Harley J. Sims

The latest trend in comic books—gay superheroes

Harley J. Sims
By Harley Sims
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June 20, 2012 (Mercatornet.com) - DC and Marvel, the comic book publishing giants owned by Time-Warner and Disney respectively, have apparently agreed on something: June is Gay Month in the multiverse. First came DC’s unveiling of a gay Green Lantern, which followed a month-long media circus of publicity and speculation. In May, DC had announced that one of its most famous and longstanding superheroes would soon be coming out of the closet. “Could Superman be gay?” headlines blazed.

The partnership of Batman and Robin has long been subject to such innuendo—would this be the final unveiling? And of course there’s Wonder Woman, the Amazonian dominatrix no man could beat in an arm wrestle, much less sweep off her feet. As the Hollywood tattler TMZ suggests, DC’s decision to go with the Green Lantern made all the publicity into something of a shell game, since the Green Lantern is more of an intergalactic police corps than an individual, and that there are more than 7200 Green Lanterns on the roster. The Green Lantern shown kissing another man in the second issue of DC’s Earth 2, is not, in fact, the Hal Jordan most associable with the franchise, but rather a reinvented version of another man, Alan Scott (who, first introduced in 1940, was nevertheless a married father of two).

The gay Green Lantern is thus a reboot of a reboot, a reimagined figure of a reimagined DC Universe—which, as any comics fan will tell you, is actually a multiverse. The new figure is thus so far removed from the original, only Stephen Hawking could theorize introducing them to each other. As with Kate Kane, a lesbian and the current Batwoman introduced by DC with comparable hype in 2009, the figure’s peripheral status suggests a largely commercial purpose.

Not to be outdone, Marvel Comics will host its first gay marriage proposal in Astonishing X-Men #52, due out on June 20. The issue, complete with an open-cover illustration of the ceremony and all its colorful attendees, will showcase the nuptials of the Canadian superhero Northstar and his civilian partner, Kyle Jinadu.

No longer to be contented with a simple coming-out party, Marvel is able to amp up its own exhibition of gay themes because gay characters have longer standing in its universe. Though he doesn’t have the recognizability of the Green Lantern, Northstar was first introduced in 1979, and has been portrayed as being openly gay since 1992, only a couple of years after the Comics Code Authority dropped its prohibition of such content. He is foremost among a number of what one might call ‘non-heterosexual’ characters, including shapeshifting bisexuals Mystique and Hulkling, as well as at least one artificial, bio-engineered humanoid from a dimension incidentally known as Mojoworld. The character, whose name is Shatterstar, has made clear to readers that he is anatomically equipped and sexually functional. He recently shared a kiss with teammate Rictor, a bisexual mutant with the ability to generate localized earthquakes.

The fact that homosexual characters and themes have been around in superhero comics—for decades in some cases—may cause some to ask why these publications and their campaigns are happening again. Something of an answer lies in the fact that, for the most part, these characters are being treated as sociopolitical mascots rather than as fictional beings. The majority of debates about their validity concern issues of homosexuality and gay marriage in the real world. DC Comics’ vice president Bob Wayne speaks of the decision to reveal one of its heroes as being gay as evidence of an evolved perspective, echoing American president Barack Obama’s words on accepting gay marriage. This reversed a policy outlined only last year by DC co-publisher Dan Didio that any homosexual characters would be newly introduced.

Whether or not audiences accept the new Green Lantern, there is no denying that Wayne’s words—like Obama’s—are intended to insult those who disapprove. He might have spoken of one’s perspective changing, shifting, or even becoming more compassionate, but to use the language of evolution—that’s a calculated jab, doubly so if one considers Christian audiences to be their intended target.

Whether this sort of publicity is good or bad for comic sales and gay rights movements, there remains a matter that, for its complexity, is much easier to ignore. This is the matter of imagination itself—that intensely private activity that is responsible for the very existence and appeal of superheroes.

