The scene: A sitting room in the papal residences of Domus Sanctae Marthae, The Vatican
The ambience: Warm, dim lighting. In the middle of the room between two comfy chairs is a coffee table bearing a plate of fruit, cheese and bread, two wine glasses, and a ceramic decanter filled with the finest Malbec.
Pope Francis: My son, you have wandered long and far in the wilderness of doubt, but you have not completely abandoned us, have you?
DG: Well, I am here in this room with Your Holiness, so that’s something.
[A brief pause while Archbishop Georg Gänswein enters the room. The papal assistant lifts the wine decanter and fills the two glasses, glaring at DG as he does so. Then he leaves.]
PF: So, my son: to what do I owe the pleasure of this audience?
DG: Let me begin with this: in the opening scene of “Annie Hall”, Woody Allen’s character tells the camera that he would not want to belong to a club that would have someone like him as a member. That line always comes back to me when I think about the Church.
PF: I am not sure I understand.
DG: Think about what happened with the Relatio document. One week, the Church is prepared to “welcome” gays: the working document even says we have special “gifts and qualities” and that same-sex partners can offer “precious support” to one another. The next week, the bishops drop the title (“Welcoming homosexual persons”), replace all the affirmative words with the condescending notion of “pastoral care,” and conclude that there is not “even a remote” comparison between same-sex unions and their hetero equivalents in marriage. The Church, it turns out, does not want to welcome us. It wants to pity us like lepers.
PF (taking a long gulp from his glass): It was very disappointing, this intemperate tone of the bishops.
DG: With respect, Your Holiness, I see it as more than intemperance. I see it as an epic smack-down of “Who am I to judge?”; a rejection of that spirit of openness you have brought to Rome. Unless you are willing to play the autocrat—that is, to push through the original draft of the Relatio by papal fiat, making it infallible (thus triggering the kind of curial bitch fight for which you don’t appear to have an appetite), then there isn’t a hope in hell that the Church’s stance on homosexuality is ever going to change. Not in this century. Not ever.
PF: Have faith, my son. The battle isn’t over yet.
DG: Try telling that to practicing gay and lesbian Catholics who continue to hope and pray for some kind of validation of their feelings and relationships despite being constantly bashed by the bishops. Never mind me: I’m already long gone from the flock. In fact, I can’t understand why anyone would want to belong to a club which, after openly demonizing them for thirty years, briefly flirts with the idea of acknowledging their basic humanity before reverting to the same hate speech typical of your predecessor. (DG deeply inhales the Malbec’s bouquet before taking a swig, and then chews on it a few moments before swallowing.) By the way: this is excellent wine, Your Holiness.
PF (smiles): It is a great gift of my homeland, I must admit. Now, I hope you are not here to vent about the Pope Emeritus. I have been told about that book of yours, and I understand your frustration. But why throw out the baby with the bathwater? Why would you not want to be part of a Church that would have you as a member, if it could prove it?
DG: Do you really want to know, Your Holiness? I mean, gosh, I feel like we’re in the confessional here.
PF: Yes, my son, I do. And please, be reassured: what you say here is strictly between us.
[Archbishop Gänswein peeks through the doorway; Pope Francis, seeing him, shoos him away with a wave of his hand.]
DG: Alright, Your Holiness: even if I still believed in God, I would not want to return to the flock—no matter how welcome I might be—because the Church does not deserve my “gifts and qualities.” Nor does it deserve the gifts and qualities of any other self-respecting gay, lesbian, or otherwise queer person. Not until the Church apologizes for the two millennia of its evil bigotry against us. Not until the Church acknowledges its oppression of half the human race through its treatment of women during that time. And not until the Church finally confronts the elephant in the room….
PF: Which is?
DG: That the largest paedophile club in the world is in no position, whatsoever, to pass moral judgement on, or even to presume to make statements about, the consenting adult relationships of homosexuals. Not while it continues to deny justice to the victims of priestly paedophilia. And not while some of the loudest Vatican voices condemning us are those of tormented closet cases; men who, if they’re not paedophiles themselves, are living secret adult gay lives while denying others what you would call the God-given right for each of us to become our true selves. As long as this monumental hypocrisy is allowed to stand, Your Holiness, there should be very little to attract homosexuals to the Roman Catholic Church.
PF (sighs): Good Lord, this is giving me a terrific headache. I know what you are saying, my son. But can you not find it in yourself to feel compassion for these bishops, who are clearly suffering inside?
DG: Sorry, Your Holiness, but nope. Nada. I feel compassion for the powerless—as you do. But these bastards—oops, sorry, Freudian slip!—bishops are the opposite. Frankly, they’re lucky the “stones” they keep throwing are softer than a freshly baked Timbit. For is there any “glass house” on the planet bigger than the Vatican?
PF (sighing): You may have a point, my son.