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LGBTQ+ Catholics Recall Pope Benedict XVI’s Reign as a Painful Time That Caused “Tremendous Damage” to the LGBTQ+ Community

December 31, 2022. The passing of former Pope Benedict XVI “marks what is, hopefully, the end of a long, painful era for LGBTQIA+ Catholics, our families, and the entire church,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director of DignityUSA. DignityUSA is the world’s oldest organization of Catholics working for justice, equality, and full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people in the church and society.

“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,” said Duddy-Burke. “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. His words and writings forced our community out of Catholic churches, tore families apart, silenced our supporters, and even cost lives. He refused to recognize 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.”

As leader of the CDF, Pope Benedict, then known as Cardinal Ratzinger, was responsible for a 1986 letter to all the church’s bishops, On the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. This letter labelled having a gay or lesbian orientation as “objectively disordered” and said that all same-sex intimate relationships were “intrinsically evil” and “essentially self-indulgent.” Released during the height of the AIDS pandemic, it also blamed gay men for the disease, and stated that it was understandable that efforts to secure civil rights for LGBTQIA+ people would be met with violence.

The letter also prohibited groups that dissented from official church teaching on homosexuality from using  Catholic spaces such as churches, schools, colleges, retreat houses, and the facilities of religious orders A former CDF official confirmed in 2017 that this directive was aimed at DignityUSA and its chapters. As a result of the 1986 letter, the great majority of Dignity communities, then overwhelmingly housed in Catholic facilities across the U.S., were expelled from those spaces within a year.

Furthermore, Benedict banned the distribution of condoms by Catholic health and social services agencies throughout the world to anyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or marital status, even as a proven life-saving measure, thereby failing to slow the spread of HIV across the globe. Tragically, this policy contributed to untold numbers of deaths and vast needless suffering.

As Pope, Benedict XVI was among the most vocal and powerful global leaders who objected to marriage equality and gay and lesbian people raising children, causing immense damage worldwide. In his Christmas message of 2012, Benedict said gay marriage “destroyed the essence of the human creature,” and said gay marriage, along with abortion and euthanasia, was “a threat to world peace.” He said allowing same-sex couples to adopt children was an “attack” on the “traditional family.”

“It is impossible to overstate the damage Pope Benedict’s repeated dehumanizing of LGBTQIA+ people has caused,” said Duddy-Burke. “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 marginalized,” Duddy-Burke said. “This moment calls us to prayer, repentance, and recommitment to the core value of our faith, which is love.”