1998 April

Tatchell to summons Archbishop Carey as a witness

Assault charges to be pressed against cathedral official

Peter Tatchell has announced plans to issue a witness summons to require the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey, to testify as a defence witness. This will be the first time in modern history that an Archbishop of Canterbury has been summonsed to court.

Tatchell has been charged wlth “violent behaviour”, following OutRage!’s Easter Sunday protest in Canterbury Cathedral, when he interrupted Dr. Carey’s sermon to condemn the Archbishop’s support for discrimination against lesbians and gay men. Tatchell will plead not guilty in Canterbury Magistrates Court on 15th May. “I am certain Dr. Carey will confirm that I remained totally non-violent”, said Tatchell.

Tatchell also intends to call as defence witnesses three other Cathedral officials, six members of OutRage!, and seven journalists, photographers and film crew.

Tatchell is pressing charges of assault against a Cathedral official who repeatedly punched him, as recorded and televised on BBC and ITN news on Easter Sunday, 12th April. The Cathedral official involved has been interviewed already by the police, and is likely to be charged soon with “common assault”.

Tatchell has offered to drop the charge of assault against the Cathedral official if the charge against him is also dropped.

The charge of “violent behaviour” against Tatchell is under Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act of 1860, which was originally part of the Brawling Act of 1551. The maximum penalty is £ 100 or two months’ jail.

Under the 1551 Act, Church Courts had the power to try lay people for offences relating to Church property. This right was abolished by the Act of 1860, which transferred legal powers in this area to the civil courts.

The last recorded prosecution under the 1860 Act for disrupting a church service was in 1966. Eight protesters interrupted the Sunday morning service at the start of the Labour Party Conference in Brighton. Opposed to the Labour Government’s support for the American invasion of Vietnam, they heckled the then Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, as he read the lesson in Brighton’s Methodist Church. Charged with violent behaviour, two of the protesters were jailed for two months.

FURTHER INFORMATION: Peter Tatchell, +(44) 20-74.03.17.90

DEFENCE FUND APPEAL
OutRage! is appealing for contributions to the Peter Tatchell Defence Fund.
Cheques should be made payable to “OutRage!” and sent to:
OutRage!, P.O. Box 17816, London. SW14 8WT

Archbishop of Canterbury interrupted in Easter Sermon

How many protesters can fit in a pulpit?
Easter Pilgrimage to Canterbury, 12-April-1998
©1998 David Hoffman Photos . . . Email David Hoffman Photos

Archbishop Carey condemned for endorsing discrimination

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey, was surrounded in his pulpit by gay rights protesters as he was delivering his Easter Sunday sermon in Canterbury Cathedral at 11:20 a.m. today, (Sunday, 12th April).

Shortly after Dr. Carey began his address, seven members of OutRage!, who had been seated in the congregation, climbed the stairs into the pulpit, and displayed placards deploring his support of antigay discrimination: in particular, his opposition to an equal age of consent and to gay marriage.

Cathedral security staff rapidly manhandled the demonstrators down the steps, cutting the hands of two activists in the process. Peter Tatchell was wrested violently from the microphones as he explained the reason for the demonstration to the congregation, and was handed over to the police. After being detained for nearly seven hours, he was charged under Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act of 1860 with behaviour that is “riotous, violent, or indecent” in a church. He is on bail to appear at Canterbury Magistrates’ Court on the 15th May.

Dr. Carey opposes an equal age of consent and legal rights for gay couples. He supports discrimination against homosexuals in employment and in the fostering of children.

The Archbishop backs a discriminatory age of consent of 18 for gay men and endorses the ban on lesbian and gay foster parents by the Church of England Children’s Society, (the only major adoption agency which continues to discriminate).

He is against legislation to guarantee equal treatment for gay people in the workplace and he condemns gay marriage.

The Archbishop preaches the denial of lesbian and gay human rights. His opposition to gay civil rights is a perversion of Christ’s gospel of love and compassion.

