The Dry Old Men of the Vatican Affirm the Holiness of Life

September 14, 1994|By RICHARD RODRIGUEZ

Thank God for the Vatican! How proud I was, as a Roma Catholic, to see the dry old men of the church stall the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development, and expose the racism and the cultural imperialism latent in its jargon.

Jane Fonda a racist? Al Gore a cultural imperialist? All week long, the American media turned to Frances Kissling, a woman who runs an outfit called Catholics for Choice. You could hear her on National Public Radio. You could read her opinions in the New York Times. It was clear which side the American media was on.

As the conference sputtered to an end this week, journalistic opinion was nearly unanimous: The Vatican had lost the public-relations war. Like hell it did!

I am a Roman Catholic -- and a homosexual. Every Sunday I listen to sermons with patient skepticism. It is painfully clear to me that my church hasn't a clue about the nature of family life in America or the state of male-female relations.

But bless them, the dry old men of the Vatican. Forging an alliance with Islamic mullahs, Rome last week managed to stand the Crusades on its head. The only question I had, watching the Cairo conference, was where were our other church leaders. Why did we hear nothing from mainline Protestant theologians? And where were the rabbis?

Jane Fonda flew into Cairo to give a secular sermon. The issue she and her TV-mogul husband, Ted Turner, will never address is this: Why was it, last week, that whenever television commentators used the term ''overpopulation,'' the images that filled the screen were of brown and black people? On CNN, Mr. Turner's own network, why did we never see a restaurant full of Norwegians when the discussion turned to overpopulation?

Jane Fonda and her husband own several houses, acres of land; no doubt Ms. Fonda flits around the world on her private jet. But of course CNN would never do a story on the waste of the world's resources by Mr. and Mrs. Turner.

A friend of mine, a dear friend who is secular and full of political chatter, was at it yesterday morning. He had just heard a report on the Cairo conference broadcast on National Public Radio. My friend fumed. Rome was obstructionist. Rome was only interested in Africa's having more babies to ensure bloated enrollment rolls.

My friend was born crippled. He walks with a stumbling gait. He is, to put matters bluntly, a loser in the genetic scheme of things. How could I tell my friend: The Vatican was the only institution at Cairo that insisted on your value. In a few years the pregnant mothers of the world are going to be able to abort a fetus like you presumably were -- for being damaged, crippled, not being perfect.

tTC As an American, I would never vote to make abortion illegal. But as a Catholic, I am proud to belong to an institution that insists, against the secular logic, that life has intrinsic value, that we cannot simply dispense with life we decide is ''unwanted'' or inconvenient or a burden to us.

Yes, yes, I am a queer. I am a fag. I am -- conservative Catholics and right-wing Protestants would happily tell you -- moral scum. I remain a Catholic because I believe it is possible for those of us in the pew to broaden the entire church's understanding of sexuality and love.

But even if it is not possible, I would prefer to remain an outcast within my own church than see the Vatican retreat from its insistence that life is holy and not, as the Cairo technocrats would have it, an inconvenience or a calamity.

Since the death of Pope John XXIII, I have noticed a growing hostility to Catholicism. And it hasn't been coming from red-neck Protestants. The new anti-Catholicism has come from the chic and the well-groomed, from the nice people who run TV networks, who work at newspapers and New York foundations, who graduate from Yale Law -- people who flatter themselves with the label ''progressive.''

They say: the Catholic church is repressive. The church is unmodern. And, over and over, the church is anti-sexual. Of all the criticisms I hear, that last is most common and ludicrous. For it was only the Vatican that insisted at Cairo that sexuality is moist, that sexuality is good, that sexuality is life-giving.

As the Cairo technocrats want us to believe, there are millions who starve in the world today. The Vatican knows this. But the Vatican would have us see the problem for what it is: the result of cruel governments, flawed agricultural techniques, the selfish consumption by the relative few. On the TV screen, the population experts were mocking the very idea that a large, poor

family could ever be happy. It was only the dry old men of the Vatican who dared object.

The problem is not life, sex, coupling, the embrace of lovers -- this is the point of life. It is we in the fat countries of the first world who have become people of death and despair. We are the problem of the world, not the brown and black peasants.

Richard Rodriguez, author of ''Days of Obligation,'' wrote this commentary for Pacific News Service.

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