Analysis: A pro-gay Catholic Church leader? Don’t get your Popes up

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation today, prompting the question of whether his successor will take up his anti-gay mantle, or steer the Catholic Church in a new direction.

Hans Kung, a pro-reform Catholic priest described as the “greatest adversary” of the Pope within the church, said in response to the news of Benedict XVI’s resignation that he hoped he would “not exercise an influence on the choice of his successor.”

However, according to Mr Kung’s own analysis of the pool of Cardinals that can be chosen, the odds are that the next Pope will follow in Benedict XVI’s conservative footsteps whether he influences the decision or not.

In an interview with the Guardian last year, Mr Kung said: “The rules for choosing bishops are so rigid that as soon as candidates emerge who, say, stand up for the pill, or for the ordination of women, they are struck off the list.”

Today he stated: “During [Benedict XVI’s] time in office he has ordained so many conservative cardinals, that amongst them is hardly a single person to be found who could lead the church out of its multifaceted crisis.”

The “multifaceted crisis” in which the higher echelons of the Catholic Church are striving to preserve the teaching of the catechism in a world where an increasing number of people, even Catholic masses, believe that the most fundamental teachings within it are hopelessly out of touch, has lead to a string a controversies.

In recent years the Catholic Church has been seen as exacerbating the HIV epidemic in Africa with its staunch anti-contraception teachings, as belittling women with its opposition to abortion and female clergy, and as fundamentally misunderstanding gay people as “evil” or “unnatural”.

Bets are already being taken on who the next Pope will be. Is Mr Kung correct to say that the chances of it being someone who will bring the Catholic Church in line with 21st Century views are slim to none?

Bookmaker favourite Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, has denied that condoms will help solve Africa’s HIV epidemic and allegedly supported Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill.

Second favourite Cardinal Marc Ouellet has a widely documented reputation for conservativism. He infamously spoke at an anti-abortion conference in Quebec, giving a speech in which he said that terminating a pregnancy, even in the case of rape, was a “moral crime”.

In 2005, he declared that the Catholic Church in Quebec would not baptise the babies of gay couples, despite baptism being a requirement of Catholic canon law.

In 2007, he wrote an unexpected apology on behalf of the Catholic Church in which he wrote “humbly ask[ed] forgiveness” for historic attitudes which had allowed for discrimination against gay people.

This was largely dismissed by gay rights campaigners. Activist Laurent McCutcheon said the apology did nothing to make up for Cardinal Ouellet’s long opposition to same-sex marriage, or his “disparaging and hurtful” comments about gay people.

Cardinal Ouellet has described the idea of being Pope as “a nightmare” and “a crushing responsibility”.

At 7/1 odds is Cardinal Angelo Scola, appointed Archbishop of Milan by Pope Benedict in 2011. Cardinal Scola is known as a scholar of human sexuality, having written extensively on the subject of the divine source of the “complementary nature of the two sexes”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, his views on gay partnerships are that “Italy needs families based on the marriage of one man and one woman.”

He is, at least, open to debate: “I can propose my beliefs, you propose yours,” he said at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart last year. “Then we find out what the prevalent opinion is.”

In 2012, Cardinal Scola surprised activists by allowing Catholic LGBT group Gionata to hold an prayer vigil for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), which was able to take place in Milan for the first time.

Cardinal Francis Arinze had too much fire and brimstone for some students at the Catholic Georgetown University, who complained after he gave a speech to graduates in which he declared that the family is “mocked by homosexuality”.

Cardinal Arinze reportedly said in response to seeing openly gay men on the streets of Rome that he would like to “wash their heads with holy water.”

The saxophone-loving physics teacher Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez is perhaps the most moderate of the frontrunners, but he did not hold back from publicly slamming gay music star Ricky Martin for his decision to have children via a surrogate mother:

Cardinal Rodriguez said: “What Martin did diminishes the dignity of a human being. You can’t just buy or rent life. It’s even worse when someone famous and in the public eye is doing it.”

Hardly a single person strays from the hard conservative line of Benedict XVI – Mr Kung seems to have got that right. As the most prominent upholder of the Catholic catechism, which describes homosexuality as “contrary to the natural law” and “objectively disordered”, and requires which gay people to be celibate in order to reach “Christian perfection”, we should hardly expect the next Pope to do a U-turn on the church’s position on equal marriage.

Benedict XVI was considered more fervently anti-gay than his predecessor; there are good odds that the next Pope will at the very least, fill his shoes.