Pope Should Ban Priesthood, Not Homosexuals

Theologically I am in total agreement with him that the Christian New Testament speaks of a preferential option for the poor, a radical call to abolish violence, and a moral duty to protect children. From the moment he assumed the pontificate, Francis has appeared to be a shining example of humility, hospitality, and hope.

So, it is with consternation that I listened to his latest comments regarding homosexuality in the clergy. During an interview given to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, the Pope said it is a “serious matter” that “worries” him. Francis described homosexuality as “fashionable”, and urged clergy to observe their vow of celibacy, going on to say that the Church had to be “demanding” in choosing candidates for the priesthood. And those responsible for training priests must make sure candidates are “humanly and emotionally mature” before they are ordained. “For this reason, the Church urges that persons with this rooted tendency not be accepted into ministry or consecrated life.”

Heavy words from the leader of 1.2 billion followers worldwide.

Assuming that part of the Pope’s rational for holding these beliefs is his concern over the child abuse scandal afflicting the Church, it is necessary to analyze his comments further. As reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center, “According to the American Psychological Association, children are not more likely to be molested by LGBT parents or their LGBT friends or acquaintances.

Gregory Herek, a professor at the University of California, Davis, who is one of the nation’s leading researchers on prejudice against sexual minorities, reviewed a series of studies and found no evidence that gay men molest children at higher rates than heterosexual men … Anti-gay activists who make that claim allege that all men who molest male children should be seen as homosexual. But research by A. Nicholas Groth, a pioneer in the field of sexual abuse of children, shows that is not so.

Groth found that there are two types of child molesters: fixated and regressive. The fixated child molester — the stereotypical pedophile — cannot be considered homosexual or heterosexual because “he often finds adults of either sex repulsive” and often molests children of both sexes. Regressive child molesters are generally attracted to other adults, but may “regress” to focusing on children when confronted with stressful situations. Groth found, that the majority of regressed offenders were heterosexual in their adult relationships.”

Moreover, “The Child Molestation Research & Prevention Institute notes that 90% of child molesters target children in their network of family and friends, and the majority are men married to women. Most child molesters, therefore, are not gay people lingering outside schools (or churches) waiting to snatch children from the playground, as much religious-right rhetoric suggests.”

When taking into consideration the actual psychological research, the Pope’s views appear to be based not on scientific evidence but on simple prejudice. After-all, the man was raised in a colonized culture that treated LGBT people as unnatural and in opposition to the Christian God. Sodomy, for instance, was treated in Argentina with the most severe forms of punishment, including even war against the indigenous Mapuche people, who openly embraced the sexual orientation of males, females, transgender, and intersexual people. Although the Pope may be a Jesuit scholar, a cosmopolitan in many respects, and an influential ambassador of global peace, when it comes to honoring and embracing homosexuals and homosexuality, he is an archaic by-product of an ignorant worldview.

Nevertheless, perhaps the Pope is onto something. Why stop with homosexuals? Why not bar heterosexuals from the priesthood as well? Why not whites and blacks? How about the old and young, too? How about the able and disabled? When one stops to contemplate the countless ways priests have done damage to humanity, I think the Pope should not just stop with turning away homosexuals. He should put a moratorium on letting anyone become a priest! No more bishops and archbishops; no more pastors and ministers; no more rabbis, imams and popes, too.

What the world desperately needs is more free thinking. These positions of religious authority inevitably-whether they are conscious of it or not-conspire to relinquish power and responsibility from individuals. In return for this theft of intellectual property, they regularly demand blind obedience and even the most grotesque forms of veneration. The social consequences for personal liberty and freedom of thought are obvious.

Where do fatwas come from if not religious leaders? How did the Crusades start if not with edicts by the superiors of the Church? Who would have the power to order a mass suicide such as Jonestown, if not a charismatic pastor? Who animates the young to pick up arms and fight for God and country? Who promises them eternal life if they pay their dues? Who prevents condoms from being used in Africa, resulting in the continuing spread of HIV/AIDS? Who sanctions genital mutilation and other forms of bodily suffering under the guise of purity laws?

As Michel Onfray wrote in The Atheist Manifesto: “How strange that excision – female circumcision, with several languages using the same term for both kinds of mutilation – of little girls should revolt the westerner but excite no disapproval when it is performed on little boys. Consensus on the point seems absolute. But ask your interlocutor to think about the validity of this surgical procedure, which consists of removing a healthy part of a nonconsenting child’s body on nonmedical grounds – the legal definition of… mutilation.”

Onfray also said, “Religion is like magic. It is all about tricks.”

No more tricks, Pope Francis. No more hocus pocus. No more fear-mongering. No more discrimination camouflaged as morality. No more teaching by terror. No more catechism if it means that God’s children must be made to feel less beautiful and worthy just because of their genetic makeup. No more lies from the pulpit!

To be blunt: I say keep everyone out of the priesthood. Let’s not stop with homosexuals. I say institute a universal ban on religious authority all together. If you, Pope Francis, are as humble and service minded as you present, do something to show the world that you are a true equal. Forfeit your cloak. Step down from your position of eminence and be with the people as one of them. There is nothing about being a Pope that makes you more or less enabled to serve the poor, stand up for children, and stop war. So why be one? What is being a Pope about if not claiming superiority over others? What is being a priest about if not categorizing people by gradations of worthiness?

