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January 17, 2008


The following Letter from Rome was written exclusively for this blog by DIRELAND's RomeJudy_harris  correspondent, Judy Harris (right), a veteran ex-pat journalist who used to write from Italy for TIME magazine and the Wall Street Journal, and now writes for ArtNews. Judy is the author of the recently-published book, Pompeii Awakened: A Story of Rediscovery.

ROME – This is one of those sad tales where everyone got it wrong, and no one knows how to put Humpty-Dumpty back up on his wall. The Hon. Luigi Berlinguer (right), 75-year-old ex-Luigi_berlinguer Communist party member, former Minister for Universities, may have said it best: “Too many fundamentalists in circulation.” He was referring to the Unfortunate Incident of the Papal Speech That Will Not Take Place Thursday, Jan. 17, at Rome's La Sapienza University, cancelled by the pontiff after a group of noisy professors and rowdy students pronounced his presence unwelcome.

It began innocuously enough: the academic year in Italy Benedict_xvi_head traditionally opens in January with the university president and a babble of dons presiding over a ceremony in the campus. This year Pope Benedict XVI (left) was invited as guest speaker, but then sixty professors wrote a hostile letter calling his presence “incongruous” and “humiliating.” Their justification: a speech which the then Cardinal Ratzinger had made at that very university 17 years ago, in which he purportedly had quoted the words of a philosopher from Austria, Paul Feyerabend, who’d termed the heresy trial of Galileo in Rome in 1633 “reasonable and fair.”

Benedict_protests(Left, student protesters wearing Pope Benedict masks demonstrate at La Sapienza University)

Since then, of course, the Church has formally apologized about Galileo, but never mind—for this minority of profs the old speech justified their not allowing the pope to speak. To underscore theGiuliano_amato_2 point, students broke into the university president’s office. Obviously the pontiff's arrival risked a small riot, and so, although the Interior Minister Giuliano Amato (right) promised a sufficient armed protection, the pontiff backed off.

This decision, however, merely fanned the flames since it suggested he was giving in to a noisy minority. So much for free speech on a university campus; Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have been tolerated at Columbia, but not the pope in Rome. The nasty backlash to the pope at Rome University did not simply reflect the events of 1633, however. Several back-stories may help to explain how this came about, not because they justify the minority of intolerant students and their ill-considered teachers, but to suggest that (1) when the Church begins to poach across the Leonine Walls, trouble results; but (2) just as many Italians welcome the poaching as resent it.

A crucial element: the notorious weakness of the Italian political establishment, with something like 38 parties represented. A new electoral bill currently in the works, in various forms emulating either the French or German way of voting, aims to reduce this thorny thicket of quarrelsome parties to seven or eight. The jockeying for new alliances is well underway, and this coming (perhaps) reshuffling of Italian politics looms as an opportunity for the Church to restore some of the political authority it had enjoyed in early postwar Italy. The flip side of that coin is that, in shaping new alliances, few politicians here can afford to be entirely Giuliano_ferrara oblivious to support from the Church. Among the odder bedfellows in this new political minuet is Giuliano Ferrara (left), the chatty-fattie media personality and editor of the conservative Il Foglio. In the 80’s Ferrara was talking about sex education on the boob tube, but since then has seen the light and has just now come out, typically noisily, against abortion.

Coincidentally, the Italian Church hierarchs, spearheaded by theCamillo_cardinal_ruini  former president of the Italian Bishops council, Camillo Cardinal Ruini (right), have launched a campaign attacking the 1978 law which made abortion legal and subsidized under the national health service. The international success of the Radical Party-promoted ban on capital punishment, ratified by the UN last month, is being interpreted by Church conservatives as the go-ahead to attack abortion, termed by born-again Ferrara the worst sort of murder, on an ethical par with the hangman’s noose or lethal injection. Unproven gossip had Ferrara being received at the Vatican by the pope himself in recent days. [For a student’s reaction in Milan to Ferrara’s position, see http://youtube.com/watch?v=zzU-ZcaATUc&feature=user]

Cardinal Ruini is also famous for his proposing a “re-reading” of thePope_john_xxiii  Vatican II Council identified with Pope John XXIII (right). In this he walks hand in hand with the present pope, whose personal re-reading has had him revive the Latin Mass and, last Sunday, say the Mass with his back to the congregation. This was a literally stunning anti-Vatican II statement, and it had the more moderate faithful and progressives in the Italian Church gasping.

Cardinal Ruini is further blamed for putting together a dossier, listing a Walter_veltroni_2 multitude of sins of the city of Rome, which he presented last week to Rome Mayor Walter Veltroni (left). The list was so unflattering, the pontiff so patently hostile to the mayor, that even Veltroni’s enemies sympathized, as did the Italian press. The next day what amounted to a Vatican retraction (“we were misunderstood”) appeared.

