Author Tags: Environment, Health, Politics, Religion, Sex

In June of 1994, in the same week that Daniel Gawthrop received a Western Magazine Award for his profile of CBC “AIDS Diary” host Dr. Peter Jepson-Young (“Whose Death Was It, Anyway?”), New Star Books published Daniel Gawthrop's biography of Jepson-Young, entitled Affirmation: The AIDS Odyssey of Dr. Peter (New Star, 1994). The title was drawn from a meditative litany that Jepson-Young used to cope with his illness, until his death in 1992. The book examines Dr. Peter’s life and achievement in the context of the socio-political times in which he lived. What emerges is a moving portrait of emotional maturation and wisdom: Jepson-Young’s personal AIDS crisis transformed him from a self-involved hedonist to a civic-minded activist whose CBC “AIDS Diary” for two years provided public education on HIV/AIDS-related issues and countered homophobic prejudice and discrimination.

Gawthrop followed Affirmation with Highwire Act, one of the few in-depth studies of the record of NDP Premier Mike Harcourt. A critical account of the difficulty of governing in British Columbia, Highwire Act reveals how Harcourt, a consensus-driven pragmatist, was unfairly treated by local media wary of socialism and hounded into resignation by his own fickle New Democratic Party.

Gawthrop’s third book, Vanishing Halo, celebrates the earth’s coniferous crown while doubling as a plea to restrict harmful logging and mining practices that have threatened the world’s boreal forests. Its exploration of traditional aboriginal knowledge and co-management regimes offers practical solutions to an ongoing crisis.

Daniel Gawthrop’s fourth book, The Rice Queen Diaries (Arsenal Pulp, 2005), was a debut of sorts because it was his first foray into the realm of literary non-fiction. Gawthrop himself views the work as risky, "less because of its depictions of gay sex than for its authorial voice which, with self-critical irony, explores the political minefields of ethnicity and desire in a pan-Pacific landscape." While the narrative approach marks a departure from his first three books, it continues his journalistic efforts to focus on the political and the problematic.

Gawthrop’s political interests as a writer have been mirrored by his social activism and employment. During the 1990s, a period in which he wrote for various B.C. and national periodicals on a range of subjects related to art, culture and politics, he also wrote for and edited in-house publications of the Hospital Employees Union and other labour organizations.

In the gay community, Gawthrop has served as the first publisher and editor of Xtra! West, as media relations manager for the 1990 AIDS walkathon and, in the same year, as organizer of the ice hockey component of the Gay Games in Vancouver. (Four years later, just before playing left wing for Vancouver’s hockey team, the Cutting Edges, at the Gay Games in New York City, Gawthrop engaged in a bit of culture jamming by starting a dialogue with a CBC Hockey Night in Canada icon. “Nothing I’ve ever worn in drag,” he wrote in the Vancouver Sun, “could possibly equal the sheer campiness of Don Cherry’s wardrobe.” The legendary “Coach’s Corner” personality responded on air to this sartorial assault by questioning the meaning of “drag” and “camp”.)

In 2000, a three-month journey to Southeast Asia turned into a nearly four-year expatriate stint, as Gawthrop took on a job in Bangkok as sub editor at The Nation, an English daily. Back in Canada, he began working in 2004 as a national communications representative at the B.C. regional office of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. In 2009, he completed a Master’s degree in Professional Communication (International and Intercultural Communication) at Royal Roads University. Gawthrop presented a paper based on his Master’s thesis, Circumventing the junta: How Burmese exiles use independent media to foster civic culture and promote democracy, at the 2009 Asian Media and Information Centre conference in New Delhi. The paper was also included in the program of a similar conference in Seoul, South Korea. The thesis is available through various online academic libraries.

Gawthrop has also published personal essays in two Arsenal Pulp anthologies edited by Richard Labonté and Lawrence Schimel: “Marriage: Why I Took the Plunge,” in First Person Queer: Who We Are So Far (2007) and “When Eros Meets Daddy,” in I Like it Like That: True Stories of Gay Male Desire (2009).