Contrary to popular belief, literature—and this includes comic books—is not simply a conduit by which authors can instil values in readers. It is instead a medium of communication whose significance, whatever the intention of the writer, is very much shaped by the existing experiences and positions of the reader. We are not slaves to what we read; a work of literature may ultimately lead to the alteration of one’s pre-existing beliefs, but this power is no more within literature itself than the power to change reality is within any single reader.

Introducing gay characters such as the new Green Lantern may not ‘turn readers gay’ as some advocates have quipped, but nor will his introduction fall upon so many empty canvases. As the froth of pop culture, superhero comics are never very substantial, and the reasons given by publishers and writers for including gay characters — that it is more like the real world, that it is current, or that it will encourage acceptance and open-mindedness — fail to respect the very humble limitations of their very humble medium. While readers of comics are geared to be alternative — comic-book worlds explore multiple realities, and one must be open-minded in the basic sense to have a good imagination — they are not without their own identities. They might, as publishers have claimed, have no problem with the Green Lantern being gay, but not because they’re taking their cues from DC.

Second, and more importantly, imagination is metaphysical. Sexuality, on the other hand, is fundamentally physical. While imagination and sexuality might cooperate in many ways, actual portrayals of sex in comic books remains an embarrassingly taboo fringe element of comics subcultures — in essence, geekiness among geeks. Erotic anime, or hentai, has its own small corner in your local comic book shop, just like pornography in a video or magazine store. Publishers of superhero comics are not blind to this segregation. They recognize that most readers of comic books would, despite their vivid imaginations, still prefer relationships with actual people.

Superhero comics will show kisses, hugs, and occasionally some nudity, but they are still in the business of saving the Earth from shapeshifting aliens, not exploring the potential Kama Sutras of multi-limbed beings. When, in the 1995 film Mallrats, Brodie (Jason Lee) pesters Stan Lee about the erotic abilities of various superheroes, it is ridiculous and pathetic. “We never really tackled stuff like that in the old days,” the comics icon replied, waving the questions away. Even today, and despite the occasional headline-grab, comics still don’t. Stan Lee later tells Brodie’s friend, “you know, I think you ought to get him some help. He seems to be really hung up on superheroes’ sex organs. But he’ll outgrow it.”

The irony is that if there is one thing the industry can truly be condemned for in all this, it is for failing to portray the diversity of the real world. For example, the Green Lantern franchise has handled gay issues before. In 2000, the series introduced Terry Berg, an openly gay seventeen year-old assistant to another version of the Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner.

When Berg was beaten into a coma by a gang of hateful thugs, even Lex Luthor condemned the attack and its motivation, suggesting it’s far worse in the DC universe to be a gaybasher than a supervillain who routinely plots the deaths of millions (gays no doubt among them). Marvel, meanwhile, has its own examples. Among the attendees of the gay wedding on the cover of Astonishing X-Men #52, the superhero Wolverine stands prominently. Hailing from northern Canada and in almost every way a stereotype of the tough-talking, hairy-chested, tanktop-wearing, beer-drinking working man, Wolverine is nevertheless fine with all this. Somehow, his adamantine claws seem more plausible. To offer dissenting perspectives from heroes or villains, even in the names of diversity and credibility, is simply too unfashionable. For those in the business of superheroism, it all seems pretty cowardly.

Harley J. Sims is a writer and independent scholar living in Ottawa, Canada. He can be reached on his website at www.harleyjsims.webs.com. Reprinted under a Creative Commons license from Mercatornet.com.

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Lisa Bourne

Catholic Relief Services: We’re ‘proud’ that we don’t discuss faith

Lisa Bourne
By Lisa Bourne

While some pro-life activists are criticizing Catholic Relief Services (CRS) after a high-ranking executive said last month that the agency is “proud” they do not discuss faith with the people they serve, CRS itself is defending the statement, saying it was misinterpreted. 

The controversy began when Bill O’Keefe, CRS’ vice-president for government relations and advocacy, told CNN’s Belief Blog, “We assist people of all backgrounds and religions and we do not attempt to engage in discussions of faith."

