The late great Ricardo Montalbán (above) once said that he believed all good villains do villainous things, but think that they are acting for the ‘right’ reasons. It was with this thought in mind – and others more frustrated – that I considered my meeting with Joseph Ratzinger; the then Pope Benedict XVI.
D― had approached me, appealing to my ego, telling me I was wasting my talent, that he was whoring his: “Let’s make something fantastic,” he said, “then get people to give us money to make more.”
D― is a talented animator, but as an Eastern European his accent is more suited to unflinching honesty and bank robbery; he suggested a mutually beneficial collaboration: I would have a reason not to kill myself and he would have an avenue to create art under his own terms. Either way, we’d both be the masters of our own destiny; or so we thought.
As I’ve mentioned before, my secondary school was Roman Catholic. Despite endless masses, services and assemblies, I knew as much of the Church as a dog hit on the nose with a newspaper understands current affairs. I dived into research, much to the chagrin of D―. He saw the effect the ups and downs of interpreting scripture were having on me; he told me off for veering away from the comedy, saying that he wanted to make people laugh, not cry.
We’d agreed on a format; it was to be a spoof interview picking apart the arguments of the Vatican versus a current hot potato. I said that I wanted to do gays, and after the childish laughter had subsided we agreed to tackle the contention of gay marriage. The problem was that the more I read, watched and listened, the more I saw this was not a simple matter of a homosexual bubble unaffected and unaffecting – this wasn’t a simple matter of civil rights, it struck at the core of why faith guides social policy.
Finally the time came to speak to His Holiness. Unfortunately there was a problem with my cassette recording; only my questions are audible and even at high volume there are only psychically troubling howls where the Pope’s responses should be; so I have transcribed as best I can from memory. I shared early research and collation of data with D― but he was unimpressed; expecting more though never showing his impatience.
The weeks became months and the months became years and still I had little to show for my promises. Then Ratzinger quit the papacy and gay marriage began to gain a foothold. With a casual glance the new Pope seemed progressive, but I knew I still had to share the conversation I’d had.
Eventually I heard that D― had begun negotiations with investors. At first I thought he’d realised I was too unstable and antagonistic for a Kickstarter campaign – after all, I was spiraling out of control on a binge of Glasgow Special and painkillers – and then I tried spending time in church but the energy was too much for me and it forced me back onto the street, poisoned red with sweat.
It was then that I realised that they’d got to D― they’d threatened him with something, his family perhaps; else he’d been forced to look on something unimaginable.
I have to get this out as quickly as possible. For what it is, the transcription of my conversation with Ratzinger, as I remember it, follows.
For those adverse to reading, I’ve recorded this.
It must be coming on two, maybe three years now since I met Joseph Ratzinger. Back then though, people were still calling him Pope Benedict XVI.
The atmosphere was dry and stilted at first, but it was when the conversation turned to same-sex marriage that Ratzinger became particularly animated.
“Gay marriage is a threat to the traditional family unit that undermines the future of humanity itself,” he told me, “Marriage is central to the stability and health of human society. It is an expression of our fundamental humanity.”
“Does the Vatican not say that an HIV positive man is forbidden from using a condom?” I asked, “Does the death of this man’s wife not threaten the future of humanity itself?!
“We live in a world where children are born with HIV because you forbid the use of contraception. As the spiritual leader of more than a billion Catholics, do you not think you have a moral obligation―”
“Condoms spread aids, Mr Parlett. Contraception is murder.”
Ratzinger went on to explain Ephesians 5:31, how Eve coming from Adam is the very foundation of marriage; two becoming flesh as guardians of the next generation. I took out my hip flask and had a healthy swig.
“Love is creative of life,” he said, “like God’s love.”
“But there are passages in your filthy tome,” I said to him, holding up my Bible, “that are used to deny not only the love between two people of the same sex but also rights equal to their fellow man.”
He screwed up his nose, “If a pig is born in a stable, does that make him a horse? If you accept the fudge packer, where is their incentive to change? If they can marry then what’s to stop anyone marrying their pets?”
I was flabbergasted, “Holy Father,” I said, the title bitter in my mouth, “nobody is talking about walking down the aisle with their budgerigar.”
“Redefining marriage is not progress,” he explained, “it is an aberration that will shame the Church. Gay marriage is grotesque. Your ‘Civil Partnerships’ afford pillow biters all the same rights as marriage.”
