Is the Retired Pope Gay?
Is Benedict XVI gay? Gay Catholic writer Andrew Sullivan thinks so. Last week, Sullivan blogged about his impression that the resigned pope is gay, making headlines in the LGBT press with this speculation.
Sullivan uses as his evidence the fact that Benedict’s secretary, Msgr. Georg Ganswein, will continue working for the new pope, while he lives with Benedict in the monastery on the Vatican grounds where the former pontiff plans to retire. Sullivan writes:
So Benedict’s handsome male companion will continue to live with him, while working for the other Pope during the day. Are we supposed to think that’s, well, a normal arrangement?
Sullivan fills out his evidence with a book review written by Colm Toibin of Angela Quattrochi’s book Is the Pope Gay?:
“When asked if he felt nervous in the presence of the Holy Father, Gänswein replied that he sometimes did and added: ‘But it is also true that the fact of meeting each other and being together on a daily basis creates a sense of “familiarity”, which makes you feel less nervous. But obviously I know who the Holy Father is and so I know how to behave appropriately. There are always some situations, however, when the heart beats a little stronger than usual.’ “
Sullivan comments on this quotation:
“This man – clearly in some kind of love with Ratzinger (and vice-versa) will now be working for the new Pope as secretary in the day and spending the nights with the Pope Emeritus. This is not the Vatican. It’s Melrose Place.”
While the possibility that Benedict is, in fact, gay is certainly a viable one, speculation such as Sullivan’s tends to make me uneasy for several reasons. First, there is a subtle presumption that any male-male relationship has to prove that it is not homosexual. If the gay movement can make any contribution to the world, I think one of those is that it can help males see that they need not be afraid of being close to one other and expressing affection for one another. Speculating that all male-male relationships are potentially homosexual creates a climate of suspicion, which is, in fact, homophobic.
Second, while it is very true that many people with strong anti-gay stances are, in fact, gay themselves, I also know that such is not always the case. Straight people can be homophobes, too.
Third, speculation about a famous anti-gay person’s sexuality leads nowhere. It is Benedict’s policies, not his orientation (however repressed it may be), which make him a harmful influence to pro-LGBT initiatives. Let’s suppose for a second that Benedict is gay. His orientation wouldn’t make his policies any more or less harmful. Yes, there would be a certain amount of hypocrisy involved, and that would be difficult to accept, but I don’t think it would change the pope’s policies any.
Last week, when Bondings 2.o posted about the accusations of sexual misconduct by Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, one of our loyal blog readers, Bob Miailovich, commented:
“Self-hatred and internalized homophobia among gay folk is something we are well acquainted with. O’Brien deserves our pity as a gay man who hates himself so deeply.”
If Benedict is, in fact, gay, then he must be living with an incredible amount of cognitive dissonance in order to so publicly and vehemently denounce LGBT people. He is causing great harm to himself, as well as to others.
Is Benedict gay? I would hope that if he is gay that people in the Catholic LGBT movement would express attitudes toward sexual orientation and secrecy that would allow him to “come out” when he is ready to do so. That is the approach that I suggest we do with all people, regardless of their station in life.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
This speculation makes me uneasy for a fourth reason: regardless of orientation, Catholic clergy are supposed to be celibate. I expect the pope, more than anyone, to uphold this, and I see no reason to believe that he hasn’t. Speculating about his orientation is one thing, speculating that he’s had/is continuing to have an affair? That is something else entirely.
Though I agree that this speculation can be uncomfortable, I think it’s necessary to discuss. If not “Is Benedict gay?” (which none of us can answer since none of us have any idea how his desires flow) than at least “Why is Benedict perceived as gay?” I do not think this is simply about misconstruing male-male friendship as necessarily homosexual (John Paul II and his secretary was just as close and for far longer, yet I know of no discussion around this point with him), but rather THIS particular man. Benedict is well known for his campy style and fondness for liturgical arcana in dress (a re-reading of Dorian Grey will show that among the lists of items in this proto-gay novel are liturgical vestments), his ruby slippers, his effete demeanor. He is also a profoundly bookish man who from his early youth retreated from activity with other boys into a life in his head. For both Sullivan and myself, that raises immediate parallels, since that was precisely what I (and apparently he) also did as youth when we didn’t fit in with other boys.
