Rome's gays toast the departure of an unloved pope

ROME Tue Feb 19, 2013 11:43am EST

1 of 3. A bartender looks on in the 'Coming Out' bar, Rome's best known gay bar, next to the Colosseum in downtown Rome February 18, 2013. Picture taken February 18, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Max Rossi

ROME (Reuters) - Across the road from the Colosseum, the ancient Roman stadium consecrated as a holy Christian site, clients at a busy bar are raising a glass to the pope: toasting the departure of the worst Church leader they can imagine.

For drinkers in Rome's best known gay bar, Benedict's abdication is a blessing.

"He was less human than the last one," said Flavia Servadei, co-owner of "Coming Out" a small bar in Via San Giovanni in Laterano which has been so successful since it opened in 2001 that the road has been renamed "Gay Street".

In warm Roman summers, the bar attracts scores of men and women, spilling onto the pedestrianised street. On the chilly February day when Benedict announced his abdication, drinkers huddled inside to absorb the news, unprecedented in the past 700 years.

"This was the most reactionary pope ever, who made homophobia one of his battle cries," Franco Grillini, founder of Italy's biggest gay advocacy group Arcigay, said in a telephone interview. "So his resignation was good news."

Italian gays and lesbians resent the influence that the Catholic Church, from its headquarters in a walled city state on the other side of Rome, continues to have on politics, despite dwindling congregations and a largely secular society.

"COWARDICE"

While Britain, France and several U.S. states have allowed or are considering allowing gay marriage, in Italy attempts to create some limited form of civil partnership for same-sex couples have failed.

"In Italy, politicians are much more servile to the Vatican, they are very obedient, there is an element of cowardice," said Grillini.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that homosexual acts are a "grave depravity" and "do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity". Homosexuals themselves, however, should be "accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity".

Although remembered by many people as a gentler figure than his successor, Pope John Paul II criticized an international gay pride parade through Rome in 2000 as an "offence to Christian values" and reaffirmed that the Church considered homosexuality "objectively disordered".

Benedict, 85, who in his youth was considered a liberal theologian, made the battle against Western secularism a central part of his papacy and called gay marriage a threat to "human dignity and the future of humanity itself".

"I'm not even talking about marriage," said Servadei, one of three women who co-own the bar, instantly recognizable by the rainbow logo above the door which has become an international symbol of gay rights.

"Just the right to visit my partner if she is ill in hospital. In Italy they can stop me doing that ... I want the recognition of equality between people that is in our constitution."

The 41-year-old accepts that no pope is ever likely to endorse her views on many issues - "He's a pope!" - but said she was shocked when he received an African politician who is pushing anti-gay law through parliament, something she saw as a papal stamp of approval.

SOCIAL ISSUES

In December, the pope welcomed Ugandan parliament speaker Rebecca Kadaga, one of the proponents of a bill that, in its first draft, sought to impose the death penalty on gays.

At the heart of Africa where Catholicism is thriving, the Ugandan parliament is still debating the bill, which no longer has the death penalty clause but would still punish anyone who "abets homosexuality".

The Catholic Church is totally opposed to the death penalty but Grillini blames Benedict for encouraging the developing world to make laws that oppress gays.

Under Benedict, Grillini says, the Church has gone to more conservative "extremes" due to the "fierce competition" from radical Islam and evangelical Christianity.

"They are trying to stem the competition posed by the religious radicalism of Islam or Christian fundamentalism by adopting the same message ... The Catholic Church is squeezed by competition from new religious extremes that I believe represent the real danger in today's world."

As the pope retires to a convent in the Vatican gardens, anyone hoping that his successor will be more liberal on homosexuality or other social issues such as contraception or divorce, is likely to be disappointed.

All 117 men who will enter the conclave next month were appointed cardinal - giving them the right to vote in the secretive papal election - either by Benedict or his predecessor John Paul.

"The college of cardinals is made up of very old people - a male chauvinist gerontocracy," said Grillini. "So we have no illusion about a new pope having more moderate views about civil rights and homosexuality."

(Editing by Philip Pullella and Alison Williams)

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Comments (2)
paintcan wrote:
“grave depravity” and “do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity”.

That’s not what I saw in the long term gay relationships I know. I don’t know many but I don’t get out much anymore and I could never find one that fit me. But I also doubted I would ever find one with a women either. A woman will know if you are not genuinely attracted to her and she has “her needs” too. And “depravity’ can occur in either choice of sexual orientation.

I also saw some of the most idiotic and self destructive lifestyles going but gay people are by no mans the only people who engage in them, nor are they responsible for them all by themselves.

What I do know is that just because the “hardware” of the body looks male or female, and the organs may fit well in heterosexual sex and can fulfill their biological purpose (most of the time) that’s not always a reliable indication of emotional or psychological compatibility. You can’t judge a book by its cover. God may have made male and female but Mother Nature may not always got the proper contents in the right package – so to speak. Or she likes to get “cute” and a little tricky to fog the complacent, stupid, unimaginative and doctrinaire? Where does life ever occur exactly according to one’s theological or moral expectations? All I seem to see are exceptions to a variety of contradictory rules.

Some of the staunchest critics of nonproductive sexual activity can also be the most jealous of too may others, heterosexual or not, having too many children: especially if they are poor or uneducated, and likely to prove a financial burden to the rest of society. They can also be jealous, like a priest I once talked to about my moral and social “problem”. He complained that gay men were moving into the South End of Boston and fixing up old buildings as good homes. He didn’t like the fact that they seemed to have a lot of money. I have a childless Aunt and Uncle that spent a lot of money on their own place in the suburbs and the Catholic Church never complains about them.

As I understand the situation in China, there are far more boys than girls in their modern society due to the one child policy, and unless women there are planning to collect harems of men, there are going to be a lot of unmarried males. Guess what the Chinese are going to have to adapt to, or they are going to be flooded with unhappy, lonely and quite possibly self-destructive men.

BTW – one of the bathhouses in NYC, that used to be in business before the Aids crisis, had formerly been a “Plato’s Retreat” for straight people during the 60s.

But if I had to do it over again – God help me that I ever have to live another life – I would be born into an enormous family, have hundreds of living relatives and a dense network of neigborhood affiliations, just like the societies that our very selfish and destructive mechanical appetite of a country and economy seems bound and determined to destroy almost every place it touches. There’s more to life than making life safe for modern super national corporations and big box retailers. Maybe I’m stupid for thinking that’s still the case?

But my dream of a really big old world type family, the kind the Catholic Church fondly remembers, may only be affordable by the super wealthy in the future!

Another BTW – Evangelicals – especially the TV evangelists – never seemed very fond of the New Testament quote “you cannot serve two masters. God and mammon”. It’s nearly impossible to live with as a layer unless one goes one way or another. I stopped serving either of them very effectively over 40 years ago. But I also think there was never a truer phrase spoken.

Feb 20, 2013 2:03pm EST  --  Report as abuse
CatholicChild wrote:
am i to assume you found my post not relevant or appropriate since you have not posted it?

Feb 22, 2013 3:15pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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