“Perhaps,” I said, and then I told him how the other day I was talking with a lovely homosexual at a party who’d said he didn’t want gay marriage – he wanted Marriage; and I hugged him, because that just really moved me. “What about the countries that don’t have our civil rights,” I demanded, “the Church needs to lead by example. We need to look at this matter globally, because gay love isn’t just a lifestyle choice, or a symbol of western decadence.
“What about mixed race couples? When they were forbidden to marry do you think they felt accepted, Your Holiness? It wasn’t until 1967 that honest white Americans could marry the Negro―”
Ratzinger cut in: “This is about marriage, not equality. It is a fundamental pillar of civilisation that you can’t equate to civil rights; if you give faggots these rights then whores and thieves will expect the same.”
“Those same arguments were once used against mixed-race marriage,” I said, “and think further back to your other laws that enabled injustice towards women, slavery and the persecution of Jews; the inquisition, crusades and forced conversion.”
“Violence was committed in the service of the truth,” he explained, “but we apologised for all that in 2000.”
Unbelievable. “Holy Father, tens of thousands of homosexuals died in Nazi concentration camps and the Church was silent. When something is preached as official doctrine, who knows what may happen. Antisemitism was, up until 1964. I wonder if that affected the young Hitler, growing up.”
“Look,” said Ratzinger, “the state must regulate marriage for the good of civilisation, for the family is the building block of society. Jesus teaches us that marriage is a union between man and woman; this is a natural and evident law. If you redefine marriage then you’ll be redefining children and then the family will die.”
“You’ve redefined it before,” I said; “Gone are the days when I could buy a man’s daughter for three goats and a cow.”
“You speak of another time, Mr Parlett. Christ is the new covenant and his sacrifice put an end to Old Testament law.”
“How convenient,” I muttered.
“The fact remains,” he continued, “that to teach children that they have an inalienable right to be bent is to cheat them of a sound start in life. You show them that it is not an abomination, that it is an acceptable characteristic then you encourage such deviant behaviour. Poofters cannot have children and thus cannot be married.”
“What about straight couples who can’t have children? Should they not be forbidden from marrying because childbirth is impossible? What about gay adoption?”
“Sodomites should not be allowed to raise children, you are raping the innocence of the child, a child needs a mother and a father. Any education to the contrary amounts to sexual abuse.”
“That’s a bit rich, Your Holiness,” I said, “The Vatican’s more concerned with dealing with the fallout of child sex allegations than protecting children. The Criminal Solicitations policy of 1962: let’s move the abusers to a different parish and threaten anyone who talks about it with excommunication. The victims of Catholic priests continue to live in guilt and shame, yet your Church doesn’t even release the names of the credibly accused.
“But we’re getting off-topic here. Why should we feel constantly guilty for being the way He made us?!” I asked, “As we’re created in his image then it seems to me that God has some issues with self loathing that He’s taking out on the rest of us!”
“You are projecting human characteristics―”
“You’re right,” I agreed, “I’m projecting humanity on something by definition inhuman.”
Ratzinger shook his head, “Homosexuality is simply a culture. It is not inborn or innate. It is an addiction, a radical perversion, a choice; and one against the teachings of God, which undermines the family, threatens human dignity and the future of humanity itself.”
“Homosexuality is scientifically shown to be genetic;” I said, “it is not a choice or a madness.”
“Not a madness, Mr Parlett: a sickness, and one as dangerous and contagious as smallpox. If homosexuality is genetic then it is merely a birth defect, like a cleft palette or spina bifida – there is no such thing as a gay gene; many reformed queers go on to lead healthy, normal lives.
Ratzinger leaned forward and narrowed his eyes, “The unchaste homosexual asks for the justice of equality but gay marriage is an impossibility by its very nature. These faggots are oriented to an intrinsic moral evil. It is a disorder and one that we find abhorrent.”
Taken aback by his candour, I managed, “Does the Bible not say: Judge not lest je be judged, Your Holiness?”
He told me that using only Matthew 7.1 made me guilty of the very cherry picking my kind accused of the faithful, “John 7:24: Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment. We do not judge,” he said, “We humbly follow the word of the Lord our God.
“Butt pirates need to be treated with the compassion and understanding that their condition deserves but redefining marriage is something man cannot do. We hate the sin, Mr Parlett, not the sinner. We don’t hate them – God hates them.
“The gay might not realise but he is awaiting the arrival of the Holy Spirit into his heart; much as the Native Americans awaited the arrival of the Conquistadors.”