Finally, the Vatican has mounted opposition to every attempt to pass legislation in Italy that would permit unions among same or opposite sex couples outside the traditional family. Although Premier Romano Prodi’s campaign promises in 2006 had included the assurance that civil unions and same-sex marriage would receive legal rights, no action has taken place, partly thanks to Church pressure in Italy, and the myriad draft bills of Prodi's center-left coalition have all been put into the garbage heap. One of these draft civil union bills was called the DICO; today's version is the CUS, or Contratto di Unione Solidale. Whatever the initials, a new law seems dead in the water, fervidly opposed as it is by the Church, but supported by a vast majority of Italians (polls show support of 60% to 80% of those questioned).

As a post script, tomorrow's Osservatore Romano carries the speech the pope never made, printed in full. In it he says that "some of the things said over the course of centuries by theologians have been proven false by history." Amen to that. Today that speech will be read at the university's opening ceremony,  but both radical anti-clerical students and the faculty signatories of the letter pronouncing the pope unwelcome now vow to demonstrate against the reading of the letter. -- by Judy Harris in Rome

Read Judy's other recent  Letters from Rome for DIRELAND: "Prodi's Contradictions," February 26, 2007; "Rome's Anti-Gay Family Day," May 12, 2007; "An Agenda for Bush's Italian Visit," June 8, 2007; "Rome's Gay Kiss-in Protests Arrests," August 3, 2007; "Italy's New Left Party, Old Divisions," October 23, 2007

Posted by Direland at 07:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)

January 11, 2008


I wrote the following article for this week's Gay City News, New York City's largest gay and lesbian newspaper, which published it today:
Mike_huckabee_before_afterAnyone who thinks that Mike Huckabee (left), the most dangerous presidential candidate for the LGBT community, is out of the running because of his third-place showing in New Hampshire this week is sadly mistaken.

Unlike the Iowa Republican caucuses, where the 60 percent of the participants who were evangelical Christians gave Huckabee his first-place victory, in New Hampshire only 1 in 5 Republicans is an evangelical. But the former Southern Baptist preacher is favored to win the January 26 Republican primary in South Carolina, a state dominated by fundamentalist Christians, a crowd who defeated Senator John McCain in the presidential primary there in 2000. Among the most significant Huckabee backers in South Carolina is popular former Governor David Beasley, who oversaw an economic boom, and is actively campaigning for him there.

And in Florida's January 29 primary, the latest polls show Huckabee at second place and within margin-of-error striking distance of that state's front-runner, Rudy Giuliani.

Then it's on to Super-Duper Tuesday on February 5, in which half of the 22 states that vote are either Southern or Bible Belt.

Huckabee's campaign began with a big potential base - a much-coveted list of 71 millionRandolph_brinson  so-called "Christian voters" assembled by R. Randolph "Randy" Brinson (right), an iconoclastic social conservative doctor from Alabama who has become a Huckabee supporter, and whose up-to-date asset represents a target-rich environment for his favorite candidate.

Although he won Iowa without a penny, Huckabee has been able to raise increasing amounts of money based on his victory there. Furthermore, he is the most skilled user of television ever seen in American politics, with his seductive, neighborly charm and his rapid-fire sense of humor and spontaneous jokes.

The media have been utterly seduced by him:

"It's hard not to like Mike Huckabee," gushed Newsweek, and even the left-wing mag The Nation has said he has "real charm." Plus, his populist brand of "compassionate conservatism" goes over well with middle-class and working-class GOP voters alike.

And Huckabee's proposal to scrap the entire federal tax code and replace it with a national sales tax appeals mightily to the GOP's small-government fiscal conservatives. He is, indeed, a formidable presidential contender in a party whose core base and activist shock troops are drawn from the religious right.

But what is the Huckabee reality behind this winning facade?

Call him The Huckabasher - he once said that homosexuality was an "aberrant, unnatural, and sinful lifestyle." And anyone who doesn't think that homo-hate works as an electoral hot button should remember what happened in 2004.

James_robison Huckabee cut his eye-teeth in Christian Right politics as the PR man for the Reverend James Robison (left) of Texas, a televangelist and one of the most virulently anti-gay leaders of the Moral Majority. Then, Huckabee became a cleric of the Southern Baptist denomination, with degrees from Ouachita Baptist University and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and pastored two congregations.

He also headed up a religious television station, and largely on the strength of the visibility that gave him, became the youngest president ever of the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, the largest denomination in the state. In turn, he used that post as his springboard to the state house, first becoming lieutenant governor of Arkansas, then governor, when his predecessor, Jim Guy Tucker, was forced to resign in disgrace.

