It was April in 2008, and I was walking down first avenue in Manhattan, when I was stopped by the police at 86th Street. I noticed that there were people congregating along the road – not a lot, but enough to know that someone important was coming by.
“Who is it this time?” I asked the cop who stopped me. “It’s the Pope,” he said.
Sure enough, a couple of minutes later Pope Benedict’s motorcade drove by. He was sitting in a limousine behind the passenger seat, which was the side of the street I was on, so I saw him up close. The first thing I noticed was how small he was. His head, adorned with the ever-present white cap, or zucchetto, barely cleared the window. Rather than engage the people lined up on the street, Benedict stared straight ahead. He seemed cold and distant.
A few days later, I had lunch with my wonderful friend, the late Father Angelo, and I told him that I had seen the Pope. He looked up at me with disappointment in his eyes, and shot back, “Why would you want to see him?”
Upon his death today, while scanning all the television coverage and reading news outlets about it, I was struck by the fact that virtually every journalist said that Benedict’s legacy would be that he was the first pope to resign in 600 years. But I don’t think that’s true. If the Catholic Church ever opens its vault of secret documents, and becomes transparent, it will only further establish that Benedict, while he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was even more complicit in covering up the Church’s priest abuse scandal.
When Germany’s Munich diocese, which Ratzinger led as archbishop in the 1970s and ’80s, published a report about its response to the sex abuse scandal, it implicated then-Bishop Ratzinger, saying that he failed to address at least four instances of abuse. Benedict, as Pope Emeritus, denied it, despite the evidence. We’re taught to tell the truth as Catholics, so the hypocrisy by Benedict is as alarming as it is sad.
Benedict served as one of Pope John Paul II’s most senior advisors. He led the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the office responsible for overseeing the church’s doctrine. He was called “God’s Rottweiler” for his ferocious defense of ultra-conservative church doctrine.
When he became Pope, he did take steps to address the abuse scandal, which was at its height when he was elevated to pope from the College of Cardinals in 2005; however, his actions were deemed woefully inefficient by some, including me. As a survivor of a priest’s abuse, I followed this issue very closely, and I felt that Benedict had a cherry-picking and smoke and mirror reaction to the scandal.
The late Barbara Blaine, president of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests during Benedict’s papacy, agreed. “I would hate for him to be remembered as someone who did the right thing because from our perspective, Pope Benedict’s record has been abysmal,” she once said.
A bombshell report by The New York Times in 2010 said that Ratzinger and other church officials failed to act in the case of a Wisconsin priest accused of molesting up to 200 boys. The Times investigation said that church officials stopped proceedings against the priest at the behest of Ratzinger. There are so many other stories where Ratzinger protected the priests versus doing the right thing.
And more offensively, Ratzinger was ruthless in his admonishing and punishing of anyone in the church who was LGBTQ+ or an ally. This hatred includes his comments around HIV and AIDS in the late 1980s. In 1987, while the virus raged, rumors abound that the Catholic Church might implicitly endorse the use of condoms to help prevent the spread of the disease. It was immediately shot down by Ratzinger who said that such an approach to protect gay men and gay sex “would result in at least the facilitation of evil.”
At the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1987, led by L.A. Archbishop Roger Mahony, who was also implicated in the priest abuse scandal, passed a policy that rejected the use of condoms to help prevent the spread of the disease. This from a pro-life institution. Can you imagine how many lives might have been saved if the bishops endorsed the use of condoms?
In May of 1999, Ratzinger brutally silenced a priest and nun who ministered to the LGBTQ+ community. This is part of what Ratzinger wrote about their efforts, and about our community:
“Given the failure of the repeated attempts of the Church’s legitimate authorities to resolve the problems presented by the writings and pastoral activities of the two authors, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is obliged to declare for the good of the Catholic faithful that the positions advanced by Sister Jeannine Gramick and Father Robert Nugent regarding the intrinsic evil of homosexual acts and the objective disorder of the homosexual inclination are doctrinally unacceptable because they do not faithfully convey the clear and constant teaching of the Catholic Church in this area. Father Nugent and Sister Gramick have often stated that they seek, in keeping with the Church’s teaching, to treat homosexual persons ‘with respect, compassion and sensitivity.’
“For these reasons, Sister Jeannine Gramick, SSND, and Father Robert Nugent, SDS, are permanently prohibited from any pastoral work involving homosexual persons and are ineligible, for an undetermined period, for any office in their respective religious institutes.”
And Benedict was outspoken on his detest of same-sex marriage. In 2012, he famously said that marriage equality was a threat to humanity’s future. Speaking about same-sex marriage, Pope Benedict said, “This is not a simple social convention, but rather the fundamental cell of every society. Consequently, policies which undermine the family threaten human dignity and the future of humanity itself.”
As Pope emeritus, Benedict published a paper in 2021 that further condemned same-sex marriage, saying, “We are witnessing a distortion of conscience which has evidently penetrated deeply into sectors of the Catholic people,” the pope emeritus wrote. “This cannot be answered with some small moralism or even with some exegetical reference. The problem goes deeper and therefore must be addressed in fundamental terms.”
In his memoirs that were published in 2016, Benedict talked about the existence of a supposed gay lobby that tried to assert power over him. Benedict, in the book, takes credit for breaking it up. This, despite the fact that there had long been rumors that Benedict, who fancied red Prada shows and luxurious surroundings, was gay himself.
When he resigned in 2013, as part of the directive as to how Benedict would exist after he left the papacy, it was agreed that he could continue to wear the white robes, be called “Pope emeritus,” and that he would live with his long-time secretary Monsignor Georg Gänswein. To journalist and author Andrew Sullivan, the latter was a shocking admission.
Sullivan who has written about the fact that Benedict might be gay — though says he may not have acted upon it — questioned the unusual living arrangement, “So Benedict’s handsome male companion will continue to live with him, while working for the other Pope during the day. Are we supposed to think that’s, well, a normal arrangement?”
We’ve seen countless reverends, clergy and teleevangelists use their pulpit to condemn queers, while carrying on same-sex relationships behind closed doors. Do thou protest too much, in Benedict’s case, mean that he also harbored a secret? We’ll probably never know, but what we do know is that his protesting against our community was dangerous and life-threatening.
When revulsion and exclusion, which is what Father Angelo thought Benedict was all about, incite the masses, literally and figuratively, it only emboldens those to hate even more. It’s hard to wish that Benedict rest in peace, when he left so much animosity, disregard, and divisiveness in his wake.
John Casey is editor at large of The Advocate.
Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.