I was beside myself, “Your Holiness,” I said, “it is a crime to be gay in 81 countries and seven of those will kill you for the pleasure. So tell me why, in 2008, did you oppose a UN resolution to decriminalise homosexuality?
“Why in 2012 did you bless Rebecca Kadaga, the Ugandan parliamentary speaker who promised the death penalty for gays as a Christmas present for the Ugandan people?”
“Gods perfect plan for sexuality is heterosexuality,” he said, “Fag relations are outside God’s will.” And then we were suddenly back in the playground. He said I was obviously a cocksucker.
“You don’t need to be of something to be for it,” I told him, “I just don’t like bullies; plus, if we don’t support equality for all, then we have no right to complain as our freedoms are gradually chipped away.”
“A fag-hag, then,” conceded Ratzinger.
“How can you not believe that true love transcends the constraints of your doctrine, when religious scripture is responsible for so much pain in the world? Here you have a chance, a real opportunity, to accept people who simply think a little pinker than you.”
I said he should bless true love wherever such love is found; but he just came back with, “You are asking us to go against the immutable word of God, Mr Parlett.”
“The Bible?!” I laughed, “Admittedly, yes, once an aid to survival when seed was valuable and not to be wasted in bum-holes; when morals, ethics and empathy came second to keeping your family alive; when it was necessary for the savvy to invent a deity to keep the wicked from their crops and daughters under pain of damnation; but it was cobbled together by greedy primitives with their own religious agendas, then used to legitimise slavery and bigamy, murder and hate.
“The Bible forbids cross-faith and interracial marriage yet it sanctions rape and blood sacrifice. Your amoral, loathsome collection of hearsay contains some 439 contradictions yet despite many parallels with older religions, Hinduism is the oldest still practiced; beating Christianity by 1500 years―”
“Then who’s to say what is right or wrong?” cried Ratzinger, “Would a murderer pass a law against murder? Without scripture there is no morality! You wish to force the will of a sexual minority on a religious majority!”
I laughed: “Using the Bible to teach children morality is like teaching them about sex using Bukkake videos. Biblical marriage could be between siblings or the rapist and his victim. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines.
“Jesus had nothing to say about the evils of homosexuality; although for all we know he could have been a raving homophobe and the accounts were lost since the gospels were written half a century after his death – an event even these carefully chosen accounts can’t agree on. Written in a foreign tongue, in another country; there is no claim that they are eye witness testimonies or even written by Matthew, Mark, Luke or John – these headings were added a century later. There’s not a court in the land that evidence this shaky would stand up in!”
Ratzinger fixed me with a glare, “The Bible was written under the influence of the Holy Spirit therefore the books of scripture are the true word of God. The Bible tells us it is the word of God and every word of it is true because it says so and that must be true because the Bible is the word of God.”
“The Word of God? So how come He waited until the New Testament to say anything against Lesbians? Was that because he just couldn’t tear his eyes away? ‘Well I know it’s wrong, but Jesus Christ!’”
I continued, despite this, “Your Holiness. I recently met a sprightly young half-Spaniard who, once safely in my bed, confessed to it being her time of the month. I reassured her that that sort of thing doesn’t bother me and… well, Leviticus – as well as condemning homosexuals to death – demands both myself and that delightful senorita be sent into exile for exposing the source of her flow.”
“You took a woman to bed?!” Ratzinger looked surprised, “We thought you were a turd burglar.”
“You’re not the first,” I told him, “Look, the only thing the Church should concern itself with getting straight is its priorities; religious conflict, famine and overpopulation, child rape – these are the genuine threats to humanity you should be concerned with. Answer me this, Holy Father: Is it true there’s nothing quite like Priest ejaculate to wash away original sin?”
Ratzinger pursed his lips, “We should be careful of how we judge people that came before us, for we know not how we will be judged by those that come after us. Some Christians fell into error and yet it is an integral part of our church that it be made up of saints and sinners.”
“How telling, Holy Father, that you appear more concerned with the reputation of the Church than the well-being of innocent children.”
“Mr Parlett, while these victims need the most loving pastoral care, we must relativise these present day scandals. The Lord sat at the table with sinners and this is the essence of the Church. The Prince of the Apostles, St Peter, was a great sinner but it was Peter, the sinner, that the Lord wanted as the rock of the Church. The Lord said that from the fields of the Church there would be not only wheat, but also chaff.”
“So God likes child molesters because they make him feel needed? Because He wants to change them? God sounds like a woman to me.”
