The Pope at New Year

Posted on January 6, 2009

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According to the news reports (see here and here for example) Pope Benedict used a new year’s message to the Curia to offer a swingeing and trenchent critique of the acceptance of homosexuality. LGBT groups were predictably outraged, and newspaper leaders were condemning of his outdated attitudes and his decision to focus on this subject at Christmas. A simple and predictable story, with only one little problem…

It’s not true. Not even close.

You can read the full text of the Pope’s speech, in the original Italian or in English translation, here. If you do, you will discover that he never mentioned homosexuality. Not once. He offered a review of the good things that had happened over the past year – lots on the Bible; a discussion of how he doesn’t like the media presentation of his Youth Rallies as like rock festivals with him as the star; and four reflections on pneumatology. One of these considered the Spirit as creator, and so discussed Christian faith concerning creation.

In this paragraph (so, we are now looking at one part of one of four paragraphs under one of several heads of the speech) there were some comments about human sexuality. He made the rather standard point that human sexuality is a part of the created order, and so finds its proper expression in certain channels. He did, entirely in passing, criticise ‘gender theory’ by which he meant, I presume (remember, he is a major league intellectual, fully at home in the current world of the European university) the academic discourse which tries to separate socially-constructed gender from biologically-determined gender. He accused this tradition of undermining the created reality of humanity as male and female.

OK, this could be taken as a swipe at the transgendered community, if you really want to read something pointed into it. There is no way his words can be interpreted as suggesting that gay and lesbian relationships are an affront to the created order. I’m sure he believes that, but he didn’t say it in this speech. This was the context of the comparison with protection of the rainforests – it had nothing, nothing at all, to do with homosexuality. It just didn’t.

He goes on to commend marriage, but the context is a rejection of human sexuality as a commodity to be used. The emphasis is on the indissolubility of marriage, not on its heterosexual nature.

If you want an academic lesson, it’s about the importance of primary sources…

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