The Catholic Church Is Breaking People’s Hearts

It fires gay workers, vilifies gay priests and alienates parishioners who can’t make any sense of this.

Shelly Fitzgerald was placed on administrative leave by the Catholic school where she worked because she is married to a woman.

By Frank Bruni

Pat Fitzgerald, 67, has long loved being a Catholic, and the part he loved maybe most of all, for the past quarter-century, was his role as a spiritual mentor at retreats for students at a church-affiliated high school in Indianapolis, where he lives.

But he has been told that he’s not wanted anymore. His crime? He publicly supported his daughter, a guidance counselor at the school, after its administrators moved to get rid of her because she’s married to a woman.

The school’s treatment of Shelly Fitzgerald, 45, was a big local story last summer that went national; she ended up on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in September. It was one of many examples of Catholic institutions deciding almost whimsically to exile longtime employees — not priests or nuns but coaches, teachers, counselors — who had long been known to be gay but were suddenly regarded as liabilities.

Maybe they had quietly married their partners, formalizing those relationships and inadvertently drawing attention to themselves. Maybe some homophobic parent or congregant had belatedly learned about them and lodged a complaint. That’s what happened to Shelly Fitzgerald, and her 14 years of fine work at Roncalli High School no longer mattered. Only her 2015 marriage to her longtime partner did. She was told that she could stay on if she dissolved the union. She said no thanks and was kicked off school grounds in August.

The aftershocks still complicate the lives — and faith — of people around her: her students, their parents, her dad. On Facebook last month she posted a letter from him to the Roncalli community in which he explained that he’d just been disinvited from future retreats but thanked everyone for being such supportive friends over the years.

“Today my heart is broken,” he wrote, adding that the retreats he’d participated in — more than 40 in all — were “the most beautiful and holy settings I have ever witnessed.” He alluded only vaguely to his daughter’s case. “To people on both sides of this ongoing issue,” he wrote, “I hope you can find peace.”

But there’s no peace for the Catholic Church here. It’s too mired in its own hypocrisy. The tension between its official teaching and unofficial practice — between the ignorance of the past and the illumination of the present — grows tauter all the time.

Most Catholics support same-sex marriage, in defiance of the church’s formal position, and many parishes fully welcome L.G.B.T. people. Yet there are places, and times, when the hammer comes down.

Church leaders know full well that the priesthood would be decimated if closeted gay men were exposed and expelled. Yet the church as a matter of policy bars men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” and considers gay people “objectively disordered.”

Catholics are supposed to show compassion. Yet Shelly and her dad were shown anything but.

She has been on administrative leave since August, and last month her lawyer, David Page, filed a charge of discrimination against the school and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It has up to 180 days to respond.

On Tuesday morning he showed me paperwork for a second charge of discrimination that he said he would be filing imminently; it cites what happened to her father as an unlawful act of retaliation meant to dissuade Shelly from pressing her case.

Pat Fitzgerald, uncomfortable with media attention, declined to speak with me, preferring to let his daughter do the talking. “His struggle comes from caring about Roncalli and being in conflict with what they’ve done to me,” Shelly told me. In October he attended a protest against the church’s treatment of L.G.B.T. people. His sign said, “Please treat my daughter Shelly kindly.”

There is, by many accounts, profound anger and hurt at Roncalli. As it happens, Shelly was one of two directors of counseling there; the other, Lynn Starkey, 62, is in a same-sex civil union and in November filed her own charge of discrimination with the E.E.O.C., claiming a “hostile work environment” in the aftermath of Shelly’s departure. For now she remains on the job.

Many students started an L.G.B.T. advocacy group, Shelly’s Voice, that also attracted parents and other adults in the community. A related Facebook page, Time to Be a Rebel, has more than 4,500 members.

But one parent told me that students who question Shelly’s dismissal fear repercussions. “Seniors are being told that if they speak out, they take the chance of not being able to graduate,” the parent, who spoke with me on condition of anonymity, said.
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According to posts on the Facebook page, a small cluster of Roncalli students were invited last month to a lunch with Archbishop Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis, only to have him stress that homosexuality is a disorder and its expression sinful. One student called it an ambush.

For comment on all of this, I contacted the Roncalli principal, who referred me to a spokesman for the archdiocese. The spokesman sent me a statement that said that Pat Fitzgerald’s exclusion from student retreats reflected the “continuing attention surrounding his daughter’s suspension” and “his own participation in public protests over Catholic Church teaching.” He was still welcome at Masses, the statement said.

In regard to Shelly’s suspension, a past statement from the archdiocese reiterated what the Catholic Church has said in similar cases: Employees of Catholic schools are expected to live in compliance with church teaching. But is that legally enforceable?

Shelly’s E.E.O.C. complaint tests where federal civil rights law covers sexual orientation, a matter on which courts in different areas of the country have disagreed. Also, the Catholic Church has attempted to claim a “ministerial exception” from nondiscrimination laws that conflict with religious tenets, but there’s continued dispute about whether this applies to workers, like Shelly, who aren’t in the clergy.

Shelly pointed out that the Catholic Church isn’t generally going after teachers who flout its rules by using birth control or divorcing or having sexual relations outside marriage. “They’re going after L.G.B.T. people,” she said. “They’re going to die on this hill.”

And they’re going to hurt people — like Shawn Aldrich, who attended Roncalli, just as his parents and his wife and her parents did. He has two children there now. What has happened to Shelly astounds him.

“She was phenomenal at her job,” Aldrich told me. “So why are we dismissing her?” He knows what church leaders say about homosexuality but noted, “It’s our church, too.” Besides, he said, “All of us are made in God’s image.”

He and his wife plan to end their family tradition. They won’t send their third child, now in seventh grade, to Roncalli. “And that breaks our hearts,” he said. “That absolutely breaks our hearts.”

Complete Article HERE!

The Vatican’s Gay Overlords

A sensational new book mines the Catholic Church’s sexual secrets. Will right-wing homophobes exploit it?

By Frank Bruni

Marveling at the mysterious sanctum that his new book explores, the French journalist Frédéric Martel writes that “even in San Francisco’s Castro” there aren’t “quite as many gays.”

He’s talking about the Vatican. And he’s delivering a bombshell.

Although the book’s publishers have kept it under tight wraps, I obtained a copy in advance of its release next Thursday. It will come out in eight languages and 20 countries, under the title “Sodoma,” as in Sodom, in Western Europe and “In the Closet of the Vatican” in the United States, Britain and Canada.

It includes the claim that about 80 percent of the male Roman Catholic clergy who work at the Vatican, around the pope, are gay. It contends that the more showily homophobic a Vatican official is, the more likely he belongs to that crowd, and that the higher up the chain of command you go, the more gays you find. And not all of them are celibate. Not by a long shot.