There is nothing in the teachings of Jesus that condones antigay discrimination. By opposing homosexual equality, Dr. Carey is proclaiming himself a greater moral authority than Jesus Christ.

Ironically, the Church has launched a “Millennium Challenge”, in a bid to make itself ‘relevant’ to the lives of ordinary people in modern society. Dr. Carey preached love and mutual understanding when he resumed the sermon: but not for us. Can he accept the “OutRage! Challenge”, and attempt to include the L/G/B/T population in his pious thoughts?

FURTHER INFORMATION: Peter Tatchell +(44) 20-74.03.17.90
PHOTOS OF PROTEST: Adrian Arbib (ISF photographer) +(44) 411-090 544
Simon Bebbington (ISF reporter) +(44) 378-307 636
ISF News Agency +(44) 1628-54.25.54 / 0836-64.45.75
David Hoffman +(44) 20-89.81.50.41
Gaze Photographic Agency +(44) 20-76.02.11.62 / info@gaze.co.uk

DEFENCE FUND APPEAL
OutRage! is appealing for contributions to the Peter Tatchell Defence Fund.
Cheques should be made payable to “OutRage!” and sent to:
OutRage!, P.O. Box 17816, London. SW14 8WT

New Dark Ages: The Rise of Islamic Fundamentalism in Britain

Peter Tatchell documents the global threat of Islamic Fundamentalism

The New Dark Ages are already with us. For hundreds of millions of people in parts of the Middle-East, Africa and South-East Asia, the ascendancy of Islamic fundamentalism has ushered in an era of religious obscurantism and intolerance. The liberal, compassionate wing of Islam –although it still has large numbers of adherents– is increasingly being forced onto the defensive and eclipsed.

The fervour of this modern Muslim extremism echoes the zealotry of the original Dark Ages in mediæval Europe, when Christian fundamentalists excommunicated philosophers and scientists as heretics, tortured non-believers, drowned women as witches, and burned sodomites at the stake.

Several hundred years after the breakdown of theocracy and the beginning of the Enlightenment, few people would have thought it possible for clerical fascism to make a major comeback. But it has, and it’s spreading.

An 18 year old gay man, Neil Tubo, was executed in Saudi Arabia in 1995. His family say that his trial was a charade and claim he was framed on charges on raping two women.

The Bangladeshi writer, Taslima Nasrin, had to flee into exile in Sweden in 1994 after she was condemned to death by Muslim fundamentalists for advocating the revision of Islamic law to protect the rights of women. Issuing a fatwa against Nasrin, they offered a bounty to anyone who would kill her.

In neighbouring Pakistan, an illiterate 14-year-old boy, Salamat Masih, was sentenced to die in 1994 for allegedly writing words offensive to the prophet Mohammed on the wall of a mosque. Although saved by a last minute reprieve, he was forced to seek refuge in Germany after Islamicists threatened to hunt him down and kill him.

On the Philippines island of Mindanao, Muslim militia have been terrorising gay men — beating them up, ordering them to leave the region and threatening them with castration.

In 1995, Islamic extremists in Algeria assassinated the feminist leader, Nabila Diahnine. Previously they had killed the theatre director, Abdelkader Alloula. These are just two of the thousands who have been murdered by the fundamentalists over the last three years. Other victims include students and academics who refuse to study within a religious framework, and journalists who write the truth uncensored by clerical fanatics.

The Algerian Islamicists have a particular hatred of women who refuse to confirm to the Muslim tradition of subservience and modesty. Women who work instead of staying at home and waiting on their husbands, or who study at university rather than looking after children, risk death. So do those wearing make-up or short skirts and attending mixed schools or swimming pools. Any female behaviour deemed ’scandalous’ by the militants can have lethal consequences, as 16-year-old Katia Bengana discovered. She was shot dead on her way home from school for refusing to wear a veil.

The common goal that unites Islamic fundamentalists the world over is the establishment of a religious state where every aspect of life is determined by the principles of the Koran and Muslim tradition. This means the creation of a state where This means the creation of a state where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by death.

