I think of myself when I was young, an impressionable teenager searching for that role model we all seek out during those important years. I never turned to religion. It was a part of me, but theology and my faith didn't define me.
For whatever reason, it never bothered me as much as it should have -- as much as it does now, to hear my rabbinics teachers rail against the ills of homosexuality and the person I realized I was. I guess I knew I didn't want to be like them. They could have their thoughts and I could have mine.
But I know not everyone grew up the way I did.
So I think what it would have been like for my 14-year-old self, when I started to discover that I didn't really like girls in that way. Navigating a maze of confusion that no 14-year-old needs, I imagine the added hardship of sitting in church, one of the pillars of my life (confession, I'm Jewish), listening to that priest, to the father, or papa, as they call the pope in Italian.
What would it have done to me to hear my papa talk of my newfound identity as "manipulation of nature," as this Pope has done? A chorus of "amens" as punishing as a judge's gavel at the conclusion of rendering a guilty verdict.
This past December, in one of his most important speeches of the year, Pope Benedict reiterated his belief that the quest for same-sex marriage destroys the very "essence of the human creature." How many hidden wounds did those words tear open? Scars forever under the surface.
The means may have changed, but the abuse is still there. The assault on the dignity of the person is something that this Pope never saw fit to stop -- not while Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith when it came to thoroughly investigating the incidents of sex-abuse, and not after he became pope, when it came to halting his offensive, public demonization of gays.
I have no stake in the success of the Catholic Church. I wish its followers joy and meaning, and if their religion is their means, then please, go ahead.
But I do have a stake in the coming generation of young people, boys and girls, men and women, being able to grow up without thinking that because their hearts and minds are leading them down a path different from those around them that they are any less deserving of love and acceptance. We are our brothers' keepers and we cannot tolerate gay youth, or gay adults for that matter, thinking that they are anything less than beautiful.
Religion is in a tough spot. The creeping power of secularism, our obsessions with self-indulgence, and new quests for how we nurture our souls have more than chipped away at its place in our world. So it has to claw back, and pick its battles.
Can we not agree, however, that in this enlightened era, when the basic rights and dignity of each individual cannot be up for discussion, that a dogma that actively seeks to employ a hierarchy of being as one of the ways it insulates and distinguishes itself from the changing world around it is more a relic of the past than a path to the future?
Let me pause and say that yes, I know that no religion can lay claim to being a beacon of tolerance for gays and lesbians.
But while rabbis all over the Jewish world, and Conservative and Reform Judaism, strive to reconcile our faith with our morality, and build a more inclusive religion, this pope made one of his battles, his last stands, against the person who, by virtue of his sexuality, seeks to "create oneself" and is therefore "stripped of his dignity as a creature of God."
Thankfully, sentiments within Catholic communities are proving to be more tolerant and enlightened when it comes to gays than they are within the Church hierarchy. We can only hope that those are the voices reaching gay and lesbian Catholic youth.
My 14-year-old self made it out okay. Too many others do not, and some never heal. That may or may not change. Their fate may lie with their new Papa, and we can only hope he gets it right.
Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, splashes holy water during his visit to the Church of the Nativity in the biblical West Bank town of Bethlehem on February 27, 2008. AFP PHOTO/MUSA AL-SHAER (Photo credit should read MUSA AL-SHAER/AFP/Getty Images)
TRIER, GERMANY - APRIL 13: Cardinal Marc Ouellet holds a mass in celebration of The Pilgrimage of the Holy Robe at the Cathedral of St Peter on April 13, 2012 in Trier, Germany. The Pilgrimage of the Holy Robe runs from April 13 to May 13, during which hundreds of thousands pilgrims are expected to view the Holy Robe. The robe, said to have been worn by Jesus Christ leading up to his crucifixion, is housed by the cathedral and rarely displayed for public viewing. (Photo by Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images)
The President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi poses during the presentation of Pope Benedict XVI's new book 'Childhood of Jesus' to the press on November 20, 2012 at the Vatican. “Childhood of Jesus” is the third volume of Joseph Ratzinger's 'Jesus of Nazareth' series. AFP PHOTO / ANDREAS SOLARO (Photo credit should read ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images)
Vatican State Secretary Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (L) and the archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Angelo Scola chat at La Scala theatre in Milan on June 1, 2012 during the 7th World Meeting of Families. Benedict attended a concert at the prestigious Scala opera house to hear Beethoven's Ninth Symphony conducted by Daniel Barenboim. AFP PHOTO / POOL / DANIEL DAL ZENNARO (Photo credit should read DANIEL DAL ZENNARO/AFP/GettyImages)
President of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue of the Vatican City Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran (C) pay his respects at the Golden Temple Sikh Shrine in Amritsar on November 11, 2011. Tauran along with four members visited the city to attend a religious seminary on Sikhism and Christians to be held at Guru Nanak Dev University in Amritsar on November 12. AFP PHOTO/NARINDER NANU (Photo credit should read NARINDER NANU/AFP/Getty Images)
Pope Benedict XVI talks with Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, president of CEI (Italian Bishops' Conference), during an audience with the Curia for Christmas greetings, in the Sala Clementina of the Apostolic Palace, in Vatican City, Thursday, Dec. 22, 2011. The Pope met with Cardinals and members of the Roman Curia for an exchange of greetings ahead of the year end festivities. (AP Photo/Claudio Peri, Pool)
New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan speaks to the press in his residence, Monday, Feb. 11, 2013. Dolan says he was as startled as the rest of the world about Pope Benedict XVI's announcement that he will resign later this month due to failing health. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines takes place for an audience with the pontif on November 26, 2012 at Paul VI hall at the Vatican. Pope Benedict XVI led an audience to the six non-European prelates appointed two-days ago as new members of the College of Cardinals. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, right, arrives for a meeting, at the Vatican, Monday, March 4, 2013. Cardinals from around the world have gathered inside the Vatican for their first round of meetings before the conclave to elect the next pope, amid scandals inside and out of the Vatican and the continued reverberations of Benedict XVI's decision to retire. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini) CORRECTION: An earlier photo incorrectly identified Bernard Cardinal Agre, the Archbishop Emeritus of Cote D'Ivoire as Cardinal Arinze
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