“We’re proud of that. We like to say that we assist everybody because we’re Catholic, we don’t assist people to become Catholic,” he added in the August 9 piece.

“We assist people of all backgrounds and religions and we do not attempt to engage in discussions of faith."

The statement drew criticism from Catholic pro-life and pro-family groups, who said the comments are another sign that the U.S. Bishops’ foreign relief agency has shed its Catholic identity and effectively operates as a secular NGO.

“How great is it that Catholic Relief Services is serving the poor and marginalized in dangerous areas of the world,” Father Shenan Boquet, president of Human Life International, told LifeSiteNews. “Yet how sad that CRS spokespeople again boast that they do not preach the Gospel love of Jesus Christ, as a matter of policy.”

“This is so radically out of line with what Pope Francis has repeatedly said,” Father Boquet added, “and is something that Pope Benedict warned against in both Deus Caritas est and Caritas in Veritate.”

“For CRS to be ‘proud’ of the fact that it doesn't evangelize may help it to get grants from the federal government," said Steven Mosher, president of Population Research Institute. "After all, such activities are specifically forbidden to federal grantees. But it is an abdication of their responsibility as Catholics - really everyone's responsibility as Catholics - to spread the Gospel."

Michael Hichborn, director of American Life League’s Defend the Faith project, agreed.

“The bottom line is that there can be no division between charity and the work of evangelism,” he said.  “But CRS just stated that it is ‘proudly’ doing just that.”

Hichborn told LifeSiteNews he believes the statement highlights the fact that for CRS social works supersede evangelization.  

But in reality, he argued, charitable works “are the loving tools by which we evangelize. Any act to divorce evangelization from works of charity neuters the Church and relegates charity to mere philanthropy. Catholic Relief Services, by their own admission, is content to feed bodies and starve souls."

CRS responds to criticisms

Paul Eagle, CRS’ communications director, suggested that O'Keefe's statement was misunderstood, telling LifeSiteNews that their work is a clear example of not proselytizing, but preaching the Gospel through works.

“We are indeed proud that we witness the Church’s mission and the call of the Gospel to care for those in need, regardless of who they are or what they believe, through the work that CRS does every day,” he said. “This is a central part of the Church’s evangelizing mission, but it does not include proselytizing or requiring that people become Catholic to receive our assistance.”

Eagle told LifeSiteNews that CRS follows St. Francis of Assisi, who has been reflected in the leadership of Pope Francis. He pointed to a famous quotation that is often attributed to St. Francis, which goes, "Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words."

“Our work is a clear example of not proselytizing, but preaching the Gospel through what we do,” Eagle said.

Eagle directed LifeSiteNews to a CRS web page which states that CRS “rejoices in” the encyclical Caritas in Veritate, and has grown in a deeper understanding of its mission through study and reflection on Benedict’s earlier encyclicals Deus Caritas Est and Spe Salvi

Eagle also pointed to the CRS initiative, “Impact Investing,” saying it contains a response to Pope Francis’ Evangelii Gaudium.

Pro-life critics cite papal support

But Father Boquet said a policy banning discussions of faith or preaching the Gospel is clearly opposed to Catholic teaching on charity.

“This is a radical departure from how the Church has always understood her essential charitable and missionary work,” he said.

He quoted Pope Francis in his first homily as pope: “We can walk as much as we want, we can build many things, but if we do not profess Jesus Christ, things go wrong. We may become a charitable NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of the Lord,” the pope said.

Pope Francis has repeated this theme several times, most recently in June of this year, said Father Boquet. At that time, “he said that the Church cannot just be a ‘well organized NGO,’ or just some institution with people who are ‘fans’ of being Catholic.”

Boquet and the other pro-life critics pointed out that several recent popes have written at length on the need for evangelization to remain at the heart of its charitable work.

“This is a radical departure from how the Church has always understood her essential charitable and missionary work."