Same-sex relationships are currently outlawed in 26 Islamic countries: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bosnia, Iran, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Islam is also a significant and growing influence in Senegal, Nigeria, Chad, Somalia, Turkey, and the southern Philippines.

In only three Islamic-dominated nations are there no laws against homosexuality: Egypt, Indonesia and Iraq. Nevertheless, even in these countries public attitudes remain hostile and gay people are subjected to periodic victimisation.

Of the Islamic states that ban lesbian and gay sex, Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen enforce the death penalty. Pakistan specifies two years to life imprisonment, plus flogging. In Malaysia the maximum sentence is 20 years and in the United Arab Emirates it’s 14. Bangladesh and Libya are considered fairly moderate in Islamic fundamentalist terms, with punishments of seven and five years’ jail respectively.

Iran is the most zealously homophobic Islamic country. Since 1980, when the fundamentalists came to power under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini, over 4,000 lesbians and gay men have been executed, according to estimates by the exiled Iranian homosexual rights group, Homan.

In the early 1980’s, for example, 70 people were executed after they attempted to set up a lesbian and gay organisation. Nearly 100 homosexuals were sentenced to death in 1992 following a raid on a private party.

It is notoriously difficult to be certain about the exact number of lesbians and gays killed because some executions take place in secret, and the relatives of those killed often try to cover up the true reason, due to the strong social stigma associated with homosexuality. Another factor preventing an accurate estimate is the regime’s resort to false allegations of homosexuality against political opponents, in a bid to discredit them. Trumped up charges of homosexuality were levelled against a Sunni Muslim leader, Dr. Ali Mozaffarian, who was executed in Shiraz in 1992.

The methods of killing lesbians and gays in Iran include: beheading with a sword, stoning to death, burning alive, and throwing from a mountain top or high building.

The death penalty applies not only to sodomy, but to repeated offences of lesser sexual acts such as mutual masturbation and body rubbing. The mere act of two people of the same sex lying naked together “without any necessity” is a crime punishable by up to 99 lashes. One man kissing another, even “without lust”, merits 60 lashes. These floggings can cause permanent injury to internal organs, severe bleeding and sometimes death.

The Iranian authorities stepped up their crusade against homosexuality in 1990, with a wave of public executions. On the first day of the new crackdown, three gay men were beheaded in a city square in Nahavand, and two women accused of lesbianism were stoned to death in Langrood. Justifying these killings, the Iranian Chief Justice, Morteza Moghtadai, declared: “The religious punishment for the despicable act of homosexuality is death for both parties”.

Simultaneously, Ayatollah Ali Khameni denounced “homosexuality, male and female”. He condemned Britain and the USA for promoting gay relationships, claiming the two countries had legalised marriages between people of the same sex. Homosexuality was, he said, a symptom of the decay and corruption of western culture.

His colleague, Ayatollah Musavi-Ardebili, demanded the strict enforcement of Islamic punishments for lesbian and gay behaviour. Describing the procedures for the execution of homosexuals, he told students at Tehran University: “They should seize him (or her), they should keep him standing, they should split him in two with a sword, they should either cut off his neck or they should split him from the head. … After he is dead, they bring logs, make a fire and place the corpse on the logs, set fire to it and burn it. Or it should be taken to the top of a mountain and thrown down. Then the parts of the corpse should be gathered together and burnt. Or they should dig a hole, make a fire in the hole and throw him alive into the fire.

“We do not have such punishments for other offences”, boasted the Ayatollah. “There cannot be the slightest degree of mercy or compassion. … Praise be to God.”

Lesbians and gay men living in countries dominated by the New Dark Ages of Islamic fundamentalism cannot afford the liberal luxury of tolerating religious fanaticism. For them, the politically correct arguments about ‘cultural sensitivity’ smack of surrender to the extremists who jeopardise their freedom and even their lives.