In The Trial of Pope Benedict: Joseph Ratzinger and the Vatican’s Assault on Reason, Compassion, and Human Dignity (Arsenal Pulp 2013), Gawthrop argues that Ratzinger must not be allowed diplomatic immunity from abuse scandals that have rocked the Vatican. Gawthrop not only accuses Ratzinger of quitting to avoid dealing with an explosive new sex scandal, but also indicts him for promoting a toxic theology whose destructive impact can be felt far beyond the Church itself. [See interview and review below]

[Photo by Murray Bush]


The Trial of Pope Benedict: Joseph Ratzinger and the Vatican’s Assault on Reason, Compassion, and Human Dignity (Arsenal Pulp 2013) $15.95 9781551525273

The Rice Queen Diaries: A Memoir (Arsenal Pulp, 2005)

Vanishing Halo: Saving the Boreal Forest (Greystone/David Suzuki Foundation, 1999)

Highwire Act: Power, Pragmatism and the Harcourt Legacy (New Star, 1996)

Affirmation: The AIDS Odyssey of Dr. Peter (New Star, 1994)

[BCBW 2013]

The Trial of Pope Benedict
Publisher's Promo (2013)

On February 28, 2013, Benedict XVI became the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign. In abandoning a role that nearly every one of his predecessors had seen as a calling from God to be heeded until death, Joseph Ratzinger, the man who became Benedict, also relinquished a controversial religious career in which he was largely responsible for the Catholic Church’s prodigious troubles: his scorched-earth assault on modernity and the world of ideas destroyed any hope of progress in the Church while leaving a trail of shattered lives in its wake. Thanks to his antediluvian teachings about human sexuality, bioethics, and Original Sin, Ratzinger helped the Church to remain a reactionary breeding ground for ultra-conservative orthodoxy. Along the way, he enabled the moral and spiritual squalor of clerical child sex abuse that has led to a mass exodus from the pews.

The book examines Ratzinger’s career in all its infamy, from his medieval understanding of women and demonization of homosexuality to his war on liberation theology. It also offers insight into Ratzinger’s successor, Pope Francis, and provocative ideas on how the Church can transform itself as a means to restore the faith of its disenchanted followers.

During his eight years as pope, Ratzinger attempted to rebrand himself from “God’s Rottweiler” to Prince of Peace. The Trial of Pope Benedict reveals the true Ratzinger, in the process telling one of recent history’s most astonishing tales of institutional power, religious bullying, and systemic abuse.

- Arsenal Pulp Press


from Arsenal Pulp Press
Promotional material supplied with The Trial of Pope Benedict: Joseph Ratzinger and the Vatican’s Assault on Reason, Compassion, and Human Dignity

Q & A with Daniel Gawthrop

You’ve described The Trial of Pope Benedict as being inspired by a retroactive letter of resignation from the Catholic church, and as a kind of conscientious objection. What you mean by this?

The “letter” idea was inspired by a former colleague of mine: Alexandre Boulerice, now the NDP Member of Parliament for the Montreal-area riding of Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie. In 2010, Alex and another Quebecois colleague and I were having breakfast in Ottawa during one of our branch meetings. We were talking about the latest clerical sex abuse scandals in Europe when the subject turned to our respective Catholic upbringings. Then Alex said something that really floored me: he had recently “resigned” as a Catholic by writing a letter to his bishop. His account of the “exit interview”—his bishop invited him out to lunch, so that Alex could explain his decision—was brilliant. He was resigning, he said, as an act of conscientious objection to all the evil the Church was perpetrating: the sex abuse, the treatment of women and gay people, the crushing of liberation theology—everything. When Alex told me this story, I wished I had written such a “resignation” letter myself 23 years earlier, when I walked away from the church. So I decided to do it, retroactively. But to whom would I send this letter? Not my bishop: Remi De Roo was one of the true progressives, so a letter like this would only have saddened him all these years later. Then it hit me: Ratzinger—the man whose Inquisition had chased me away from the church—had to be the one. Of course, the narrative voice for a letter approach was difficult to maintain convincingly over the course of an entire book. But I’m thinking of actually writing Ratzinger a real letter when I send him a copy of The Trial.

