On the death of John Paul II — A Personal Reflection

April 04, 2005

Roberta Sklar, Director of Communications

What is a gay person supposed to think or say about the fact that John Paul II is dead?

I have many responses and they feel schizophrenic.

I was raised in a devoutly Catholic family (the parish priest is still a frequent guest in my parents' home), was taught (and tortured) in Catholic schools, seriously considered going into the seminary (what gay Catholic boy doesn't?), and worked hard (but unsuccessfully) for years to reconcile being Catholic and gay.

They say that you can never escape Catholicism's grip, and I think that's largely true. There's a large part of me still wrapped in the incense, rituals, sacraments, penance, Purgatory, robes, and rosaries of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic church. That side of me feels it would be blasphemous to speak anything but praise and admiration for the pope, his commitment to the poor, his steadfast opposition to war, capital punishment, secular totalitarianism and crass materialism, and his stoicism in the face of illness.

The serious gay side of me says I should speak the truth about the needless anguish this papacy caused lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Its unrelenting rhetoric — with the underlying theme that homosexuality is intrinsically evil — has justified and fomented untold violence and discrimination — and for so many gay Catholics — self-loathing and despair. Should I forget the blind eye the hierarchy turned to rampant sexual abuse of children by priests and its calculated attempt to pin the scandal on gay people? I want to scream my anger at the thousands — and now millions — of needless deaths because of the church's blocking safer sex education and the distribution of condoms — in the name of promoting the sanctity of life.

The campy gay sides of me just want to imitate Bette Davis' famous statement about Joan Crawford on the Tonight Show, a few weeks after the death of her long-time nemesis. But the rejected-altar boy side insists, correctly, that that retort must be reserved for those with no redeeming qualities and John Paul II had many.

Sadly, we know there will be only one side in the media response to the life and death of the pope and it will be tantamount to canonization — a sad disservice to the truth.

Matt Foreman, Executive Director


The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.