With Resignation of Pope, LGBTs Hope for True Dialogue on Rights
LGBT communities across the globe have spent much of the last few weeks speculating about the future of their relationship with the Catholic Church. This is, of course, due to the unexpected and in many ways shocking announcement that Pope Benedict XVI had decided to resign. This was peculiar for many reasons. Among these is Benedict being the first in centuries to do so, as well the strange decision to leave behind the decades of work he has put into shaping many of the Catholic Church’s current doctrines.
While the long hostile views of the Vatican towards the LGBT community makes the appointment of a new pope a significant event, this Pope has been a particularly sharp thorn in the sides of LGBT faith communities. Pope Benedict has been a longtime architect of the anti-gay rhetoric in much of the Catholic Church’s official position. Through the ranks of the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith and through his position as Pope, Benedict has been relentless in his condemnation of the LGBT community.
What that leaves LGBT faith communities with is relief, hope and a certain level of anxiety regarding the direction that Benedict’s replacement might lead Catholic doctrine in. Many organizations, like Dignity USA, believe that this could work as an opportunity to enter into a meaningful conversation about how the Church will regard LGBT rights.
"We call on the Cardinals and the new Pope to enter into a true dialogue with our community," Dignity released in a statement following the resignation. "We call for an end to statements that inflict harm on already marginalized people, depict us as less than fully human, and lend credence to those seeking to justify discrimination."
And yet it is with a large grain of salt that many take the news. The Catholic Church is organized as a hierarchy, and a rather detached one at that. The decisions and tone of many of the Church’s doctrines do not often come from the opinions and lifestyle of the world’s Catholics, but rather by something of a religious oligarchy. Furthermore, much of the leadership in the Church has been put in power by recent Popes, so that there is a dearth of diversity in opinion over statements coming from the Vatican.
New Papal Candidates Unlikely to Deliver Any Real Change
This is best displayed in some of the immediate top candidates to replace Pope Benedict. Most of them are close to Benedict, either chosen by him to be in their current position or sympathetic to his goals and religious views. In this type of culture, it is difficult to see how a new papal appointment would lead to a new or improved dialogue regarding LGBT rights.
A perfect example of one of the more likely appointees is Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana. One of the first names in the ring after the announcement, Turkson was appointed by Pope Benedict to President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. Turkson has spent this time broadcasting his extremely anti-gay views when he defended and endorsed laws in Africa such as the Ugandan "Kill The Gays" bill, calling such brutal laws as being a condemnation of moral impropriety rather than a violation of human rights.
Other candidates do not stray far from a similar conservative approach to the Catholic doctrine, and all of them would likely continue the fundamental approach to Catholicism that has so decidedly marked Benedict’s time as Pope. And more to the point, even if the more progressive communities of the world got their wish and found a Pope more receptive to updating certain policies and opinions of the Church, it is doubtful whether it would actually deliver any real change.
Executive Producer and Co-Host of Gay USA Andy Humm believes there is no merit to the idea that a change in leadership will affect how the Church will regard homosexuality. He credits this to the fundamental structure of an almost monarchical faith organization.
"At some point, those who stay have to ask themselves why they put up with a structure that is irredeemably dominated by a self-perpetuating male hierarchy that makes no room for input from church members," Humm told EDGE. "Many Catholics do good work while trying to ignore or work around the hierarchy. Why not replace the hierarchy with governance that comes from the pews?"
The Catholic Church is built remarkably like the type of hierarchical monarchies that are virtually extinct in the modern age. This type of institution’s fall was largely predicated on the people wanting their voice to not simply be heard, but also to be reflected in their rulers’ actions. The Catholic Church for all of its virtues has been unable to shake the often stubborn manner in which it holds on to its opinions on modern culture.
Still, Catholic identified LGBT people hold out hope that a new Pope will help to buck this trend and have a deeper concern for the changing rhetoric among members of the Church. Equally Blessed, a Catholic coalition dedicated to gaining equality for its LGBT members, points out that this would not only benefit gay Catholics, but the Church as well.
"We pray for a pope who is willing to listen to and learn from all of God’s people," Equally Blessed stated in a press release. "We pray for a pope who will realize that in promoting discrimination against LGBT people, the church inflicts pain on marginalized people, alienates the faithful and lends moral credibility to reactionary political movements across the globe."
For now, the speculation over who will replace Pope Benedict is simply that. There have been surprising and positive papal appointments in the past, and it is wholly possible that it will happen here. Until the appointee is announced, the LGBT community can continue to hope to find a spiritual leader that can respect and nurture the needs of a changing Catholic Church.