In Evangelii Nuntiandi Pope Paul VI wrote that generous Christians are often tempted to reduce the Church’s mission to the realm of the temporal, downgrading it to be man-centered. The Holy Father said in that document that this reduction to a focus on material well-being would mean the Church would lose her fundamental meaning.

Pope Benedict XVI echoed this teaching in Deus Caritas Est, stating, "The entire activity of the Church is an expression of a love that seeks the integral good of man: it seeks his evangelization through Word and Sacrament."

In Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict cited Pope Paul VI, writing that Christian charity is “part and parcel of evangelization,” because, “Jesus Christ, who loves us, is concerned with the whole person.”

Many CRS employees not Catholic

Mosher also highlighted Pope Benedict’s motu proprio titled ‘On the Service of Charity,’ which he said “is quite clear in that the work of Catholic charities should be grounded in the Mass and the Sacraments, which implies evangelization.”

The CNN Belief Blog article also reported that CRS “doesn't even like” to be labeled missionary because of the word's association with evangelizing, stating:

Though Catholic Relief Services says it is motivated by the Gospel to embody Catholic social and moral teaching, it does not preach to the people it helps.

In fact, you don't even have to be Catholic to work for Catholic Relief Services. Among its 4,500 workers are many Muslims, Hindus and members of other religions, said Bill O’Keefe, the organization’s vice president of advocacy.

Eagle told LifeSiteNews CRS is proud as a Catholic agency that it works collaboratively with all people regardless of faith, which is especially important in communities where the majority of people are not Catholic.

He added that CRS takes steps to ensure Catholic identity in preparing employees for work with CRS, referencing a tutorial, "Protecting Life,” which was reviewed by the USCCB.

At the same time, experience has shown that what CRS cannot account for is the personal opinions of its non-Catholic employees, which, according to Mosher, inevitably affect the way they perform their jobs. A May 2014 LifeSiteNews article reported on public campaign records showing that since 1990 CRS employees have donated tens of thousands of dollars, 98.1 percent of their political donations, to elect pro-abortion politicians to office.

LifeSiteNews has also reported on the fact that numerous CRS employees in key policy positions have in previous jobs advocated for activities that violate Church teaching.

For example, Daphyne Williams, who has worked for CRS since 2008 and helped to develop a controversial policy whereby CRS would provide “complete and accurate” information on condoms, was hired after working at a series of pro-abortion organizations. One, which she listed on her LinkedIn page until LifeSiteNews reported on it in 2012, was called Pro-Choice Resources.

In another more dramatic case, a CRS employee was charged and convicted after deliberately ramming her car into a crowd of pro-life activists at the March for Life.

“As far as the claim that they somehow ‘evangelize’ by not preaching the Gospel, by not hiring Catholics … this simply makes no sense,” Mosher told LifeSiteNews.

“They say that ‘they help people because they're Catholic.’ But CRS employees, including very senior employees, are often - as the organization itself proudly admits - not Catholic at all,” said Mosher. “So it is hard to take this defense seriously.” 

Mosher said that statements indicating CRS is proud that is does not evangelize raise the question of whether CRS's donors are being defrauded by an organization that claims to be "Catholic," but distances itself from the Church in its actual programs and practices.

“If Catholic Relief Services is not going to hire practicing Catholics, work through the local Catholic Church around the world, and preferentially serve Catholic populations,” Mosher said, “then it has no business calling itself ‘Catholic.’ For it is not. It is just another humanitarian NGO which can make no special claim on Catholics.”

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Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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Protecting marriage isn’t enough – we must oppose gay ‘civil unions’ too

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent
By Jeanne Smits

Philippe Ariño, one of the original initiators of the French “Manif pour tous” rallies against the legalization of same-sex “marriage” in November 2012, is suggesting that opposition to the law and its probable developments needs to be coherent and complete if it hopes to be efficient. In a recent and widely-circulated article published on his blog, he writes that the objective must be to put an end to legalized “civil unions” as well.

