• 2007-12-12

cartoon by Jevgenijs CHeKSTERS

It is a sad sign of the times that Cardinal Janis Pujats, overseer of the archbishopric of Riga, is with increasing frequency quoted on political matters in the media. This could be attributed to the deplorable standards of many Latvian journalists, who for some bizarre reason feel their political reporting is magically enriched if they quote an ecclesiastic, but it could also be a concerted effort by Pujats to exert influence on secular affairs, however peripherally.

In September there was an article in Latvijas Avize, the country's largest daily paper, in which the cardinal reflected over Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis' sudden decision to fire anti-corruption chief Aleksejs Loskutovs (the quote is tucked between commentary from a political scientist and a lawyer). True enough, Kalvitis' move turned out to be the beginning of the end for the government, but what bearing does the opinion of the Roman Catholic Church have? Perhaps we should begin calling artists and sculptors for an opinion on whether Latvia's current account deficit will undermine the national currency.

Pujats was recently quoted saying that Aleksey Ledyaev, the head of New Generation, an extreme Christian movement, should refrain from becoming involved in politics. We can only wonder why, in Pujats' mind, his competitor in the "fight for the faithful" should abstain from political involvement, while he, emissary of the Holy See, can openly speculate on the state of the nation.
So Pujats is aware he is encroaching on temporal territory, yet he continues to do so anyway. In fact, it appears he has become delusional about his political influence. This week he weighed in on who should be Latvia's next prime minister, saying in a statement released Dec. 11 that he wanted to ask each of the three candidates whether they were "ready to defend the Latvian nation against the invasion of homosexuality in public life." The cardinal wants to know if they are prepared "to block the way to Parliament to any bill that propagates immorality."

For three years now Pujats has been tireless in combating homosexuality. He has distinguished himself in a country that is conspicuously rife with homophobes, some of whom are aggressive. Pujats has labeled homosexuality "sexual atheism" 's a patently asinine term 's and said that "this form of atheism is even more infectious and dangerous 's spiritual values disappear in a swamp of irregularity." Prior to this year's gay pride parade in Riga, the cardinal wrote an opinion piece in a seedy newspaper, Ritdiena, saying that the organization of the event was "a military attack against the nation's morality, religion and family values."
Pujats would do well to remember some of the Bible's own teachings 's namely, before noticing the speck in our neighbor's eye, we should worry about the log in our own. Has the cardinal forgotten that he is a member of church whose priests, particularly in North America, molested children and adolescents for decades? Is this not an attack on morality and family values, Mr. Pujats?

More fundamentally, his opinion on human sexuality is superfluous: what can a celibate priest possibly understand about consenting sex between two adults, whether same sex or not? Pujats should stick to a topic he knows. When he doesn't, he sounds like a blatherskite. 
Finally, the cardinal should take a refresher course on history. He needs to remember the Northern Crusades and how the various knightly orders, with the Vatican's blessing, forcibly converted Baltic pagans into Christianity, often on the pain of death. Perhaps, after apologizing for the Church's crimes against the ancient Balts, he will have earned the right to speak about morality. Otherwise, if his crusade continues unchecked, we are likely to regress to the Church's medieval standards of justice. Riga movie goers will soon see Pujats and a group of protesters standing outside Coca-Cola Plaza, admonishing parents for taking their children to see "Golden Compass" and calling for an auto-da-fe on Dome Square. This is precisely the direction in which the cardinal's obscurantist compass is pointing.