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.