark 10: 2-12, Luke 16:18.

He rejected the laxism of Hillel and exceeded Shamai in his rigour; Jesus demanded absolute adherence to the law, even internally and placed an emphasis on people's private thoughts, not just their external actions, cf Matt 5:27-28.

The contemporary notion that Christianity is a liberal confection is, I'm afraid, a complete fantasy.

Anonymous, I hope you won't mind if I let facts intrude upon your playfully expressed prejudices. Benedict XVI as the young, very young, Joseph Ratzinger was a member of the Hitler Youth, which I imagine would have been pretty much compulsory in Nazi Germany. He was but a teenager. How this justifies, even in jest, the slur of Nazism - and I'm sure you'll understand why those of us whose family members were murdered by Nazis take these things just a little bit seriously - is not apparent to me.

On Pius XII, the jury is still out and will remain so until the Vatican sees fit to open her archives. She moves at her own pace, though and will not be hurried. The case for Pius's defence has been ably made by the postulator for his cause, Peter Gumbel, SJ. The case for the prosecution has been made most persuasively by the distinguished historian, Yehuda Bauer, who laid out a charge sheet which was all the more devastating for its cool restraint. You should be able to find both in The Tablet's online archives.

We should be clear about what it is Pius XII is actually charged with, that is weakness, or at worst indifference but certainly not complicity with Nazi crimes.

Nonetheless Pius XII was a far more complex character than his more prejudiced detractors are prepared to admit. Arguably, he played a crucial role in encouraging the desegregation of Catholic institutions in the American south.

In 1946, Pius XII appointed Joseph Ritter Archbishop of St Louis. Ritter was known for his rapid desegregation of Catholic institutions while bishop of Indianapolis.

In 1958, some bishops in the Southern US states hesitated at the idea of issuing a statement denouncing racial segregation and discrimination. Pius XII ordered that the statement be issued "at once".

12/27/2008 5:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my father was a bomber pilot - his crew that died were also very young. He spent time in POW camps and saw the aftermath of a concentration camp.

no 12 was 'indifferent at worst? That's pretty fucked up in my book. Be objective. Don't hide behind your religion. He did a very, very bad thing.

Likewise any bishops hesitant about denouncing racial discrimination are likewise pretty fucked up.

You, nor I, don't need these people to look up to - we already have much better values.

Anyway, all the best and a happy new year. I wont be back you'll be glad to know! ;-)

12/28/2008 5:00 AM  
Blogger Red Maria said...

But no, Anonymous, I'm not at all glad that you won't be back. Just in case you do, I'll reply to your points.

Remember that Pius XII is charged with weakness and possibly indifference. It cannot yet be said that these have been proven beyond reasonable doubt.

I think I am groping my way towards objectivity when I note this fact, just as I, surely with commendable objectivity, noted that Pius has defenders such as Gumbel and detractors such as Bauer who I said "laid out a charge sheet which was all the more devastating for its cool restraint."

I don't see how I have hid behind my religion in observing any of these things. Again, remember, Pius is charged not with having done a very, very bad thing but with not having done something. The distinction may seem casuistical but is, I think, an important one.

You're unequivocally correct to say that any US bishops who were hesitant about issuing a statement denouncing racism were pretty fucked up. I'd go further than that. I'd say they were more enamoured of their temporal worldly status than they were loyal to Christ. Nonetheless, Pius's decisive action in demanding that the statement be issued immediately must surely be placed in his credit column.

As a left-footer, I don't have to look up to Peter's successors to acknowledge their authority. A parallel can be found in Jesus's words about the Pharisees. As I noted in an earlier comment, He said that they had "taken their seat on the chair of Moses," and therefore enjoined his followers to "do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you".

Popes have run the full gamut of human types from saintly and heroic to indifferent and downright wicked. I aver that their personalities make not a jot of difference to the authority Jesus reposed in them to bind and loose on earth as in heaven.

Anyway, lecture over, all the best, merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you too, whoever and wherever you are ...

Maybe we shall meet again ere long :-)

12/28/2008 4:45 PM  
Blogger Francesca Montemaggi said...

err ... nope! He essentialises gender differences and gets it completely wrong! What is said is far more reaching and misogynist. Besides, he's a head of state.

1/01/2009 12:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excuse me, there's a fuss because the Pope criticises gays!
It's time the catholic church examined its bloodsoaked history, then its conscience.
Then disbanded.

1/02/2009 8:53 AM  
Blogger Oli said...

Thanks for another interesting post!

1/05/2009 8:13 AM  
Blogger Paul said...

@Francesca Montemaggi: Er, no he doesn't. That's just an attempt to squeeze what he says into somebody else's ready-made jargon box. You might be groping towards an understanding of the pope's remarks if you wrote that he essentializes sexual differences.

1/09/2009 12:53 AM  
Blogger Francesca Montemaggi said...

he doesn't simply essentialise (constructed!) differences, he promotes inequality and prejudice.

1/14/2009 2:22 PM  
Blogger Red Maria said...


He does no such thing.

You must learn to distinguish between that which is real, objective and observable and that which is fantastical, imaginary and plain bogus.

1/14/2009 4:47 PM  
Blogger Francesca Montemaggi said...

I'm not the one who's fantasising. I've analysed his policies on my blog thoroughly. He's taking back all the progress made with Vatican II. There is another Catholicism, that of Cardinal Martini and Tettamanzi, of people who are not afraid to think for themselves and put the message of Jesus at the centre.

1/16/2009 7:16 AM  
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