Sunday Forum: In search of peace?
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On World Peace Day, Jan. 1, most of the world's citizens will be too poor, too hungry, too surrounded by violence or too worried by this century's other basic challenges to pay attention. Those who do pay attention likely will think first of war in places like Iraq and Eastern Congo, genocide in Sudan, a looming crisis in nuclear Pakistan and widespread poverty all over.
The spiritual leader of more than a billion of the world's people will be thinking about homosexuality.
Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI issued his message for World Peace Day. Entitled "The Human Family, A Community of Peace," the message argues that peace begins with the family. That's a reasonable point. But then the pope writes, "Everything that serves to weaken the family based on the marriage of a man and woman ... constitutes an objective obstacle on the road to peace."
Having implicitly named homosexuality as an obstacle to world peace in his fifth paragraph, the pope then waits until the seventh paragraph to mention the environment, the ninth to mention poverty and the second-to-last to mention war and violence.
As a Roman Catholic, I tremble at the implications of Pope Benedict XVI's prioritization of "family issues" like homosexuality ahead of pressing world issues. A peek into Catholic Church history suggests scary parallels.
One hundred years ago, Pope Pius X led the church during a challenging, if slightly less turbulent, time in history.
In 1907, the Herero and Namaqua Genocide raged in German South-West Africa (now Namibia) on its way to claiming more than 80,000 lives. Thousands of peasant protestors died at the hands of the Romanian army. Another thousand people died in an earthquake in Jamaica. Even more troubling were the signs of bigger problems to come. The largest European powers had begun the arms race that led up to World War I, which would claim more than 20 million lives over the next decade.
But Pope Pius X had bigger fish to fry. In 1908, Pius X brought into force the papal decree, "Ne Temere," which declared marriages not performed by a Roman Catholic priest religiously invalid. "Ne Temere" also gave priests discretion to refuse to perform mixed marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics.
But it was Pope Pius X's treatment of a progressive group of Catholic intellectuals that should stir the most concern that history might be repeating itself.
Pius X issued the papal encyclical "Pascendi Dominici Gregis," denouncing "modernists," who were arguing, among other things, that the church and its teachings needed to incorporate advances in political liberalism, philosophy and other academic fields. The pope reacted by requiring all Catholic clergy and professors to take an oath against modernism, and he built a group of secret informers to report suspected modernists to the Vatican.
By using World Peace Day to promote an anti-homosexual agenda and to demote the importance of poverty, the environment and war, Pope Benedict XVI is behaving scarily like his predecessor of 100 years ago. It is easy to imagine in the coming years the arrival of more explicitly anti-gay encyclicals, oaths against homosexual-friendly scholarship and perhaps even secret informers.
Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger led the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the group responsible for the church's views on "family issues" like homosexuality. It is successor institution to the Congregation for the Universal Inquisition, which once was responsible for the torture and burning at the stake of alleged heretics. What few people know is that the inquisition office was never disbanded, only renamed.
At this point in history, Pope Benedict XVI must choose his path. He can follow the paranoid, intolerant and inward-looking path of Pope Pius X. Or he can focus on the real problems of the day.
Pope John Paul II, no friend to homosexuals, focused most of his energy on building bridges across the Berlin Wall and then helping to prevent the Cold War from turning into World War III.
On World Peace Day 2008, our pope should imagine the place he might gain in history if he chooses to focus on poverty, the environment and war -- and while he's at it, on accepting the hundreds of millions of homosexuals inside and outside his flock. He may never condone their behavior -- sadly, such progress may have to wait for a future pope -- but he can at least treat them with peace and humanity.
First Published December 30, 2007 12:00 am