Undiplomatic Relations

Vatican's Anti-gay Politicking Calls for Abolishing Ambassadorship

Statement by Freethought Today editor Annie Laurie Gaylor

It's time to abolish the U.S. ambassadorship to the Vatican.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation vigorously protested the Vatican ambassadorship when it was formally initiated under the Reagan presidency. The Vatican is a denominational headquarters, not a country. We don't, for example, have diplomatic relations with Mecca. This ambassadorship represents a political partnership forged under the rightwing Reagan administration, with the current U.S. administration siding with Roman Catholicism and its medieval stances on reproductive rights and equality.

The Vatican's recent document condemning gay marriages and ordering Catholic politicians to vote in lockstep against such legislation underscores just how untenable this relationship is.

The 12-page document not only repeats the Catholic Church's demeaning position that "homosexual acts go against the natural moral law," but directs that Catholic politicians are "obliged" to oppose "the legal recognition of homosexual unions."

The Vatican dictates:

"When legislation in favor of the recognition of homosexual unions is proposed for the first time in a legislative assembly, the Catholic lawmaker has a moral duty to express his opposition clearly and publicly and to vote against it. To vote in favor of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral."

The document doesn't stop there. It mandates:

"When legislation in favor of the recognition of homosexual unions is already in force, the Catholic politician must oppose it in the ways that are possible for him and make his opposition known."

Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary, Alberta, last week warned Canadian Prime minister Jean Chretien that he is risking "damnation" by endorsing same-sex marriages: "He doesn't understand what it means to be a good Catholic. He's putting at risk his eternal salvation." Chretien, who has described himself as coming from a "free-thinking, anti-clerical" branch of the Catholic Church, is unlikely to be influenced by such political threats.

But the same is less likely to be true of U.S. politicians of whatever religious ilk. Roman Catholicism is the country's largest single denomination, with 144 members in the 107th Congress identifying themselves as Catholics. Many statehouses are dominated by Catholics. True, Catholics are notorious for remaining in a church whose teachings they specifically ignore or repudiate. But until such Catholic politicians condemn the Vatican's officious interference with our secular democracy, they are part of the problem, regardless of how they vote.

Bush, a nonCatholic evangelical, didn't need the Vatican to anticipate how to kowtow to the religious right. He issued his simpering reminder that "we are all sinners" even before the Vatican's proclamation came out, and vowed to use his office to fight gay marriages. He could use a refresher course in constitutional history.

Oh, to go back to those halcyon days of 1960, when Catholic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy scrupulously swore allegiance to the Constitution, rather than his faith:

"I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts instruction on public policy from the pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source--where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly on the general populace or the public acts of its office."

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The spectre of professional celibates praising "God's plan for marriage and family" is ironic enough. But its misplaced priorities take this document to new heights of hypocrisy. How strange that with the Vatican's penchant for holier-than-thou press releases year after year condemning gays, abortion, birth control, and women's rights, the Pope could spare only 900-some words for his only official statement about sexually abusive priests preying on minors. Think of the lives scarred or destroyed in so many ways by Catholic theology and institutional cover-up.

Also ironic: the Vatican's fulsome anti-gay document was followed by last week's CBS scoop, uncovering a previously unknown 1962 Vatican document dictating how to keep priestly sexual crimes secret. The document repetitiously instructs that any sexual charges against a priest are to be "pursued in a most secretive way. . . restrained by a perpetual silence. . ." and become the "secret of the Holy Office." This document literally appears to "canonize" the Roman Catholic Church's method of dealing with priestly predators by transferring offenders to new congregations. (See Canon 2302 in CBS story).

Ireland has the right idea. The Irish Times reported on Aug. 8 that the Vatican's publication, describing homosexual activity as "evil," could face prosecution under hate legislation. The Irish Council for Civil Liberties warned that the statement could violate the 1989 Incitement to Hatred Act, and that those convicted can face jail terms of up to six months.

If a Catholic nation could consider prosecuting Catholic clerics for inciting hatred, the least the secular United States can do is to cut off diplomatic relations with a denomination notorious for promulgating antediluvian theology and coddling church criminals.

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