Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned as head of the Catholic Church in 2013, died on Saturday (31 December) aged 95, the Vatican confirmed in a statement.
As tributes poured in for the Pope Emeritus, LGBTQ+ Catholics recalled how his time in the Vatican marked a dark, painful era for queer people.
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of LGBTQ+ Catholic organisation DignityUSA, said Pope Benedict XVI’s words harmed queer people and damaged families.
“The death of any human being is an occasion of sorrow. We pray for Pope Benedict’s soul and express our condolences to his family, friends, and loved ones,” Duddy-Burke said in a statement.
He refused to recognise even the most basic human rights for LGBTQIA+ people.
“However, his death also calls us to reflect honestly on his legacy. Benedict’s leadership in the church, as Pope and before that as head of the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), caused tremendous damage to LGBTQIA+ people and our loved ones.”
She continued: “His words and writings forced our community out of Catholic Churches, tore families apart, silenced our supporters, and even cost lives.
“He refused to recognise even the most basic human rights for LGBTQIA+ people. Many of us experienced the most harsh and blatant religiously justified discrimination of our lives as a result of his policies.”
Pope Benedict XVI labelled queer people ‘objectively disordered’
DignityUSA pointed out that, as leader of the CDF, Pope Benedict XVI was responsible for a 1986 letter which labelled gay men and lesbians as “objectively disordered”.
The same letter said same-sex sexual relationships were “intrinsically evil” and “essentially self-indulgent”.
It is impossible to overstate the damage Pope Benedict’s repeated dehumanising of LGBTQIA+ people has caused.
Furthermore, DignityUSA condemned the former pontiff for banning the distribution of condoms by Catholic health and social services agencies – a move which impacted the spread of HIV.
In 2012 – during his final year as leader of the Catholic Church – he spoke out against same-sex marriage, saying it “destroyed the essence of the human creature”.
He also said allowing same-sex couples to adopt represented an “attack” on the “traditional family”.
“It is impossible to overstate the damage Pope Benedict’s repeated dehumanising of LGBTQIA+ people has caused,” Duddy-Burke added.
“Individuals, families, and whole communities across the globe suffered tragic consequences, many of which are still felt today.
“We pray that the church will use the period of reflection following Pope Benedict’s death to acknowledge that in many cases he used his power in ways that failed to further the gospel message of love, human unity, and the responsibility to care for the marginalised.”
Pope Benedict was a polarising force within the Catholic Church, and he was dubbed “God’s Rottweiler” during his time as pontiff for his careful adherence to traditional interpretations of church doctrine.
One of the biggest challenges he faced when he took over from Pope John Paul II was to tackle various sexual abuse scandals within the church – but he ultimately failed to take appropriate action.
In January 2022, a report found that he failed to take action against priests who abused children during his tenure as archbishop of Munich, even though he knew of allegations against them.
Honouring Pope Benedict XVI now is not only wrong. It is shameful.
Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), an organisation that advocates for survivors, described Pope Benedict XVI as an “abuse enabler” in a press release shortly after news of his death was confirmed.
“Any celebration that marks the life of abuse enablers like Benedict must end,” the group said.
“It is past time for the Vatican to refocus on change: tell the truth about known abusive clergy, protect children and adults, and allow justice to those who have been hurt.
“Honouring Pope Benedict XVI now is not only wrong. It is shameful.”
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