Posted on Xtra.ca on July 13, 2000
[On the occasion of an Italian gay pride parade being held in Rome, near the Vatican, in the midst of the Catholic Church “Jubilee” celebrations….]
By Daniel Gawthrop
Somewhere this very minute, in the bedrooms and bathrooms of teenaged Catholics all over the world, a young lesbian or gay boy is reaching for the razor blades.
They’re thinking suicide, or perhaps they’ve already gone through with it, because their pope — or, at least, the demented, octogenarian demagogue their parents tell them is their pope — has finally come out of the closet to declare war on them. To tell them their feelings are sick, “contrary to natural law,” “evil,” and prove that they have “an objective disorder” for which they should be pitied and prayed for like murderers, thieves, rapists and drug dealers.
This hardly comes as news. Every now and then the Vatican releases some “encyclical” exhorting its faithful to treat us with compassion because we’re so fucked up.
But this time it’s personal.
You see, John Paul II is mad. Hopping mad. He wouldn’t normally have said anything about gay men and lesbians, never mind the diatribe he unleashed on the weekend in an address before thousands in St Peter’s Square. Rendering us invisible has always been His Holiness’ preferred modus operandi.
But we’ve spoiled his little party by daring to celebrate our World Pride festival not only in Rome, the holiest city of all, but during the “great Jubilee,” a year-long Christian celebration of the anniversary of Christ’s birth. Couldn’t we have waited another year?
JP tried to get it stopped, he really did. But politicians and civil rights intervened, and the event was held. And the Devil intervened and everyone had a smashingly good time. About 200,000 people showed up. And we empowered thousands of Italian queers who have never been able to express themselves openly in their own country. (“It is rallies like these that give you the strength to go on,” Marco, a 39-year-old from Biella, in northern Italy, told the German press agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur.)
The queer movement trumped the Vatican in virtually every department it usually excels: highly visible pageantry, shameless self-promotion, maximum media coverage and conversion of souls. We did it by reclaiming previously forbidden space; by overshadowing their event and placing ourselves historically in the context of church evils (one banner read “1943: The Vatican says nothing about the deportation of Gays and Jews”); and, by embarrassing the church with CNN footage of the drag-festooned Nuns On The Run, one man dressed up as His Holiness, and another fellow carrying a banner that read “God is Gay.”
His Holiness had an even more personal reason to read the riot act on Sunday. The gay pride events, which began on July 1 and ended on Saturday, coincided with several jubilee events, including a special visit to Rome by tens of thousands of the pope’s Polish compatriots. So there were drag queens stripped down to their leather thongs and stiletto heels, SM queens snapping their whips and gym queens shaking their buns on the same streets where pious Poles were busy genuflecting. Oh dear.
JP began: “I consider it my duty to mention the demonstrations in Rome over the last few days.” (Most people would have described it as partying.)
He continued: “In the name of the church of Rome I cannot not express the bitterness following the affront to the Jubilee 2000 celebrations and the offence to the Christian values of a city dear to Catholics worldwide.” Fair enough — everyone’s free to leave their sense of humour at the door.
“Homosexual acts are against nature’s laws. The church cannot silence the truth, because this… would not help discern what is good from what is evil.” He should tell that to his homosexual priests.
His Holiness concluded his remarks with another non sequitur typical of the church’s moral relativism. While everything about us and our feelings should be condemned, he said, we as individuals should not be the victims of “unjust discrimination,” but be treated instead with “respect, compassion [and] delicacy” because homosexuality is an “objective disorder.”
Yes, the pope did us all a favour by putting gay rights issues on Italy’s public agenda for the first time. John Paul will one day be dead, someone less Neanderthal might be in charge (although not likely), and the Vatican may finally collapse from the gradual attrition of its flock — if not from the millions of dollars in sex abuse settlements, bank fraud cases, and other lawsuits dogging it.
In the meantime, however, Pope John Paul II has foolishly and dangerously destroyed his credibility as a Christian leader by using the world as his stage to incite hatred.
The only principled choice any queer Catholic can make is to vote with your feet. Walk out of this decaying institution forever.