I’m supposed to cheer, right? I’m an openly gay man. I’m a sometime church critic. Hooray for the exposure of hypocrisy in high places and the affirmation that some of our tormentors have tortured motives. Thank heaven for the challenge to their moral authority. Let the sun in. Let the truth out.

But I’m bothered and even a little scared. Whatever Martel’s intent, “In the Closet of the Vatican” may be less a constructive reckoning than a stockpile of ammunition for militant right-wing Catholics who already itch to conduct a witch hunt for gay priests, many of whom are exemplary — and chaste — servants of the church. Those same Catholics oppose sensible and necessary reforms, and will point to the book’s revelations as proof that the church is already too permissive and has lost its dignity and its way.

Although Martel himself is openly gay, he sensationalizes gayness by devoting his inquiry to Catholic officials who have had sex with men, not ones who have had sex with women. The promise of celibacy that priests make forbids all sexual partners, and what violates Catholic teaching isn’t just gay sex but sex outside marriage. In that context, Martel’s focus on homosexuality buys into the notion that it’s especially troubling and titillating.

His tone doesn’t help. “The world I am discovering, with its 50 shades of gay, is beyond comprehension,” he writes. It will seem to some readers “a fairy tale.” He challenges the conventional wisdom that Pope Francis, who has detractors all around him, is “among the wolves,” clarifying, “It’s not quite true: he’s among the queens.” Maybe it’s better in the original French, but this language is at once profoundly silly and deeply offensive.

The sourcing of much of “In the Closet of the Vatican” is vague, and other Vatican experts told me that the 80 percent figure is neither knowable nor credible.

“It’s not a scientifically based accusation — it’s an ideologically based one,” said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a columnist for The National Catholic Reporter who visits the Vatican frequently and has written several highly regarded books about the Roman Catholic hierarchy. “One of the problems is that Catholic bishops have never allowed any kind of research in this area. They don’t want to know how many gay priests there are.” Independent studies put the percentage of gay men among Catholic priests in the United States at 15 percent to 60 percent.

In a telephone interview on Thursday, Martel stressed that the 80 percent isn’t his estimate but that of a former priest at the Vatican whom he quotes by name in the book. But he presents that quotation without sufficient skepticism and, in his own words, writes, “It’s a big majority.”

He says that “In the Closet of the Vatican” is informed by about 1,500 interviews over four years and the contributions of scores of researchers and other assistants. I covered the Vatican for The Times for nearly two years, and the book has a richness of detail that’s persuasive. It’s going to be widely discussed and hotly debated.

It depicts different sexual subcultures, including clandestine meetings between Vatican officials and young heterosexual Muslim men in Rome who work as prostitutes. It names names, and while many belong to Vatican officials and other priests who are dead or whose sexual identities have come under public scrutiny before, Martel also lavishes considerable energy on the suggestion that Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, and other towering figures in the church are gay.

Perhaps the most vivid of the double lives under Martel’s gaze is that of Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo of Colombia, who died a little over a decade ago. According to the book, he prowled the ranks of seminarians and young priests for men to seduce and routinely hired male prostitutes, sometimes beating them up after sex. All the while he promoted the church’s teaching that all gay men are “objectively disordered” and embraced its ban on priests who are believed to have “deep-seated homosexual tendencies,” whether they act on them or not.

Part of my concern about the book is the timing of its release, which coincides precisely with an unprecedented meeting at the Vatican about sexual abuse in the church. For the first time, the pope has summoned the presidents of every Catholic bishops conference around the world to discuss this topic alone. But the book “is also bound to shift attention away from child abuse and onto gay priests in general, once again falsely conflating in people’s minds homosexuality and pedophilia,” said the Rev. James Martin, a best-selling Jesuit author, in a recent tweet. He’s right.

The book doesn’t equate them, and in fact makes the different, important point that the church’s culture of secrecy — a culture created in part by gay priests’ need to conceal who they are — works against the exposure of molesters who are guilty of crimes.

As David Clohessy, a longtime advocate for survivors of sexual abuse by priests, said to me on the phone a few days ago: “Many priests have a huge disincentive to report sexual misdeeds by colleagues. They know they’re vulnerable to being blackballed. It’s celibacy and the secretive, rigid, ancient all-male hierarchy that contributes to the cover-up and, therefore, more abuse.” Abuse has no sexual orientation, a fact made clear by many cases of priests having sex with girls and adult women, including nuns, whose victimization by priests was publicly acknowledged by Pope Francis for the first time early this month.

But that’s a crucial subtlety that’s too easily lost in the thicket of exclamation points in “In the Closet of the Vatican.” And more people will read the racy headlines about the book than the book itself. What they may take away is this: Catholic priests are twisted characters. And gay men are creatures of stealth and agents of deception who band together in eccentric societies with odd rituals.

I asked Martel what his aim was. “I’m a journalist,” he said. “My only goal is to write stories. I’m not a Catholic. I don’t have any motive of revenge. My concern is not that the church will be better or worse. I’m outside of the church.”

I asked him if he worried about homophobes weaponizing the book. If they read it correctly, he answered, they’ll realize that rooting out gays would mean ridding the church of some of their heroes, who inveigh against homosexuality as a way of denying and camouflaging who they really are. The cardinals most accepting of gays, he said, are those who are probably straight.

All else aside, the book speaks to the enormous and seemingly growing tension between a church that frequently vilifies and marginalizes gay men and a priesthood dense with them. “This fact hangs in the air as a giant, unsustainable paradox,” wrote Andrew Sullivan, who is Catholic and gay, in an excellent cover story for New York magazine last month. It explains why so many gay men entered the priesthood, especially decades ago: They didn’t feel safe or comfortable in a society that ostracized them. Their sense of being outsiders gave them a more spiritual bent and greater desire to help others in need.

They weren’t pulling off some elaborate ruse or looking for the clerical equivalent of a bathhouse. They were trying, psychologically and emotionally, to survive. Many still are, and I fear that “In the Closet of the Vatican” won’t help.

Complete Article HERE!

Four in five Vatican priests are gay, book claims

French journalist’s book is a ‘startling account of corruption and hypocrisy’, publisher says


Pope Francis leads a mass for priests in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican.

by

Some of the most senior clerics in the Roman Catholic church who have vociferously attacked homosexuality are themselves gay, according to a book to be published next week.

Eighty per cent of priests working at the Vatican are gay, although not necessarily sexually active, it is claimed in the book, In the Closet of the Vatican.

The 570-page book, which the French journalist and author Frédéric Martel spent four years researching, is a “startling account of corruption and hypocrisy at the heart of the Vatican”, according to its British publisher Bloomsbury.