Pope Francis, don’t stop with homosexuals, keep going until you have banned all people from the priesthood. If you do that, the Church may be saved yet.



Not My America: Trump and the Tragedy of Tear Gassing Children

Among the uncountable lies Trump has heaped on the American people, perhaps none was as pernicious as the one he told about tear gassing children at the border. The president remarked, “Why is a parent up into an area where they know the tear gas is forming and it’s going to be formed and they were running up with a child?” Later that day he said it was “a very minor form of the tear gas itself that was very safe.”

Almost immediately, the American Academy of Pediatrics called BS. In a powerful response to the tear gassing of children, they stated: “Children are uniquely vulnerable to physiological effects of chemical agents. A child’s smaller size, and more frequent number of breaths per minute and limited cardiovascular stress response compared to adults magnifies the harm of agents such as tear gas.” The organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical sub-specialists and pediatric specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults, added, “Immigrant children are still children, and they deserve our compassion and assistance. We will continue to speak out against their inhuman treatment and advocate for their safety.”

Immigrant children are still children. In a civilized nation, that should be unnecessary to say. But after decades of using other words to label these children as something less than human, it has become necessary to say it. They are not aliens. They are not illegals. They are not migrants. They are not border jumpers, grabbers, thugs, or criminals. They are still children.

So no, Mr. President, the chemical weapons you authorized and condoned to be used against those children were not safe. Whenever tear gas is used there is a risk of permanent injury or even death. The first documented use of tear gas dates back to 1914 in WWI, when Xylyl bromide was employed as an easy to use tearing agent. The effects then were the same as they are today. The gas works by irritating mucous membranes in the eyes, nose, mouth and lungs, and causes burning, crying, sneezing, coughing, chest pain, difficulty breathing, pain in the eyes, temporary blindness, excessive saliva, and skin irritation. There is nothing safe about it, and there never will be. There is a reason, Mr. President, that the use of tear gas has been prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Conventions.

In fact, the United States ratified the Geneva Protocol which banned the use of chemical and biological weapons on January 22, 1975. In 1989 and 1990, the U.S. and Soviet Union entered an agreement to both end their chemical weapons programs, including binary weapons. Mr. President, if a chemical weapons program is too inhumane for use in war between the strongest armies in the world, why is it acceptable to use on women and children on the border.

“These children are barefoot. In diapers. Choking on tear gas,” said Californian Governor-elect Gavin Newsome. These “women and children who left their lives behind-seeking peace and asylum-were met with violence and fear. That’s not my America.”



George H.W. Bush: A Legacy of Honor and Hypocrisy

Whether his opponents are willing to recognize it or not, President George Herbert Walker Bush lived an extraordinary life. At 18, he was the youngest enlistee in the United States Navy during World War II. From June 1942 to September 1945, he served bravely (58 missions and 125 carrier landings), rising to the rank of Lieutenant. The rest of his resume has become the stuff of legend: a degree in Economics from Yale; a successful business venture with Zapata Petroleum in 1954; onto the House of Representatives as the winner of the 7th congressional district of Harris County, Texas, UN Ambassador; envoy to China; CIA Director, Vice President under Reagan; and then the White House.

As President, Bush fought for the reunification of Germany, even against the arguments of Margaret Thatcher, managed to bring the Cold War to a peaceful end, and basically reorganized Europe. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Clean Air Act of 1990 were both groundbreaking pieces of legislation. Bush was more than a transitional president; he was a man who wanted to accomplish important things and had the vision necessary to carry forward his ambitious goals.

However, there is a pattern to Bush’s career that cannot be simply glossed over by those who want to turn him into a paragon of virtue and high-mindedness. From the very beginning of his career in public office, Bush showed an unnerving capacity for betraying his own values.

At Yale, he claimed to be devoted to the ideals of democracy and social equality; yet he joined Skull and Bones, one of the nation’s most elitist and ultra-secretive organizations.

Early in his political career he campaigned as a moderate; yet when he was running for a U.S. Senate seat in Texas, he came out against the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, deriding his opponent as “radical” for supporting the bill that ended segregation in public spaces.

As RNC Chairman, Bush advocated for a free press and the supremacy of the Constitution; yet he positioned himself as a willfully ignorant spokesperson for Richard Nixon. On September 14, 1973, Bush appeared on Face the Nation to defend Nixon’s role in Watergate, essentially chastising the press for even daring to ask the president questions.

Later on, as a candidate for President, he promised voters that he would champion a “kinder and gentler America”; yet when presented with a choice to run the infamous Willie Horton commercial, Bush gave his campaign team the green light. For someone who supposedly embodied the highest standards of civility, the spot turned out to be one of the most blatantly racist ads in modern political history.

