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Pure and simple: hate the sin, hate the sinner

It's likely that doctrinal purity will become the most dominant hallmark of the Benedict XVI papacy. It has already been said that Church authorities will take a hard line in areas previously considered to be grey. Individual conscience will be confirmed as redundant for those who wish to live their lives with the blessing of Church authorities. Discussion in theology classes, and adult education courses, will be replaced by Catechism reading groups.

The vast majority of Catholics in countries like Australia, choosing to reject Church teaching on questions such as artificial birth control, will be shown the door. What the Church loses in numbers, it will make up for in purity, measured according to the moral and doctrinal norms of accepted orthodoxy.

This chilling scenario begs the question of how Church authorities plan to go about eliminating the said impurities. Borrow a few techniques from the Taliban perhaps. Or go back to some of the ways of the Spanish Inquisition.

Intimidation, even torture, for the sake of moral and doctrinal purity, is not as remote as we might think. Less than 20 years ago, a retired religious school teacher was heard to boast that, in the good old days, he would send a few of his favourite students out to "rough-up" certain known homosexuals, in order to "teach them a lesson". Apparently low-level violence was the only language the homosexuals understood. US military personnel in Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and elsewhere, would understand about the need for such means of persuasion.

If that sounds far-fetched, consider the holier-than-thou ostracism more commonly inflicted upon gays, unmarried mothers, or those simply "living in sin". What it's like to be on the receiving end of a razor blade stare from some sinless doctrinal purist, as you're returning to your pew after receiving communion.

Last week, Online Catholics reported that Brisbane Catholic activist Tony Robertson had written to the Australian Bishops on Tuesday 17 May, the first International Day Against Homophobia. He challenged them to confront the "culture of homophobia" in the Church, which he said has become "a culture of death for too many young people in our Church and Australian community".

Robertson was speaking in general terms, and imbuing John Paul II's now famous "culture of death" epithet with a new layer of meaning. This was evidenced, literally, on Monday last week, when the ABC's Four Corners drew attention to the problem of homophobia in Catholic schools. It screened an investigation into the case of two former students from the south-west Sydney Marist Brothers' boarding school, St Gregory's College, Campbelltown. The two were implicated in the gay hate murder of a homosexual teacher from another school, while the boys were in Year 11 at the College, 15 years ago. One is now serving a prison sentence, while the other committed suicide after being acquitted in dubious circumstances.

St Gregory's teacher Mario Ghezzi reflected on how important it is for school authorities to give positive leadership on this issue: "I teach 16-year-old boys. I know what they're like, and I know how much potential they have but also how incomplete they are, and the many paths, the many different choices they make and how confusing that is."

There is no doubt that the culture of homophobia exists in the Catholic Church. But Church leaders act as if it did not exist, and arguably foster homophobia, though their silence, and not acting to provide the clarity that Ghezzi says is needed. It is undeniably a human rights issue, all about depriving individuals of their human dignity. Yet the Bishops - and the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council - have never touched it. It's all very well for the Church to promote its "hate the sin, love the sinner" teaching on homosexuality. But its lack of action on homophobia would suggest that, in practice, it's more often "hate the sin, hate the sinner".

It seems that this state of affairs is allowed to occur because the implementation of an unthinking doctrinal purity is simply incompatible with core Gospel values. We can look forward to a re-writing of the Scripture accounts where Mary Magdalene is feted by Jesus, to have her receive the cold shoulder instead.

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