It is being published in eight languages across 20 countries next Wednesday, coinciding with the opening day of a conference at the Vatican on sexual abuse, to which bishops from all over the world have been summoned.

Martel, a former adviser to the French government, conducted 1,500 interviews while researching the book, including with 41 cardinals, 52 bishops and monsignors, 45 papal ambassadors or diplomatic officials, 11 Swiss guards and more than 200 priests and seminarians, according to a report on the Catholic website the Tablet.

Many spoke of an unspoken code of the “closet”, with one rule of thumb being that the more homophobic a cleric was, the more likely he was to be gay.

Martel alleges that one Colombian cardinal, the late Alfonso López Trujillo, who held a senior Vatican position, was an arch-defender of church teaching on homosexuality and contraception while using male prostitutes, the Tablet said.

The author found that some gay priests accepted their sexuality and a few maintained discreet relationships, but others sought high-risk casual encounters. Some were in denial about their sexuality.

Although the book does not conflate homosexuality with the sexual abuse of children, Martel describes a secretive culture among priests that creates conditions in which abuse is not confronted, say people familiar with the book’s contents.

According to Bloomsbury’s promotional material, Inside the Closet “reveals secrets” about celibacy, misogyny and plots against Pope Francis. It uncovers “a clerical culture of secrecy which starts in junior seminaries and continues right up to the Vatican itself”.

Francis has riled his conservative critics in the Vatican over his apparently softer tone towards gay people. A few months into his papacy, he told reporters who asked about a “gay lobby” at the Vatican: “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Last year Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean survivor of sexual abuse, said Francis told him in a private meeting: “Juan Carlos, that you are gay does not matter. God made you like this and loves you like this and I don’t care. The pope loves you like this. You have to be happy with who you are.”

But a Polish priest who was sacked from his Vatican job and defrocked after announcing he was gay has accused the church of making the lives of millions of gay Catholics “a hell”.

In a letter to Francis in 2015, Krzysztof Charamsa criticised what he called the Vatican’s hypocrisy in banning gay priests and said the clergy was “full of homosexuals”.

In December, Francis was quoted in a book about vocations as saying homosexuality was a “fashion” to which the clergy was susceptible.

“The issue of homosexuality is a very serious issue that must be adequately discerned from the beginning with the candidates [for the priesthood]. In our societies it even seems that homosexuality is fashionable and that mentality, in some way, also influences the life of the church,” he said.

The timing of Inside the Closet’s publication, at the start of a milestone summit on sexual abuse, will raise concerns that some people may seek to conflate the two issues.

But the book’s allegations are likely to be pored over by senior bishops flying into Rome from more than 100 countries for the four-day summit.

Complete Article ↪HERE↩!

Catholic Church Reforms Should Begin With Bishops

The church’s leaders should be open to at least discussing thorny issues around its patriarchal culture and its teachings about human sexuality and gender.

Members of the Catholic Church sing a hymn during an opening session during the annual United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Monday in Baltimore.

By John Gehring

Several hundred Catholic bishops from around the country have gathered in Baltimore for a national meeting at a time when many of us faithful are grieving, angry and running out of patience. The horrifying scale of the clergy sexual abuse crisis, as chronicled by a Pennsylvania grand jury report in August that revealed widespread abuse and cover-up over several decades, underscores an obvious but essential point: Bishops can’t be trusted to police themselves.

Moreover, a recent investigation by The Boston Globe and The Philadelphia Inquirer found that more than 130 bishops — nearly one-third of those still living — have been accused of failing to adequately respond to sexual abuse in their dioceses. New explosions are still coming. Last month, a former assistant to Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo released hundreds of secret documents that showed how the bishop continued to send predator priests back into parishes. Bishop Michael Bransfield of West Virginia resigned in September after claims that he had sexually harassed younger priests.

It’s not the first meeting of its kind: 16 years ago, after The Globe’s groundbreaking “Spotlight” investigation, bishops met in Dallas to adopt zero-tolerance policies. Any priest who had abused a minor would be removed. Civilian review boards would investigate claims of clergy misconduct. Those policies led to the removal of hundreds of priests, but the bishops didn’t implement procedures that held themselves to the same standard of accountability.

The Vatican, including Pope Francis, has also not done enough. A proposal to create a Vatican tribunal to evaluate accusations against bishops — an idea floated by the pope’s own Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors — has gone nowhere.

Marie Collins, an abuse survivor who resigned in frustration from the commission, rightly observed that “history will judge Pope Francis on his actions, not his intentions.”

The failure to hold bishops accountable perpetuates a privileged culture of clericalism that lets the hierarchy operate under different rules.

Bishops were scheduled to vote on policies to address the abuse crisis in Baltimore. But in a surprise move, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, stunned his fellow bishops and media by announcing that the Vatican wanted those plans put on hold until after a February meeting in Rome called by Pope Francis that will bring together bishops from around the world. That could prove to be prudent for the final outcome, but it’s hard to overstate how tone deaf the timing is given the growing Catholic anger in the pews.

Whatever credibility the Catholic Church has left as a voice for justice in public life, the clock is ticking down fast.

Standards and systems that prioritize transparency and accountability are essential. But church leaders should also recognize that technical or bureaucratic responses are insufficient to address the urgency of this moment. The Catholic Church faces a profound crisis of legitimacy. This crisis is not only the product of sexual predation. Moving forward, Catholic leaders should be more open to at least discussing a host of thorny issues. The church’s patriarchal culture — most exemplified in excluding women from the priesthood — and its teachings about human sexuality and gender are rejected by not only many Americans but also a sizable share of faithful Catholics in the pews.

How does the church hope to influence the wider culture when pastors are ignored by many of its own flock?

At this dark crossroads for the Catholic Church, there is an opportunity for Pope Francis and the bishops to take a fresh look at the church and begin a prayerful discernment about the limits of patriarchy, human rights for L.G.B.T. people and the exclusion of women from the clergy. These will be uncomfortable but necessary topics to explore if the Catholic Church wants an era of renewal and its leaders hope to reclaim the ability to speak more persuasively to a diverse public square.

The final report from a recently concluded monthlong meeting at the Vatican that brought together young Catholics and hundreds of bishops from around the world acknowledged the need for a broader conversation about the church’s teachings on sexuality. There are questions, the report noted, “related to the body, to affectivity and to sexuality that require a deeper anthropological, theological, and pastoral exploration.” While conservative bishops such as Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia led the charge to make sure the descriptor “L.G.B.T.” was not included in a final report — a pre-synod working document used the term for the first time in Vatican history — that subtle but significant opening is an invitation for a long-overdue conversation.

