Is the Pope Gay?

How else can we explain his virulent campaign against homosexuals?

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 13th July 2000

“What a man believes upon grossly insufficient evidence,” Bertrand Russell wrote, “is an index to his desires – desires of which he himself is often unconscious.” The Vatican’s current obsession with homosexuality suggests that something interesting might be going on. Are some of the Church’s most powerful cardinals struggling with their sexuality? Could the Pope himself be gay?

On Sunday, the Holy Father launched his fiercest attack on gays, insisting that the World Pride festival in Rome was “an offence to the Christian values” of the city. Homosexuality, he maintained, is “objectively disordered” and “contrary to natural law”.

Last year, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Church’s sinister enforcement agency, forbade a priest and a nun from ministering to gays in the United States, after they refused to sign a statement testifying that “homosexual acts are always objectively evil”. Gays, the Vatican believes, bring their misfortunes upon themselves. “When civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has any conceivable right,” the CDF asserts, “neither the church nor society at large should be surprised when … violent reactions increase.” Gay rights campaigners maintain that between 150 and 200 gay men are murdered in Italy every year.

For this reason, if for no other, we should take this papal bull seriously. So let us examine the two main themes of the Vatican’s edicts: homosexuality, it maintains, is both immoral and unnatural.

Morality is surely meaningless unless it refers to the impact we have on other people. Interestingly, even the Vatican appears unable to point to any ill-effects of safe sex between consenting gay adults, other than to suggest that its acceptance might “deprave” or “corrupt” other people. What this appears to mean is that they might be led away from the teachings of the Church. Heterosexuality is quite another matter. Reproduction among prosperous people has a demonstrable impact on the welfare of others: thanks to the depletion of resources and the effects of climate change, every child born to the rich deprives children elsewhere of the means of survival. In a world of diminishing assets, being gay is arguably more moral than being straight.

The claim that homosexuality is “unnatural” is more interesting. This could mean one of two things. Perhaps the Pope is suggesting that it lies beyond the scope of “normal” human behaviour. If so, this has uncomfortable implications for an association of old men who wear dresses, hear voices and practise ritual cannibalism.

Alternatively, he might be suggesting that homosexual behaviour is at variance with that of the non-human world. Here too, however, the Church has a problem. “Biological Exuberance”, a book by the science writer Bruce Bagemihl, documents homosexuality in no fewer than 470 animal species. He shows how groups of manatees carouse in gay orgies; how male giraffes start “necking” and end up fornicating, how female Japanese macaques will pair off for weeks at a time, fondling each other and having sex.

As New Scientist magazine records, at the beginning of the last century the embarrassed keepers of Edinburgh Zoo had repeatedly to re-christen their penguins, after they found that the loving couples they observed were not all that they seemed. Female roseate terns sometimes mate with each other for life, allowing themselves to be fertilised by males, but making nests and bringing up their young together. I would hesitate to describe what pygmy chimpanzees, orang-utans or long-eared hedgehogs get up to, even in a liberal newspaper.

The world’s wildlife, in other words, is depraved. But we would be hard put to call it unnatural. Self-enforced celibacy, by contrast, is all but unknown among other animal species. If any sexual behaviour is out of tune with the natural world, it is surely that of the priesthood.

My guess is that the Pope is not gay, but that he has found in homosexuals a necessary enemy, an external threat which allows the Holy See to justify its iron grip on the lives of the faithful. Though some brave priests and bishops have sought to resist its excesses, for centuries the Vatican has picked on the victims of existing prejudice and persecution. It is no longer allowed to burn heretics and witches at the stake, so now it preys instead upon homosexuals and pregnant women, exposing gays to violent abuse, seeking to prevent even the rape victims of Kosovo from taking the morning-after pill.

Homosexuality is surely both natural and moral. Can the same be said of the Pope?