Equality Alliance launched

Working for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Human Rights

Over 70 organisations relaunched the ‘Campaign for Equality Standing Forum’ as the ‘EQUALITY ALLIANCE’ on Saturday 4th April at the Conway Hall, London.

In an unprecedented turning point in the history of gay politics this decade, over 70 national gay rights and international human rights organisations have voted unanimously to coordinate their efforts and work together in a new national offensive. This historic moment marks a turning point in the renewed anger at the unwillingness of the ‘new’ Labour Government to repeal discriminatory laws.

Organisations continue to join the alliance on a daily basis. The EQUALITY ALLIANCE, now including Amnesty International (World-wide + UK), Trade Unions and existing fora such as Scotland’s Equality Network and the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association, together with the majority of established national gay rights organisations, charities and trusts now collectively represents over 6.1 million people.

The EQUALITY ALLIANCE has 3 clear aims and objectives:

  1. to apply maximum pressure on Government bodies and other institutions to end discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people;
  2. to coordinate campaigning;
  3. to increase intergroup communication.

The EQUALITY ALLIANCE will initially focus the following high-priority issues:

  • Human Rights Bill;
  • Age of Consent and Sexual Offences;
  • Section 28 and the Pride March;
  • Employment Rights, Homophobic Hate Crimes and the Crime and Disorder Bill.

A working group has been tasked to implement the agreed coordination structure, which will facilitate proactive coordination and rapid response mobilisation of groups and individuals as necessary.

The EQUALITY ALLIANCE will no longer tolerate lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people being treated as second- and third-class citizens in our modern society. The Government and all members of political parties, and institutions can therefore expect to be fought at every opportunity: in Parliament, in court and on the streets by a new coordinated and powerful movement.

The EQUALITY ALLIANCE is therefore requesting a meeting with senior MP’s of all political parties in order to end discrimination on the grounds of Sexual Orientation.

Any organisation or individual can join the EQUALITY ALLIANCE and help end the injustice and discrimination that we all face on a daily basis.

For further information and a complete list of organisations within the EQUALITY ALLIANCE ring 07050-61.06.34.

What do YOU know about Cardinal Ratzinger’s Sexuality

Information sought about Vatican Homophobe

OutRage! needs information about Cardinal Ratzinger, head of the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, (which is responsible for defining Roman Catholic doctrine and keeping Catholic clergy and theologians in line). What do you know about his sexuality? Is there someone you know who might have inside knowledge? We need details that can be corroborated. Can you help?

We do not know whether Ratzinger is gay: but, if he is, he deserves to be outed because he is arguably the most homophobic of all Vatican leaders, being responsible for two of the most virulently antigay declarations ever made by the Catholic leadership.

In 1986, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote the infamous Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons. Ratzinger wrote that a homosexual orientation, even if the person is totally celibate, is a “tendency” toward an “intrinsic moral evil”. Moreover, a homosexual inclination is both an “objective disorder” and a “moral disorder”, which is “contrary to the creative wisdom of God”. “Special concern and pastoral attention should be directed towards those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not.” Ratzinger’s 1986 Letter concludes that pastoral care for homosexual persons should include “the assistance of the psychological, sociological and medical sciences”, and that “all support should be withdrawn from any organisations which seek to undermine the teachings of the Church, which are ambiguous about it, or which ignore it entirely”.

In July 1992, the Vatican issued a further proclamation authorised by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and by Pope John Paul II, entitled “Some Considerations Concerning the Catholic Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons”.

This document was designed to mobilise Catholic opinion against equal rights legislation for lesbians and gay men. It describes homosexuality as an “objective disorder” and a “tendency ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil”. Rejecting the concept of homosexual “human rights”, it asserts there is “no right” to homosexuality; adding that the civil liberties of lesbians and gay men can be “legitimately limited for objectively disordered external conduct”.

While condemning “unjust” discrimination, the Vatican document says that some forms of antigay discrimination are “not unjust” and may even be “obligatory”: especially with regard to “the consignment of children to adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or coaches, and in military recruitment”.

