The fish rots from its head …

submit or be punished

Pope Benedict XVI, who I personally find to be ludicrously comical with his red leather shoes, designer eyeware, red velvet capes trimmed in ermine, and tight, strained, smile – and who others believe is gay himself (although not sexually active) – has apparently decided to launch “a crackdown on the umbrella group that represents most of America’s 55,000 Catholic nuns, saying that the group was not speaking out strongly enough against gay marriage, abortion and women’s ordination.”

Why am I not surprised? We know the Vatican is a cesspool of homophobia. We know many U.S. bishops were angered when the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and Network, a social justice lobby created by Catholic sisters 40 years ago that continues to play a leading role in pushing progressive causes on Capitol Hill, endorsed the Obama Administration’s compromise to provide insurance coverage for birth control for employees at religious institutions, even as the bishops continue to fight it.

It’s hardly surprising that a bunch of tired white men who like to wear dresses and wear funny hats would not look kindly on a bunch of uppity women. In any event, you can read more about the crackdown here and here.

Benedict, formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, has a long history of queer bashing. As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope John Paul II, Benedict presided over the publication of a pastoral letter describing homosexuality as “a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil” and “an objective disorder.”

He is on record as arguing that policies such as gay marriage which undermine the so-called traditional family consisting of a man and a woman “threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself.” In March he denounced the “powerful political and cultural currents that are working to “alter the legal definition of marriage” in the United States.

He is, in a word, a bigot, as well as someone who resisted efforts to crackdown on pedophile priests.

Some might ask whether it really matters what Benedict thinks? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. There is an old saying that a fish rots from its head and Benedict is a perfect example.

As the head of the institutionalized Catholic Church, Benedict’s bigotry has consequences because it legitimizes the bigotry of many others all the way down the line. Moreover, as the head of an institution that has a long history of persecuting those who disagree with its ridiculous teachings, this latest crackdown shows that the gloves are off and those within the Church who try to do the right thing will be punished.

That’s very important because there are those at lower levels of the church who are trying to stand up for what is right. Many American nuns are among the most prominent, but there are others as well.

In the state of Washington, to cite another example, a number of parishes and priests are also trying to do the right thing by resisting the hierarchy’s efforts to use local churches as forums in which to gather signatures for a referendum to repeal that state’s recently enacted marriage equality legislation.

This is a positive development. But as the example of the nuns suggests, those priests who are courageous enough to do the right thing probably are not going to rise very far within the ranks of the church and may well be subjected to a variety of sanctions, both formal and informal.

It’s sad that anyone takes these kind of teachings seriously, but they do. There is probably no single institution standing in the way of LGBT equality more than the institutionalized Roman Catholic Church. It’s been that way for years and queer folk need to denounce the stench coming from the rotting head when the odor becomes overpowering.

Update 1: Not to beat a dead horse, but I saw a terrific article by Melinda Henneberger in the Washington Post today that really puts this whole issue in better perspective. You can find that article here. Henneberger is the editor-in-chief of PoliticsDaily.com and a columnist for the Catholic opinion journal Commonweal. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame, she received a graduate degree in European studies from the Catholic University of Louvain in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium.

Update 2: And then we have Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Illinois. Jenky is the clown who said during a Sunday homily recently that President Obama is following previous governments that “tried to force Christians to huddle and hide only within the confines of their churches.” He went on to add: “Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services and health care. In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama – with his radical, pro-abortion and extreme secularist agenda – now seems intent on following a similar path.”

Federal law prohibits churches and other tax-exempt nonprofits from endorsing or opposing specific political candidates, of course. Yet, in addition to comparing Obama to Hitler and Stalin, Jenky offered the following guidance to his Roman Catholic parishioners in the same homily: “This fall, every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences, or by the following fall our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, our Catholic Newman Centers, all our public ministries – only excepting our church buildings – could easily be shut down.”

If that isn’t an injunction to vote against Obama, I don’t know what it is. You can read more about Jenky here. But don’t hold your breath waiting for the Internal Revenue Service to yank the Catholic Church’s tax-exempt status. Clowns like Jenky and the rest of his buddies in the Church hierarchy are allowed to hide behind their dresses and engage in politics despite the rules that apply to the rest of us.

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