Instead of using his annual Christmas address to call for unity and peace on Earth, Pope Benedict XVI squandered his big moment to declare war on the gay community. In a mean-spirited and hyperbolic speech, the pontiff tried to whip up fear about the unfounded threat caused by marriage equality. He demanded that the world's major religions join forces -- like a twisted version of the old Super Friends cartoon -- to defeat gay marriage initiatives worldwide.
According to the Reuters report:
The Vatican has gone on the offensive in response to gains for gay marriage in the United States and Europe, using every possible opportunity to denounce it through papal speeches or editorials in its newspaper or on its radio station.
In some countries, the Catholic Church has already joined forces with Jews, Muslims and members of other religions to oppose the legalization of gay marriage.
While the ranting from Rome sounds scary, this campaign offers more pitfalls than positive outcomes for the Vatican. The 2012 elections in America were the equivalent of winning the Kentucky Derby for the LGBT community, yet this most unsympathetic and unpopular pope thinks he can put the champion racehorse back in the barn. The Vatican is a bit late to the track, it seems, and if Benedict thinks this miracle is going to happen, his handlers should stop him from inhaling more incense.
Urging American Catholics to vote against marriage equality is a losing strategy already tested this year by Derek McCoy, Executive Director of the Maryland Marriage Alliance. At the Values Voter Summit, which took place in Washington, D.C., in September, McCoy warned, "If we lose in Maryland specifically the headlines will read the next day ... 'Catholic Governor of Maryland Switches the Catholic Vote.'"
And, indeed, McCoy's tactic backfired when it hit the brick wall of the very Catholic governor he referenced in his speech, Martin O'Malley. This is the same dynamic that will haunt the pope in campaign after campaign. American and European Catholics trust their gay children and friends significantly more than a distant figurehead who presided over a stomach-turning pedophile priest scandal that has already cost Rome more than $2.5 billion in legal fees, prevention programs and settlements.
In private moments, it must be disconcerting to the pope that gay couples pledging their love and lives to each other have significantly greater moral authority than the Vatican. People, including most moderate Catholics, must be scratching their heads and wondering why a troubled religious institution that does not have its house in order is obsessively trying to cause disorder in loving gay households.
Perhaps this absence of moral authority is the reason that the pope is recruiting other faiths to join his cause. However, this tactic was also tried in the 2012 election cycle and came up short: "We've been in the state's largest mosques and they are solidly behind the marriage amendment," boasted John Helmberger, CEO of the Minnesota Family Council, at the Values Voter Summit, speaking of his soon-to-be losing effort to pass a state constitutional amendment prohibiting marriage equality.
This is not to say that the pope's ugly words won't be devastating and damaging. However, his attacks will resonate mostly in developing nations where same-sex marriage has about as much chance of passing as a Hindu becoming the next pope. By teaming up with Muslims in a place like Nigeria, for instance, the pontiff's efforts could make the already difficult lives of closeted gays almost unbearable. But it will have a negligible impact on the worldwide debate over marriage equality.
The feckless arguments proffered by the pope will not help his moribund cause. In the pontiff's Christmas address he enthusiastically embraced a childish anti-gay-marriage study authored by Gilles Bernheim, France's chief rabbi. According to Reuters:
[The pope] said:
"There is no denying the crisis that threatens [the family] to its foundations -- especially in the Western world."
The family had to be protected because it was "the authentic setting in which to hand on the blueprint of human existence", he added.
So the pope's main argument is that visibly successful and highly functional nations and states that already have passed same-sex marriage laws are causing the Western world to crumble? Can he and his fundamentalist allies point to a few anti-gay nations that are performing better morally or economically than the modern countries with marriage equality?
Equally absurd is Rabbi Gilles Bernheim's bizarre idea that marriage equality threatens the family blueprint. What rational person believes that allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry will cause heterosexuals to forget how to form families or make babies?
With such foolishness dressed up as faith, it's not surprising that so many Americans are fleeing oppressive religious institutions and listing their affiliation as "none." If the pope wants to continue appearing infallible to his flock, he should abandon this intolerant cause. As more countries enact marriage equality over his tantrums and objections, the pontiff will look increasingly ineffective at best, and irrelevant at worst.