Putting the Pope Out to Pasture

Benedict XVI IS

The enforcer of Catholic Church hostility toward the queer community since early in the reign of John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI has given his two-week notice.

It's finally curtains for the inauspicious reign of Pope Benedict the Whatever, who resigned Monday citing health concerns as the reason for breaking a 600-year-old tradition of serving until death. I suspect he was just sulking after his attempts to “protect” straight marriage in France were soundly defeated.

Or maybe he was finally diagnosed with extreme irony deficiency. What else could you call it when a guy spends half his time trying to minimize man-on-boy sex abuse by priests and the other half using any platform at hand to condemn perfectly consensual adult homosexual relations and equality under the law? Or for attacking American nuns as radical feminists, just because they prioritized issues like poverty and social justice over homos at the altars and desperate girls in abortion clinics?

I'd dance a little gay jig in the slush outside the door, but God knows who they'll slip in there next. There are predictions younger cardinals will go for a pope from a nation like Ghana or Honduras to court Catholics in developing nations. The outgoing pontiff doesn't get a vote, but in the past he's said choosing an African pope for the first time would “send a splendid signal to the world” about the universality of the Church. On the other hand, he didn't exactly stack the papal deck with likely candidates.

Most of his cardinals are still mostly white of good old European stock. And, in Ireland and Britain, bookmakers have Italian candidates running neck and neck with African ones. There's also a Canadian up there with his nose not far from the wire. And a Honduran in the chase.

Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze is definitely papabile, partly because nobody was ready for Ben's resignation, and at 80 Arinze will only stick around long enough for other eager candidates to get their maneuvering done. Conservative in all things women and birth control, he's declared, “It is not progress [to support gay marriage], it is decadence.”

Probably the best hope for queers to be left alone is Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, though he's slipping in the odds. Turkson, a papal baby at 64, isn't particularly homo-friendly, but he does have other things on his mind. Bloody wars in Africa. Poverty. Currently president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, he's been an outspoken critic of the global financial system. Against abortion and birth control, he does condone allowing married people with HIV to use condoms, though he said African condoms are so bad they might not get the job done. On the other hand, he got into hot water last year, at the Vatican, when he screened an Islamophobic YouTube clip asserting, “In just 39 years, France will be an Islamic republic.”

A growing favorite in the race, though probably not for queers, is the ultrawhite Cardinal Marc Ouellet, former archbishop of Quebec. Another youngster at 68, he condemns abortion even in the case of rape, calling it a “moral crime.” And in 2005, Ouellet told the Canadian Senate that the Church would refuse to baptize the children of gay and lesbian parents, asserting that by marrying, same-sex couples demonstrated a public contempt for the Church.

He seemed to soften in 2007, publishing a letter in French-language newspapers in Quebec publicly apologizing on behalf of the Catholic Church for past “errors,” including promoting “anti-Semitism, racism, indifference to First Nations [native Canadians], and discrimination against women and homosexuals.” But this gesture was less about “repentance and reconciliation” than a bid to re-establish Quebec's attachment to its “Christian and missionary identity” at a moment when the traditionally Catholic Quebec was getting ready to replace religious instruction with courses on ethics, morality, and world religions.

There's not much hope for us on the Italian side, either. Cardinal Angelo Scola is head of the Milan archdiocese and has asserted that same-sex marriage would lead to polygamy and other horrors. He has strong links with Communion and Liberation, the ultra-conservative, anti-science Catholic political lobbying group that is similar to Opus Dei. He also gets on unfortunately well with his ultraconservative Muslim counterparts and will be sure to continue the Vatican-Islamic block tradition that has emerged at the United Nations in response to demands from women and queers worldwide.

Better for everybody is Cardinal Óscar Rodríguez Maradiaga of Honduras, the president of the Church's confederation of relief and development agencies. He's considered a moderate, but he is anti-abortion and slammed Ricky Martin for using a surrogate mother. In his favor, he actually believes in science and denounced global environmental policy as a kind of apartheid that sacrificed the needs of developing nations.

There are plenty more, including Tarcisio Bertone, Benedict's number two and Vatican secretary of state, who actually blamed homosexual infiltration of the clergy for Catholic child sex scandals. We could count on him as a Benedict Redux, repeating the idiotic papal refrain that gay marriage is a bigger threat to the human race than disease, famine, and terrorism.

If he wins, beware! I'll get gay-married for sure.