LGBTQ+ advocates have marked the death of Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus, with reflections about the impact he had—as a theologian and cardinal, as well as pope—on issues of gender and sexuality in the church. (For New Ways Ministry’s statement on Benedict’s passing, click here.)
Jamie Manson, a queer Catholic who is president of Catholics for Choice, reflected in the National Catholic Reporter on then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s decades-long legacy at the then-Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Manson focused on the U.S. theologians who faced investigation and censure because of the prelate’s interventions. Among those targeted were Sr. Margaret Farley, RSM, for her book, Just Love, which included a more positive appraisal of same-gender relationships and a new social justice-based paradigm for sexual ethics. Manson wrote, in part:
“The book expectedly created consternation in Benedict who, like Augustine, showed a particular preoccupation with the sinfulness of sexual desire. During his time at the CDF, some of Benedict’s most prominent work came in his harsh doctrinal criticisms of sexual relations outside of marriage and of same-sex relationships. . .
“For all his efforts to control or suppress theological inquiry, Benedict’s success remains questionable. One could argue that, during his 24 years as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and his eight years as pope, theology actually thrived.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said in a statement that the former pope’s death “marks what is, hopefully, the end of a long, painful era for LGBTQIA+ Catholics, our families, and the entire church.” Duddy-Burke added that while Dignity members pray for Benedict, “his death also calls us to reflect honestly on his legacy,” continuing:
“His words and writings forced our community out of Catholic churches, tore families apart, silenced our supporters, and even cost lives. He refused to recognize even the most basic human rights for LGBTQIA+ people. Many of us experienced the most harsh and blatant religiously justified discrimination of our lives as a result of his policies. . .
“We pray that the church will use the period of reflection following Pope Benedict’s death to acknowledge that in many cases he used his power in ways that failed to further the Gospel message of love, human unity, and the responsibility to care for the marginalized.”
The Global Network of Rainbow Catholics issued a statement that claimed the world “has lost a great theologian and a man who deeply loved his faith,” and yet, “Benedict was a rather shy person and was not well versed or comfortable with addressing the complex emotions of the human condition.” Christopher Vella, a co-chair of GNRC, commented:
“While we note that his track record with the LGBTQ community is not positive, his inspired decision to resign the Papacy was instrumental for the more inclusive papacy of his successor Pope Francis with his unequivocal commitment to open up the Church to the people of the periphery.”
FutureChurch, a U.S. Catholic reform group, referenced the former pope’s legacy on LGBTQ+ issues in a longer statement, which reads, in part:
“While we grieve the loss of Pope Benedict XVI, we must not expunge the record when it comes to his many efforts to keep women subordinate and LGBTQI+ people excluded. The policies set while he served as prefect of the CDF and later as pope, matter today. Women and LGBTQI+ Catholics still suffer the effects of his policies in a Church that continues to undermine their authentic value, gifts, wisdom, and authority.”
LGBT+ Catholics Westminster, the pastoral outreach in the United Kingdom, released a statement calling Benedict “a sensitive and vulnerable human being” who “was often unable or afraid to relate his profound theological principles to issues of the day, not least in the areas of gender and sexuality.” It noted his efforts as Cardinal Ratzinger to stop welcoming Masses in the Diocese of Westminster, concluding, “His passing marks a turning point in the lives of LGBTQ+ Catholics around the world.”
Fr. Tony Flannery, CSsR, an Irish priest censored by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in part for his support of LGBTQ+ equality, reflected on the passing of Benedict on his personal blog. Flannery wrote:
“There are two things that stand out for me from my experience of what I like to call ‘the Ratzinger Vatican’. . .The first was a total conviction about the rightness of their beliefs and practices. . .
“The second one was their complete lack of respect for the people they considered in error. This expressed itself in my case by not allowing me any opportunity to exercise any of the rights that accused people are accorded by the law systems of all civilised societies. I was not allowed to know who my accusers were. . .
“So, do I regret his death? I can’t really say that I do. But I do say a prayer for him, and wish him eternal peace. All of us, pope and pauper, face the same end, whatever exactly that will be.”
Fr. James Martin, S.J., an LGBTQ+ advocate, posted praise for Benedict on his Facebook page, noting the pontiff’s humility in stepping down from the papacy, as well as his books on the life of Jesus of Nazareth:
“First, his resignation as pope in 2013 was one of the most remarkable acts of humility in church history. It caught nearly everyone off guard, not only because he was the first pope to resign in centuries, but also because acts of humility of that magnitude are vanishingly rare…
“Second, his series of books ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ by turns deep, learned, surprising, expansive and inspiring, are a signal contribution to Christian spirituality. Along with his encyclical ‘Caritatis in Veritate,’ they are among his most powerful theological writings.”
Outreach, an LGBTQ+ ministry resource produced by America, offered a traditional Catholic prayer for the dead on Instagram:
“Outreach, along with Catholics around the world, mourns the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May he rest in peace.”
John Casey, editor at large of The Advocate, also reflected on the legacy of Benedict XVI. Casey, who is a survivor of clergy abuse, cites Benedict’s failures to address sexual abuse during every step of his ecclesial career. The author describes Benedict as having “a cherry-picking and smoke and mirror reaction to the scandal.” In terms of LGBTQ+ issues, Casey said that the former pope “was ruthless in his admonishing and punishing of anyone in the church who was LGBTQ+ or an ally.” He noted Ratzinger’s censure of Sr. Jeannine Gramick and Fr. Robert Nugent, co-founders of New Ways Ministry, and Benedict’s persistent opposition to marriage equality.
Additionally, Casey said that Ratzinger’s approach towards the HIV/AIDS crisis was particularly harmful and damaging to lives:
“In 1987, while the virus raged, rumors abound that the Catholic Church might implicitly endorse the use of condoms to help prevent the spread of the disease. It was immediately shot down by Ratzinger who said that such an approach to protect gay men and gay sex ‘would result in at least the facilitation of evil.’ . . .Can you imagine how many lives might have been saved if the bishops endorsed the use of condoms?”
Casey concluded with what is probably the most negative assessment of Benedict from an LGBTQ+ perspective that has seen print yet, claiming that the pontiff “left so much animosity, disregard, and divisiveness in his wake.”
Bondings 2.0 will continue to present opinions and perspectives on Benedict XVI’s legacy on LGBTQ+ issues if more commentary comes to light as we approach his funeral on January 5th.
For previous Bondings 2.0 posts on Benedict’s passing:
December 31, 2022: New Ways Ministry Marks the Passing of Benedict XVI
January 1, 2023: Benedict XVI in the Company of LGBTQ+ Saints
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, January 4, 2022