“We must accept the temptation of human beings are also there for the priest.”
“You’re covering up for sadistic predators.”
“We have expressed our deepest sorrow,” he said, without an ounce of sincerity, “but the validity of our moral teachings in the last 50 years – saying that what is average is permitted – has allowed this debasement of morality. The fault lies with butt pirates being welcomed into the Church!”
“I pray that your God exists;” I said, calm as I could muster, “I pray that your hell is a real place; because my belief is as strong as yours, that the wicked will be punished, and I believe that abusers and enablers like you will roast like Sunday ham.”
“The Lord is not an idea,” snorted Ratzinger, “We have the deepest friendship with Him, we know Him personally. Faith is a matter of reality, not possibilities; if we are in contact with the Lord and close to Him then we can deny these temptations. These scandals show a weakness of faith.”
I took a long drink, “Why should I praise a god who doesn’t lift a finger to help molested children; whose guy – and you are God’s guy, right? – offers only perfunctory apologies? If you need a guidebook to tell you hurting people is wrong then you shouldn’t be making decisions for the rest of us!
“This God you speak of, whose bigotry you preach, is no God that I recognise and none that I have seen any proof of aside from the hallucinations, delusions and willful hypnotism of the faithful. More evil has been done in the name of God than the devil could ever have imagined in his wildest dreams.”
“What do you want me to say, Mr Parlett? That you proles are too dangerous and dumb to exist without fear? That we need to trick you with the afterlife scam so you’ll keep us rich and powerful? Don’t be absurd.
“Objective morality cannot exist without God and objective morals do exist, therefore God exists. Without a personal relationship with God then life has no purpose. For those who believe, no proof is necessary; for those who don’t believe, no proof is possible.”
“Horseshit,” I spat back at his extraordinary claims, “Morality evolves and reason guides us. If you can’t prove your God exists then the burden of proof rests with you! Besides, objective morality is observably make-believe – just open a history book or watch the news.”
“Billions of people all over the world live by religions message of hope and salvation not your asinine quasi-intellectual arrogance. If you despise our beliefs so, why would you wish for bum bandits to stand in front of almighty God and pledge their lives?”
“I don’t despise your beliefs any more than I despise a toddler pretending to be an aeroplane; but if that toddler were to leap off a building then that’s when we have to admit that unshakable belief can be very, very dangerous.
“God has no place in the laws of any country. If the religions of this world are dictating how we must live our lives then I have to look at them and see what gives them this authority. I did not vote for the heads of any religion, and regardless of the existence of any divine creator, with all evidence pointing to your word of God being no more than the tall tales of ignorant sociopaths, why should I let their doctrine dictate the laws that my fellow man and I must live under?”
“If God does not exist, Mr Parlett, then life has no purpose. Biblical theism gives us a reason for living; it gives us immortality.”
I felt like I was getting nowhere, so I had another nip from the flask, “How would you respond, Your Holiness, to claims that Religion is a paranoid psychosis, a pox, a blight on humanity, a superstition to give hope to early people who took faith in the absence of knowledge, when it is human nature to try to make sense of the world?”
Rather than being offended, Ratzinger appeared tired of my reasoning; as if he felt he’d refuted better attacks a thousand times before.
“The people of religion,” I doggedly continued, “understanding their control, have hidden behind their faith and murdered and mutilated in the name of their gods. They’ve subjugated the great minds that had tried to further our species and subverted their great discoveries; and yet despite our slow assent out of those dark ages you would have us wallow in this quagmire of intolerance.”
“Mr Parlett, if we hide behind our faith then you hide behind your intolerance and hatred of faith.”
“Not at all. While faith helps millions, it is still a superstition no more real than a daily horoscope or wearing lucky underwear to a date. The love two men feel for each other post coitus, as they snuggle and their santorum pools together on the sheets, now that―”
“Love is intangible,” screamed Ratzinger, “how can you measure, or prove, love?”
“By that look in a chap’s eyes as he stares up at me like he knows I like him yet he’s still struggling to get my final inches into his throat because he’s convinced that if he does so I’ll love him,” I replied, with the briefest of winks.
“At least the crusaders and fundamentalists do not lack the courage of their convictions. They do not cherry pick the parts of scripture and only ‘reinterpret’ the morally heinous acts their holy books demand when contemporary ideals of fairness and decency contradicts them.
