The Pope Loves Oscar Wilde (But Not in That Way)

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
July 17 2009 4:11 PM

The Pope Loves Oscar Wilde (But Not in That Way)

L’Osservatore Romano , the official newspaper of the Vatican, has redeemed two cultural sinners this week: Harry Potter and Oscar Wilde . Only days after deciding that the Chosen One of Hogwarts is indeed an exemplar of "the values of friendship, altruism, loyalty and self-giving" (rather than "a wrong and malicious image of the hero," as the same publication declared last year), L’Osservatore ran a review of a new Italian book on Wilde that goes out of its way to praise the Irish author. According to the reviewer, Andrea Monda, 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."

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Wilde’s deathbed conversion in Paris, where he spent the last three years of his life after serving a two-year prison term for sodomy offenses, is a much-debated aspect of his biography: Was it the last-ditch gesture of a sick and broken man, or the culmination of a lifelong fascination with Church ritual? (This testimonial from the priest who administered his last rites suggests that Wilde’s turn to Catholicism was a conscious and deliberate, if hasty, act.) But the fact that Wilde may have embraced the Church in his last moments doesn’t make it any less odd that, 109 years later, the Church should suddenly decide to embrace him . As long as Pope Benedict XVI continues to label gay marriage " pseudo-matrimony " and same-sex desire a "disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent," the Vatican’s eagerness to welcome Wilde into the flock rings hollow at best. There’s a Wilde epigram for every occasion; the one this news item brings to mind is, "One can survive everything nowadays except death, and live down everything except a good reputation."

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Photograph of Oscar Wilde courtesy of Wikipedia.

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.