Most shocking of all, the 1992 document suggests that when lesbians and gay men demand civil rights, “neither the Church nor society should be surprised when … irrational and violent reactions increase”.

This implies that by asking for human rights, lesbians and gay men encourage homophobic prejudice and violence: we bring hatred upon ourselves, and are responsible for our own suffering. The Catholic Church, it seems, blames the victims of homophobia, not the perpetrators.

Born in 1927 in Bavaria, Ratzinger was already a professor of theology by the age of 31, holding prestigious positions in Freising, Bonn, Münster, Tübingen, and Regensburg.

Throughout the 1960’s he held influential positions on Vatican commissions dealing with church law and education, rising in 1977 to become the Archbishop of Munich and be appointed a cardinal.

In 1981, Ratzinger moved to the Vatican in his position as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, where he authored the two key homophobic Catholic declarations of 1986 and 1992, endorsing discrimination against lesbian and gay people.

Please email OutRage! with any useful information or contacts. Help us expose this religious homophobe, who is damaging the lives of queers.

National offensive for LGBT rights gains momentum

A joint campaign for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights

Over 40 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered organisations are now pledged to join the new Equality Standing Forum in the fight for human rights.

The groups are deeply concerned that the campaign for equality is being stalled by recent set-backs in the British and European courts, and by the unwillingness of the new Labour Government to repeal discriminatory laws. Two recent examples are the failed case of Lisa Grant and the prosecution of the Bolton 7.

The new Forum is drawing strong support from the community as it unites both small and large organisations from every corner of the British Isles.

The organisations will meet to plan the launch of a national offensive for gay rights on Saturday, 4th April, 1:30 p.m. at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, WC1, (Holborn tube).

The meeting will formulate campaigning priorities, strategies and methods, in order to maximise the pressure on the Labour Govemment to deliver homosexual human rights.

The new Forum’s objective is to give notice to the Government, all political parties, and all members of Parliament that the continuing denial of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender human rights is intolerable, and that we are no longer prepared to be treated as second-class citizens.

All local groups and campaigning organisations are invited to attend the Forum, strengthening the 40+ strong national network.

The following groups have now committed to the Forum:

  • CHE — Campaign for Homosexual Equality,
  • Coventry and Warwickshire Coalition,
  • DNA,
  • Eddie Surman Trust,
  • GALHA — Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association,
  • GMFA — Gay Men Fighting AIDS,
  • GUYZ,
  • Independent Democrats,
  • Inside Out,
  • Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights,
  • LAGER — Lesbian and Gay Employment Rights,
  • LAGPA,
  • LGCM — Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement,
  • Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Consortium,
  • Liberal Democrat Lesbian and Gay Action,
  • London Friend,
  • Midlands Publishing Group,
  • NUS LGB Campaign,
  • NUT — National Union of Teachers,
  • NIGRA — Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association,
  • OutRage!,
  • Outright Scotland,
  • PACE — Project for Advice, Counselling, and Education,
  • Pink Chalk,
  • Portsmouth NUS Lesbian and Gay Group,
  • Rank Outsiders,
  • Scottish Equality Network,
  • Silver March Group,
  • Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence,
  • Socialist Party Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Group,
  • Stonewall Housing,
  • Stonewall Pensions,
  • Torche — Tory Campaign for Homosexual Equality,
  • Youthspeak;

The meeting will be attended by Lisa Grant and Jill Percey.

Thirteen additional organisations and charities are currently seeking a mandate from their respective committees to publicly release their involvement with the Forum after 4th April.

Catholic Homophobia

by Peter Tatchell

In November 1992, after 359 years, the Catholic Church finally admitted it was wrong to condemn Galileo as a heretic for arguing that the Earth was not the centre of the universe. How many centuries will it take before the Vatican acknowledges the equally historic wrong it has perpetrated against lesbians and gay men?