“Of course you’re welcome to the comfort your beliefs bring you – far be it for me to deny you your crutch – and it would be wrong of me to attack anyone on the basis of their faith, but the problem is it that your faith isn’t minding its own business, is it? It’s sticking its grubby little nose in on what everyone else is doing.”
Ratzinger was fuming, “For those who listen, God becomes a personal reality in their lives. You don’t even appear to understand the sincerity of faith!”
“Look, I’m hardly feeding you to the lions here; I’m merely pointing out the fallacies of your arguments. It is your agenda that seeks to dehumanise a large portion of the population.”
I took a drink and, not thinking, offered the flask to Ratzinger; “No thank you,” he said, “I know where that mouth’s been.”
“Your Holiness,” I countered, ignoring his implication, “There are hundreds of billions of stars in our galaxy and a great many of these have orbiting planets. We can detect hundreds of billions of galaxies in the observable universe, all from our own rock, spinning in this beautiful expanse.
“And yet you would have us believe that a book collated from passages begun in the bronze age and written over a period of 1500 years, give or take, by 40 different evolved emotional primates is beyond any shadow of a doubt, the bona fide, honest to goodness word of the one true God, Yahweh, and not one of the thousand or so other gods we have conjured up to make sense of the wonder of the universe around us?
I held up my Bible again, ever the drama queen: “Why is this wicked book dictating the way we live and die?”
“Well at least our God does not demand infants have their genitals mutilated.”
“Well I guess that’s more a question of aesthetics with him though. I mean, who would want to abuse a child with genital scaring.”
Ratzinger shot me a disgusted look but chose not to rise to the bait, “We are not one of these evangelical American nitwits. We know evolution is more than just a hypothesis – God created the conditions for it! Vatican astronomers understand the vastness of the universe; we have made public our belief that life could have evolved on other planets – the extraterrestrial is our brother―”
“Evolved?! And do you think He left them alone too for 250,000 years before providing an instruction manual? You held back science in the dark ages and you continue to cripple the advancement of the human race. And don’t try to sound progressive for admitting to something you had Giordano Bruno burnt for in 1600. After all, it took you 350 years to apologise for locking up Galileo, 23 years after mankind stood on the moon and observed the Earth and the Sun with its own eyes.”
“You fool. Galileo was challenging the scientific paradigm of the time but he himself was standing on the shoulders of Copernicus and Kepler. Pope Urban VIII actually encouraged the writing of his book and took offence only at his insolent manners.”
“Be that as it may,” I sulked, “heaven sounds like it’s going to be terrifying place, don’t you think? We walk through the pearly gates and there’s Giger’s Alien and a whole bunch of Greys with anal probes”
“If they were baptised―” began Ratzinger, but I cut him off.
“My grandmother outlived two husbands before she passed away. Who is she with up there? Is she the meat in a husband sandwich? I’d love to see her again, especially if Jesus cures her Alzheimer’s; it’d be lovely to know that we’re immortal, but I can’t believe it without evidence. I’m not going to base what may well be a fleeting fortunate glimpse of existence on a rock falling through a staggeringly huge cosmos on a belief in a divine creator that has far more interest in where I put my penis than starving families, child abuse and genocide.”
“You don’t believe in heaven? Then you don’t wish to see your loved ones again? Is it not the most heartless and callous act to dismiss grief and be as bloody minded as to say: your grandmother is not with the angels and everything she ever was has been snuffed out?”
“Perhaps, but how far do we go with comforting fictions? We tend to grow out of teeth under the pillow, a stocking at the end of the bed and monsters in the closet. Until fairly recently the Church stood behind the invention of limbo for babies that died without being baptised – you are not one to talk of the grief of a parent.”
I’d had enough and my flask was empty; a plan of action occurred to me, “To hell with this,” I said, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to make an example of you,” I stood up and began slowly walking around the table, “You must atone for your sins, Holy Father.”
“Wh… What are you doing?” Ratzingers head darted about nervously.
“The just God you maintain exists would not allow the evils that are conducted in his name. Therefore, I maintain your God to be a superstition of the worst kind; your religion is evil because it makes good people do bad things in the sincere belief that they are good,” I said this, unbuckling my belt, “It makes fools of us all.”
“In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti,” I said, pulling out my rapidly engorging semi and grabbing Ratzinger by the throat, “Don’t worry, Your Holiness, it is not what enters the mouth but what comes out that is unclean.”
The Supreme Pontiff howled and twisted as I―
Well, I think it’s best I conclude this account here, don’t you?