Catholic Church Fights Gay Rights Globally

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday March 3, 2009

The Catholic church has acted to suppress legal, organizational, and personal support for equality across the globe in recent days.

A Brazilian bishop placed a priest under suspension for speaking out against religious discrimination and questioning church doctrines regarding clerical celibacy and a requirement that practicing Catholics avoid the use of contraceptives, reported the conservative religious site on Feb. 27.

The priest in question, Fr. Luiz Couto, told an online news resource, Congress in Focus, "I defend the use of the condom as a matter of public health," the site reported.

Couto is also a member of the Brazilian National Congress, the site reported, and spoke on a bill that would outlaw discrimination of gays and lesbians, saying, "We must struggle day by day against prejudice and intolerance," said Couto.

Fr. Couto's remarks were judged to be "intolerable" by the Archbishop, Aldo Pagotto, who presides over Couto's diocese, the article reported.

Archbishop Pagotto declared that, "As the head of the Archdiocese of Paraiba," he was compelled to suspend the priest "from the use his orders in our ecclesiastical jurisdiction, because of his summary statements, which provoke confusion among the Christian faithful as long as they are not retracted explicitly," adding that Fr. Couto's comments contradict "the doctrinal, ethical, and moral orientations held by the Catholic Church."

The site's article noted that the church has called homosexuality "intrinsically disordered," though not sinful in and of themselves, while any contraceptive measures other than the so-called "rhythm method" are held by the church to be "intrinsically evil," the site said.

However, another church official came to Fr. Couto's defense the site reported.

Congress in Focus quoted Bishop Emeritus Tomas Balduino as saying of Couto, "He is not an isolated voice and has the sincerity to say what he thinks."

The Bishop Emeritus also referred to Fr. Couto as "a man of merit, respected, taken very seriously."

A fellow political figure also spoke up for Couto, the site noted, with the Labor Party's leader hailing Couto as a "tireless defender of the rights of humanity, of citizenship, and of social justice."

Meantime, at Jesuit school Georgetown University, voices were raised in anger that student groups were allowed to make discussions about human sexuality available during "Sex Positive Week," which took place from Feb. 23 to Feb. 28, according to a Mar. 1 article posted at the Global Catholic Network.

The Global Catholic Network referred to the events as promoting "sexual ideologies," including transvestism and "homosexual ideologies."

The timing of the discussions further inflamed those who were incensed by their taking place at the school; "Torn About Porn?," a discussion on erotic material and exploitation, was scheduled for Ash Wednesday, the article said, while a Feb. 28 talk on "Relationships Beyond Monogamy" was delivered, the article said, by "a pornographic filmmaker."

"The focus of this week is to introduce the idea of Sex Positive, and that's really about acceptance of a wide range of desires and sexual expressions as a way of understanding one another," the article quoted Olivia Chitayat, who serves as the political chair of student organization GU Pride.

Continued Chitayat, "People have sex, and if they don't, it still impacts them.

"This is encouraging a dialogue in a way that people don't feel ashamed about engaging in it or not engaging in it."

For the Editor-in-Chief of The Georgetown Academy, David Gregory, however, the program was enough to make him "absolutely furious" because, he said, the talks did "not promote a healthy view toward human relationships.

"I'm so upset there was no one to counter this anything-goes point of view," added Gregory.

A GU professor also accused the school of not teaching students about human sexuality from a Catholic enough perspective, the article reported, quoting comments by Patrick Deneen that appeared at the blog Crunchy Conservative.

Declared Deneen, who is a professor of political science, "The university feebly attempts to pretend to be concerned about matters of sexuality, but addresses them in terms of 'health.'

"Students who are required to take two courses in Theology are rarely, if ever, introduced to something like Pope John Paul II's "Theology of the Body," Deneen continued.

"The only orthodoxy on campus is sexual liberation."

Deneen also slammed the school for allowing a Resource Center for GLBT students, without providing a similar resource center to promote "an expressly Catholic teaching on human sexuality."

The message, Deneen said, is that, "Sex, like everything else, is a matter of preference, choice, personal liberty and utilitarian pleasure.

"It is largely consequence-free recreation."

Added Deneen, "We should recognize that the same moral climate that contributed to the devastation of the worldwide economy is the same moral climate that informs 'Sex Positive Week.'"

Meantime, another Jesuit school, Loyola University of Chicago, came in for criticism when its Student Diversity and Cultural Affairs Office showed a film in which a gay black man time-travels into the past and meets up with black American writer Langston Hughes; a third Jesuit school, Seattle University was slammed for hosting "Transgender Awareness Week," the site reported, citing the Cardinal Newman Society, which publicized those events.

The site quoted the president of the Cardinal Newman Society, Patrick J. Reilly, as saying, "These obscene abuses of Catholic values come just as Christians begin a holy season of penance, fasting and almsgiving."

Added Reilly, "Faithful Catholics have good reason to be outraged and heartbroken."

Reilly went on, "That Catholic universities would permit these events on their campuses at any time of the year is unthinkable, but to do so during the holy season of Lent is unconscionable," the article reported.

The quotation of Reilly continued: "Parents and potential students might begin to wonder how these universities can in good conscience consider themselves Catholic when they allow such perverse distortions of Catholic values to take place."

Outrage also flared in the U.K., as the Catholic church took umbrage to a "code of conduct" that has been proposed to mandate that schoolteachers display respect and sensitivity for a wide spectrum of society at large, reported a March 2 article in the U.K. newspaper The Daily Mail.

The Mail article noted that The Bishops' Conference of England and Wales predicted mass resignations among schoolteachers if they were required to follow the proposed code, part of which states that teachers will be expected to "promote equality and value diversity in all their professional relationships and interactions" as part of their professional qualification.

If the measure becomes legally enforceable, the fear is that schools and teachers could become liable.

The General Teaching Council, which defines professional standards for teachers in the U.K., received a letter from the leader of the Catholic Education Service outlining the church's concerns.

Oona Stannard wrote the GTC to say that "there was an understandable fear that the call to 'proactively challenge discrimination' could be used to oppose faith schools per se, and the rights that they have in law, for example, to select leaders who are of the faith," the article reported.

The letter added, "This anxiety extends similarly to the direction to 'promote equality,'" the Mail said.

Added Stannard's letter, "It would be unacceptable to expect anyone to be required to promote something contrary to their own faith beliefs and, indeed, it would not be possible for a person of faith to promote another faith," such as the Muslim religion.

Added Stannard, "this is a matter of conscience."

The article said that there are 2,300 parochial schools affiliated with the Catholic church in the U.K., plus another 4,660 affiliated with Church of England.

The fear that requiring teachers to "challenge discrimination" would violate the dictates of their religious faith and consciences was echoed by the director of the Christian Institute, Colin Hart, who was quoted in the Mail article as saying, "Respect for people as people is not the same as respecting or valuing every religious belief or sexual lifestyle."

Hart declared, "Forcing this on Christian teachers is to force them to go against their conscience," adding that, "Teachers are there to teach, not to be diversity officers," the article reported.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.