Now all of this may not be important, save for one issue. If Benedict is gay–or is perceived as gay–then his draconian policies and language about gay people in the church is not simply a case of homophobia: it is a case of betrayal. Benedict should be with us in trying to further our place in the church, because he knows what it’s like. But instead of doing that, he plays the Judas. It raises a very important question for gay Christians then: how can we love Judas? That question is not rhetorical, because I wrestle with it. In terms of actual policy, there may be no difference between JPII and Benedict on these matters. But because of how Benedict is perceived, the emotional register is–for many of us–quite different. Therefore the question of Benedict’s gayness is quite important, because for many of us it goes to the heart of why it is so difficult to love him–by which I don’t mean “feel affectionate” toward him–and also challenges us to figure out how to do so anyway.
It is well known among Vatican correspondents that Benedict is referred to as “Pope Emily.” It is usually tongue-in-cheek with “s/he does love those Prada shoes” and “oh how she dresses.” Also, did you notice the other week during the farewell? In the pope-mobile, after Msgr. Ganswein assisted with the baby for Benedict to kiss, Ganswein ever so tenderly touched — practically caressed — Benedict’s shoulder. Who does that in public with monarch-like figures? Surely that isn’t protocol. What queen would allow that?
What difference does it make?
The Cardinal O’Brien case, and older cases such as Archbishop Spellman, make one wonder though.
Straight people can be homophobes: but some of the most vicious are closeted LGBT people.
Andrew’s and the many other speculations around Brother Ratzinger’s retirement, make for titillating reading, but they miss the really important challenges confronting all of us who want vital changes in so many areas of church teaching/governance.
I have nothing new to report after a revival in October of my reform campaign to move into church life with a crowd of LGBT’s and allies who will with loving moral persuasion place our rights on the tables of pastoral councils, priests and bishops’ offices. Not one taker. Only when we can assert our moral and numeric value can we move forward. And that will never happen by obeying all the non-negotiable rules and/or waiting for a disemboweled VAT II collegiality. Or praying for a miraculous reformist Pope.
We have a real initial problem with sticking together–nothing unusual among progressives–a problem with a united front. I just learned that the already split Rainbow Sash movement is pretty slowed down internationally. I only recently have heard about other national/local advocacy groups. But we need unity. And the Chicago RSM group wants to dialog with New Ways and Dignity about joining them to “move into parish life”. Sounds like we have a big reconciliation agenda among ourselves. And as I’ve noted elsewhere LGBT issues are a definite “drag” on other progressive catholic movements making it difficult to get in on their coattails. Oh yes, time will change things
Ghettos, even gay ghettos, can be needed as sources of strength.
I resent the implication that being “gay” is something to be ashamed of. Stop it now1
I suppose Fr. Ratzinger is gay or inclined that way. His sexual identity was formed a very long time ago in a culture, pre-nazi Germany, that no longer exists. I am only guessing but I think he did not really know what his orientation was, but as he grew older he realized that he was homosexual, the word they used then. I think one of the most important things now is for the next Pope and Fr. Ratzinger to meet with some LGBT people from somewhere. I remember in the film about Sister J. Fr. Ratzinger’s only rememb recollection of gay people were protestors when he went to Germany. I am hoping that glbt roman Catholics approach the next Pope in a positive way to get to know one another
Andrew Sullivan sounds like my room mate. To him everyone is gay. It’s crazy. He literally assesses almost every person he comes in contact with. I don’t get a gay vibe from the pope at all, and my gaydar is pretty good. I just don’t think about people that way. Is he gay, or straight or bi, who cares? I like what the person said a few posts ago, it is really about celibacy, which means committment to a vow, which I guess used to mean something. I think the Catholic theological view is just that. That sexual orientation is what it is. Homosexuals are just that. Homosexuality is not choice. Homosexual behavior is another matter. That’s why I am not catholic. I don’t understand why Mr. Sullivan doesn’t just join a different church, or none. You have the right to freely associate with like-minded persons. Go start the gay boy scouts. Why do people insist on joining groups that have traditional values and insisting that they change. Imagine some fundamentalist christian joins the rainbow whatever group and then insist on rewriting their bylaws to accommodate their christian views. That is ridiculous and the rainbow whatever would be flipping out and excommunicating them.
If Benedict were gay, what would be most disturbing would be is his lack of empathy or concern for gay people. Most of his public statements have shown virtually no empathy or much understanding of gay and lesbian people. He seems at best uncomfortable with the subject. If he were gay, his conduct in this regard would deepen his hypocrisy and callousness.