Church teaching isn’t set by a poll or the shifting winds of popular opinion. At the same time, the church is not a static institution. Doctrine does change and develop. The Second Vatican Council met from 1962 until 1965, a time when bishops opened the windows of the church to the modern world. The council brought historic changes in the way Catholicism understood democracy, the Jewish faith, the role of lay Catholics, interfaith dialogue and liturgy.

The question isn’t whether the church should stay the same or change. Paradoxically, the church has always done both. The more essential question is whether a 2,000-year-old institution that thinks in centuries can once again stand with a foot firmly planted in the best of its tradition while stepping into the future renewed and relevant to a new generation.

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican bishops at synod struggle with what to call gay people

By David Gibson

As Catholic leaders from around the world rush to draft a document summarizing their monthlong deliberations on reaching out to young people, they have consistently struggled with what may seem like a simple question: how to refer to gay people.

The issue has come up repeatedly in briefings and interviews with the nearly 270 bishops and cardinals, as well as 72 nonvoting observers – including some 30 young adults – who have been debating a range of issues at this global summit, known as a synod, which is taking place under the aegis of Pope Francis, who wants to see open discussion of difficult topics.

Francis himself sparked the discussion about the church and homosexuality soon after his election in 2013 when he was asked whether gay men could be priests – something his predecessors sought to bar. Francis responded: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

That last phrase became a virtual meme of this papacy. But just as momentous was the fact that Francis was the first pope, and the rare Catholic leader, to use the term “gay.”

Church leaders and official church documents almost always use the more clinical word “homosexual,” or “same-sex attracted.”

“If the church continues to use antiquated, outdated and overly clinical terms like ‘same-sex attracted’ rather than the name the group uses for itself, the church will simply make dialogue more difficult and make these Catholics feel even less welcome in what is, after all, their church too,” said the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author of “Building a Bridge,” a book about how the institutional church and LGBT Catholics can promote a constructive relationship.

“Besides,” Martin added via email, “if Pope Francis can use the word ‘gay’ so can everyone else.”

For the synod, this debate over vocabulary is fraught because conservatives fear that using terms such as gay or LGBT could signal an official approval of homosexuality and could undermine church teaching and the church’s public policy stands against gay marriage, for example.

“There is no such thing as an ‘LGBTQ Catholic’ or a ‘transgender Catholic’ or a ‘heterosexual Catholic,’ as if our sexual appetites defined who we are,” Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, a U.S. delegate to the synod and a leader of the conservative camp, told the assembly in a speech to the floor earlier this month.

“It follows that ‘LGBTQ’ and similar language should not be used in church documents, because using it suggests that these are real, autonomous groups, and the church simply doesn’t categorize people that way,” he said.

The problem is that the working document that served as the blueprint for discussions in fact used the term LGBT (the acronym stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, and it often includes “Q” for queer) because it drew on input from young people and church leaders whose views were solicited by the Vatican over the previous year.

Communion is served in St. Peter’s Square at the Mass opening the Synod of Bishops on Young People on Oct. 3, 2018.

“The youth are talking about it freely and in the language they use, and they are encouraging us, ‘Call us, address us this (way) because this is who we are,’” Cardinal John Ribat, a synod delegate from Papua New Guinea, said at a press briefing on Saturday (Oct. 20).

The inclusion of LGBT in that document triggered anxiety in some quarters. Conservative media outlets have pressed cardinals and bishops at every turn to clarify whether the terms would be included in the final synod document, which is scheduled to be voted on this Saturday.

The spotlight has clearly left many synod fathers, as the cardinals and bishops are called, uncomfortable as they struggle to respond to questions without using terms like “same-sex attracted.”

They know that would alienate not only gays and lesbians but also young people who are increasingly accepting of LGBT people. Using the term “gay” at press briefings and in interviews could also be interpreted as pressuring their more conservative colleagues, who are already irked at what some refer to as a “gay lobby” they say is using the synod as a vehicle to change church teaching on homosexuality.

This dynamic strongly suggests that the final document will not use the terms gay or LGBT because each paragraph must receive a two-thirds approval vote to be included and that does not seem likely if the hot-button words are included.

Cardinal Luis Tagle smiles during a news conference on the synod at the Vatican on Oct. 23, 2018. Tagle, who is involved in the youth synod, said inclusiveness toward LGBT Catholics has been a frequent topic over the past month and is likely to make it into the final document.

Instead, bishops appear to be favoring terms such as “inclusive” and “welcoming” to describe a general attitude of openness not only to gays but to everyone. Others are stressing that everyone, gay or straight, is a sinner in need of God’s grace, and all are called to conversion – though what gay people, in particular, have to convert to is not always spelled out.

Even that compromise language, which would essentially leave each bishop free to decide what that means in his diocese when it comes to LGBT people, might not please conservatives. And just throwing out a broad-based “welcome” mat may not please gay advocates, either.

“Francis said ‘welcome’ five years ago. The synod is supposed to be a time of discussion, to move things forward. I think we have to move forward from welcome. The fact they are using that term is not bad, it’s just not specific enough,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which advocates for LGBT Catholics.

“What are you going to do with LGBT people after you welcome them?” added DeBernardo, who is in Rome for the month reporting on the synod and the approach to LGBT issues. He noted that gay Catholics continue to face discrimination — a church worker in San Diego resigned last week after months of abuse — and others are routinely fired when bishops or church leaders discover they are gay.

DeBernardo did feel the fact that the synod was trying to discuss the issue openly was a positive development.

Previous popes, he said, “painted themselves into such a corner on LGBT issues.”

“I think Francis and meetings like this are at least allowing them a way out of that corner,” he said. “It’s the first step out of that corner. But it can’t be the last step because it’s not answering the problem.”

Complete Article HERE!

Oscar Wilde’s Catholicism

The church has always been a place where sinners are welcomed and offered refuge.

The Oscar Wilde Temple at Studio Voltaire In London, Oct. 3.

By William McGurn

What might Oscar Wilde have made of the new exhibit meant to honor him as “one of the earliest forebears of gay liberation”? The Oscar Wilde Temple opened last week in a former Methodist chapel in South London, complete with an altar featuring a statue of the Irish playwright.

Wilde’s own life and tastes, after all, were more complicated. When he arrived in Rome in 1900, he found himself attracted to both the Eternal City’s pagan past and its Catholic present, extolling the beauty of the young men he paid for even as he haunted the Vatican for a blessing from the pope. Six months later in Paris, on his deathbed, he was welcomed into the Catholic church.

Wilde wasn’t unusual for his time. To today’s generations, Catholicism may be the Church of Intolerance. But in Wilde’s day, the church was still the Scarlet Woman, home for the disreputable and deplorable. In his play “A Woman of No Importance” the title character, who has a secret past—an illegitimate son—explains why she spends so much time in church.