You are the first openly gay man to write a book about the troubled papacy and Vatican. What’s more, you’re a self-identified lapsed Catholic. Since you began work on this book three years ago, have you experienced any resistance to your arguments because of your background? Do you foresee further objections once the book is published?

I am not the first openly gay man to critique the church. Irish novelist Colm Tóibín, who as a young man considered entering the priesthood, is one who has written extensively about scandal in the Vatican. But I’m probably the first to confront a pope so directly and challenge him, in effect, to justify his existence. To be honest, I haven’t had a lot of resistance so far because most of the people I associate with don’t go to church any more, or never did. I do have one or two relatives or friends who are still devout and think I am attacking the church, but they have difficulty with the idea of criticizing the leadership. I think most of the resistance will happen once the book is published. There will be some, I am sure, who will be very angered by the fact that a lapsed Catholic—and a gay one at that—has written such a book.

Do you intend for this book to galvanize Catholic laypeople to action?
What I would really like this book to do is force Catholics of all kinds to step back and think about their church and what has become of it since the 1980s. Of course, there are a lot of people fed up with the right-wing revolution who walked away and will never come back, no matter what happens under Pope Francis. Those people have moved on. But there’s a whole other, large number of people who have left but would come back if there was some sign of willingness to engage with the modern world. And there’s another group: those still inside the church who are struggling and either have difficulty articulating the pain they’re experiencing or lack the courage to speak out about it. I hope this book gives them that courage.

What is your opinion of North American mainstream media’s coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy and papal legacy? Do you think it has been too lenient?

In fairness to the media, part of the problem is that memories are short while the destruction of the church has taken a very long time. I mean, Joseph Ratzinger arrived in Rome in 1981. By the time he became Pope Benedict, the war for the soul of the church had been declared, fought, and won decades earlier. So while it’s true that he had a degree of political notoriety when he became supreme pontiff, I think that many people in the media saw him as a clerical figure of some gravitas, a curial sage who had paid his dues and deserved the benefit of the doubt. Still: mainstream news outlets did a pretty good job during his pontificate of raising questions about his role in the cover-up of clerical sex abuse, his antagonism of other religions, and his out-of-touch views about sexuality. But I think the media’s biggest challenge has been the shock, as a result of the abuse scandals, of treating such a venerated figure as the pope like any other person who has been accused of a crime. By proving to be a terrible communicator, Benedict as pope lowered the dignity of his office. A lot of reporters must have found that very difficult to deal with. Then there’s the whole idea of Vatican statehood, the pope’s position as a head of state, and the diplomatic immunity that comes along with that. All of this can be very intimidating.

You write about Vatican II (the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65) as an historic opportunity for church relevance. What major events/church decisions forestalled Vatican II’s potential?

It really was an historic opportunity. Change, if it happens at all in the church, doesn’t happen often—progress has always been a centuries-long kind of thing. But with Vatican II, you had a pope in John XXIII, and conciliar “Fathers” who were willing for the first time to review the church’s relationship to the modern world and make serious changes in a short time. Vatican II got rid of anti-Semitism and promoted interfaith dialogue and harmony, making the church an open tent. It revamped the liturgy to allow new forms of expression, making it easier for people to understand the gospels, and it gave laypeople— especially women—a voice in their church. It also created a climate for dialogue about things like mandatory celibacy—which, if pursued, would have led to married priests and women as priests. And, for the first and only time, it looked at birth control as a valid option for Catholics of conscience. The first major event to forestall Vatican II’s potential was Humanae Vitae, the encyclical by Pope Paul VI in 1968, which rejected the majority report of the papal commission and maintained the Church’s opposition to birth control. The next was the death in 1978 of Pope John Paul I, who by all appearances was prepared to overrule Humanae Vitae. The third, I would say, was Pope John Paul II’s appointment of Joseph Ratzinger, in 1981, as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. From there, it was all downhill for Vatican II.

In the book, you argue that Joseph Ratzinger, long before he became Pope Benedict, played a key role in destroying the potential for a progressive movement in the church. Can you share one or two examples?

