International Papers

The Pope Comes Out Against Marriage

Newspapers across Europe fronted the news that Pope John Paul II has launched a global campaign against gay marriage, calling such unions “evil” and “deviant.” The news came soon after President Bush also denounced gay marriage in a Wednesday White House press conference, during which he promised that his administration’s lawyers are “looking at the best way” to keep marriage strictly heterosexual. The Vatican’s multi-page document was published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and signed by one of the pope’s chief advisers, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The text urged politicians around the world to vote against laws that would permit gay marriage, arguing that “to vote in favour of a law so harmful to the common good is gravely immoral.” The document also argued that gay couples should be prevented from adopting children, since it would be “doing violence to them” by “plac[ing] them in an environment that is not conducive to their full human development.”

Europe’s mainland papers generally took a cautious approach to the news, reporting the Vatican announcement without significant commentary. Spain’s El Paíscovered the news straight in its English version (a partnership with the International Herald Tribune), reporting the Vatican announcement with extensive quotes from the text but without any local reaction. Le Monde and Le Figaro of France both took slightly less conservative lines; each made a point of mentioning the widening legal recognition of gay unions in Europe and North America (including France’s law allowing any couple to receive some of the legal benefits of marriage) and both highlighted the Netherlands’$2 1998 move to authorize homosexual marriage. Le Figaro also carried an interview with writer and Catholic priest Tony Anatrella supporting the pope’s announcement. But even on the Vatican’s home turf, an online poll conducted by Roman daily La Repubblica showed two-thirds of the 11,000 participants disagreeing with the pope’s stance.

The pope’s announcement also made big news across the channel, where it drew more critical coverage. London’s Guardianpointed out that Britain’s gay couples will be offered the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples by 2010 and that the Church of England is split over the appointment of openly gay clergy. Nevertheless, the Daily Telegraph found a politician in favor of the announcement: Tory MP and recent Catholic convert Ann Widdecombe found the pope’s words “very welcome” and said she would abide by them. The Independent characterized George Bush as a “devout Methodist” and noted that some conservative members of Congress are pushing for a “constitutional change to ban gay marriages.” A Guardian op-ed argued that the Catholic Church’s uncompromising stance could signal the advent of homosexuality as “Christianity’s next Darwinism.” The brutal language of the pope’s announcement is “a classic example of how to embarrass your friends and motivate your enemies.” Indeed, by using as one of its arguments against gay marriage the oft-ignored Vatican stipulation that “each and every act of intercourse has to be ‘open to the transmission of life,’ ” the church may already be halfway to defeat.

Dublin’s Irish Independent had no trouble finding local politicians with strong reactions to the Vatican pronouncement, which, it said, was “issued on Pope John Paul’s personal orders.” A member of the Irish parliament asked: “Is the Pope telling politicians what to do now? I go on the basis of the views of the people who elected me.” Others felt the whole question ought be moot: A spokesman for the Irish Gay and Lesbian Community Network pointed out that most gay couples have no interest in a Catholic marriage, but rather seek legal recognition of their union that would entitle them to equal rights in taxes, inheritance, and other civil matters.