Ariño, a non-practicing homosexual, left the “Manif pour tous” by March 2013, criticizing the movement’s figurehead, Frigide Barjot, for her stands on “homosexual love” and her insistence that civil unions were not only acceptable, but should benefit from a more favorable legal framework. Barjot herself was to be ousted from the organization for the same reason, but the “Manif pour tous” still takes care not to antagonize and avoids clear-cut condemnation of certain “homosexual rights” so as not to appear radical.

At the “Manif pour tous” summer university this weekend, leader Ludovine de La Rochère underscored the fact that the socialist government would certainly not reverse the same-sex “marriage” law, adding that it would be useless to demand its abrogation as long as Hollande and his government is in power.

"‘Marriage for all’ and [civil unions] form a whole, and the glue which holds them together is the belief in and the justification of homosexual identity and love."

Not so, argues Ariño. His warning in view of the group’s upcoming rally against “familyphobia,” gender ideology, surrogate motherhood, and artificial procreation for homosexuals on October 5 in Paris pleads for consistency. He gave permission to LifeSite to translate his text and publish its most significant passages.

“Why should we not limit ourselves to demanding the abrogation of the ‘same-sex marriage’ law – the few of us, that is, who are beginning to realize that we should demand it! – and why must we demand what is most necessary: the abrogation of the ‘PACS’?” he writes.

The PACS, or French “civil solidarity pact” is a civil union open to all, including homosexuals. It is slowly replacing normal marriage as it includes less obligations and can be dissolved unilaterally at any time through a bailiff’s letter.

Ariño calls it “totally illogical, unrealistic and useless, when opposing gender ideology, surrogate motherhood and even ‘marriage for all’ to do so without demanding the abrogation of the PACS, even if many will argue that “when asking too much you get nothing at all.”

“I would say on the contrary that it is because we did not make this minimal demand that we will find that everything will be imposed upon us one small step at a time! I’m telling them that it is they who are exaggerating and that they have not taken the full measure of the gravity of the PACS, and the 180° turn it is imposing on the whole world,” he answers.

Opposing civil unions mentally and in private is not enough, says Ariño, and remains a form of “cant”: “They have simply not understood the PACS and its symbolic impact; deep down they have justified it because they have found its ‘excrescence’ – same-sex ‘marriage’ – a ‘great deal worse’. ‘Marriage for all’ and PACS form a whole, and the glue which holds them together is the belief in and the justification of homosexual identity and love.”

Click "like" if you want to defend true marriage.

Ariño goes on to criticize the principle of public recognition of homosexual couples: “Civil union is the first-ever law in the world to have been based on people’s sexual orientation, it is the first homophobic law which reduces men and women to their so-called homosexual identity or practice, the first law to have established homosexuality as a society’s operating model. That is why it is extremely serious, perhaps even more serious than ‘marriage for all’, despite appearances and the invisibility of its ramifications (concerning parentage and marriage). It does no less harm than ‘marriage for all’ as its aim is symbolically identical: recognition/social justification of homosexual as a universal model of love, equal to any other.”

The “Manif pour tous” is often too “lukewarm,” he adds, more intent on defending a political standpoint than fully assuming its opposition to “marriage for all” in a non-partisan manner, and failing to understand the “symbolic and ideological relationship between civil union and ‘marriage for all,’”, or even the link between legalized same-sex “marriage” and surrogate motherhood.  For fear of being taxed with political extremism or homophobia, “these militants refuse visibly to appear as Catholics” and try to find “scapegoats” on their right or on their left. Ariño accuses them of fooling themselves into believing that politicians (like Nicolas Sarkozy) who are in favor of civil union will one day abrogate same-sex “marriage” or even oppose surrogate motherhood.

The figureheads of the “Manif pour tous,” whatever their “courage” and “goodwill,” and their “hopes of changing things gradually, from the inside,” do not understand the “gravity of civil unions,” thus abstaining from clear demands in the name of “realism, patience, political strategy, Hope, humility.” “It is better to make progress little by little than to ask for the impossible, they say – but who apart from them and their gay-friendly opponents is saying something is impossible?”