“Where else could I go?” she asks. “God’s house is the only house where sinners are made welcome.” Sin and grace in a broken world. How many who shared Wilde’s sexual attractions found similar refuge and equality at the altar rail of Rome?

Wilde was no stranger to sexual scandal. Nor, for anyone familiar with its history, is the Catholic church. Today the face of scandal is Theodore McCarrick, the former cardinal accused of molesting an 11-year-old boy as well as regularly inviting seminarians to his bed.

Notwithstanding its unpopularity, church teaching on homosexuality hasn’t fundamentally changed since St. Paul. What has changed is that the orthodoxy dominating civilization is no longer set by even a residually Judeo-Christian ethos.

This new orthodoxy comes with a new enforcer, too. When it comes to rooting out heresy and dissent, what the Inquisition once accomplished with torture and dungeons today’s media does far more efficiently with relentless promotion of voices and ideas it wants amplified, and equally relentless neglect of voices and ideas it wants ignored. Mockery and contempt are reserved for anyone who won’t sign on.

It isn’t without its contradictions. On the one hand, the keepers of the new sexual orthodoxy are rightly indignant at the lack of consent and exploitation inherent in the sexual abuses by priests, bishops and cardinals who preyed upon those to whom they were supposed to be fathers and shepherds. On the other hand, this same orthodoxy continues to play down that most of the abuse has been committed by men against other men and boys.

Take former Cardinal McCarrick. We’re told “everyone knew” what “Uncle Ted” was up to. Yet knowledge of his behavior didn’t stop him from attaining the archbishopric of the nation’s capital, a cardinal’s hat and welcome in the highest and most fashionable circles.

Even now, it’s illuminating to compare his treatment with the vitriol directed at John Nienstedt, who resigned in 2015 as archbishop of Minneapolis after prosecutors charged the archdiocese with failing to protect children from a sexually abusive priest. Archbishop Nienstedt has also been investigated for inappropriate sexual behavior, though nothing has been proved, no charges were ever filed, and he maintains his innocence.

Certainly no one could claim that Archbishop Nienstedt’s handling of reports of sexual abuse in his diocese was anything but a disaster. And if credible proof emerges he himself was an abuser, by all means let him answer for it. Still, it’s hard not to notice that what really seems to distinguish Archbishop Nienstedt from former Cardinal McCarrick is that the former spoke out publicly for his church’s teaching by supporting a Minnesota ballot measure to ban same-sex marriage.

In so doing, Archbishop Nienstedt challenged the prevailing secular orthodoxy in a way Cardinal McCarrick never did. Which may explain why until recently a media that otherwise delights in bringing down Catholic prelates was decidedly uninterested in investigating the many rumors that swirled around Cardinal McCarrick while he was still active in church life.

It should go without saying that not every gay priest is a predator, that many are holy men, and that the church doesn’t need a witch hunt to root out anyone suspected of being gay. But when the main study on sex abuse by American clergy reports that 81% of victims were male—and largely postpubescent—how tenable is the proposition that homosexuality hasn’t a thing to do with priestly sex abuse?

“I can resist everything but temptation,” Wilde once quipped. What might he have made of the new orthodoxy trying to impose itself on the church he ultimately called his own—and of pope, cardinals and bishops so plainly embarrassed by their own teaching?

In Summoning the Bishops to Address the Sexual-Abuse Crisis, Is Pope Francis Again Missing the Point?

Pope Francis is woefully in the grip of male-dominated, celibate clericalism, even though he criticizes it.

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With the sex-abuse scandal in the Catholic Church reaching a critical mass, Pope Francis has issued an unprecedented call to the world’s top bishops to meet with him in Rome, next February, to discuss “the protection of minors.” But the pressing question for leaders of the Catholic Church no longer concerns abusive priests or complicit bishops, because the Church has forfeited the credibility necessary for such investigations, and has been replaced by civil authorities, such as the state attorneys general—six, as of last week—who are following Pennsylvania’s lead into this morass.

The question for the Church now, given the astounding scale of the dysfunction, arching from the Americas to Europe, Africa, the Philippines, and Australia, is: What in Catholic culture caused this debauchery? The proximate cause concerns essential mistakes of moral theology, including the stigmatizing of normal erotic longing and the sanctifying of prejudice against women and homosexuals. Those errors have roots in the ancient Church, when fundamental options in favor of male power and against sex for pleasure and love were made.

But the immediate cause of the crisis is more recent. The Second Vatican Council, which met in the course of three years, beginning in October of 1962, began as an attempt to redress the old problems. The Council fathers seriously undertook to empower the laity, replace the negative attitudes toward sex that underwrote a deep-seated Catholic neurosis, reform the doom-laden moral theology, democratize the form of the Mass, and transform the self-protecting clerical culture. The pushback began even before the Council adjourned, especially once Pope John XXIII died, in 1963. It is likely that Church disciplines on contraception and priestly celibacy would have begun to change were it not for the panicked intervention of the new Pope, Paul VI, in the Council’s procedures.

After the Council ended, in December of 1965, a full rollback of the reforming impulse was quickly launched. The laity were never meaningfully empowered. The clerical culture was protected. The natural pluralism of theological inquiry was stifled. Women were kept in their place. Perhaps most symbolically, in 1968, Pope Paul condemned the use of birth control among Catholics. The centralized authority of the papacy became stronger than ever. The avatars of this conservative reaction were John Paul II and his enforcer, Joseph Ratzinger, who became Benedict XVI, but the agents of backlash, shaping Catholic attitudes for the past generation, have been the very bishops whom Pope Francis has now summoned to Rome. Even the so-called liberals in the hierarchy would not have been promoted if they had not readily accommodated Ratzinger’s squelching of reform.

One wishes that, in this critical hour, the Church could turn to a cohort of independent-minded Catholic lay people, women and men alike, who have experience in Church administration at the senior-most levels, but there is no such cohort. A devoted legion of volunteers serve the Church, but they exercise no meaningful authority. If the promise of the Vatican Council had been even minimally fulfilled, this would not be the case. Abusive priests would not have been blithely set loose, and the enabling bishops would not have been able to absolve them—or themselves.

