There is much in the Catholic air these days about homosexuality. Pope Benedict XVI, as then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, has provided much of the content, from the assertion that gays are "objectively disordered" to the 2003 document issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Ratzinger then headed, that called gay parenting "gravely immoral" and said permitting gay couples to adopt "would actually mean doing violence to these children."
He has certainly emboldened the troops . . .
It's not that there's anything untrue about what NCR has written in the above quote. What's remarkable is how they place all of the blame for the Church's teaching on homosexuality squarely on the shoulders of Pope Benedict XVI, even before he was elected to the Chair of St. Peter. The determinations of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under his prefecture were his fault, even though the media usually blames the reigning pope or "the Vatican" in general for curial decisions. Look, for example, at the ban on gay seminarians issued recently by the Congregation for Catholic Education. Did you see even one media report single out Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski (who?), the prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education? No. Instead, the media focused on "the Vatican" ban, and many blamed Pope Benedict XVI directly for the ban, even though it was Cardinal Grocholewski's signature on the document just as it was Cardinal Ratzinger's signature on the documents of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. So why has Pope Benedict XVI always had to bear the blame for the Church's teaching on homosexuality, even when he worked under his predecessor?
I think there are basically two reasons for this.
The first reason is denial. I know a lot about this one, because I have been guilty of demonizing Pope Benedict XVI because I was living in denial. Many people, even those who vehemently disagreed with him, liked and even loved Pope John Paul the Great. They do not want to hate him for teachings they cannot accept, so they live in denial pretending that such teachings were not his own. Instead, these teachings must come from a nefarious anti-John Paul II, and in Cardinal Ratzinger they had found just such a caricature. Cardinal Ratzinger was blamed for all manner of controversial Church teachings during Pope John Paul the Great's pontificate, but he was especially blamed for that pontificate's teachings on homosexuality. Even after the death of Pope John Paul the Great, this living in denial has continued for many. Refusing to accept that most of the world's bishops and clergy agree with the Church's teaching on homosexuality, or at least with most of it, Pope Benedict XVI is solely blamed for that teaching and subsequently ignored as a homophobic bigot.
The second reason is convenience, and I think this may be the reason that applies to NCR. It is inconvenient for the media to blame and demonize Pope John Paul the Great for the Church's teaching on homosexuality. How might the millions of faithful who stood in St. Peter's Square and chanted "Santo Subito!" -- "Saint Now!" react to a demonization of their late, charismatic, beloved pope? In many ways, Pope Benedict XVI has always been a victim of Pope John Paul the Great's charisma. Because the media is too afraid of the backlash that would result from attacking Pope John Paul the Great, they have always chosen instead to attack the man who is now Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict XVI is quiet, he is introverted, he is scholarly. In short, he does not have the cult of personality that accompanied Pope John Paul the Great. Thus, the media (including much of the Catholic media) has always attacked him for teachings which rightly belonged to his predecessor, and they still continue to do so.
For example, Pope Benedict XVI was named anti-gay person of the year by the Washington Blade for teachings which were really his predecessor's, and no one even batted an eyelash. The Washington Blade would never have had the intestinal fortitude to name Pope John Paul the Great its anti-gay person of the year, not while he was alive and certainly not now that he has fallen asleep in the Lord. So they attack and demonize his successor because it is convenient for them.
It's time for everyone -- those who support the Church's teaching on homosexuality and those who oppose it -- to start telling the truth. The demonization of Pope Benedict XVI for the Church's teaching on homosexuality must stop. Yes, it is true that Pope Benedict XVI authored several documents clarifying the Church's teaching on homosexuality as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But it is equally true that not one jot or tittle comes forth in an official document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or any other curial dicastery without the approval of the reigning pope: in other words, Pope John Paul the Great. It is also true that most documents which are published by curial dicasteries were actually commissioned by the pope, so that it was probably Pope John Paul the Great who requested that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith clarify the Church's teaching on homosexuality. It is unlikely that the current pope would have taken his own initiative as the prefect of that dicastery. Pope John Paul the Great was directly responsible for the Church's teaching on same-sex marriage and gay adoption.
What about more recent developments? Notable among these developments is the ban on gay seminarians published by the Congregation for Catholic Education. It is true that Pope Benedict XVI bears some responsibility for this ban, since he was the pope who approved it. But it is also true that it was Pope John Paul the Great who commissioned the document quite some time before he passed away, so that responsibility for the ban is shared between the current pontificate and the previous one -- it is not all Pope Benedict XVI's fault, as so many have either stated or implied. And let us not forget that the ban on gay seminarians and priests predated even the new document by the Congregation for Catholic Education, since a document published in the 1960s had already banned the ordination of gay men but was subsequently ignored.
Although Pope Benedict XVI is his own pope with his own pontificate, it is also true that he has done nothing new in regard to homosexuality. His opposition to same-sex marriage in Spain, his opposition to gay adoption throughout the world: these are not really new developments, but only continuations of what Pope John Paul the Great was already teaching. And indeed, these new teachings to address modern situations are only continuations of what the Church has always taught in regard to homosexuality, so that even Pope John Paul the Great cannot be blamed and demonized for them. When we blame and demonize Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul the Great for the Church's teaching on homosexuality, we do the same to all of the popes before them, to the Church Fathers and to many saints, to St. Paul who began the Church's teaching on homosexuality, and to the prophets of the Old Covenant who preceded St. Paul.
Am I saying that Pope Benedict XVI bears no responsibility for the Church's teaching on homosexuality, either as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith or as pope? Of course not; that would be to deprive him of his own teaching authority. My point is simply that it is dishonest and wrong to blame him for his predecessor's teaching on homosexuality, which was itself a continuation of what the Church has always taught in regard to homosexuality. Pope Benedict XVI is not some kind of anti-gay demon; he is a man, who is also the pope, who is continuing to teach what the Church has taught before him -- whether we like it or whether we don't.