Gay Catholic Priests Speak Out
The crisis over sexuality in the Catholic Church goes beyond abuse. It goes to the heart of the priesthood, into a closet that is trapping thousands of men.
Gregory Greiten was 17 years old when the priests organized the game. It was 1982 and he was on a retreat with his classmates from St. Lawrence, a Roman Catholic seminary for teenage boys training to become priests. Leaders asked each boy to rank which he would rather be: burned over 90 percent of his body, paraplegic, or gay.
Each chose to be scorched or paralyzed. Not one uttered the word “gay.” They called the game the Game of Life.
The lesson stuck. Seven years later, he climbed up into his seminary dorm window and dangled one leg over the edge. “I really am gay,” Father Greiten, now a priest near Milwaukee, remembered telling himself for the first time. “It was like a death sentence.”
The closet of the Roman Catholic Church hinges on an impossible contradiction. For years, church leaders have driven gay congregants away in shame and insisted that “homosexual tendencies” are “disordered.” And yet, thousands of the church’s priests are gay.
The stories of gay priests are unspoken, veiled from the outside world, known only to one another, if they are known at all.
Fewer than about 10 priests in the United States have dared to come out publicly. But gay men likely make up at least 30 to 40 percent of the American Catholic clergy, according to dozens of estimates from gay priests themselves and researchers. Some priests say the number is closer to 75 percent. One priest in Wisconsin said he assumed every priest is gay unless he knows for a fact he is not. A priest in Florida put it this way: “A third are gay, a third are straight, and a third don’t know what the hell they are.”
Two dozen gay priests and seminarians from 13 states shared intimate details of their lives in the Catholic closet with The New York Times over the past two months. They were interviewed in their churches before Mass, from art museums on the weekend, in their apartments decorated with rainbow neon lights, and between classes at seminary. Some agreed to be photographed if their identities were concealed.
Almost all of them required strict confidentiality to speak without fear of retribution from their bishops or superiors. A few had been expressly forbidden to come out or even to speak about homosexuality. Most are in active ministry, and could lose more than their jobs if they are outed. The church almost always controls a priest’s housing, health insurance and retirement pension. He could lose all three if his bishop finds his sexuality disqualifying, even if he is faithful to his vows of celibacy.
The environment for gay priests has grown only more dangerous. The fall of Theodore McCarrick, the once-powerful cardinal who was defrocked last week for sexual abuse of boys and young men, has inflamed accusations that homosexuality is to blame for the church’s resurgent abuse crisis.
Studies repeatedly find there to be no connection between being gay and abusing children. And yet prominent bishops have singled out gay priests as the root of the problem, and right-wing media organizations attack what they have called the church’s “homosexual subculture,” “lavender mafia,” or “gay cabal.”
Even Pope Francis has grown more critical in recent months. He has called homosexuality “fashionable,” recommended that men with “this deep-seated tendency” not be accepted for ministry, and admonished gay priests to be “perfectly responsible, trying to never create scandal.”
This week, Pope Francis will host a much-anticipated summit on sex abuse with bishops from around the world. The debate promises to be not only about holding bishops accountable but also about homosexuality itself.
“This is my life,” a parish priest in the Northeast said. “You feel like everyone is on a witch hunt now for things you have never done.”
Just a few years ago, this shift was almost unimaginable. When Pope Francis uttered his revolutionary question, “Who am I to judge?” in 2013, he tempted the closet door to swing open. A cautious few priests stepped through.
But if the closet door cracked, the sex abuse crisis now threatens to slam it shut. Widespread scapegoating has driven many priests deeper into the closet.
“The vast majority of gay priests are not safe,” said Father Bob Bussen, a priest in Park City, Utah, who was outed about 12 years ago after he held mass for the L.G.B.T.Q. community.
“Life in the closet is worse than scapegoating,” he said. “It is not a closet. It is a cage.”
“You can be taught to act straight in order to survive.”