It is deeply ironic that the dilemma facing Pope Francis, while caused in part by his own clerical myopia, is made exponentially more pressing by his conservative opponents’ weaponizing of Church confusion about homosexuality. They are doing this precisely to eliminate, once and for all, what little remains of the reform impulse that began at Vatican II. The alarm signal of danger that Francis posed for conservatives was his early refusal to condemn homosexuals. That a bishop like Theodore McCarrick is credibly alleged to be a homosexual harasser—he is accused of, among other things, using his power to prey upon vulnerable seminarians, a charge that he has denied—has given the Pope’s critics the opening that they need. This is in addition to the fact that leading figures among the disgraced have been supportive of Francis, including McCarrick and Cardinal George Pell, of Australia, who will be tried for “historical sexual assault offenses,” to which he has pleaded not guilty; and Cardinal Donald Wuerl, of Washington, D.C., who last week announced that he will ask Pope Francis to accept his resignation following accusations that, when he was the bishop of Pittsburgh, he was involved in the coverup of the abuse in Pennsylvania. With this lethal brew being stirred by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, who has called on Francis himself to resign, the charges are flying, and homosexuals as a group are being scapegoated. Among conservatives, to have tolerated gay priests is now being equated with having tolerated sexual harassment and, in some cases, the rape of children. But even this murkiness is a mark of an incoherent Catholic morality about all kinds of sexual expression.

It once seemed certain that Pope Francis, grounded in the spirit of Vatican II and possessing an ample trove of common sense, was equipped to lead the Catholic Church in its recovery from this disaster. Two things have dimmed that prospect. The first is Francis himself. He is woefully in the grip of male-dominated, celibate clericalism, even though he criticizes it. He still puts his trust in gestures of good will and in bromides of shame, as he did last month, on his trip to Ireland, instead of launching the massive institutional reform that the crisis demands. He seems to think that a meeting of bishops is a solution when, as a class, they are themselves the problem. And, apparently, he regards next February as a timely response to a bankruptcy that has already been declared.

The second factor is the recent accumulation of new evidence showing that the depth of Church corruption wildly surpasses any previous estimate. Every week brings a new bolt of accusation. Last week, the Pope accepted the resignation of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, of West Virginia, amid allegations that he had sexually harassed adults (he has denied allegations against him), and the news that a report to be issued by the Church this week will reveal that more than three thousand minors were abused by more than a thousand priests in Germany. On Saturday, a Dutch newspaper investigation found that, between 1945 and 2010, more than half of the bishops and cardinals of the Netherlands had protected priest abusers instead of victims.

This cascade of accusation, revelation, and indictment will keep flowing. That Pope Francis responds with a business-as-usual meeting of bishops next winter shows how far he is from grasping the stakes of this crisis. His enemies exploit it, while Catholics and non-Catholics alike recognize the utter collapse of Church morality.

Complete Article HERE!

How views on priestly celibacy changed in Christian history

New priests being ordained during a ceremony led by Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, when they take vows, including to remain celibate.

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The recent report of widespread sexual abuse by priests in Pennsylvania has fueled increasing turmoil within the leadership of the Catholic Church. In July this year, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, resigned following allegations against him.

Opponents of Pope Francis are urging him to resign in light of allegations that he knew about McCarrick’s behavior.

At a moment when a culture of secrecy, and what appear to be systematic cover-ups are leading to a crisis of faith, some people are asking whether priestly celibacy is at the root of these scandals.

The fact is for a long time the Catholic Church struggled with its interpretation of Scriptures on priestly celibacy. It wasn’t until the 12th century that priestly celibacy became mandatory.

Scriptural basis for celibacy

In the middle of the first century, Paul, the most influential apostle of the early Christian movement, wrote a letter to a congregation of Jesus followers in Corinth, Greece. It contains the earliest record of a discussion about celibacy and marriage among “believers,” as Christians were called at the time.

‘Saint Paul Writing His Epistles.’

Apparently, the members of the church had written to Paul what appears to be a simple and specific argument in favor of celibacy: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman,” they write. We do not know who wrote these words to Paul or why they made this claim.

But Paul’s response to their claims provides a basis for later Christian views on marriage and celibacy, sex and self-control, and ethics and immorality.

He writes,

“Because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. … Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set of time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. This I say by way of concession, not of command.”

For Paul, marriage was a concession: He appears to view it reluctantly as merely an acceptable choice for those who cannot control themselves.

He goes on to say, “I wish that all were as I myself am,” implying at the very least that he is not married. And he confirms this in the passage that follows,

“To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.”

Marriage, in Paul’s view, is the lesser choice. It is for those who cannot control themselves. Although difficult, remaining unmarried and choosing celibacy, seems to be the higher ideal.

Interpretations of Paul

As a a scholar of early Christianity, I know that Scriptural interpretations are always dynamic; Scripture is read and understood by different Christians in different time periods and places. So, it is not surprising that a short time later, Paul’s writings found new meaning as asceticism – the practices of self-control that included fasting, celibacy, and solitude –began to spread within Christianity.

A second-century expansion on the story of Paul, The Acts of Paul and Thecla, a largely fictional story about Paul’s missionary efforts in what is now modern Turkey, casts Paul primarily as a preacher of self-control and celibacy. In this story, Paul blesses “those who have wives as if they have them not.”

Such a phrase may sound strange to modern readers. But as monasticism grew within Christianity, some married Christian couples were faced with a problem: They did not want to divorce their spouses, because Scripture spoke against divorce. And yet they wanted to choose the life of celibacy. So these Christians chose to “live as brother and sister,” or “to have wives as if they had them not.”

At the same time, stories of failures to keep vows of celibacy abounded: stories of monks and nuns who lived together and bore children, stories of monks who took mistresses, and stories about behaviors that today would be considered sexual abuse.

These stories emphasized that temptation was always a problem for those who chose celibacy.

Celibacy and crisis

In the Middle Ages, the celibacy of the priesthood became a source of conflict between Christians. By the 11th century, it contributed to the formal schism between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.

But the issues were far from resolved. Divergent views on mandatory celibacy for priests contributed to the reform movements in the 16th century. Martin Luther, a leader of the Protestant Reformation, argued that allowing priests to marry would prevent cases of sexual immorality. He drew upon Paul’s letters for support of his views.

On the other hand, leaders of the Catholic Church’s “Counter-Reformation,” a reform and renewal movement that had begun before Martin Luther, did not advocate marriage, but sought to address corrupt practices among the clergy.

Desiderius Erasmus, for example, a 16th century Catholic scholar, wrote a powerful critique of corruption in the Catholic Church. His views may well have been shaped by the fact that he himself was the illegitimate son of a Catholic priest.
One of the most important developments in this period was the creation of the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits, which sought to reform the priesthood in the face of accusations of sexual relations and corruption by, in part, improving the education of priests. In the founding rules of the Jesuit order, emphasis was placed on the importance of celibacy, training and preparation for missionary work, and serving the directives of the pope.

A man holds placards as he takes part in a protest during the visit of Pope Francis to Dublin, in August 2018. Can Pope Francis bring reform?

Pope Francis too is a Jesuit and has a long church history and tradition that he could draw from. The question is, at a time when the church is facing a crisis, will he show the way towards renewal and reform?

Complete Article HERE!

I’m a Catholic priest. I’m ashamed at this abuse crisis.