One of the more infamous examples was his clampdown on liberation theology, from the mid-to-late 1980s. Ratzinger was threatened by a movement of priests and bishops who made common cause with the poor against right wing dictatorships and their corporate masters in Latin America. In these countries, he saw liberation theology and its “base communities” as a direct threat to Rome’s authority. And so, he defrocked several progressive clerics or otherwise made it impossible for them to publish and, thus, spread their influence. The other example, in the largest sense, was Ratzinger’s multi-faceted campaign against a women-friendly church. It wasn’t just abortion and birth control, or even women as priests, that he made his target: even the notion of inclusive language in church texts came under his microscope. Ratzinger believed that feminist theory was a form of cancer that had to be wiped out, so he actually censored or edited (or commissioned others to do so) several church documents—including the catechism—that reeked of inclusive language.

Do you believe that the global community of practicing Catholics is somehow complicit in Pope Benedict’s crimes? Who, besides Joseph Ratzinger himself, must share the blame?

The liberal theologian Matthew Fox, in an open letter to Ratzinger (which I quote in the book), mentions a famous argument by the Soviet poet Yevtushenko. He said that the Russian people shared the blame for the horrors of Stalinism because too many people allowed the ruling clique to do what it wanted. Comparing this to the Catholic church, Fox told Ratzinger in his letter that there comes a point in history where people have to stand up and be counted. I see his point, and
confronting an authoritarian church is a lot easier than confronting an authoritarian government. But I really think that most Catholics who have remained in the church since 1981 didn’t have a clue—and still don’t—about the extent of Pope Benedict’s involvement in covering up sexual abuse. His office protects him, so I think he is that removed from the body of believers. But there are many, many other clerical figures in the Roman Curia and elsewhere who must share the blame with Ratzinger. Three of them are named in a complaint to the International Criminal Court: Camerlengo (and former Secretary of State) Tarcisio Bertone, Dean of the College of Cardinals Angelo Sodano, and Ratzinger’s replacement as CDF prefect, William Levada.

Do you think that the Catholic Church will become more progressive on issues such as homosexuality, contraception, and female clergy under the new pope, Francis I?

Under Pope Francis, any progressive change on these issues is unlikely. The former Cardinal Bergoglio is a doctrinaire conservative who is on record as being opposed to gay marriage and adoption, as well as contraception, abortion, and euthanasia. (And he has shown, from his response to questions about his role in Argentina’s ‘dirty war’ of the late-1970s and early ’80s, that for all his love of the poor his first loyalty has always been to the church.) However, due to the recruitment and retention crisis in the priesthood—not to mention the sex abuse crisis—I would not rule out the possibility of a papal commission to examine the church policy of mandatory celibacy happening under Pope Francis. This would open up the church to the possibility of married priests, if not women priests, indicating that Rome is open to taking advice from certain Anglican prelates it has welcomed into the fold. Due to his personal charm and humility, and his ability to communicate with the flock, Pope Francis cannot possibly be worse than his predecessor. So, for what it’s worth—and I don’t think it’s worth a lot, given the monumental problems that this church faces—he may turn out to be an improvement on Benedict, should his papacy last more than a few years.

[2013] "Interview"

The Trial of Pope Benedict (Arsenal Pulp Press)
Review (2013)

from Shane McCune

The Trial of Pope Benedict: Joseph Ratzinger & the Vatican’s Assault on Reason, Compassion, & Human Dignity by Daniel Gawthrop (Arsenal Pulp Press $15.95)

While his term as pontiff may be over, the evil perpetuated by Joseph Ratzinger will be difficult to undo.

This year Benedict XVI became the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign. Before he became Pope, Joseph Ratzinger, as a Cardinal, forbade the use of condoms by heterosexual couples, even in AIDS-ravaged Africa (although later, as pope, he would allow their use by male prostitutes) and described women’s liberation as “the antechamber to disaster.” Here Shane McCune responds to Daniel Gawthrop’s overview of Ratzinger’s brilliant and nasty ascendancy.