As President, Bush was staunchly anti-imperialist; yet he authorized the armed invasion of Panama in 1989, an act of military aggression that the United Nations General Assembly determined was a “flagrant violation of international law.” That conflict was waged without approval from Congress and cost at least 1,000 Panamanians their lives.

Panama, we know, was just a dress rehearsal for the Persian Gulf. For a President who claimed wars of aggression are evil, and that proportionality in war is a moral imperative, the Persian Gulf War led to the devastation of Iraq’s infrastructure, resulted in the death of thousands of innocent civilians, and laid the groundwork for the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003.

And the hypocrisy didn’t stop there.

A supposed champion of women’s rights, Bush nominated Clarence Thomas for Supreme Court.

A man who believed that elected officials have a sacred duty to serve the greater good, Bush intentionally neglected to invest in public health education and treatment during the AIDS epidemic.

A man who took over the CIA in order to rescue the institution from its reputation for criminal mendacity, Bush lied to the American public about his own history in the CIA, which dated back to the 50s.

A man who believed that a president should never obstruct justice, Bush did just that when he pardoned Caspar Weinberger and others for their participation in the Iran- Contra scandal.

Believe me, I really don’t mean to put a damper on the encomiums. As I stated, Bush lived an extraordinary life. Compared to the current POTUS, Bush was a man of etiquette, magnanimity, and commitment to compromise. But any honest assessment of his legacy must take into account the man’s shortcomings, acts of impropriety, and political failures. As significant as his accomplishments were, it was his miscarriages of justice that caused the most damage: more than a 100,000 Iraqi children dead; entire communities decimated by crack cocaine and AIDS; death squads in Latin America; and, one can argue, the creation of a Republican base that combined the most radical elements of the Christian Right with the most hawkish elements of the Neocons. One must ask: Would there be a Donald Trump in the White House if not for the foundation George H.W. Bush laid in Harris County way back in 1963?

So yes, I agree wholeheartedly that President George H.W. Bush was a remarkable man. But history will not be as kind to him as the past few days suggest.





Jamal Khashoggi and 9/11

President Trump steadfastly denies that there is a smoking gun in the Khashoggi murder, and he refuses to listen to the recording of him being tortured. But even if the president were confronted with incontrovertible evidence implicating the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, he has stated that he will not abandon the U.S.’s partnership with The House of Saud. “America first,” he has declared, as if doing business with Saudi Arabia is equivalent to eating apple pie at a baseball game on the fourth of July.

Recent history, however, demonstrates the immorality of this position. How is doing business with a country that favored and sponsored Khaled Sheikh Mohammed good for the United States? The architect of the 9/11 attacks may have earned a bachelor’s degree at North Carolina A&T in 1986, but it was his rise to prominence as an associate of the Afghan warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf that led him to the Saudi Osama bin Laden, who he presented his master plan for attacking the U.S.

And how is it good for America to do business with a country that produced, educated, financed, and gave sanctuary to so many culprits of September 11? The names may no longer register with most Americans today, but these individuals with Saudi ties did everything in their power to kill Americans. A cursory list would surely include infamous names such as Nawaf al-Hazmi, Abu Jandal, Jamal Khalifa, Khallad, and Mohammed Qutb.

Regarding the Saudi connection to September 11, I encourage readers to attain a copy of Lawrence Wright’s gripping book, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. Readers will come away with a clearer understanding about the relationship between the modern Kingdom and the radical Islamist movement. Needless to say, it is not a simple relationship; nor is it one that can be deciphered apart from American foreign policy decisions. For instance, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia funneled hundreds of millions of dollars through the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. This funding was largely responsible for creating the Taliban when the Soviets withdrew from that conflict.

After nearly 20 years of fighting the Taliban since 9/11; after billions of dollars squandered; and thousands of U.S. troops injured or killed, I do not grasp how this relationship has been good for America.  I don’t care how many jets and bombs we sell to the royal family. How can an American president put a price tag on the lives lost in the ruins of the World Trade Center?

Furthermore, who exactly was Jamal Khashoggi? According to Wright, “he was a longtime Saudi journalist and former member of the Muslim Brotherhood who covered Arab Afghans in the Jihad against the Soviet occupation…After 9/11, he distinguished himself by being one of the few Saudis to acknowledge the cultural responsibility that led to the tragedy; later, he was appointed editor of Al-Watan, the Kingdom’s largest daily, but was fired after publishing articles and cartoons that criticized the religious establishment for supporting violence.”

In other words, he was a brave journalist who stood up to the same religious zealotry we as a nation spilled so much blood to eradicate from the world. Again I ask: is it good for American business to sanction the extreme violence of a religious establishment that helped facilitate 9/11, but wrong to seek justice for a slain journalist who risked his life to openly challenge those who perpetrated the worst crime in U.S. history? If so, there is something profoundly messed up about that.
Photo by George Cassidy Payne

A Time Before Winter

Falling asleep by the purple curtains,
the hail dropping like knuckle sized
sacraments by my window, the dew
somehow it does-on the syrupy
 absinthe green arborvitae.
Ripping through the clutched
dream, I awake just to listen to
the half eaten sound of the milkweed
drying in the breeze.
A sound reminding me of a time before winter.