Structural changes alone won’t fix the church. Our culture must change as well.

St Paul Cathedral, the mother church of the Pittsburgh Diocese, on August 15, 2018.

By Fr. Patrick Gilger

As a Jesuit, a Roman Catholic priest — as somebody who lives and breathes the church — I should have understood already how broken the institution of the church can be. After all, the scandal of child sex abuse and its cover-up by the church hierarchy broke in Boston in 2002. Then it happened again in Minnesota in 2012. That list could go on. I read about those scandals years ago with both anger and sadness. But in reading the recent Pennsylvania reports detailing yet another cover-up of clergy sexual abuse, I found shock giving way to shame.

I am ashamed at the crimes recorded in the Pennsylvania grand jury report and ashamed by the apparently well-known abuses of power by former Cardinal McCarrick. I am ashamed not because there is anything new in these reports, but because it means that in yet another place, the hierarchy of the church has chosen to protect the institution over the vulnerable. And I am ashamed because, though I have not committed these acts myself, I am by my own choice a part of this system. It is because others who have this ministry have caused such pain that I feel compelled to say how sorry I am.

But even saying that feels uncomfortably like a power grab, a use of the very authority of the priesthood — the expectation that people will listen as I narrate the experience of faith — to make an inadequate apology for the way that same authority has been so grievously misused. But it will take a few more words to explain why I became a Catholic, why I am a priest, and why all of this matters.

Why I became a priest

Fr. Patrick L. Gilger, S.J.

I became a Catholic in April 2001 during my junior year of college. I was 20 years old, and deeply convinced in the way only a 20-year-old can be that I was becoming part of something much bigger, much holier, much truer than I could be alone.

Extremist that I am, 18 months later I became a Jesuit, and 11 years after that a priest. What I wanted — and what I have found — was a way to give my whole life away in service. I wanted to think toward such a God, help women and men experience such a God, and serve such a God among the poor. I wanted to speak about what such a life was like and, in speaking about it, make it a little more imaginable for others. Being a priest has been the greatest gift of my life.

Which explains something of why it is so heart-wrenching, in light of these continuing scandals, to feel this greatest of gifts become a source of pain.

It’s not that there haven’t been efforts to fix this in the past. In 2002, the church implemented the Dallas Charter, which established comprehensive procedures for the protection of minors. And it seems to be working — nearly all the abuse cases described in the Pennsylvania report are from decades ago.

Still, for many years, even as vocations to the priesthood and religious life have declined and laypeople have taken on more and more leadership positions, there has been an expectation that it is the role of the clergy to speak and that of the laity to listen

Which is why I feel that in the midst of such a scandal, more words from yet another priest verge on the scandalous. Instead, what we priests need to do is to renounce the expectation to be listened to in favor of listening to those we serve

Trying to do that led me to ask a handful of lay leaders across the country not just what they thought of these scandals but how it was affecting their ministry and what they hoped for the church in its midst. Each of them labor full time in the church, ministering as teachers, retreat leaders, and spiritual directors. I preserved their anonymity so they would feel free to speak.

“I actually don’t feel that the bishops betrayed my trust, because they’ve never had it.”

“I am angry,” said one campus minister at an all-girls high school in the Midwest. “I’m now at the point where I’m going to lean into the church one more time, and this is either going to get better or I’m leaving. I want this to get better,” he told me, “but it’s not going to unless we demand a change in the way the church functions. I think we have to use the anger we feel for good because anger without action is selfish. We, the laity of the church, are also responsible for maintaining the status quo — now that we know about these abuses, we must act.”

“I actually don’t feel that the bishops betrayed my trust,” said a theologian at a Catholic university in the West, “because they’ve never had it. But the church is not the bishops. Most of my students don’t feel betrayed for the same reason. They never trusted the institution in the first place.”

A director of formation for a large, suburban parish told me that it’s “only after working within the church for more than a decade” that she’s actually felt like she has some influence on the governance of her parish. “What this scandal has really shown,” she said, is “how deep the chasm between the clergy and the laity really is. It cannot be that the only time we have intimate conversations with priests is behind the wall of the confessional.”

For her, this means involving women, who have for so long done so much of the church’s ministry. As she put it, “women are the ones leading the relational ministries of the church. We have to be included in the leadership of our dioceses, but right now it feels like we are expected to stand on the sidelines and be cheerleaders. Women need a seat at the table.”

Another minister, a liturgist and chaplain at a large Catholic university, told me: “I want us to talk more openly about sexuality in ministry. We have to actually talk about it because the reality is that the sexual identities of the church ministers have been stifled.” When I asked him what was preventing such conversations from happening, he replied, “I believe that the hierarchy is afraid. I’m afraid of having these substantive conversations, too, but fear undermines even the possibility of intimacy. And all of us who minister in the church need mutuality — it is too lonely otherwise.”

Structural reforms alone won’t fix the church

It is practices that sustain communities: throwing a baseball, sitting down for dinner, bowing before the Eucharist. But it is people that sustain practices. Without people who freely give their lives to sustain the practices that make up the Catholic community, there is no church. This is part of what I heard in my conversations with these lay ministers.

In order for the clergy to continue our work, in order for them to be credible to a world that has been so well-trained in reasons not to believe anything said by anyone in ministry, both ministry itself and the culture of the church need to change. For too long, clergy have claimed, and the church has granted, authority simply for being ordained. We must sever the connection — the clericalism — that mistakes a ministry of service for a grant of privilege.

Structural reforms are necessary but not sufficient to begin making this change. At a minimum, as Cardinal DiNardo, the current president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, recently said, the church must welcome lay oversight at the parish, diocese, and national levels. We must implement transparent protocols for the supervision not only of priests but of bishops and cardinals. Lay leaders, especially women, must be included in the formation of Catholic clergy. But for any of this to be more than empty procedures, the church will have to unlearn one culture and relearn another. This will mean changing our identities. And it will cost.

For the clergy, the cost will be learning not to expect automatic, exclusive authority. This might mean that becoming a priest no longer carries with it the expectation of leadership of a parish or a high school or a university. For bishops, this must mean real partnership with laypeople in the governance of their dioceses.

For the whole church, this means unlearning the instinct to try to repay people for the gift of their lives by giving them titles, powers, offices — even by automatically calling them holy. It means constantly remembering that it is service that grounds authority and teaches us how to use power.

In such a church, there would be less need to have a priest write an article in which the voices of the laity — in their anger, their attention to the poor, their tears, and their courage to confront what causes fear — are raised up, because ministers would be listened to because of their authentic service rather than their titles.

Ministry in such a church — one much bigger, much holier, much truer than any of us can ever be alone — can still be a gift, not just for priests but for all.

Complete Article HERE!