Well, you can’t say you weren’t warned.
You don’t even have to get to the subtitle of The Trial of Pope Benedict to know that “gay lapsed Catholic” Dan Gawthrop is about to make a meal of the ex-Benedict.

But why bother?

We already know that Joseph Ratzinger, aka Pope Benedict XVI, was a reactionary pontiff who swatted down any attempt at liberalizing the church, further marginalizing women and homosexuals.

And we know that countless sexual crimes among the clergy were concealed or muted under what was supposedly his watch. But that was also true of John Paul II, the guy who wore the dress and pointy hat for 27 years before him.

So why go after a former pope? And should any of this concern those of us with no ties to Roman Catholicism?
Gawthrop anticipated these questions when he wrote a February 2012 profile of Benedict in the online magazine The Tyee, some of which is reworked in the book’s prologue.

“Does the Pope even matter,” he writes, “given that so many millions of Catholics have not only tuned him out but abandoned their faith altogether?”

Of course, the answer has to be yes.
For starters, on purely pragmatic grounds the church is too powerful to ignore. Apart from the moral suasion wielded by popes, the Vatican is a sovereign state with observer status at the United Nations (and voting power on some important committees, as Gawthrop notes in his book).

And there remain far more visceral reasons for probing this particular pope’s crimes and misdemeanours. While some of the latter (Ratzinger’s vendettas with other clerics and his arid theology) are, frankly, of little interest to this lapsed Protestant, the crimes in question were horrific and widespread — the stuff of high-profile criminal trials just about anywhere but Vatican City.

Ratzinger is not just some well-meaning but out-of-touch priest, or even an overly paternalistic disciplinarian. As Gawthrop portrays him, “God’s Rottweiler” is a truly nasty piece of work, misogynistic, pitiless and power-mad.

According to Gawthrop, Ratzinger played a key role in enabling and protecting participants in what amounted to the biggest pedophile ring in the world.
(In July, Pope Francis announced a new law that makes it a secular crime to abuse children sexually or physically on Vatican grounds. Previously child abuse was only a violation of church law.)

The former pontiff wasn’t always so bloody-minded. Surprisingly, Gawthrop paints Ratzinger as a dazzling university lecturer who held his students spellbound — that is, until the campus upheavals of the late 1960s. While liberals within the church applauded or even joined student protests against the Vietnam War and social injustice, Ratzinger was appalled and shaken. He and a coterie of conservative theologians began to work to undo much of the progressive advances of Vatican II.

Gawthrop has meticulously researched Ratzinger’s rise through the church hierarchy, noting the allies and enemies he made, his various postings and achievements.
(Catholics, lapsed or observant, may be intrigued to learn that Ratzinger was awarded the chair in dogmatics at Tubingen University by Hans Kung, a liberal theologian he had befriended at Vatican II. The rest of us may simply be intrigued to learn that there is such as thing as a chair in dogmatics.)

Gawthrop portrays the Ratzinger of the 1960s and early 1970s as a priest in title only, more interested in theological scholarship than ministering to the poor, the sick, or anybody else. He beavered away on treatises defending the old-line precepts of the church and launched a conservative magazine to counter a liberal quarterly that sprang up during Vatican II, the cleansing and liberalizing council launched by Pope John XXIII in the early 1960s.

In 1977 Pope Paul VI named him Bishop of Munich, and his long march to the top job began. The pace picked up in 1981, when Karol Wotyla, aka Pope John Paul II, named Ratzinger prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) — the Pope’s enforcer.

At this point The Trial of Pope Benedict starts to live up to its title. Although Gawthrop opens and closes his book by inviting the reader to imagine Joseph Ratzinger in the dock at the International Court of Justice, he wisely does not try to sustain this metaphor throughout.

But if the book is not a trial transcript it certainly is an indictment, prosecuted with the zeal and attention to detail only a disillusioned former believer can bring to bear.

Gawthrop rolls out a chronology of Cardinal Ratzinger’s campaign to extirpate every trace of the liberal theology that came out of Vatican II, even turning on old friends.

