During the month in which Uganda's obviously detestable 'Kill the Gays' bill continues to make headlines, one would have been forgiven for assuming that Pope Benedict XVI - henceforth referred to as Joseph Ratzinger - might have had the sensitivity and grace to, if not condemn such tendencies, at the very least avoid fanning the flames.
The infallible virgin had other ideas.
Preaching the obviously homophobic sentiment that gay relationships are inferior to those that are heterosexual, Ratzinger labelled them a "manipulation of nature" in his address to the Vatican on December 21. In an echo of Mother Theresa's idiotic claim upon accepting her 1979 Nobel Peace Prize that abortion is the greatest threat to world peace, Ratzinger decided to indict not only abortion and euthanasia but also gay marriage as a very real contributor to worldwide collapse. This is not an exaggeration; we're on familiar territory here. In January 2012 Ratzinger actually claimed that gay marriage threatened "the future of humanity". The same month, The Guardian's Andrew Brown leapt like a well-trained poodle to Ratzinger's defence and said the following: "The pope is a Catholic; perhaps it's in the nature of the news business to be freshly astonished by this fact every couple of months". Only in matters of 'theology' are journalists allowed to write such drivel. Yes, of course Ratzinger is a Catholic; we hadn't forgotten. But when his message - communicated to billions worldwide - becomes one not of love but of dangerous bigotry, we are perfectly entitled to be astonished and to seriously question his position. To do anything less is to neglect the indispensable thinking faculties we possess.
To secularists and atheists alike, it is absolutely mind-boggling that a man as miserably callous as Ratzinger is venerated as being the moral compass to whom millions of human beings look for guidance. Is it possible to conceive of anybody less qualified to pronounce on gay rights than an elderly Catholic virgin in a sparkly hat? And reflect for a moment on what effect his words are likely to have on the signatories of the 'Kill the Gays' bill. As has always been the way in cases like this, religious backing for violent homophobic discrimination will be found all too quickly and all too easily. Those in favour of the execution of homosexuals won't be wrong when they say that the (supposedly infallible) head of the Catholic Church officially deems homosexuality to be a sinister threat to the stability of the globe. All too often we wait until these issues reach crisis point before we take action; we need first and foremost to tackle leaders like Ratzinger if we wish to understand why homophobia persists and why it is provided such extensive, grovelling support in the media and in the pulpit.
Roz Kaveney's highly commendable article 'Rejoice! The pope is here to save the world from queers' rightly criticised Ratzinger's declaration on gay rights but concluded by referring to it as "careless viciousness". I would like to express my dissent. Ratzinger's words are obviously vicious but are by no means 'careless'; on the contrary they are the entirely premeditated remarks of an intelligent but homophobic man. Why does the media insist on employing euphemisms for homophobia just because it has donned a religious garb? Ratzinger's sentiments can only be deemed careless if he is making them for the first time and has not been alerted to their dangerous influence. This is manifestly not the case; the consistency of Ratzinger's homophobia doesn't disappoint. In 2005 he proclaimed unions between members of the same sex to be "contrary ... to human love" and in 1986 described homosexuality as a "strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil". Moreover, Ratzinger has vehemently maintained the farcical and deadly Catholic position on condoms, namely that even in HIV-stricken Africa prophylactics are not to be considered. What ought to be absolutely apparent is that this is a man miserably unqualified to discuss matters of sexuality. It ought to be equally apparent that it is not homosexuality but religion, and its ghastly and nauseating representatives, that is the chief source of division and hatred across the world. It is puzzling to me that we persist in believing that religion is motivated by the desire to do good, rather than the desire to enforce outdated and increasingly damaging restrictions and dogmas.
Joseph Ratzinger obviously is not infallible; no intelligent person would ever have believed that he was. Worse than that, however, he is now a sinister and retarding force for both religion and gay rights, out of touch with the majority of the faithful and totally unqualified to preach morality. He is not only fighting a losing battle, he is fighting a battle that, if won, would mean the world were a considerably uglier place. His views are revoltingly bigoted as well as supportive of the cultures that deem it excusable to kill others on the basis of what they do with their genitals. We have no obligation to listen to him and every obligation to underline his bigotry.