God’s spin doctor

Brazil is entranced. The crowds have been momentarily blinded by the Vatican’s marketing machine, personified by the charismatic pope Francis I. It’s difficult to confront hysterical masses, but it is also necessary to do so. Brazil’s most famous playwright Nelson Rodrigues once famously said: “every unanimity is stupid”, and he couldn’t be more right. This might be one of my least popular pieces ever, but it is also one of the most urgent.

The pope has lured Brazil into believing that he is modernising his ultra-reactionary Church, but he is just delivering the same message with different words. His arrival in Brazil last week is pictured above.

Francis I said upon leaving Brazil on Sunday: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge them?”. He insisted that gay people should not be marginalised, but integrated into society instead. The media in Brazil quickly interpreted his words as a revolutionary and conciliatory gesture. Folha de São Paulo, the largest newspaper in Brazil lauded it “the most daring declaration a pontiff ever made about homosexuality”.

In reality, this is just the refinement of an ultra-homophobic rhetoric. The church doctrine has not budged, not an inch. The pope is saying that he does not disapprove gay people, as long as they repent and seek redemption. Gay people should be ego-dystonic (i.e. reject their own sexuality), just like many priests and cardinals. The Catholic Church is clear: God does not hate gay people, but their “sin” instead.

Oh, what a relief – so it’s ok to be gay as long as I don’t engage in homosexual love. So much compassion and tolerance, I’m ecstatic!!!

Francis I deliberately left out the most inflammatory parts of the Catholic Catechism, which uses immoral, strident and ultra-homophobic language. Passage 2357, for example, calls homosexual love “acts of grave depravity”, “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to natural law”.

The pope did nothing to counter this. Instead, he tacitly perpetuated the bigoted views of his organisation by choosing more subtle words: “The problem is not having these kinds of tendencies […] the problem is making a lobby out of it, a lobby of the greedy people[…] This is the most serious problem for me.”

Francis’s views are closely aligned to Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. The buff-headband wearing religious leader has also spoken out against the discrimination of gay people, while maintaining that gay marriage is a “sign of the apocalypse”. If the government of Catholic countries were to heed the pope’s advice on homosexuality, we would probably end up with laws like Russia. Last month the largest country in the world enacted an “anti-gay propaganda” law, which muffled gay activists and marginalised every single LGBT citizen.

The pope is simply trying to appeal to the quickly defecting moderate Catholics, who the Church profoundly alienated during the reign of his predecessor Benedict XVI, affectionately known as God’s Rottweiler. The papal canine failed the Church so badly that he abdicated (or more likely, was forced to resign), citing health concerns. He was the first pope to do so in more than 600 years. The Church was in urgent need of a make-over:  the choice of a smiling, more avuncular pope was not a random one.

The pope and Kirill treat homosexuality like a chronic disease: you must commiserate with the sufferer, and – most importantly – help them to fight the condition.

The Catholic Church has a history of intolerance and hate. It burnt dissidents in the Middle Ages. Nuns physically punished left-handed interns in the USA, as recent as the 1980s. Now they are seeking to psychologically wound LGBT people.

I would rather be burnt alive than be forced to have sex and share the rest of my life with someone I don’t love.

Catholic leaders also understand that it is borderline impossible to reconcile homophobic doctrines with everyday life, and so many lead a double life. Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the former leader of the Catholic Church in the UK and one of the most vicious opponents of gay marriage, confessed to a string of gay lovers after being exposed by the Guardian. He won the “Bigot of the Year” accolade bestowed by gay rights organisation Stonewall.

Thankfully for gay people, the Catholic crusade against homosexuals is not working. Gay rights are spreading like wildfire across most Catholic nations, and most governments also quickly dissociating themselves from the Church’s holy homophobic teachings.

It is with sadness, however, that I watch Francis I brainwash Brazil by cherry-picking his words and pretending to be progressive. He attracted a crowd of nearly 3m people to his mass in Rio, and indoctrinated even the young, most liberal and progressive pundits. It hurts to see the Brazilian media call him “daring” in relation to gay rights. Just two days earlier Desmond Tutu, the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town (of the Anglican Church) and hero in fight against Apartheid, claimed that “he would rather go to hell than worship a homophobic God”. Now THIS is a daring religious leader, but sadly the Brazilian media hardly picked up on this.

The pope’s reactionary stance is not confined to gay rights. He is also against safe abortion (even for children who have been raped and life-threatening pregnancies), against safe sex (even in AIDS-ridden Africa) and, worst still, against the foundations of democracy (he has strong links to Peronism in Argentina). Unsurprisingly, he carefully dodged all of these controversial issues in his visit to Brazil.

The obscurantist and regressive views of the Church have been covered with a thin veneer of social concerns, in an alleged fight against social inequalities. Well, if the Catholic Church genuinely cared about the poor, they could start by selling a small fraction of their immeasurable and secretive wealth, which is spread in every corner of the planet. Or perhaps they could use their tax breaks to help the most destitute communities.

Brazil, wake up! The “new” pope is just more of the same. God’s Rottweiler turned God’s spin doctor. Harsh, biting words turned evasive and flirtatious rhetoric. But the essence remains exactly the same: medieval doctrines, prejudice, self-loathing and gloom. I choose love and happiness instead. Vade retro, Francis!!!

Photo: Evaristo SA

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