The Catholic Archbishop of Westminster last week announced the abolition of a bi-monthly mass for gay and lesbian Catholics in Soho, central London. http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2013/jan/02/gay-masses-soho-abolished The Archbishop stated that "pastoral care of the community will continue" while reiterating the church's position that sexual relations were only to take place between a man and a woman in marriage.
It is often claimed that the Catholic hierarchy's position on homosexuality is one of compassion, indeed this is what the church itself professes. Some argue 'at least it isn't as bad as radical Islam' and this is true - the Vatican doesn't call for the death penalty for homosexuals as Islamist states do - this does not mean however that its position is not cruel, oppressive, and highly dangerous to gay individuals. It is. But what makes it even more worrying is how successfully it is dressed it up to make it look reasonable; covered in benevolent terms. It is anything but.
I was raised a Catholic, and most of my family are still Catholic. But while they - like many Catholics - are not homophobic, it is ridiculous to pretend that the Vatican view does not impact heavily on the self-image of young gay men and lesbians.
When the Vatican had political power in the world, it treated homosexuals just as Islamist states do today. In medieval Europe, which was dominated by political Catholicism, homosexual sex was punished by burning at the stake. Fast forward to 2012, and you'll find various Christian organisations whipping up anti-gay fury across Africa, helping to create an atmosphere where a special "Christmas present" of death-to-gays is proposed in Uganda. The Vatican's official position is to oppose the death penalty for homosexuals in the Ugandan case, but what it calls for is also highly oppressive and deeply cruel.
Nowadays, the Vatican states that it only asks that gay people live a life of chastity. It asks gay men and lesbians to defy their nature and to live without life's greatest gift - it asks them to live without love. It tells them that the love they long for is wrong and sinful, and that they should spend their lives apologising for being who they are.
The Vatican tells gay people that they should live lives of loneliness and isolation without the intimacy that loving sexual relationships bring. It urges them to fight their attractions; if they fall in love and act upon it, they are committing as great a sin as child abuse. It tells them that their very existence and their human need to commit to one another is as great a threat to humanity as global warming. This Christmas, the Pope told them that despite all the war, poverty, corruption, torture, rape, murder, and inequality in the world - it is they, homosexuals - who pose the great threat to human kind. How very compassionate.
The Church of England operates in a similar vein. Gay clergy can now become bishops, according to church's House of Bishops (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jan/04/church-of-england-gay-bishops). There is a qualification however - such men must remain sexually abstinent. Yet again, the message is clear - we accept you as long as you give up your intimate loving relationships because those intimate loving relationships are inherently evil.
In the US, some Christians objected to an anti-bullying campaign (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/15/us/seeing-a-homosexual-agenda-christian-group-protests-an-anti-bullying-program.html?_r=0) in schools because it is a strategy, they said, for pushing the "gay agenda". To prevent the bullying of gay teenagers would be to allow them to forget for a moment that they are an abomination - and we can't have that. We can't allow gay people to forget what sinners they are, even if we do so compassionately oppose them being put to death.
It has long been acknowledged that suicide rates are far higher among homosexuals than their heterosexual counterparts. Higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse, as well as depression, are often cited by homophobes as evidence of the unhealthy nature of homosexuality. But it isn't homosexuality that causes this misery among homosexuals, it is the constant drip-feed from global and hugely influential religions that remind them constantly how sinful and unnatural they are.
Vatican language on homosexuality has softened greatly in recent centuries but this has not been as a result of greater compassion from the Catholic hierarchy, it has been the demand of ordinary people - primarily ordinary Catholics - who have changed their views as a result of progressive and enlightened social movements.
The Pope - and other Christian leaders - have a global audience and they choose to use it to pick on an already highly vulnerable minority.
This is not compassion. It is bullying and cruelty, and it is time we starting calling it so.