In medieval times, “abominable sodomites” were burnt alive at the stake on the orders of the Papal Inquisitors. As recently as the early nineteenth century, homosexuals were still being strung up on gallows in Britain with the blessing of Catholic leaders. This persecution isn’t over yet. The Vatican is still crucifying queers.

The latest Catechism, which sets out the basic doctrines of the Roman Church, was published in Britain in 1994. It is the first major revision of the Catechism since 1566. To the dismay of lesbians and gay men, it continues to reflect the prescientific ignorance and antihomosexual prejudice of the medieval era.

The new Catechism describes homosexual acts as a “grave depravity” and “intrinsically disordered”. It states that lesbian and gay relationships are “contrary to natural law … and do not proceed from genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved”.

Characterising the homosexual condition as “a trial” for most lesbians and gay men but never acknowledging prejudice as the reason, the Catechism concludes: “Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery … they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection”.

In other words, lesbians and gay men are flawed human beings who can redeem themselves only by renouncing the feelings that are integral to their sexual and emotional orientation.

The one concession to liberal opinion in the Catechism is that lesbians and gay men should be “accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity”. However, this apparent liberalism is immediately contradicted by the doctrine that only “unjust” discrimination is to be avoided, which implies that some forms of antigay discrimination are justifiable according to Catholic theology.

This was confirmed in a 1993 letter to the lesbian and gay rights group OutRage! from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Written on behalf of Cardinal Hume, the letter expressed the Catholic Church’s support for discrimination against lesbians and gay men with regard to marriage and immigration rights, social housing, joint property, taxation, and welfare benefits. It turned down a request to endorse a reduction in the gay male age of consent to 16, to establish parity with heterosexuals. Indeed, there is no homosexual law reform which Cardinal Hume and his bishops feel able to support. They have given their official blessing to every key aspect of legal bias against lesbians and gay men.

However much the Catholic church may deny it, these prejudiced declarations offer theological legitimacy and a veneer of respectability to antigay hatred. They are the latest in a long line of antigay pronouncements by the Catholic Church.

In 1986, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican’s Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (responsible for defining Roman Catholic doctrine and keeping Catholic clergy and theologians in line) issued a “Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”. Ratzinger wrote that a homosexual orientation, even if the person is totally celibate, is a “tendency” toward an “intrinsic moral evil”. Moreover, a homosexual inclination is both an “objective disorder” and a “moral disorder”, which is “contrary to the creative wisdom of God”. “Special concern and pastoral attention should be directed towards those who have this condition, lest they be led to believe that the living out of this orientation in homosexual activity is a morally acceptable option. It is not.” Ratzinger’s 1986 Letter concludes that pastoral care for homosexual persons should include “the assistance of the psychological, sociological and medical sciences”, and that “all support should be withdrawn from any organisations which seek to undermine the teachings of the Church, which are ambigous about it, or which ignore it entirely”.

In July 1992, the Vatican issued a further proclamation authorised by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and by Pope John Paul II, entitled “Some Considerations Concerning the Catholic Response to Legislative Proposals on the Non-Discrimination of Homosexual Persons”.

This document was designed to mobilise Catholic opinion against equal rights legislation for lesbians and gay men. It describes homosexuality as an “objective disorder” and a “tendency ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil”. Rejecting the concept of homosexual “human rights”, it asserts there is “no right” to homosexuality; adding that the civil liberties of lesbians and gay men can be “legitimately limited for objectively disordered external conduct”.

While condemning “unjust” discrimination, the Vatican document says that some forms of antigay discrimination are “not unjust” and may even be “obligatory”: especially with regard to “the consignment of children to adoption or foster care, in employment of teachers or coaches, and in military recruitment”.

Most shocking of all, the 1992 document suggests that when lesbians and gay men demand civil rights, “neither the Church nor society should be surprised when … irrational and violent reactions increase”.

This implies that by asking for human rights, lesbians and gay men encourage homophobic prejudice and violence: we bring hatred upon ourselves, and are responsible for our own suffering. The Catholic Church, it seems, blames the victims of homophobia, not the perpetrators.

