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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
April 22, 2005

New pope is Vaticans anti-gay leader

Vatican City--After just four ballots, the College of Cardinals elected as the new pope an anti-gay former Hitler Youth member who, as head of a body once known as the Inquisition, kicked the gay Catholic group Dignity out of churches across the United States.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany became Pope Benedict XVI on April 19.

Ratzinger, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was the right-hand man of Pope John Paul II. Many of the anti-gay statements put forward by the Vatican over the last two decades came from Ratzinger�s office, either directly or otherwise.

Ratzinger became prefect of the Congregation, the Vatican doctrinal watchdog agency descended from the Office of the Inquisition, in 1981.

In the middle of that decade, he started an ongoing campaign against gay men and lesbians, issuing a letter to bishops in 1986, �On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,� which referred to gay people as having a tendency to �intrinsic moral evil.�

Ratzinger had by that point already stripped a Seattle bishop of some of his duties for performing a mass for Dignity, and had the Vatican imprimatur removed from a 1977 book arguing that homosexual activity did not have to be �absolutely immoral.�

One by one in the 1980s, Dignity chapters in U.S. cities were told that they could no longer meet on church property unless they declared themselves in agreement with church teachings, which included Ratzinger�s �intrinsic moral evil� letter.

Since then, Ratzinger has come down on a number of other theologians and clerics who have tried to resist the church�s condemnation of homosexuality.

Ratzinger�s 1992 letter to American bishops on civil rights protections for gay men and lesbians argued against the notion that people had a �right to homosexuality,� and said that discrimination was justified in areas like adoptions, the hiring of teachers and in the military.

He went further, saying that �neither the church nor society should be surprised� if �irrational and violent reactions increase� because of the quest for gay and lesbian equal rights.

Ratzinger in 1999 told Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent to stop their New Ways Ministry, which provided pastoral care to gay men and lesbians but refused to toe the doctrinal line. He ordered that they be �permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons and are ineligible, for an undetermined period, for any office in their respective religious institutes.�

Gramick believes Ratzinger�s ascension to the papacy will keep the church from �moving into the 21st century and out of the Middle Ages.�

�It does not bode well for people who are concerned for lesbian and gay people in the church,� she noted.

Her and Nugent�s successor as head of New Ways Ministry, Francis DeBernardo, said, �He is the lightning rod for anger at the church by gay and lesbian people.�

In the last few years, Ratzinger has also been behind a series of statements against same-sex marriage that have come out of the Vatican, including a 1993 letter stating, �There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God�s plan for marriage and family.�

�Marriage is holy, while homosexual acts go against the natural moral law,� it continues.

The church has also in the last few years threatened to deny communion to Catholic politicians who vote for pro-gay legislation.

�In recent days, we held out hope that the selection of a new pope would now bring greater openness and acceptance to the Roman Catholic Church,� said Rev. Troy Perry, moderator of the predominantly gay Metropolitan Community Churches. �With today�s election, that did not happen.�

While Perry�s comments were measured and political, executive director Matt Foreman of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force was more blunt.

�Today, the princes of the Roman Catholic Church elected as pope a man whose record has been one of unrelenting, venomous hatred for gay people,� Foreman said. �As a long-time Catholic from a staunchly Catholic family, I know that the history of the church is full of shameful, centuries-long chapters involving vilification, persecution, and violence against others.�

�Someday, the church will apologize to gay people as it has to others it has oppressed in the past,� he opined. �I very much doubt that this day will come during this pope�s reign.�

�In fact,� he concluded, �it seems inevitable that this pope will cause even more pain and give his successors even more for which to seek atonement.�

Ratzinger, who was born in 1927, joined the Hitler Youth when he was 14, and was later conscripted into the German army. He was posted as a guard at a factory using slave labor from a concentration camp before deserting the army and being picked up as a prisoner of war by American forces.

Ratzinger has said that resisting either the military service or membership in the Hitler Youth would have meant his death, but other people from his home town of Traunstein tell a different story.

�It was possible to resist, and those people set an example for others,� 84-year-old Elizabeth Lohner told the London Times, as quoted in the New York Post. �The Ratzingers were young--and they had made a different choice.�



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