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Among the Flutterers

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Colm Tóibín in the LRB (19 August 2010) on Ratzinger’s election and pontificate:

This idea that the Church should represent not merely the private religious beliefs of its members, but a view of how policy on public matters should be evaluated and carried out all over the world, belongs as much to the legacy of Wojtyla as any strengthening of the Church as a locus of an advanced spirituality. As Wojtyla’s health declined, it was tempting to imagine that there was a cardinal in waiting who would resemble Gorbachev or de Klerk, who would move from the ranks of conformity into a position of leadership and would dismantle Church teaching on sexuality, clerical celibacy, human reproduction and the rights of women, matters which were bringing the Church to its knees, distracting from its spiritual mission.

Even when Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope in April 2005, it was possible to imagine, as he came out onto the balcony of St Peter’s with a benign and humble look on his face and the bearing of a kind but wily old man with a deep inner life, that he was someone with the authority, the intellectual depth and the good sense to carry out these reforms. It was possible to imagine him spending his papacy restoring prayer and the spiritual life to the heart of the Catholic faith, placing much emphasis on the mystery and beauty of the Eucharist and dwelling as much as he could on ideas of redemption, responsibility, solidarity, forgiveness and love in the life of Jesus in the New Testament.

If anyone wonders why this has not happened, it is worth taking a look at Ratzinger’s views on homosexuality, which are offered in full in a number of appendices to The Pope Is Not Gay! by Angelo Quattrocchi. In 1986, as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Ratzinger wrote a letter to the Catholic bishops, which was approved by the pope, on ‘the Pastoral Care of Homosexuals’. He referred to an earlier Vatican declaration on the matter in 1975, which ‘took note of the distinction commonly drawn between the homosexual condition or tendency and individual homosexual actions’ and described the latter as ‘intrinsically disordered’. But in the discussion that followed, according to Ratzinger, ‘an overly benign interpretation was given to the homosexual condition itself, some going so far as to call it neutral, or even good. Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency towards an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as a moral disorder.’

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