The pope’s address

Half the world got angry at the pope for allegedly speaking up against gay marriage in his Christmas address to the Curia. Yet, I cannot find anything in his speech about gay marriage, not even obliquely. Am I the only one who’s puzzled?

I have two reasons for assuming the pope was nog speaking about gay marriage at all. This twelve-paragraph speech devotes two paragraphs to ‘family’ and the threats the pope sees to it. In the first paragraph he sketches the problem in a series of questions:

[…] the question of the family is not just about a particular social construct, but about man himself – about what he is and what it takes to be authentically human. The challenges involved are manifold. First of all there is the question of the human capacity to make a commitment or to avoid commitment. Can one bind oneself for a lifetime? Does this correspond to man’s nature? Does it not contradict his freedom and the scope of his self-realization? Does man become himself by living for himself alone and only entering into relationships with others when he can break them off again at any time? Is lifelong commitment antithetical to freedom? Is commitment also worth suffering for? Man’s refusal to make any commitment – which is becoming increasingly widespread as a result of a false understanding of freedom and self-realization as well as the desire to escape suffering – means that man remains closed in on himself and keeps his “I” ultimately for himself […]

If you ask me, questions like these might just as well apply to gay couples as straight ones. The problems the pope indicates are neither typical for gay couples nor do they occur more often among them. In fact, I think his speech is about divorce, broken families and the growing lack of commitment between spouses. I’m quite sure the pope is not including gay couples here. He may think gays too are a threat to the family, but what he’s talking about is a problem that might -if you share the pope’s views on the sanctity of marriage- actually be a real threat, given its much bigger size.

There’s a second reason why I think the pope cannot possibly be referring to gays. In the second paragraph he offers an explanation in the form of his ideas on gender. According to his diagnosis mankind is shifting its view on gender, and in the wrong direction.

According to this philosophy, sex is no longer a given element of nature, that man has to accept and personally make sense of: it is a social role that we choose for ourselves, while in the past it was chosen for us by society. The profound falsehood of this theory and of the anthropological revolution contained within it is obvious. People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being. They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.

The pope is describing the views of his opponents here. But if he were referring to the opinions of homosexuals or gay rights activists, there is nobody -literally nobody- to be found among them who claims that being homosexual is a choice. Instead the claim gay rights activists make all over the world is that homosexuality is drafted into the very nature of gay people. They are born with it. Their argument is exactly the same as the pope’s, it only points in the opposite direction. Homosexuality according to them is -in a religious sense- an ‘act of God’ that should be respected as such.

I find it hard to believe that the pope would be unaware of the fact that he and his opponents use the very same argument about ‘nature’ when discussing homosexuality. So when the pope comments on the idea that gender role is a matter of choice, I think he must be referring to something else: the choice people want or claim to have to release themselves from certain commitments.

Of course the pope’s views on gay marriage are well-known. I happen not share them and many others don’ t either. I won’t argue with those who claim the pope’s views on the matter are old-fashioned, outdated or backward. Yet Joseph Ratzinger is an intelligent and smart man. His holding on to backward views is no reason at all to assume he must be the village idiot, who is completely unaware of what people say. That’s too easy.

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