Ratzinger especially wages war against “liberation theology” personified by the likes of Oscar Romero, the archbishop of El Salvador, who was conveniently assassinated before Ratzinger could remove or discipline him. But other leftist bishops were spied on, silenced or even hounded out of the church.
One of Ratzinger’s charges against Peru’s Gustavo Gutiérrez, the brains behind liberation theology, was his “selective reading of the Bible, overemphasizing the poor.”

He was equally ruthless in snuffing out any hope for the ordination of women, or any role for women in the church beyond service to men. When English theologian Lavinia Byrne produced a book called Women at the Altar, the CDF prefect actually had it burned.

In 2012, as Pope Benedict, he targeted U.S. nuns for not speaking out strongly enough against gay marriage, abortion and women’s ordination. He specifically called out Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group for American nuns, for supporting — in defiance of their bishops — U.S. President Barack Obama’s health care reform, which mandated insurance coverage for birth control for employees at religious institutions. Ratzinger sent in a posse of bishops to clean house at the organization.

But it is in his words and actions on homosexuality that Ratzinger/Benedict has been the most extreme, and the most cunning, says Gawthrop.

Here is an excerpt for a letter Ratzinger wrote as CDF prefect to bishops on “the pastoral care of homosexual persons” issued in 1986, at the height of North America’s AIDS epidemic and its attendant homophobia:

“The proper reaction to crimes committed against homosexual persons should not be to claim that the homosexual condition is not disordered. When such a claim is made and when homosexual activity is consequently condoned, or when civil legislation is introduced to protect behaviour to which no one has any conceivable right, neither the church nor society at large should be surprised when other distorted notions and practices gain ground, and irrational and violent reactions increase.”

In other words, whatever happens to gays, they brought it on themselves.

In the same letter he warned that making it illegal to discriminate against gays “can easily lead, if not automatically, to the legislative protection and promotion of homosexuality.”

So it was better to let gay-bashing run rampant than to make it a crime, because that might somehow promote homosexuality.

Again and again Gawthrop notes that Ratzinger would always put rigid adherence to his dogma ahead of making the lives of the faithful better, or even at least safer.

Early in his papacy Benedict approved a document declaring that homosexuals — whether practising or not — were unfit for the priesthood.

“The Church . . . cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture,’” it said.

Not much new there: a continuation of a toxic culture designed to ward off honest, self-aware gay men and to attract closeted and/or self-loathing ones. But Gawthrop maintains Benedict saw in that wording the basis of a defence against the coming storm of lawsuits.

“He was preparing to blame homosexuality for a problem the church had willingly enabled for hundreds of years,” Gawthrop writes. “He was creating a climate to scapegoat gay men for a scandal that had less to do with sexual orientation than with medieval taboos on all forms of sexuality.”

Gawthrop also deals with the Vatican’s banking scandals, its interference at the UN and Benedict’s propensity for alienating other churches. He brushes aside the more hysterical accusations that the young Ratzinger was a Nazi.

But the dark heart of The Trial of Pope Benedict is “Bewitched, Buggered and Bewildered,” the chapter on sex crimes.

Space does not permit even a partial list of the crimes and cover-ups, but the most widespread documented abuses by far occurred in Ireland, where a report capping a 10-year civil inquiry revealed that tens of thousands of children had been abused in church-run schools, and that “the sole concern of the church was to protect against scandal.”

In 2011 Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Enda Kenny stood in the nation’s legislature to blast the Vatican for not only failing to confront child sex abuse, but also for trying to interfere with criminal investigations into these crimes.

Pope Benedict XVI’s response? The Holy See briefly recalled its ambassador, and an official tut-tutted Kenny’s “excessive reaction” to the report. But the church had lost Ireland, for centuries its most obedient fiefdom.

Now an atheist, Gawthrop, in an afterword, urges Pope Francis to “clean house,” open sex abuse files to civil authorities, convene Vatican III, decentralize the Vatican’s power and give up its statehood.

In view of all he has laid out in the preceding pages, I believe it is more realistic to hope that more people will join the millions abandoning this corrupt, hypocritical and increasingly irrelevant institution.

Shane McCune is a former Province columnist now living in Comox.

[BCBW 2013]