Hope for a more open Vatican as Pope Benedict resigns
Members of the LGBTI community, progressive Catholics and others have called on the Vatican to consider serious reforms so that the Catholic Church may better reflect modern values following Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement this week that he would retire at the end of this month due to poor health.
The 85-year-old German-born pontiff who succeeded the long-reigning and popular John Paul II in April 2005 will become the first pope in 600 years to voluntarily step down when he resigns on February 28. His reign has been marked by a series of child sex abuse scandals and cover-ups engulfing the church on a number of continents, inlcuding Australia.
“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” he said in a statement on Monday.
“For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter.”
Widely regarded as virulently anti-gay, Pope Benedict had during his reign referred to LGBTI people as “evil” and vilified supporters of gay rights as “gravely immoral” while also denouncing homosexuality as a “deviant trend” and something “without any social value”. Over the past 12 months, the Pope had also stepped up his attacks on moves to introduce equal marriage laws in a number of European countries and elsewhere, at one point declaring the reform to be a threat to “human dignity and the future of humanity itself”.
London-based gay rights activist Peter Tatchell said Pope Benedict’s resignation offered the Catholic Church an extraordinary opportunity for positive change and reengagement with the wider world, particularly regarding its views on women, LGBTI people and condom usage.
“Benedict XVI denounced the use of condoms, even to stop the spread of HIV; thereby putting millions of lives at risk. He even went as far as claiming that condom usage may “increase” the rate of HIV infection,” Tatchell said.
“These dishonest, immoral teachings need to be dumped. A revision of the church’s hardline stance against homosexuality and gay human rights is much needed.
“The current Pope’s successor must move on from this unbridled homophobia, to embrace loving, stable, faithful same-sex relationships. According to the Christian gospel of love, the yardstick for judging the morality of any relationship should be the quality of that relationship, not the sexual orientation of the couple.”
Members of the US-based LGBT Catholic group Equally Blessed said it hoped the Church would now begin to turn away from oppressive doctrines.
“We pray for a pope who will realize that in promoting discrimination against LGBT people, the church inflicts pain on marginalized people, alienates the faithful and lends moral credibility to reactionary political movements across the globe,” they said in a statement.
Former NSW Premier, Kristina Keneally, who is a practising Catholic as well as a supporter of LGBTI rights and marriage equality, said in an online article for the ABC that Pope Benedict was simply not a “remarkable pope” who failed to accept or grasp the scale of the child sex-abuse scandal engulfing the Catholic Church on a number of continents.
“I pray that the new leader of the Catholic Church is inclusive, not just in his style of leadership, but in his substance. I pray the Catholic Church starts to live the New Testament's words: ‘We are many parts, we are all one body’. Women, married men, and gay and lesbian people: we are all members of the Body of Christ,” she wrote.
“I pray that the new pope can honestly confront crises, starting with the sex-abuse scandal. A new pope will have this chance: he will be free to respond in an entirely different way than the last two pontiffs, replacing defensiveness and obfuscation with humility, transparency, compassion and ultimately, reform.”
It is expected a new pope will be chosen in time for Easter, with Sydney Cardinal George Pell among the favourites for the position as well as Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana who only last year gave his public backing to Uganda’s controversial ‘Kill the Gays’ bill which proposes the death penalty as punishment for those caught engaging in homosexual sex.