More recently, in February 1994, the Pope attacked the European Parliament’s support for the repeal of antigay legislation in member states. Condemning homosexuality as an “aberrant deviation”, he described proposals to remove discrimination as an “attack on the family” and accused Euro-MP’s of “inappropriately conferring an institutional value on deviant behaviour”.

This Vatican offensive against homosexual equality is threatening personal suffering worldwide. In Italy, Bologna City Council in 1993 introduced an equal opportunities policy to give homosexual couples access to municipal housing on the same basis as heterosexual partners.

The Catholic Church responded, with the backing of the neofascist MSI party, by announcing plans to mount a legal challenge. Cardinal Silvio Oddi condemned Bologna’s decision as “bestiality” and warned that “divine retribution” would fall upon the city.

Cardinal John O’Connor, in the United States, ordered that gay Catholics dying of Aids should be refused the last rites unless they repent of their “sin” and renounce their partners. The New York diocese has supported a ban on Irish Catholic lesbians and gay men marching in New York’s annual St. Patrick’s Day parade. It is opposing attempts by the city’s education authorities to encourage greater understanding and acceptance of homosexuals through the inclusion of nonjudgemental information about homosexual issues in the school curriculum.

In Nicaragua, Cardinal Obando y Bravo attacked homosexuality as “immoral” and publicly aligned the Catholic Church with the recriminalisation of lesbian and gay sexuality by President Chamorro’s right-wing UNO coalition. Article 204 of the new criminal code stipulates three years’ imprisonment for anyone who “induces, promotes, propagandises or practises in scandalous form concubinage between two people of the same sex”. This legislation penalises not only victimless homosexual behaviour, but also the advocacy of homosexual human rights and a homosexual lifestyle.

At the 1995 UN International Women’s Conference in Beijing, the Vatican opposed discussions on lesbian human rights and backed moves to block the participation of lesbian organisations and delegates.

The following year, a new Vatican handbook on education condemned homosexual relationships as a “disorder”, and urged Catholic parents to remove their children from sex education classes that discuss gay sexuality and teach safer sex.

Also in 1996, the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore called on its readers to vote against political candidates who back legal equality for lesbians and gays. Attacking a huge same-sex partnership ceremony in San Francisco where dozens of homosexual couples made declarations of commitment with the endorsement of Mayor Willie Brown, the newspaper said: “The citizen who … favours the election of a candidate formally committed to translating homosexual demands into law, cannot be without censure. Gay marriage fundamentally undermines the family model on which human civilisation was built … The legislature cannot be turned into a clerk for changing habits, least of all deviant trends.”

Here in Britain, at the height of the 1994 Parliamentary debate on the Age of Consent, Cardinal Hume declared that “homosexual genital acts, even between consenting adults, are morally wrong”. He urged Parliament to be “cautious”. Hume did not have to overtly oppose an equal age of consent for gay men. His condemnation of homosexual acts and his failure to come out in favour of equality at 16 were, by default, an endorsement of discrimination.

This stance is symptomatic of the Catholic Church’s support for a wide range of legislation in this country which renders lesbians and gay men second class citizens. Under a “segregationist” legal system which treats us differently and unequally compared with heterosexual people, we can be denied custody of our children, sacked from work, arrested for consenting sexual relations, and refused the right to marry the person we love. All these things can be done to us, with the full sanction of the law, and with the moral approval of the Catholic bishops, for no other reason than we happen to be homosexual.

Because of prejudice, over 30 per cent of all lesbians and gay men have been beaten up by queer-bashers, according to three surveys in the early 1990’s, including one funded by the Home Office. Other research shows that one in eight lesbian and gay teenagers are thrown out of their homes by hateful parents and one in five are driven to attempt suicide.

The Catholic Church pays lip-service to opposing this victimisation, without doing a single practical thing to challenge homophobia. Instead, it requires all Catholics to learn and follow the teachings of a Catechism which, whatever its intention, gives theological succour to bigots everywhere.