Former Pope Benedict XVI has claimed that marriage equality would have been an “absurd” idea a century ago, but to deny it leads to a social excommunication today. He continued that equal marriage rights, alongside abortion and reproductive technologies are of the Antichrist.
The former pope’s comments were published in a new authorized German biography, Benedict XVI: The Biography: Volume One, by the journalist Peter Seewald. The comments were reportedly from a conversation the two men had in 2018. PinkNews reported the relevant quotes by Benedict in the book (using a translation from the German):
“100 years ago, everybody would have considered it to be absurd to speak of a homosexual marriage. Today, one is being excommunicated by society if one opposes it.”
In another section, the pope condemned “the creation of human beings in the laboratory,” adding: “Modern society is in the middle of formulating an anti-Christian creed, and if one opposes it, one is being punished by society with excommunication.
“‘The fear of this spiritual power of the Antichrist is then only more than natural, and it really needs the help of prayers on the part of an entire diocese and of the Universal Church in order to resist it.'”
The National Catholic Reporter’s coverage added that Benedict XVI suggested there were “reasons why people just want to switch off my voice,” while denying he had challenged Pope Francis or intervened in ecclesial debates since his resignation. The biography further revealed that the former pope had written a “spiritual testament” to be released after his death, claimed he did not resign over Vatican corruption, and defended that resignation and his creation of a new position as pope emeritus.
The claim that Benedict has not been a vocal participant in ecclesial politics is dubious given his repeated interviews and writings, including a rambling 2019 letter in which he blamed “homosexual cliques” for the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Theologians described the letter as “embarrassing” and “deeply flawed” among other harsh critiques.
LGBTQ advocates and theologians have pushed back against Benedict XVI’s latest comments in Seewald’s book. Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, told Gay City News:
“‘A century ago, people would have thought it to be absurd to talk about traveling to the moon and beyond, about a vaccine for polio, and about carrying telephones that serve as small computers in our pockets. . .Times and human understanding change. . .Even within the Church, Pope Benedict’s ideas of equating culture war topics with extreme language like ‘antichrist’ are vanishing. . .Pope Benedict’s thoughts belong to an era of the Catholic Church which is nearing its end.'”
Aaron Bianco, a gay church worker forced to resign from his parish job after being attacked by right wing groups, commented:
“‘Once again, the former pontiff Benedict has gone against his word and put himself in the public eye in this new book being released. . .For so many LGBT members of the Church who want so desperately to belong to their rightful home and fight for a seat at the table, Benedict again knocks them down. . .The gospel message of inclusion and love is so predominant in Jesus’ teaching. Why Benedict can’t see this is a shame. Benedict would be best to do as he said he would and keep quiet.'”
Felix Neumann, an editor for Katholisch.de, the German bishops’ news outlet, offered the following in an op-ed on that website. Neumann cited the opening words of Vatican II’s document on “The Church in the Modern World” (also known by its Latin title Gaudium et Spes) which opens with these words, “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the people of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.” The pope, as the young theologian Joseph Ratzinger, was an influential figure at the Council, even as his views distanced from the meeting’s spirit over time. Neumann sensed the pope now has a mind “which cannot deal with contradiction,” evident from his comments on homosexuality. He continued:
“100 years ago, everyone found it absurd to speak of gay marriage, the former Pope put on record – as if it were an argument and not just relativism that glorifies the zeitgeist of a bygone era: Fortunately, not all is what it was 100 years ago.
“That it is becoming increasingly difficult to defame love between people of the same sex as unnatural or immoral, at least in some parts of the world, is a social change that has nothing to do with an alleged ‘anti-Christian creed’ or an ideological ‘worldwide dictatorship’, especially since there is still some Christian and social persecution and suppression of homosexuals by some Christians. It has to do with an attitude that the Church has actually committed itself to with Gaudium et Spes, even if it still fails to deal with homosexuality in terms of dealing with people’s hope and sadness. Looking at the concrete person leads to social change, no sinister forces. This does not require any -isms, dictatorships, ideologies: anyone who claims such conspiracy myths obscures reality instead of confronting it. The Church is not threatened if it learns something from people’s lives, but [is threatened] if it is not willing to learn.”
At least one church observer has objected to the focus on the former pope’s anti-gay comments. Gerry O’Connell, who covers the Vatican for America, said in a podcast (as tweeted by America producer Colleen Dulle):
“Peter Seewald has written a book of 1,000 pages, and I think to reduce it to Benedict coming out on gay marriage, on abortion, et cetera, to make that the story would be, I think, really doing injustice to a book of that size.”
But the reality is it is not the media or LGBTQ people or the Catholic faithful who have zeroed in on the issue of homosexuality. It is Benedict himself who leads to such a reality. As a church leader, first as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the longtime head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and then as Pope Benedict XVI, he painted LGBTQ people scapegoats and outcasts. It was Ratzinger who issued the 1986 letter “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” in which described a homosexual orientation as an “objective disorder.” He used his pulpit to make incendiary, repeated comments about marriage equality. And he issued the Vatican’s first condemnation of transgender people when he was pope in 2012.
In short, his career has been defined, in part, on his obsession with marginalizing LGBTQ people. So perhaps it is fitting indeed that a thousand-page book is distilled down to what hopefully is his parting shot against lesbian and gay people.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 8, 2020
The Advocate, “Former Pope: Same-Sex Marriage Comes from the Antichrist“