I cannot bring myself to accept this person was great. He ensured the Catholic Church would not accept homosexuality, that contraception would remain banned and under his leadership the Church actually fought efforts to encourage people in third world to use condoms to prevent HIV.
This Pope returned to the ideals of past. How many people have been beaten up, bashed and even killed because of the church's "war" on homosexuals? This war even led to a recent case where a Catholic Church refused to hold a funeral for a man that died with AIDS. They apologized too late, the harm was done.
In 1985 I had a very dear friend, aboriginal and Catholic in Williams Lake. He left town when he was old enough and went to Vancouver, became a hairdresser and in his 30's returned to Williams Lake.
We remained good buddies for years and then he stopped communicating with me. It was two years before I heard of him again. His sister called me to say he was in St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, a Catholic hospital. She said he was dying and could I come see him.
I got there three days later and found him in a sterile room, all alone. He looked nothing like the man I knew. He was dying due to the AIDS virus. He had not shaved for days as he had no strength, the nurses would not help him with this task, as it was "unsafe". They all approached him with masks and gloves.
I stayed with him for the weekend, we talked about nothing and everything. He loved the touch of my hand on his face, I sat behind him and held him close. Intimacy in a sterile ward.
I asked him if the Catholic Church would give him a funeral and he said they would. I wanted to know if he was comfortable with a Catholic funeral. His response was wise. "The funeral is not for me, it is for my family, the church will say I was one of god's children."
"Even if they know you are gay?" I asked. "They won't mention that," he said, "they won't say I was a good person."I shaved him twice that weekend once when after I arrived and just before I left on the Sunday to catch my plane home. We must have had thirty cups of tea, I wheeled him out to the hospital garden, he had not been outside in eight weeks. We would sit out there, him wrapped head to toe in blankets often saying nothing, drinking our tea. I would have to hold the tea up for him, gently tipping it to his mouth.
Before I left I told him I would be back in two weeks, he asked if I could write him, "tell me about the guys you meet, about the people you talk to, remind me what life is."
I made several trips to Vancouver from Williams Lake before he came home having recovered enough to walk short distances. He lived at his Grandmother's place, a small but cozy house on the edge of town. We talked about his place with god. He was a believer and felt that the Catholic Church would still send him to god.
We had more tea, I helped with his garden. We enjoyed the petunias and the rose bush he had planted many years before. We had long conversations, some silently, not a word spoken.
He never lashed out against the church or the Pope for condemning his homosexuality. "They will change, it takes time." He then asked me to remember him, remember the person he was, "I know you will be there for many like me, I know you will change laws, but remember you can't just change the laws, you need love and patience to succeed, it takes time, tell them at my funeral who I was."He died four months after returning to Williams Lake. I attended his funeral, many others did, he had a big family. The service was my first in a Catholic church that I could remember. It was a closed casket, which I thought odd given most aboriginal catholic funerals I had heard were open.
The priest did as my friend had said he would. There were prayers, some bible readings and they said he died of cancer and sent him off to god. The priest asked if anyone had anything to say, I knew I had to say something, I was scared and sat back. There was a long silence, I was willing someone else to stand up first, it seemed like a long time. When I stood I knew that many there would not want hear what I had to say.
No one spoke, no one got up. It was unpleasant space. The Priest started "seeing as no one..." I jumped up, my stomach in my mouth, shouting way too loud, "I have something to say!"The priest nodded and it took me a minute to get going. I had practiced this before hand. I was open about being gay but not many really knew. I would be outing myself in the middle of "God's house" the people that condemn me, Cliff, us.
I don't recall all that I said, I know I said Cliff was a good person, he helped others. I do recall the end, shaking so bad I was holding onto my seat I concluded, " Cliff was a friend, he was a gay man like me, he did not die of just cancer, he had AIDS." The church got very cold for me at that last moment. I could feel people thoughts hammering me to sit down.
“Cliff was gay and I want to thank you for sending him to god. He knew god and you should know many gay people know god.” I sat down, shaking much worse.That was the beginning of my serious efforts to bring change, I did go onto contribute to changing the laws and I remembered Cliff's words. "You can't just change laws, you must have love and patience."
The patience is hard, being charitable to those in power that condemn you is not easy and sometimes not possible. Too many gay people are being hurt by religion. Many have died due to the Church’s teaching. Many have been denied their soul.
I cannot speak of the Pope today as a great man. To me he was the CEO of a big business. As any CEO does he did some things I thought good. In the end it comes to the reality faced by gay people everywhere. The Pope condemned us, rallied people like Bishop Henry to fight against gay rights, to say our relationships are unworthy of recognition.
I know Cliff we likely frown a bit when he reads this, he will understand though.