A blog for the socially and politically conscious, written by a young, gay activist who strongly believes in equality and justice.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Papal visit invites intolerance

Pope Benedict XVI has criticised the Equality Bill today for violating "natural law". The former Hitler Youth member was thought to be referring to provisions in the bill which would have forced churches to employ gay staff, which were defeated by the House of Lords last week. The pontiff may also have been referring to laws which banned religious adoption agencies from refusing to serve gay couples. They were asked to abide by the new laws or close. In a message to 35 Catholic bishops in England and Wales, he said: “Your country is well known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society." "Yet as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs. In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed." He urged bishops to defend the church's "moral teachings", saying that as the church offered the "truth", it could not be accused of restricting the freedom of others.

Today, the National Secular Society announced it was planning protests over the Pontiff's state-funded visit to the UK in September. NSS president Terry Sanderson estimated that the cost of his visit to taxpayers would be £20 million. He said: "If the Catholic Church wishes its leader to come here, it should pay for the visit itself. I am sure many others feel the same resentment as we do at the NSS at funding the presence of someone who wishes to impose a reactionary agenda of social change on us.” Gay groups, women's groups and pro-choice campaigners are expected to get involved with the protest. Recently, the Pope criticised Portugal's new gay marriage law, calling it an "attack" on the natural differences between men and women. In an end-of year address in 2008, he said that the existence of gay people threatens humanity as much as the destruction of the rainforests does and that "blurring" genders through acceptance of transgender people would kill off the human race. He has also attacked the use of condoms to tackle HIV, saying they may make the problem worse. This is the big problem with religion, or maybe with monotheistic religion – its adherents aren't content to just worship their god on a convenient day, they think their moral standards are superior to any other moral standard, which in turn gives them what they believe is the right to tell other people how to live. Pathetic. But it's precisely *why* we actually need an equality bill in the first place.

His predecessor beat himself with a belt and slept naked on the floor; his bishops have covered up the molestation of thousands, possibly millions of children; he wears white watered silk dresses, Belgian lace dusters, and Prada pumps. What gives this caricature of a human being any right to lecture the masses  on moral principals or civil liberties? It is worth pointing out that the majority of Brits are not religious (66%) and only 10% go to church regularly (see vexen.co.uk/UK/religion.html). Between 1980 and 2000 the Church of England's attendance went down 29%. They are, like the Conservatives, begging to any 'traditional' minority to radicalise . Oh, and don't forget the 53 million South Americans killed by the Catholic Church. And the millions of AIDS-ridden civilians worldwide being told condoms make it worse, and that abstinence (which is proven to be ineffective) is the way forwards. Surely advocating celibacy and banning marriage of heterosexuals is the attack on "creation and the natural order". I'm talking about the Catholic priesthood. Apparently African Catholic priests often ignore this and just get married. Some Irish ones too. Since gay sex is, by definition, physically possible, and in most cases (like most straight sex) physically harmless, it is "natural" in the broader sense. This tells us next to nothing about whether sexual or emotional relationships are desirable. Common sense suggests that this has rather more to do with the way two people treat each other than it has with their gender.

The argument against gay relationships holds only if you believe that reproduction is the sole legitimate aim of sex, and then you would have to rail against all non vaginal sex (married or not) as well as sex between the elderly or infertile, married or not. And whatever you're views about the merits of gay relationships then if you profess to believe that sex is better in a loving and committed relationship, then attacking gay people for alleged promiscuity, while denying them the stability of marriage, is the greatest hypocrisy of all. Besides which, the Pope himself is on especially shaky ground given his vow of celibacy. After all, whichever way you look at it, leaving your sexual organs totally unused, is the most "unnatural" behaviour of all. This is the same pope who publicly supported a priest claiming who thinks Hurricane Katrina was "divine retribution" on New Orleans for being tolerant towards gay and lesbian people - and was subsequently made a bishop! Things like this occur and they wonder why their churches sit half empty across the globe. People are turning away from this kind of hatred and bigotry. The church will need to start a war soon to cleanse out those with any common sense. If we had no religion, this world would be a much better place. More people die in this world because of someones religous belief than all than any other cause known to man.

Respected medical journal The Lancet has criticised Pope Benedict XVI over his recent comments on condoms and AIDS and demanded he make a retraction. On a recent visit to Africa, the pontiff claimed the use of condoms "aggravates" the spread of the disease. In an editorial, the journal said: "By saying that condoms exacerbate the problem of HIV/AIDS, the Pope has publicly distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine on this issue. Whether the Pope's error was due to ignorance or a deliberate attempt to manipulate science to support Catholic ideology is unclear. But the comment still stands, and the Vatican's attempts to tweak the Pope's words, further tampering with the truth, is not the way forward." When any influential person, be it a religious or political figure, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record. Anything less from Pope Benedict would be an immense disservice to the public and health advocates, including many thousands of Catholics, who work tirelessly to try and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide.

The Pope's intervention over the Government's Equality Bill is unhelpful. Moreover, His suggestions to visiting English and Welsh Catholic bishops that the Bill “violates the natural law”, and that they resist it with “missionary zeal”, will do little to win over public opinion. The Bill is a sprawling piece of legislation aimed at tidying up dozens of equality laws tackling discrimination on the grounds of gender, race, sexual orientation and age. However, it will also push further; at issue are clauses that relate to churches' hiring practices. The Church of England, for example, has claimed that the new law could prevent church schools from hiring a practising Christian as headteacher. Yet critics of the Bill on these grounds are misinformed. Ministers have made clear that the law will not affect faith schools, which are covered by separate legislation. It will also not affect churches' hiring for religious posts, such as vicars. But it would extend anti-discrimination rights to non-religious jobs, and that is fair: there is no reason why, say, a gay church cleaner should not have the same protection as a cleaner in an office.

The Pope's intervention is more a reflection of previous battles, notably the 2007 anti-discrimination legislation from which ministers refused to exempt Catholic adoption agencies on the basis that they discriminated against gays. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that issue, the churches should have nothing to fear from the new Bill. And few people will welcome the spectacle of the leader of what is, in England and Wales, a small religious minority throwing his weight around to alter laws being voted on by the nation's elected representatives. Pious, inonsistent and obnoxious as ever, he will incite a lot of division on his arrival - and will revel in it. His frail exterior hides the dark beating heart of a monster who attempted to cover up systematic child abuse in Catholic institutions whilst daring to keep in his presence, the moral high ground. I am alarmed and incensed by this - we had banned the hateful religious rednecks at the Westoboro Baptist Church in America, and yet the Fred Phelps in a frock claiming to be the saviour of humanity, or at least the "superiors" in his jaded eyes is allowed to spread his perilous message across Britain. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get a few used condoms to throw at him in celebration of his visit.

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