Why it’s so hard to hold priests accountable for sex abuse

Catherine Coleman Murphy, center, and Jack Wintermyer, right, protest along with others outside Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul before an Ash Wednesday Mass in Philadelphia on March 9, 2011.

By Carolyn M. Warner

A grand jury report recently found shocking levels of child sex abuse in the Catholic Church. It uncovered, in six dioceses, the sexual abuse of over 1,000 children and named 301 perpetrator priests. It also found that religious officials had turned a blind eye to the abuse.

In response, Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, wrote a letter addressed to “the People of God,” saying,

“With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”

The fact is the pope has the power to ensure that this does not happen again. As a scholar of the Catholic Church, I believe an important but often poorly understood reason for the abandonment of abused children is the Church’s Code of Canon law, which the pope alone can change.

Early church laws on sex abuse

Canon laws govern the church and lay out its theology. All Catholic religious officials are bound by them.

Canon law has a complex history. It originated in early Christian communities. Christians, building on the Gospels and other sacred texts, developed norms and rules about acceptable practices and behavior, including wrongdoing by clergy. Christian communities usually had rules against religious officials sexually abusing children. They were harsh on sodomy. Punishments could include being smeared with spit and bound in iron chains.

As Christian communities spread throughout the Mediterranean region in the third century A.D., regional meetings were held to discuss rules that could be applied uniformly.

By the fourth century A.D., Christian churches, usually through councils, started issuing authoritative rules accepted by all Christian communities. These came to be called “canons.” The most well-known were those of the Council of Nicaea, convened by Emperor Constantine in A.D. 325.

The enforcement of the canons was put in the hands of church bishops.

As Christianity spread east and west, it struggled with rulers who wanted to control peoples and territories. Diverse rules and norms proliferated. At the same time, over many centuries, various religious leaders and theologians tried to create a uniform system.

It was not until 1917, under Pope Benedict XV, however, that the Church consolidated and revised the many different rules in Western Christendom. This was titled the Code of Canon Law, applicable to all Roman Catholic churches. Only the pope could issue or change canon law. The Orthodox, or “Eastern rite,” churches have a slightly different set of laws.

The Church sometimes turned errant priests over to civil authorities.

That changed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when Church-state battles flared in Europe as secular states rejected the church’s claims to sovereignty. The Church made the handling of clergy child sex abuse an internal matter.

The 1917 code was revised in 1983 to take into account changes stemming from the Second Vatican Council, an assembly of Roman Catholic bishops meant to settle doctrinal issues, held between 1962 to 1965. Both versions of the code include canons about sex abuse.


Parishioners pray ahead of a mass at the Cathedral Church of Saint Patrick in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Under Vatican control

Here is how canon law changed over the years.

Since 1917, the church dealt with accusations against sexual abuse of children through rules that barred priests from soliciting sex when they were in the confessional.

If priests, when taking a confession, solicited sex, they were viewed as having committed a particularly egregious sin. The confessional is a sacred space and confession a sacred act.

What is noteworthy here is that the concern was about the priest sinning, not about abuse being perpetrated on another. Also, the 1917 code did not have any canons that dealt with sex abuse outside the confessional or sex abuse of minors.

In 1922, the pope issued a set of guidelines, formally called an instruction. It tried to deal with cases in which the priest did not directly solicit sex during confession. Clerical sex abuse of minors was a crime if the act was somehow associated with the sacrament of confession.

The instruction was reissued by Pope John XXIII 40 years later, in 1962. The instruction was not officially incorporated into the Code of Canon Law, nor widely circulated.

From 1922 onward, investigations of clergy suspected of sexually abusing children were to be cloaked in secrecy. This limited bishops from reporting cases to the police, or even to parishioners.

But it was only in the 1983 code that child sex abuse was listed as a crime within the canon about clergy violating their obligation to not have sex. The new code gave the Vatican extensive control over the fate of accused clergy.

Other forms of ‘correction’

There was more. A canon about avoiding “scandal” compounded the secrecy issue. It was a sin, and a violation of canon law, to do anything that would cause “scandal” to the faithful by leading them to sin or question their faith.

If a bishop, for example, were to make known that a priest had sexually abused children in his diocese, the bishop, and not just the priest, would be guilty under canon law of causing scandal – because information about the abuse might cause Catholics to question their faith – as indeed, it often has.

Also included was a requirement that bishops provide priests with funds when the priests were removed from ministry, but not dismissed from the clerical state (not “laicized” or “defrocked”).

Thus, what to Catholics and those outside the institution looks like the morally dubious practice of paying child sex abusers is to the hierarchy a fulfillment of their obligations.

Under the 1917 code, bishops, under certain conditions, could dismiss priests from the clerical state, and without a canonical trial. But it could be done only after it was determined that there was no possibility of reform.

If a priest claimed his abuse was due to pedophilia or other psychological disorders, canon law provided for a more lenient punishment. The priest could be regarded as not being fully responsible for his actions.

Escaping accountability

The 1983 revision put forward by Pope John Paul II to the entire code made it impossible for bishops to dismiss priests. Authority for doing so became centralized in the Vatican.

At the time, the pope appeared to be responding to a wave of priests abandoning the priesthood. However, the change ended up constraining the bishops. They had to retain the abusive priests unless the latter were found guilty at a canonical trial and the Vatican – officially, the pope – agreed to dismiss them.

At most, bishops could suspend priests’ clerical faculties: that is, priests’ authorization to say mass and administer other sacraments, or present themselves publicly as priests, for a short time. But they could not do so permanently.

The 1983 code also reduced the maximum time within which proceedings could be initiated against priests having sex with a child to five years.

With victims often, understandably, not coming forward for years, that meant many priests escaped internal punishment by the Vatican.

Canonical trials also require the cooperation of the victim as a witness and are another obstacle to holding priests accountable. The code has encouraged the very inaction by bishops that the pope condemns.

There are no provisions in canon law that specify what is to be done if a bishop has failed to act on a case of suspected or actual child sex abuse.

Power lies with the pope

Since 2001, in a further centralizing move, the Vatican has required that bishops send all cases of substantiated allegations of child sex abuse to its Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is located at the Vatican, and is usually headed by a powerful Cardinal.

Its job is to “promote and safeguard the faith.”

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith may tell the bishop to conduct a canonical trial, may conduct one itself, or accept or reject a request for dismissal and apply conditions. Priests can appeal the verdicts and sentences. The Vatican sometimes overrules bishops who want to dismiss priests.

Although it is entirely within his power to do so, Pope Francis has not altered the Code of Canon Law with regard to clergy child sex abuse and how it is handled by bishops.

For the church truly to hold priests and their bishops accountable for child sex abuse, this is an important step.

Complete Article HERE!