Peter Tatchell: A Pope who opposed human rights

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Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has commented on today’s decision of Pope Benedict XVI to step down because of ill health.

While Pope Benedict took a strong, commendable stand against war and global poverty, on many other important social issues he opposed equality and human rights, particularly the human rights of women and LGBT people.

I discussed many of these failings of his Papacy in my Channel 4 TV documentary, The Trouble with the Pope, which was broadcast in 2010.

Pope Benedict opposes women’s ordination. Women are deemed by him to be unfit to be priests. This is an insult to the whole female sex. The implication of Papal teaching is that women have no moral capacity for spiritual leadership. This idea of a male-only priesthood is pure patriarchy, sexism and misogyny.

Benedict XVI has denounced the use of condoms, even to stop the spread of HIV. He has also claimed that condom usage may “increase” the rate of HIV infection. His dishonest teachings discourage a proven way to reduce HIV transmission; thereby putting millions of lives at risk.

Although he eventually conceded that for a male prostitute to use a condom may be the lesser of two evils, this concession was no comfort to women or to men not engaged in the sex industry.

The Pope has colluded with the lie that condoms spread HIV because latex is porous to the virus (sic). This is an outrageous falsehood and has been condemned as untrue and irresponsible by scientists and medical professionals. Although Benedict did not himself make this claim, his senior Vatican officials did. It is inconceivable that these claims were made without Papal authority. They were certainly never contradicted or rebuked by the Pope.

In 1992, When he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, he authored a Vatican document that condemned homosexuality as an “objective disorder” and a “strong tendency ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil.” Rejecting the concept of gay human rights, the document asserted that there is no “right” to laws protecting homosexual people against discrimination, suggesting that the civil liberties of lesbians and gay men can be “legitimately limited for objectively disordered external conduct.”

The Pope has attacked same-sex marriages as “evil” and vilified supporters of gay equality as “gravely immoral.” He has also denounced homosexual equality as a “deviant trend” and condemned same-sex love as being “without any social value.” He even threatened to excommunicate Catholic legislators who voted for gay rights laws.

For more than two decades, as a Cardinal and as a Pope, Joseph Ratzinger has attempted to reverse the liberalising trends of the Second Vatican Council – pushing the whole church back to a more orthodox, conservative agenda. He’s strengthening the hierarchy and autocracy of the Vatican and the Papacy.

This has prompted a grassroots Catholic revolt – the “We are Church” movement – which seeks a more democratic, transparent, accountable church.

The Pope has condemned liberation theology, as espoused by Catholic theologians such as Gustavo Gutierriz and Leondaro Boff, and he has opposed the worker priest movement. He preaches social justice but attacks those clergy who advocate political action to reform society and make it more just.

Overall, Benedict’s papacy promoted reactionary and retrograde ethics, including sexism and homophobia.