Pope Benedict XVI announced today that he has resigned his papacy because he is gay and "could no longer live a lie."
In a statement released to Italian news media the 85-year-old departing pontiff says he is relieved to be coming out after eight decades in the closet and urged the Catholic Church and other faiths to accept homosexuality as a natural part of God's creation.
"Like many gay Catholics, I have been forced for too long to choose between my faith and my identity," the statement reads. "My profound love for my beloved church compelled me to lie to myself and to my fellow believers about a basic component of my humanity.
"I deeply regret that deception. I have not been honest with the Church, and for that reason I decided that I could not continue my role as leader of the world's one billion Catholics.
"Now that I have been liberated of this secret, I wish to express my belief that homosexuals are equal in the eyes of God. I beseech the Catholic Church to reconsider its ban on gay clergy and become a leading force in the struggle for gay rights."
Gay the Pray Away
Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation on Feb. 11, becoming the first pontiff since the Middle Ages to resign his post. His stated reason was to retire before the ravages of old age left him unable to complete his duties.
Yet rumors have been swirling in Rome since the announcement that the decision instead had something to do with homosexuality at the Church's highest levels.
There have been newspaper reports of a secret "gay conclave" within the Vatican that visited local prostitutes and was thereafter blackmailed.
But there has been no indication that the scandal touched the pope himself, and today's news has come as a surprise to most following the story.
Benedict resigns his papacy today, and will technically cease his duties as pope at 8 p.m. Central European Time. It had been anticipated that he would continue on as a "Pope Emeritus," but given the Church's ban on homosexuality his future role is now unclear.
Say it Ain't So Joe
Reaction to the Pope's statement has ranged from shock to excitement to despair. Some conservative figures in the Catholic Church have even expressed outrage at the move, suggesting Benedict should have remained in the closet.
"Look everyone knows that the only people who sign up for a lifetime of living in all-male dormitories with no possibility of marriage are gay men," says Phyllis Gates, a conservative Catholic blogger. "But why did he have to actually say it? Denial was working so well for us."
However for Rick Santorum, one of America's most prominent anti-gay Catholic politicians, denial is still alive and well.
"I don't believe him," Santorum says from his home in Washington, D.C. "Homosexual activists have clearly compromised Pope Benedict through blackmail or brainwashing or some sort of queer subterfuge.
"He's not gay. He can't be gay. That's just not possible. He's just pretending for some reason. And it's my job to figure out what that reason is."
Pride and Joy
While Santorum is looking for evidence of a gay conspiracy, however, LGBT activists are celebrating the Pope's pro-gay rights message.
"It's heartening to see a leading person in the Catholic Church finally take a stand for equality," says Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign. "The church has hitherto been one of the most powerful anti-gay rights organizations in the world.
"Although it's a shame that he was forced out because of his orientation, we're all hoping that Pope Benedict's words of tolerance will resonate with people of faith around the world."
Gay Catholic blogger Andrew Sullivan, who speculated yesterday about a homosexual relationship between Pope Benedict and his personal aide, was phlegmatic towards the news.
"I wish I could take some credit, but honestly anyone could have predicted this. No women, fabulous hats, and Prada shoes? This is the gayest institution in the world."