Even before a priest may know he is gay, he knows the closet. The code is taught early, often in seminary. Numquam duo, semper tres, the warning goes. Never two, always three. Move in trios, never as a couple. No going on walks alone together alone, no going to the movies in a pair. The higher-ups warned for years: Any male friendship is too dangerous, could slide into something sexual, and turn into what they called a “particular friendship.”
“You couldn’t have a particular friendship with a man, because you might end up being homosexual,” explained a priest, who once nicknamed his friends “the P.F.s.” “And you couldn’t have a friendship with a woman, because you might end up falling in love, and they were both against celibacy. With whom do you have a relationship that would be a healthy human relationship?”
Today, training for the priesthood in the United States usually starts in or after college. But until about 1980, the church often recruited boys to start in ninth grade — teenagers still in the throes of puberty. For many of today’s priests and bishops over 50, this environment limited healthy sexual development. Priests cannot marry, so sexuality from the start was about abstinence, and obedience.
The sexual revolution happening outside seminary walls might as well have happened on the moon, and national milestones in the fight for gay rights like the Stonewall riots, on Mars.
One priest in a rural diocese said the rules reminded him of how his elementary school forced left-handed students to write with their right hand. “You can be taught to act straight in order to survive,” he said.
“I can still remember seeing a seminarian come out of another’s room at 5 a.m. and thinking, isn’t it nice, they talked all night,” the same priest said. “I was so naïve.”
Priests in America tend to come out to themselves at a much later age than the national average for gay men, 15. Many gay priests spoke of being pulled between denial and confusion, finally coming out to themselves in their 30s or 40s.
Father Greiten was 24 when he realized he was gay and considered jumping from his dorm window. He did not jump, but confided his despair in a classmate. His friend came out himself. It was a revelation: There were other people studying to be priests who were gay. It was just that no one talked about it.
He reached out to a former seminary professor who he thought might also be a gay man.
“There will be a time in your life when you will look back on this and you’re going to just love yourself for being gay,” Father Greiten remembered this man telling him. “I thought, ‘This man must be totally insane.’”
But he had discovered the strange irony of the Catholic closet — it isn’t secret at all.
“It’s kind of like an open closet,” Father Greiten said. “It’s the making of it public, and speaking about it, where it becomes an issue.”
One priest, whose parish has no idea he is gay, remembered a backyard cocktail party a few years ago where fellow priests were saying “vile” things about a gay bishop. He intervened, and came out to them. He lost three friends that night. “I broke the code by announcing to them that I was gay,” he said. “It was a conspiracy of silence.”
That is a reason many of the men are out to only a few close friends. The grapevine has taught them which priests in their diocese are gay, whom to trust, and whom to fear.
All priests must wrestle with their vows of celibacy, and the few priests who are publicly out make clear they are chaste.
Still, many priests said they have had sex with other men to explore their sexual identity. Some have watched pornography to see what it was like for two men to have sex. They ultimately found more anguish than pleasure.
One priest had sex for the first time at 62, no strings attached, with a man he met online. The relationship was discovered and reported to his bishop, and he has not had sex since. Another priest, when asked if he had ever considered himself as having a partner, wondered what that even meant. He paused, before mentioning one very special friend. “I fell in love several times with men,” he said. “I knew from the beginning it wasn’t going to last.”
Though open, the closet means that many priests have held the most painful stories among themselves for decades: The seminarian who died by suicide, and the matches from a gay bar found afterward in his room. The priest friends who died of AIDS. The feeling of coming home to an empty rectory every night.
So they find ways to encourage one other. They share books like Father James Martin’s groundbreaking “Building a Bridge,” on the relationship between the Catholic and L.G.B.T. communities. Some have signed petitions against church-sponsored conversion therapy programs, or have met on private retreats, after figuring out how to conceal them on their church calendars. Occasionally, a priest may even take off his collar and offer to unofficially bless a gay couple’s marriage.
Some may call this rebellion. But “it is not a cabal,” one priest said. “It is a support group.”
Just over a year ago, after meeting with a group of gay priests, Father Greiten decided it was time to end his silence. At Sunday Mass, during Advent, he told his suburban parish he was gay, and celibate. They leapt to their feet in applause.
