It’s a move that has much of the literary/theatrical world stunned. The Vatican has released an article praising Oscar Wilde and his work. This not long after Pope Benedict the XVI was quoted as saying “homosexuality is as much of a threat to the survival of the human race as climate change.” Oscar Wilde was famously imprisoned for acts of “gross indecency” (i.e. a sexual relationship with another man), but converted to Roman Catholicism on his deathbed.
You can find the complete text of the Vatican’s article – in Italian – here (a recent search of the Vatican’s “L’Osservatore Romano” failed to find the original article – perhaps it’s been pulled in the wake of debate?).
“Oscar Wilde was a man constantly looking for the beautiful and the good, but also for a God that he never challenged, respected and who he fully embraced after his dramatic experience of jail, concluding with his communion in the Catholic Church.”
It also says Oscar Wilde was “a man who behind a mask of amorality asked himself what was was just and what was mistaken, what was true and what was false” and “one of the personalities of the 19th century who most lucidly analysed the modern world in its disturbing as well as its positive aspects.”
The Vatican paper even goes so far as to praise Wilde’s social commentary, quoting his turn of phrase that “the things one feels absolutely certain about are never true.”
Media outlets are trying to figure out what this shift in the Vatican’s public voice means. The Daily Mail is calling it a “U-turn” for the Vatican.
Actor Stephen Fry (who is openly gay and played the part of Oscar Wilde in the 1997 film based on his life) said “a deathbed conversion from a scared broken vulnerable outcast doesn’t give them [the Vatican] rights over his soul or name.”
This act of praise, comes as part of what appears to be a new trend in embracing people and ideas that are popular, even if they may appear to be at odds with Catholicism’s credo. Earlier this week the Vatican changed it’s mind about the Harry Potter book/film series. Previously it had condemned J.K. Rowling’s creations as corruptive, but the latest film was praised for its depiction of good against evil.
So where is the Vatican headed with these new, markedly different stances? Is the Vatican opening itself up to the broader ideas and morals displayed in packages that may at first appear sinful? Or is this about extending the appeal of the Catholic Church by associating itself with Wilde-ly popular cultural icons?