I’m surely going straight to hell if I say anything critical of the late pope John Paul II, but according to him, I was heading there in a handbasket anyway, so what the fuck. The truth is I am a bit fed-up with the wall-to-wall lionization of this man, who admittedly brought inspiration and faith to millions, but who also propagated some ancient, reactionary viewpoints that—just my humble fag opinion here—fanned the flames of widespread oppression, all in the name of God’s will. Not since Ronald Reagan’s death last year—when the dead prez became painted as a forceful, flawless leader, with nary a reference to his callous, longtime refusal to acknowledge AIDS deaths—has there been such a wacky whitewash of someone’s controversial canon. This time around, all the cable channel phonies—few of whom have been known to live lives of quiet piety, especially the gays—took on a nauseatingly hushed, reverent tone as they indulged themselves in nonstop slobbering over the icon they exclusively portrayed as noble, divine, and even well accessorized.
As evidenced by the overwhelming response to his passing, the guy surely tapped into the hopes and dreams of loving throngs around the world, all fighting for hotel rooms in Rome. But as I’ve clicked the channels for days on end, I haven’t heard a single person question the “man of the people” ‘s rabid anti-abortion stance, his aggressive anti-condom platform, or his intense demonization of gay marriage as “a new ideology of evil, perhaps insidious and hidden, which attempts to pit human rights against the family and against man.” Of course maybe someone’s death might not seem like the right time to say, “He furthered sexual guilt, disease spreading, and hate crimes,” but actually, when there’s exhaustive, weeks-long coverage of a man’s life, what better time could there be? (At least a pundit on an ABC special did note that the pope may have disliked democracy as much as he hated Communism.)
The reality is that, as the world—and even the church—started inching forward and becoming more accepting, John Paul II tried to hold things together with a moral vise that often proved intolerant and unrealistic. As women gained more control over their bodies and gays developed some rights of their own, he was frantic to push down the progress by promoting absolute respect for human life, except for individualists and “deviants.” This was no shock—religion has traditionally specialized in messages of love that double as tools of persecution, and fanatics have always picked sections of the Bible at random in order to oppress unpopular people, while ignoring other parts that might put a damper on their own fun.
Just recently, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders all got together to denounce the upcoming Jerusalem WorldPride march and to agree on one thing—gays suck. The protest was an eye-popping reminder that so many of the different gods people pray to seem to have the very same queers-are-the-devil message. Even these groups’ usual distaste for each other was effectively buried as they united in fear of the common gay enemy.
As a shameless queen myself, I was brought up on strict Catholicism, but strayed after brilliantly sensing I wasn’t that welcome in my own religion. Not only did the ruler-wielding nuns seem scarier than the flames of hell, but the church clearly wanted me to stay and be terrorized only if I’d admit I was a sinner and grovel for forgiveness. Given a choice between “immoral” nightclubs where people shrieked, “Girlfriend! You look fabulous!” and a place of worship where everyone snarled, “Heal your soul!” I chose the clubs and haven’t looked back since.
John Paul couldn’t have been too upset about losing one more messy miscreant. A 2003 document issued by the Vatican reminded the world that “homosexual acts go against the natural moral law.” (So what, I always wondered, should someone growing up with gay feelings do? Get electroshock treatments? Become a priest? Or simply be honest about them and live as a papal disgrace?) The report compassionately took pains to add that “allowing children to be adopted by persons living in such unions would actually mean doing violence to these children.” This from the church that silently condoned abuse of children for centuries.
The beloved pope was also dead set against the use of condoms to curb disease and unwanted pregnancy. After all, that would be acknowledging that humans actually have sex. Instead, the pontiff stood for the loftier goals of abstinence and/or marital monogamy, the kind of family values that, when preached too fervently, often result in scandal headlines. To further this no-nooky agenda, the church has long promoted the idea that condoms can cause disease more than they prevent it! Yes, listen to the Vatican and you’ll believe that scumbags are inherently unsafe (gee, so is pushing abstinence or monogamy) and they actually encourage promiscuity (though the more scientific-minded tend to recognize that condoms don’t cause sex any more than a coat brings on the cold).
To the pope so mourned on cable, any kind of contraception was an absolute no-no because it blocks children, as if the world is somehow lacking in people. (And if condoms don’t work anyway, then what’s the problem?) You’ll recall that his recent book went so far as to equate abortion with the Holocaust because both are supposedly a result of usurping the law of God. So an indigent woman who considers aborting an unaffordable baby (which, let’s say, exists because Mama wasn’t able to use condoms, and has AIDS for the same reason) was suddenly Satan and Hitler combined.
And then there was the pedophilia-in-the-church scandal, which blew up in 2002 after decades of hush money payoffs and the transferring of accused child molesters to different parishes the way you’d move a rotting vegetable from the fridge to the freezer. The priesthood has long been a place for ashamed gays to hide (along with the truly devoted). In the old days, you usually couldn’t make your Catholic family proud by coming out, but you certainly could do so by stuffing your sexuality, marrying God, and becoming a man of the cloth. The church loved the deception too—so much so that it turned a blind eye to the twisted intergenerational acts these self-loathing closet cases perpetrated while abusing their power. When it all finally exploded, the media erupted in GLAAD-protested reports that gleefully equated gay with evil, triumphantly playing right into the church’s long-held theory that homos are bad people.
I’m certainly not rejoicing that the pope has passed on—I’m not a big fan of human suffering and death, even if it brings one closer to God. Still, it’s hard to forget that John Paul’s love of society’s fringe characters always had a big but attached. You know, we care for PWAs, but they’re in this predicament because they’re sinners. We denounce gay bashing, but—according to official doctrine—”the proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered.” Oh, yeah? Well, I think a lot of your moral decrees were disordered, O holy Father. I certainly loved you for the sanctity and uplift I kept hoping I could turn to you for. But . . .