The election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to the papacy as Benedict XVI fills me with deep concern as a gay man and as a Roman Catholic priest.
I also bear witness to the wonderful legacy of Pope John Paul the Great. Undoubtedly the man did a power of good in ways that have been recognized and celebrated worldwide. There is nonetheless another side, which I would much prefer to forget. I cannot.
In fact, I believe that if I don’t speak “the very stones themselves will cry out.” The fact remains that Pope John Paul II did lesbian, gay, transgendered and bisexual (LGTB) peoples untold harm. His writings and his teachings promulgated and proclaimed by Ratzinger as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith saw us and our struggle not only worthy of condemnation, but as some kind of sinister plot to undermine the very foundations of civilization. If the truth were told, the present pope, Benedict XVI, and his predecessor in their continuous and consistent rejection of our struggle for equality, tried to rob us of our very souls.
I bore first-hand witness to this in my 24 years of priestly ministry to gay men suffering and dying from HIV/AIDS. Again and again during the ‘80s and ‘90s at the very height of the pandemic first in New York and later in London, it was my pain and privilege to hold the hand of young Catholic gay men in their 20s and 30s and try to reassure them that they were not condemned to eternal damnation because of what their church taught about their orientation and their loving sexual behavior—men too young to have imagined their futures never mind their deaths. These were the young people that we hear “the pope loved” on the edge of despair as they went to meet their God, because of what the holy father through the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith taught in the name of Christ.
There is no God worth believing in to my mind that would so brutally condemn whole multitudes of utterly vulnerable people to such ignominious agony of mind and spirit as they draw their last breath. Most tragically of all, as a Catholic priest, was that at least three of the people I assisted were fellow priests, two of whom, like myself, were Irish-born. Gay men tortured and tormented as they went to meet their maker by the very church to whom they had given their lives. Their families and religious communities did not want to know what was happening. This too is the legacy of Pope John Paul and his successor Benedict.
How one may well ask can any self-respecting gay man or woman stay within such an oppressive and, in many ways for us, dehumanizing institution? Many hundreds of thousands of others have understandably walked away. Every single day I think of doing the same. Yet here I am an openly gay Catholic priest and still I believe and hope and love from within its ranks.
I do not seek to justify my position either to those on the outside looking in, or to those inside who would gladly give me a one-way ticket out. There is, I believe, no way I can or desire to justify my position to the institutional church that bears toward me and my kind such deep disrespect. To even begin to do so would, as I see it, stoop to a level of argument that I would have lost even before I had begun.
Within the limitations of my knowledge I understand the church’s reasons for counting me out—scripture, tradition, natural law and all the rest. But I am not interested, no matter how plausible their syllogisms or coherent their rhetoric and logic. It is not good enough. It is not good enough for any religion that claims to represent the God of the universe to exclude ten per cent of the peoples of the world from co-equality in humanity and in love in the name of that God no matter who his representative is in this time we call life.
If God is love and I absolutely believe He/She is, then we as LGTB peoples are co-equally made in the divine image and have not only the right but the responsibility to live in that love personally, sexually and spiritually as witness to the fact that love—not power—has the last word. Pope John Paul II was a good and holy human man, but for me and with me he too was a sinner. It was his sin that blinded him to us as gay people. I pray his successor Cardinal Ratzinger as Benedict XVI may have a little more sight. If not, I shall still go on believing, hoping and loving until John Paul, Benedict and I embrace one another as co-equals in God, the eternal lover of all.
Father Bernard J. Lynch continues the London AIDS ministry he began 24 years ago in New York City.