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The Pope’s Dangerous Sex Appeal

NEW YORK – Human sexual behavior can be perilous, as the ghastly rape of a 23-year-old woman by six men on a Delhi bus in December once again showed. After going to the cinema, she and her boyfriend were beaten, before she was brutally assaulted and attacked with an iron rod for more than an hour. Thirteen days later, she died from her wounds.

It is often claimed that rape is not really about sex, but about power. True enough. But it is not unrelated to sex. The sexual act is used as a form of torture, or even, in some cases, as a deadly weapon.

But that was not what Pope Benedict XVI had in mind when he spoke recently about the dangers of sexual behavior. In his pre-Christmas speech to the Roman Curia, the pope did not mention rape, let alone the sexual murder in Delhi. Instead, in his defense of the family – or, as he would put it, the sacred union between man and woman – he pointed out how sexual arrangements outside that union were a threat to human civilization. What he had in mind, without quite saying so, were same-sex unions.

It was a deeply confused speech. His disquisition on the dangers posed by same-sex marriage followed a passage deploring the modern tendency to avoid lifelong commitments in human relationships, as if that were not precisely what gay marriage is about. Of course, in the pope’s view, commitment in gay relationships is part of the problem: more and more people, especially in the Western world, now claim the freedom to choose their own sexual identities instead of sticking to the “natural” roles “ordained by God.”