His story went viral. A 90-year-old priest called him to say he had lived his entire life in the closet and longed for the future to be different. A woman wrote from Mississippi, asking him to move south to be her priest.
To some church leaders, that outpouring of support may have been even more threatening than his sexuality. Father Greiten had committed the cardinal sin: He opened the door to debate. His archbishop, Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee, issued a statement saying that he wished Father Greiten had not gone public. Letters poured in calling him “satanic,” “gay filth,” and a “monster” who sodomized children.
“We have to get it right when it comes to sexuality.”
The idea that gay priests are responsible for child sexual abuse remains a persistent belief, especially in many conservative Catholic circles. For years, church leaders have been deeply confused about the relationship between gay men and sexual abuse. With every new abuse revelation, the tangled threads of the church’s sexual culture become even more impossible to sort out.
Study after study shows that homosexuality is not a predictor of child molestation. This is also true for priests, according to a famous studyby John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the wake of revelations in 2002 about child sex abuse in the church. The John Jay research, which church leaders commissioned, found that same-sex experience did not make priests more likely to abuse minors, and that four out of five people who said they were victims were male. Researchers found no single cause for this abuse, but identified that abusive priests’ extensive access to boys had been critical to their choice of victims.
The notion that a certain sexual identity leads to abusive behavior has demoralized gay priests for decades. Days after one man retired, he still could not shake what his archbishop in the 1970s told all the new priests headed to their first parish assignments. “He said, ‘I don’t ever want you to call me to report about your pastor, unless he is a homo or an alchie,’” he said, referring to an alcoholic. “He didn’t even know what he meant when he said homo, because we were all homos. He meant a predator, like serial predator.”
This perception persists today at prominent Catholic seminaries. At the largest in the United States, Mundelein Seminary in Illinois, few ever talk about sexual identity, said one gay student, who is afraid to ever come out. Since last summer, when Mr. McCarrick was exposed for abusing young men, students have been drilled in rules about celibacy and the evils of masturbation and pornography.
“Classmates will say, ‘Don’t admit gays,’” said the student. “Their attitude is that it is gay priests who inflict abuse on younger guys.”
Priests across the country are wondering if their sacrifice is worth the personal cost. “Am I going to leave the priesthood because I’m sick of that accusation?” asked Father Michael Shanahan, a Chicago priest who came out publicly three years ago. “Become more distant from parishioners? Am I going to hide? Become hardened, and old?”
Blaming sexual abuse on gay men is almost sure to be a major topic this week at the Vatican, at a much-anticipated four-day summit on sexual abuse. Pope Francis has called the world’s most powerful bishops to Rome to educate them on the problems of abuse, after high-profile abuses cases in the United States, Australia, Chile and elsewhere.
The event has worried gay priests. A few years after the 2002 scandal, the Vatican banned gay men from seminaries and ordination. When the abuse crisis broke out again last summer, the former Vatican ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, accused “homosexual networks” of American cardinals of secretly working to protect abusers. And this week, a sensational book titled “Sodoma” in Europe (“In the Closet of the Vatican” in the United States) is being released that claims to expose a vast gay subculture at the Vatican.
A group of gay priests in the Netherlands recently took the unusually bold step of writing to Pope Francis, urging him to allow gay, celibate men to be ordained.
“Instead of seeing increased accountability on the parts of the bishops, it could become once again a condemnation of lesbian, gay, transsexual people within the church,” said John Coe, 63, a permanent deacon in Kentucky, who came out last year.
Sitting in his parish’s small counseling room, Father Greiten reflected on it all. He wished he could talk to Pope Francis himself. “Listen to my story of how the church traumatized me for being a gay man,” he asked, into the air.
“It’s not just about the sexual abuse crisis,” he said, his voice growing urgent. “They are sexually traumatizing and wounding yet another generation. We have to stand up and say no more sexual abuse, no more sexual traumatizing, no more sexual wounding. We have to get it right when it comes to sexuality.”
