In case you are tracking the news on Pope Benedict’s Christmas message–which I sincerely hope you are not–I thought I’d jot down a couple of explanatory notes. Il Papa surprised folks this week by comparing “saving the rainforest” with “saving opposite sex marriage.” I’m sure his theological logic is impeccable. It’s what he does best. But it is usually a path that leads to decimal points about numbers of angels on pin heads. This is generally not very helpful to everyday Catholics.
So, the Pope’s Christmas message on joy also included the following (full text of Pope’s speech in Italian here, in English here):
Since faith in the Creator is an essential part of the Christian Credo, the Church cannot and should not confine itself to passing on the message of salvation alone. It has a responsibility for the created order and ought to make this responsibility prevail, even in public. And in so doing, it ought to safeguard not only the earth, water, and air as gifts of creation, belonging to everyone. It ought also to protect man against the destruction of himself. What is necessary is a kind of ecology of man, understood in the correct sense. When the Church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman and asks that this order of creation be respected, it is not the result of an outdated metaphysic. It is a question here of faith in the Creator and of listening to the language of creation, the devaluation of which leads to the self-destruction of man and therefore to the destruction of the same work of God. That which is often expressed and understood by the term “gender”, results finally in the self-emancipation of man from creation and from the Creator. Man wishes to act alone and to dispose ever and exclusively of that alone which concerns him. But in this way he is living contrary to the truth, he is living contrary to the Spirit Creator. The tropical forests are deserving, yes, of our protection, but man merits no less than the creature, in which there is written a message which does not mean a contradiction of our liberty, but its condition. The great Scholastic theologians have characterised matrimony, the life-long bond between man and woman, as a sacrament of creation, instituted by the Creator himself and which Christ – without modifying the message of creation – has incorporated into the history of his covenant with mankind. This forms part of the message that the Church must recover the witness in favour of the Spirit Creator present in nature in its entirety and in a particular way in the nature of man, created in the image of God. Beginning from this perspective, it would be beneficial to read again the Encyclical Humanae Vitae: the intention of Pope Paul VI was to defend love against sexuality as a consumer entity, the future as opposed to the exclusive pretext of the present, and the nature of man against its manipulation.
The key phrase that has caused controversy is: “That which is often expressed and understood by the term “gender”, results finally in the self-emancipation of man from creation and from the Creator.”
It’s really important to note here that there is a translation problem between Italian and English. What gets translated as “gender” is an inadequate translation of the Italian phrase “transgender”–which means in the Italian context anyone who is not 100% opposite sex oriented (gay, lesbian, transgender, third sex, bisexual, pansexual, yadda yadda yadda).
So when the Pope talks about “gender” he is addressing a gay and lesbian issue, not a male and female issue. Having this clarification however does NOT endear me any more to his outcome, but it does explain a few things.
Especially when the Pope’s message is put in the context of the recent United Nations move to “decriminalize homosexuality.”
A non-binding resolution titled “Statement on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity” was put before the UN General Assembly in mid-December seeking decriminalization and won support from 66 countries in the Assembly and less than 60 opposed it. The resolution was not supported by: the United States, Russia, China, the Vatican, and the Islamic Conference, among others. Every member of the European Union signed on in support. The Vatican and the U.S. were quick to point out that they support human rights for gay and lesbian folks but there were “slippery slope” technicalities in the UN proposal that made it impossible for them to support it. (Read “Vatican Backs Decriminalization but Not wording of UN proposal“.)
So, whatever else the Pope was going on about this Christmas, part of it was related to his fight against the “secularization of Europe” (of which he sees homosexuality as one part).
Having said all that, the Pope extended his Christmas message of Joy to the World, saying:
Joy is the gift in which all the other gifts are included. It is the expression of happiness, of being in harmony with ourselves, that which can only come from being in harmony with God and with his creation. It belongs to the nature of joy to be radiant, it must communicate itself. The missionary spirit of the Church is none other than the impulse to communicate the joy which has been given.
It seems to me that the Pope doesn’t address the essential question of whether same-sex orientation could also be a gift from God. It seems to me that Christian Catholic gay folks seek the same joy of Christ as the rest of the church; seeking joy that is “the expression of happiness, of being in harmony with ourselves, that which can only come from being in harmony with God and with God’s creation.”