In the wake of Pope Benedict XVI's unprecedented announcement yesterday that he would resign the papacy effective February 28, many people took to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media to express hope that the next pope would look more kindly on the LGBT community than the notoriously homophobic Benedict. However, as I wrote yesterday, I believe such hopes are sadly misplaced:
Benedict has appointed a majority of the cardinals who will elect his successor, and the vast majority of bishops around the world were named by either Benedict or his equally anti-gay predecessor, John Paul II. Given the fact that popes tend to appoint prelates who share their views, institutional homophobia in the Roman Catholic Church isn't likely to go away anytime soon, even as Catholics in Western countries continue to drift further away from the church on these and other issues.
As the chatter within the Catholic world turns from shock over the Pope's resignation to speculation about who might succeed him, the name at or near the top of nearly everyone's list is that of Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana. He was appointed by Benedict in 2009 to serve as president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and (surprise!) he's incredibly anti-gay.
How anti-gay, you ask? Believe it or not, Turkson is so anti-gay that he actually defended draconian laws that criminalize homosexuality and gay sex, including Uganda's notorious "Kill the Gays" bill. Speaking last year to the National Catholic Register, Turkson opined that while the penalties imposed by such laws are "exaggerated," the desire of many Africans and African leaders to incarcerate or even execute their gay citizens is actually perfectly understandable, and that the "intensity of the reaction [to homosexuality] is probably commensurate with tradition."
Translation: demonizing and persecuting gay people shouldn't be condemned. Rather, it should be understood because in many nations, it's traditional.
Turkson's comments get even worse from there. Pick your jaw up off the floor and meet me after the jump.
Asked why homosexuality remains so stigmatized in Africa, Turkson reiterated his call for understanding -- and this time, he had the gall to frame it in terms of respect and fairness, as though the right of LGBT people to merely exist and the "cultural values" of those who wish to slaughter them deserve equal consideration and deference:
Just as there's a sense of a call for rights, there's also a call to respect culture, of all kinds of people. So, if it's being stigmatized, in fairness, it's probably right to find out why it is being stigmatized.
In January 2012, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon delivered an address to the African Union Summit in which he called on African nations to repeal laws that criminalize homosexuality and end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity; the Secretary-General said that doing so was the only way to live up to the ideals of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Cardinal Turkson rebuked him:
We [the Church] push for the rights of prisoners, the rights of others, and the last thing we want to do is infringe upon the rights of anyone. But when you're talking about what's called 'an alternative lifestyle,' are those human rights? [Ban Ki-moon] needs to recognize there's a subtle distinction between morality and human rights, and that's what needs to be clarified.
Homosexuality is illegal in more than thirty African countries and punishable by everything from fines and whippings to incarceration and execution. Yet according to Cardinal Turkson, the cultural values that gave rise to such barbaric laws deserve respect and understanding. After all, it's only fair.
And this man might become the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics. If that doesn't send chills up your spine, I don't know what will.
Sadly, the other top-tier papal contenders aren't much better. The perpetually-papabile Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, for example, equated homosexuality with pornography and adultery in a 2003 speech at Georgetown University, and the anti-gay talking points used by Quebec Cardinal Marc Ouellet in 2005 as his nation debated marriage equality sound like they could have been written by NOM.
I rest my case: for the time being, it looks like the alarming homophobia that's become a hallmark of the global Catholic leadership is here to stay. Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy ride.