For now, Father Greiten was getting ready for his 15th trip to Honduras with doctors and medical supplies. A shadow box hung on the wall behind him. It displayed a scrap of purple knitting, needle still stuck in the top. He calls it “The Unfinished Gift.”
“What if every priest was truly allowed to live their life freely, openly, honestly?” he asked. “That’s my dream.”
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
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↩!
French journalist’s book is a ‘startling account of corruption and hypocrisy’, publisher says
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↩!
The world changes but not the Catholic Church
The Catholic Church is still only groping its way toward telling the truth about sexual abuse by priests
“Mary’s” real name was Francis Cardinal Spellman. The year was 1967, and he was Archbishop of the diocese of New York. An intimate of popes going back to Pope Pius XII, whom he had befriended when he was Archbishop Eugenio Pacelli in the 1920’s and serving as Papal Nuncio in the Vatican, Spellman was the most powerful Catholic figure in the United States, and one of the most powerful in the world.
The groping took place in his private quarters behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan in the presence of two West Point cadets and one Monsignor who was introduced to us as the Cardinal’s “personal assistant.”
I was a junior at West Point, and one of the editors of the cadet magazine, The Pointer. Cadets were allowed only two weekend leaves each semester in those days, and what they called a “weekend leave” consisted of being allowed to leave the campus on the Hudson from noon on Saturday until 6 p.m. on Sunday, so it wasn’t a “weekend” at all.
One of the things cadets did to compensate for this lack of free time away from the Academy was to participate in what was called “club activity,” because cadet clubs were permitted to take trips away from the academy to pursue “activities” related to their purpose. The Pointer was considered such a club. So was the “Culture Club,” formed by a couple of classmates in my company for the purpose of availing ourselves of the culture in nearby New York City. The Culture Club would take trips to New York to attend the ballet and opera on Friday and Saturday nights. The rest of the time in the city was our own, which we spent pursuing members of the opposite sex, whose members in those days were nowhere to be seen among the all-male corps of cadets.
Cadets working on the staff of The Pointer could take what were called “trip sections” to sell ads, or in my case to interview people for articles for the magazine. A few of us were looking for an excuse to go down to the city, so I racked my brain thinking of who I could interview for a Pointer article. Suddenly it came to me. Cardinal Spellman! He was scheduled to receive the high honor of the Thayer Award from West Point later that year, so there was a good reason to write a piece about him. The trick was getting him to agree to an interview.
Luckily, I knew that he and my grandfather, General Lucian K. Truscott Jr., had been acquainted during the war. Spellman had been named by the Vatican as Apostolic Vicar of the United States in 1939, and my grandfather had told me that Spellman had accompanied him during the landing at Anzio, Italy in 1944, and that they had stayed in touch afterwards.
I sent Spellman a letter asking for an interview for The Pointer, knowing that he would recognize my name, and sure enough, his assistant got right back to me, and we set up a date in April. We traveled to the city in our Dress Gray uniforms and showed up at the cardinal’s private residence in the late afternoon on a Friday. With me was a classmate who was one of The Pointer’s photographers, and a second guy who was scheduled to make sales calls later that day and the next to sell ads for the magazine.
We were led into a sitting room with windows overlooking Madison Avenue. Spellman, a diminutive, fleshy square-faced man wearing wire-rimmed spectacles was seated in a corner of the room. His assistant the monsignor showed me to a chair next to him. I took my seat and got out my pen and notebook and started the interview, but before I could even ask my first question, Spellman put his hand on my thigh and started moving it toward my crotch. He was just about to reach my private parts when the monsignor, who was standing behind him, reached over his shoulder and grabbed his wrist and put his hand back in his lap. “Now, now, eminence,” the monsignor whispered to Spellman.
I had no idea what to do. I was afraid I would be punished or even accused of lying if I reported Spellman to the authorities at West Point. I mean, he was Cardinal Spellman! He was the military vicar of the United States! I was panicked that if I stood up and left, I wouldn’t get the interview I needed for my story. I had sold the story and the New York trip to the officer in charge of The Pointer on the basis of writing a profile of Spellman in advance of the Thayer Award ceremony. I was dumbstruck. I just sat there, frozen.