“Their method of ‘advancing step by step’ is not good in itself; besides, it is precisely the technique of our adversaries, showing that we are imitating them and losing sight of the realities of civil union, ‘marriage for all’ and homosexuality”, writes Ariño, accusing proponents of the method of a “lack of courage” and of “playing into their adversaries’ hands by artificially dissociating marriage from fertility, laws from those laws’ intentions, laws from their consequences.” “The PACS is but a piece of paper, a rubber check signed less than 15 years ago. But the majority of opponents to ‘marriage for all’ tremble like fledglings at the idea of being too radical – while it is precisely their lack of radicalism that doesn’t pay,” he concludes.

Philippe Ariño is a non-practising homosexual. As a Catholic, he advocates chastity, denouncing both homosexualist activism and the modern concept of “heterosexuality,” insofar as sexual union should only take place between a man and a woman in accordance with God’s plan for life-long marriage.

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Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

Belgium approves euthanasia for rapist serving life sentence

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent
By Jeanne Smits

Belgium’s Minister of Justice approved a euthanasia request Monday from a convicted rapist serving a life sentence.

The Brussels court of appeal will review the case September 29, but Belgian media report it is expected simply to record the existence of the agreement between the man and the government.

This would not be the first euthanasia of a Belgian prisoner – a terminally ill man who had already spent 27 years in jail was legally killed two years ago – but in the case of Frank Van Den Bleeken, the euthanasia request is being linked to the conditions of his imprisonment.

Van Den Bleeken, 50, has spent close to 30 years in prison. He was sentenced to life-long imprisonment for several counts of rape, one of them followed by murder. He has been declared irresponsible for these acts because of psychiatric disorders and does not want to be released from prison, considering himself to be “a danger for society.” Despite having repeatedly asked for psychiatric treatment, none has been forthcoming in the absence of any Belgian institution prepared to take up this sort of patient.

The convicted rapist says his psychological suffering is “intolerable” and it is on these grounds that three doctors decided last May that Van Den Bleeken should be entitled to euthanasia – even though he has also asked for a transfer to a Dutch institution where psychiatrically ill criminals receive adequate treatment and care.

He presented both demands to the minister of Justice via an emergency procedure. The Brussels appeal court decided that the minister, Maggie De Block, was not competent to order a transfer to the Netherlands but that she could decide to grant his request for euthanasia. The decision is being called a purely “medical” one by the minister who told the press that she confined herself to following the doctors’ opinion.

A previous euthanasia request made by Van Den Bleeken three years ago was rejected on the grounds that all had not been done to ensure that he would suffer less and that other options than death were available.

Now, even though it is clear that the prisoner would find more humane conditions of detention in nearby Holland, that he is conscious of the gravity of the acts he commits under the pressure of his mental illness, and that he is in need of medical care, the decision to make him die reads as a further trivialization of euthanasia in a country where an ever-increasing amount of psychological motives are being accepted to justify “mercy-killing.”

As in all the states of the European Union, the death penalty does not exist; it was abolished in Belgium in 1996. Rapists and murderers can find themselves sentenced to life-long sentences with no hope at all of ever being freed, a perspective which some find worse than death.

Since Van Den Bleeken’s story received media coverage, including a televised interview at the end of 2013, fifteen other prisoners have contacted the “UL-Team,” an information center for end-of-life questions, euthanasia expert Wim Distelmans told the media this Tuesday. He said those numbers are expected to rise. Distelmans is known for his support and active participation in cases of euthanasia for psychological reasons.

No date has been fixed for Van Den Bleeken’s death but his family has indicated that a doctor willing to perform the act has been found. Once the appeals court has given its ruling the prisoner will be allowed to leave the Turnhout prison where he is interned at present, and will be transferred to an unnamed hospital where he will be able to say goodbye to his family before receiving a lethal injection.

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