For those who still think it’s worthwhile to try to make some sense out of the baffling silence of the Catholic intellectual center about matters of justice and human rights involving LGBT people, this recent “email interview” between the Vatican’s rep on the United Nations Human Rights Council Silvano Tomasi and Catholic News Agency will prove illuminating.* It demonstrates precisely how the folks now running the Catholic church (and the soft liberal intellectual center that continues to mouth their shameful ideas about these issues) manage to justify treating LGBT people as if we don’t exist. And have no rights.
Here’s how the argument goes:
1. You gay folks don’t, in fact, exist.
Tomasi informs CNA that sexual orientation is a “contrived” term that tries to ignore the “clear message” of God’s creation: namely, that God created two complementary sexes. The term “sexual orientation” (and, astonishingly, “gender” as well, Tomasi maintains) was “devised to escape reality and to accommodate a variety of feelings and impulses that then are transformed into rights.”
Bottom line here: if you don’t exist, you can’t possibly have rights. If sexual orientation is a made-up category, then people of faith can legitimately talk about the human rights of everyone in the world, while denying those rights to gays and lesbians.
Because gay folks just don’t exist. As Jay Michaelson notes in a recent Religion Dispatches article, this denial of the very reality of LGBT human beings (and the denial of the legitimacy of the concept of sexual orientation itself) is a well-honed tactic of the American religious right. With Tomasi’s statements, we can see the extent to which Catholic officials have made common cause with the most retrogressive elements of the American and European political and religious right.
2. The concept of sexual orientation about which you gay folks keep talking is agenda-driven, and is an attempt on your part to legitimate conduct to which no one has a human right, and which states have every right to restrict legally.
Tomasi argues that, rather than pointing to an established scientific finding–namely, that for many people, one’s sexual orientation is established from birth or very early in life–the term “sexual orientation” is “a code phrase for types of conduct.” And so talk of human rights for LGBT persons is misplaced. There can be no rights for a group of human beings who don’t even exist!
What we should be talking about, instead, is the rights of the church to make moral rulings and, when it deems necessary, to discriminate against those illicitly tagging themselves as gay. Tomasi says that the “alleged rights” of those who are gay are “in conflict with authentic [emphasis added] rights – such as the free exercise of religion, and the education of one’s children.”
The real rights are the church’s: its right to define those who are gay or lesbian. And its right to discriminate.
3. And so, while many people concerned about human rights are celebrating the recent U.N. resolution calling for protection against LGBT people from unjust discrimination and violence, the Catholic church opposes this resolution as “the beginning of a movement within the international community and the United Nations to insert gay rights in the global human rights agenda.”
Permitting gay and lesbian persons to claim rights on the basis of the bogus, nonsensical concept of sexual orientation opens the door to the one kind of discrimination that should really count: it opens the door to discrimination against those who have real rights–Catholics and other religious groups intent on denying the bogus rights of LGBT human beings.
Something like that. The argument goes something like that. It is a shameful sleight of hand that tries to make the victimized into the victimizer, and which claims privileged status for the one doing the victimizing even as he spouts meaningless pieties about justice, rights, and love for brothers and sisters. Tomasi’s Vatican song and dance allows him, other Catholic officials, and those who still buy into this magisterial strategy to claim, on the one hand, that they love their LGBT brothers and sisters and want to protect them from harm, and, on the other hand, totally to erase their LGBT brothers, to disappear them, to make their very humanity and the rights that accrue to them as human beings non-existent.
While the only right that counts in the discussion is the right of the Catholic church to behave in this astonishingly inhumane and immoral way, even as it professes to be a defender of human rights.
And so, while much of the developed world celebrates the gradual recognition that gay and lesbian human beings are fully human and should enjoy all the same rights that other members of the human community enjoy, the Catholic church, at an official level, has joined the worst of the gay-bashers of the religious right and has dug in its heels. It chooses to pretend that every legitimate medical or psychotherapeutic organization in the developed part of the world has not long since recognized the legitimacy of the concept of sexual orientation and removed homosexuality from diagnostic lists of illness. And it chooses to pretend that one state after another in the developed sector of the world has not long since chosen to decriminalize sodomy because criminalizing the activities of a minority targeted solely because of who that minority is at it comes from the hands of God is, prima facie, grossly discriminatory.
Under its current regime, the Catholic church is choosing to live in a time warp, in an ever shrinking defensive shell at war with the contemporary world. It is choosing to believe that it alone has truth, and that movements for human rights celebrated in secular society which are highly consonant with the values of the gospels and the teaching of Jesus are movements at war with the church itself.
This is a very unhappy place for any church that hopes to have credibility and influence in the public spheres of pluralistic secular democracies to place itself. The choice of the leaders of the Catholic church at this point in history to adopt such a defensive, anti-intellectual, countercultural stance assures that the church will become more and more marginal to the progressive intellectual and political developments of many societies in the world.
And it will assure that the church will increasingly brand itself as an enclave of elitist, mean-spirited bigots, a male-entitled heterosexist boys’ club, who have mistaken the message of the gospels and of Jesus for something that is, in the final analysis, a demonic misrepresentation of everything Jesus and the gospels represent.
Oh, and I almost forgot to mention: Tomasi also tries to argue that recognizing the humanity of LGBT persons and according them human rights will be a gateway to societal acceptance of–get this–contraception and masturbation, and abortion. Since gays evidently represent evil in some unique way, and recognizing their humanity causes society to fall apart in every respect possible. But never mind that a huge majority of Catholics are already practicing contraception in the developed nations, and have done so long before same-sex marriage and talk of human rights for gay folks were on the horizon.
Remember when large numbers of people of faith thought that enslaved Africans in America were three-fifths of a real person, and therefore not deserving of real human rights? . . .
*H/t to Jim McCrea for sending the link to the CNA article.
Cross-posted from Bilgrimage, 11 July 2011.