Suddenly the cardinal opened the drawer in the side table next to him and took out a gold-plated tie clasp emblazoned with some sort of Catholic symbol and handed it to me. Dumbfounded, I put the tie clasp in my pocket, took pen in hand, and resumed the interview. I got off a couple of questions and was scribbling down his answer when I felt his hand sliding up my leg again. Same thing. The monsignor grabbed his wrist and put his hand back in his lap with a whispered “come now, your eminence.” Cardinal Spellman opened the drawer again, and this time he handed me a gold-plated key chain depicting St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
He did it over and over again, and I just kept asking questions and recording his answers like nothing happened. I left the cardinal’s residence that day carrying a couple of tie clasps, three key chains, and a couple of gold-plated tie tacks.
There was an out-of-body aspect to the whole thing. It was like it was happening to someone else. There I was in this rather large room behind St. Patrick’s Cathedral with two of my West Point buddies and this six-foot tall 30ish monsignor looking on, and each time Spellman groped me, I thought, surely, this is the last time it will happen. I mean, there were three other people present! He’s going to come to his senses!
But he didn’t. He wasn’t a doddering old senile fool, either. He answered my questions lucidly and even embellished his answers with long, digressive stories. At one point, he recalled the first day of the Anzio invasion and went on about what a dashing figure my grandfather cut in his leather jacket and cavalry riding breeches and white neck scarf, the colorful uniform he was famous for wearing during the war. The monsignor didn’t say a word about the cardinal’s behavior when he escorted us out of the cardinal’s residence. No apology, no shrug of the shoulders, nothing.
Later, the three of us checked into the Statler Hilton and sat around and drank beer and laughed about it. The photographer made several pictures showing Spellman groping me. We couldn’t wait to get them developed and have another yuk.
I have to say that I decided to tell this story with some trepidation for that exact reason: because our reaction to Spellman’s groping was to treat it like a joke. But while it may have seemed funny to us 52 years ago, what we’ve learned about sexual abuse by priests and bishops in the Catholic Church has proved that the casual groping by Cardinal Spellman that day was only a hint of what was going on and had been going on in the church certainly for decades, and perhaps for centuries.
Last Tuesday, Pope Francis deigned to acknowledge — in response to a question from a reporter on his official airplane, no less — that the church has long known priests and bishops have sexually abused and raped nuns, sometimes forcing them to have abortions when they got pregnant. This latest admission of yet another sexual scandal in the church came after revelations over 30 years of sexual scandals stretching back decades. They include the wide ranging and decades long scandal of pedophile priests abusing children, and the abuse by priests of adult seminarians and members of their parishes. All of it has been known to the leaders of the church for decades and covered up by a systematic process of moving offending priests around and intimidating victims into silence, or if necessary, paying them off.
When I moved to New York in 1970 and came into contact with the archdiocese of New York working on stories about the church’s real estate, I heard from several priests I befriended that they still talked about Spellman in the New York church, and that his nickname for decades had been “Mary.” That a man as powerful as Cardinal Spellman would be given the feminine sobriquet “Mary” within the church is all the evidence you need that his proclivities were well known by his fellow priests and bishops, and that incredibly, their reaction was to treat it like a joke.
Hell, the monsignor had been pre-stationed right there behind him to insure Spellman did not, shall we say, take things too far with one of the visiting cadets! They knew what he was likely to do. Spellman was at that time 77 and had been a priest for 51 years. There is little doubt in my mind that if he was capable of groping a West Point cadet in front of three witnesses in his residence at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, including a monsignor of his church, he had spent many of those years engaging in sexual abuse of other young men and perhaps children. “Mary,” indeed.
Sexual abuse within the Catholic Church is a joke no longer. Pope Francis has called a “summit” of bishops in Rome later this month to discuss for the umpteenth time the problem of sexual abuse by priests — this one is specifically focused on the abuse of children. He appears to be scrambling to hold together a church that is losing parishioners as fast as it is losing hundreds of millions, if not billions in settlements with tens of thousands of children and adults abused by priests.
