POPE EMERITUS Benedict XVI died on 31st December 2022, and was buried in the Vatican this week. His legacy is long, though he resigned in 2013, the first Pope to do so for 600 years.
In September 2010, as Pope Benedict visited Britain, I was the Convenor of the Liverpool branch of Quest the LGBT+ Catholic charity in Liverpool. I was interviewed by the Lesbian & Gay Foundation (LGF) in Manchester about the visit. Since then LGF became the LGBT Foundation and the article is no longer online, so I’m republishing it here. Within two years of this article’s publication I had left the Catholic Church and begun blogging about my journey. READ MORE.
First published 16th September 2010 on lgf.org.uk as Being Gay And Catholic:
On 13th September 2010 Channel Four broadcast Peter Tatchell’s long awaited documentary The Trouble With The Pope which was timed to coincide with the Pope’s visit to Britain. Peter talked about the programme on Gaydio, the UK’s LGBT+ radio station:
‘It explores the personal, political and religious journey that Pope Benedict has made since The 1940’s from a relatively liberal theologian, to the hard line conservative that he is today. We see a Pope that may be quite good on issues like war and global poverty, but when it comes to key moral and social issues like women’s rights, gay equality and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV, the Pope is supporting very deeply reactionary policies that are causing many people great harm.’
But what do gay Catholics think about the Pope’s visit and what did they make of last night’s programme?
Kieran Bohan is Convenor of Quest Liverpool part of a network of LGBT Catholics which campaigns for greater understanding of sexual orientation in the Church. Kieran comments:
‘The documentary was wide-ranging, briefly addressing many complex moral issues in a superficial and sensational way. Perhaps this was inevitable in an hour of prime time TV – there is enough to be said on each of the issues raised to fill a week of programmes. In a Facebook status after the show Peter wrote that more than 30 hours of high quality film ended up being discarded. Although not religious himself, Peter seems to respect the right of people to have faith provided those beliefs do not infringe on the human rights of others.’
How does Kieran feel when he hears some of the reported comments from The Pope attacking gay marriage and condemning gay equality and same-sex relationships?
Those of us who have grown up with the Catholic faith often struggle with conflicts between our personal experience and what the Church teaches, especially when it comes to Vatican proclamations on sexuality. For many, this can be a painful experience which leads them to abandon the Church, and often their faith too.
However, contrary to popular belief, Catholics do not believe that everything the Pope says is infallible. The Catholic Church also encourages people to develop informed consciences in choosing how to live, not merely to follow blindly the words of the Pope. Just as many Catholic men and women now use contraception or have been through divorce, so many more are lesbian or gay and actively involved in their faith community. Although I too have been deeply hurt by the words of leaders I was taught to respect, I and others like me choose to remain in the church because we believe it doesn’t have to be this way. Just as the Bible was once used to justify slavery, which few if any Christians would now defend, so we believe that in time the oppression of LGBT people by the church will also be overcome by a deeper sense of social justice. We are more likely to effect this change if we remain and campaign for change within the church than if we join the chorus of disapproval from the outside.’
What support does Quest get from the wider Catholic Church?
‘Quest has never sought formal approval from the Catholic Church, though it has benefited from recognition by the hierarchy in the past. Seven years after its foundation in 1973, Quest members participated, as diocesan representatives, in the National Pastoral Congress at Liverpool, whose report recognised a need “at all levels of the Church” for “‘a continuing re-evaluation of attitudes” to homosexuality. Then for around five years in the 1990s, Quest was listed among Catholic societies in the annual Catholic Directory by the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, before its entry was withdrawn as it was felt that the group did not sufficiently support orthodox Catholic teaching on sexuality. Quest does not encourage people to defy the Church, but it does empower them to develop informed consciences, reflect on their own experience and live with integrity.’
If you had an audience with the Pope what would you like to say to him?
‘As a former student for the priesthood who left when I came to terms with my sexuality, I have found it particularly distressing that, within months after he became Pope, Benedict issued a statement advising the exclusion of candidates with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies”. If you are to live in celibacy it should not matter who you are attracted to. The damage of this statement was compounded by the words of Cardinal Bertone, Vatican Secretary of State who said in April 2010 that celibacy was not to blame for child abuse by priests, but homosexuality was “the problem”. It seems that Benedict XVI has no experience of lesbian and gay people’s lives and we feel his pronouncements would be different if he met some. I would ask him to have the humility to listen to the stories of people like myself and many members of Quest who have struggled to be true to ourselves and our faith, in the belief that it is possible to have a healthy sexuality and spirituality, and to live with courage and integrity.’
How would you like to see the Pope’s visit to Britain remembered?
‘I hope that this trip is an opportunity to raise awareness in the Church of the issues which concern the people of this country the most, so there may be understanding, compassion and healing on both sides of the fierce debate that rages over the Pope’s visit.We each have a responsibility to develop our own conscience and morality, and that doesn’t mean accepting uncritically the words of a Pope, or any other leader for that matter. It means reflecting on our own experience and that of our community and seeking out what is good in it. No one has God in their pocket, not even Benedict!’
Quest has a network of local groups across the country, which meets regularly for worship, discussion and social events. To find out more, visit questlgbti.uk.