Editor's Note: This column was co-authored by Bob Morrison.
Much of the Internet exploded in wrath over Pope Benedict XVI’s Christmas greetings to the Roman curia. Delivered in those historic halls painted by Renaissance artists, the Pope’s address was given to those tasked with administering the Vatican State and serving the Catholic faithful worldwide.
“Rant!” “Hateful!” “Outrageous!” These were some of the milder expletives cast at the Pope—the ones we didn’t have to delete. This storm of abuse arose because of a papal statement extolling marriage and the natural family.
Let us carefully note what is happening here. The acknowledged leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics is speaking to his brother priests about the essentials of the Roman Catholic faith. He is speaking in a forum recognized to be the sovereign territory of a city-state, known to Catholics as the Holy See.
Even so, even within these walls, the Pope is not free from abuse, much of it obscene. Those who think they can retreat behind their church walls in America, in France, in Britain, or anywhere else on earth, and ignore the world outside, need to pay close attention to what is happening to Pope Benedict XVI’s Christmas message to his brethren.
Leon Trotsky, that old Bolshevik revolutionary, had a point: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” And here we see it. There is a worldwide reaction—from the U.S. and Canada to Australia and Europe—against what the Pope said. There is a virtual war declared against the 85-year old Pontiff’s words.
Even those who claim to be Catholic have taken the occasion to denounce Pope Benedict’s thoughts.
What are those thoughts that provoke such a violent reaction? He asked pertinent questions:
Does man become himself by living for himself alone and only entering into relationships with others when he can break them off again at any time? Is lifelong commitment antithetical to human freedom?
The Pope went further, stating:
“People dispute the idea that they have a nature, given to them by their bodily identity, that serves as a defining element of the human being,” he said. “They deny their nature and decide that it is not something previously given to them, but that they make it for themselves.”
“The manipulation of nature, which we deplore today where our environment is concerned, now becomes man’s fundamental choice where he himself is concerned,”
Is there anything here to provoke such vitriolic attacks? Is there anything here not expressed in mild words of sweet reason?
The Pope is saying that our natures are given us by a gracious God. That God loves us. These natures are not socially constructed nor subject to our own will. Male and female, God creates us. Is that what the shouters think is hateful?
Then, what must they think of these words: “…they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Do those words from the American Declaration of Independence conflict with the Pope’s Christmas message on humanity? We do not think so. Every word in the Declaration depends on and is justified by the “laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” Surely, that nature which gives us our sexual identity is part of the understanding of what it means to be human.
In the tsunami of ink that rushed forward to denounce the Pope’s statement, it’s interesting to note—and we express profound gratitude for it—that the Deseret Newsgave the Pope’s statement a respectful hearing. This news outlet, often seen as being close to the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormon), seems instinctively to understand what it is like to be a persecuted minority.
It was amazing to see how Pope Benedict made use of the powerful statements of France’s Grand Rabbi. Rabbi Gilles Bernheim has issued a statement that shows how creating a right of two persons of the same sex to marry constitutes a radical threat to the idea of marriage and sexuality itself.
In citing the work of this Jewish philosopher and theologian, the Pope was showing the world there is room for leaders of different religions to align in a worldwide effort to defend marriage and family.
You may disagree with everything the Pope said at Christmas. You may think he is wrong and even argue that his ideas are outmoded. After all, President Obama agreed with the Pope’s definition of marriage and family—as recently as last May.
But you cannot reasonably argue that they are motivated by hatred, by bigotry. In embracing Protestants, Orthodox Christians and Jews, and others in a bid to shore up the crumbling foundations of human society, in speaking mildly and with charity for all, we believe that Pope Benedict XVI is speaking sweet reason.