Southern Baptists like Huckabee not only accept as literally true the Biblical condemnations of homosexuality, but they have also declared that homosexuality is a "manifestation of a depraved nature and a perversion of divine standards."

Southern Baptists believe that homosexuality is caused by unhealthy relationships between children and parents and that homosexuals can change their sexual orientation. Hence, the denomination has been in the forefront of supporting and promoting the "ex-gay movement" and reparative therapy, an approach thoroughly repudiated by the psychiatric profession.

Not surprisingly, Southern Baptists also believe it is proper to discriminate against homosexuals in employment and other areas in order to protect the family and other social institutions.

Huckabee today still affirms his belief in the entire Southern Baptist credo, including its anti-gay theological fulminations. His recent TV ad in Iowa proclaimed in large letters that he is a "Christian Leader" and showed the candidate saying, "Faith doesn't just influence me - it defines me."

Even James Bopp, an attorney for Focus on the Family, wrote in the January 12 issue of  the conservative weekly National Review, "By emphasizing his qualification for office as a 'Christian leader,' the Huckabee campaign, however, has implicitly, and some of his supporters have explicitly, promoted a religious test for office."

In his speech at the "Values Voter Debate" organized by a group of Religious Right leaders last September 17, Huckabee pledged himself to a long far-right wish-list- an agenda that includes leading an effort to pass a constitutional amendment affirming marriage as "one man, one woman, for life," vetoing hate crimes legislation and the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, stripping schools of federal funding for exposing children to "homosexual propaganda," repealing IRS restrictions on churches endorsing candidates, and boosting federal abstinence spending to match contraceptive funding.

In his frequent perorations against gay marriage, Huckabee proclaims, as he told the Boston Globe last year, "Until Moses comes down with two stone tablets from Brokeback Mountain saying he's changed the rules, let's keep it like it is."

In 1997, during his first legislative session as governor, Huckabee signed one of the nation's first "defense of marriage acts" (DOMA), which banned homosexual marriage in Arkansas. He later endorsed and helped campaign for a similar state constitutional amendment in 2004, which Arkansas voters passed.

In an interview in the current issue of GQ magazine, Huckabee said that gay marriage is a threat to civilization itself and civil unions are not an acceptable alternative.

"You have to have a basic family structure," he said. "There's never been a civilization that has rewritten what marriage and family means and survived."

He also rejected civil unions for same-sex couples, calling them a "precursor to marriage," and adding, "Once the government says this relationship is in essence similar to or equal to a marriage - we're not going to call it that, but that's what it is - and you grant it the same basic rights as marriage, then you've effectively done it."

As the Associated Press reported on December 9, Huckabee "once advocated isolating AIDS patients from the general public, opposed increased federal funding in the search for a cure, and said homosexuality could 'pose a dangerous public health risk.'"

In 1992, during a US Senate bid, he wrote, "If the federal government is truly serious about doing something with the AIDS virus, we need to take steps that would isolate the carriers of this plague. It is difficult to understand the public policy towards AIDS. It is the first time in the history of civilization in which the carriers of a genuine plague have not been isolated from the general population, and in which this deadly disease for which there is no cure is being treated as a civil rights issue instead of the true health crisis it represents."

Huckabee later claimed to the AP his comments reflected uncertainties at the time about how HIV was transmitted, but the wire service pointed out that by 1992 anybody with the most casual knowledge of the virus knew you could not be infected through "casual contact."

That year, Huckabee answered 229 questions submitted to him by the AP. Besides supporting quarantine, Huckabee suggested that Hollywood celebrities - rather than federal health agencies - fund AIDS research from their own pockets.

Mike_huckabee_all_flag_2 As governor (left), Huckabee supported a state ban on gay couples becoming foster parents. Arkansas is one of only three states with legislation of this kind still on the books. When the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law in 2006, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that Huckabee questioned the intentions of the gay couple serving as plaintiffs in the case.

"Was the purpose for their filing suit because they felt very, very compelled to become foster parents or because the ACLU used them as the vehicle to make a political point in the court?" Huckabee asked.

Although Huckabee cleverly dances away from questions about his past theological postures that paint him as religious extremist, he uses a double language, one for the TV audience, and one for the Christers. As the Washington Post reported, as recently as January 6 Huckabee delivered a 20-minute sermon to an evangelical church in Windham, New Hampshire, on how to be part of "God's Army."

Said the presidential hopeful, "When we become believers, it's as if we have signed up to be part of God's Army, to be soldiers for Christ," And before that enthusiastic audience, Huckabee likened service to God to service in the military.

"There is suffering in the conditioning for battle," the candidate said, adding, "You obey the orders."

Don't be fooled by his recent verbal tap-dancing: Huckabee is still a dangerous, died-in-the-wool anti-gay theocrat - and he could well be the Republican nominee for president.

Posted by Direland at 12:05 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)