I wish I hadn’t laughed off my experience of being groped by Francis Cardinal Spellman. It seems clear now that sexual abuse by priests and bishops and even cardinals — the so-called “princes of the church — was already systemic, and that the church was engaged in, and continued to engage in what amounted to a criminal enterprise by sanctioning sexual crimes and misdemeanors and not reporting offenders to law enforcement authorities. By staying silent about being groped by Cardinal Spellman, I feel like I contributed in some small measure to what came afterwards: five decades of sexual crimes by priests in the Catholic Church against innocent victims.
I wasn’t an innocent victim. I was an adult, a cadet at West Point, and I knew better. I’m sorry I didn’t stand up and report the man called “Mary” for what he did.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
Recently, a Calgary woman filed two human rights complaints with the Alberta Human Rights Commission. The employee, Barb Hamilton, says she was pushed out the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) because of her sexuality and was refused employment on the grounds of marital status, religious belief and sexual orientation.
Hamilton says she knew of 10 LGBTQ students in the school where she was principal who had hurt themselves, including by cutting themselves or attempting suicide because of homophobia at home or school. She says she went to the district for help but nothing changed.
Many Canadians may believe that LGBTQ people are protected from discrimination. But my research into religiously inspired homophobia and transphobia in Canadian Catholic schools since 2004 shows there are other LGBTQ-identified teachers who suffer similar fates.
I personally experienced this risk when I taught high school English for CCSD.
It might seem strange that someone like me, a publicly “out” lesbian, sought employment with a Catholic school. But I was raised in a Catholic family that counts clergy among its members and I regarded myself as culturally Catholic. Having a Catholic background also made it easier for me to find a teaching position at a time when they were hard to get.
In the years that I taught for CCSD, I experienced homophobia daily. I knew I could no longer work for CCSD when a student where I was teaching died by suicide after suffering months of homophobic bullying because he was gay.
I left teaching to research homophobia and transphobia in Canadian Catholic schools and also to begin to question and understand how these phobias are institutionalized. In other words, who or what systems are responsible for creating and implementing homophobic and transphobic religious curriculum and administrative policies?
Hotbeds for homophobia?
Using Catholic doctrine to fire LGBTQ teachers and to discriminate against queer students in Catholic schools violates Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the equality rights provision. Shouldn’t publicly funded Catholic schools respect the law?
Publicly funded Catholic schools currently have constitutional status in the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. These separate schools are operated by civil authorities and are accountable to provincial governments. Religious bodies do not have a legal interest in them, and as such, Canadian Catholic separate schools are not private or parochial schools as is common in other countries.
Of course, the Charter also ensures freedom of conscience and religion. However, when the expression of particular religious beliefs calls for the suppression of another’s equality rights, freedoms are curtailed rather than safeguarded.
This recurring discrimination against sexual and gender minority groups could be due to the central contradiction within Catholic doctrine itself: the church’s teaching best summarized as “It’s OK to be gay, just don’t act on it,” — a position some Catholics reject.
An influential 2004 Ontario curricular and policy document, “Pastoral Guidelines to Assist Students of Same-Sex Orientation”, presents a variety of guidelines, personal stories and sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church pertaining to homosexual attraction to convey a contradictory position. While homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered,” people experiencing homosexual attraction are called to chastity and “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity” and therefore are in need of “pastoral care.”
The pastoral guidelines document includes a statement on building safe communities and a 1986 letter to Canadian Bishops from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (a Vatican office). The letter elaborates on the official Church teachings, stating the “inclination of the homosexual person” is a “strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil.” Many LGBTQ people refer to this document as the “Halloween Letter” because it is so scary and was issued October 1 (1986). The Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario shares the resource, with this letter, on its website.
Where schools promote such contradictory messages associating respect and depravity with LGBTQ people, they have made Alberta and Ontario Catholic schools potential hotbeds for homophobia — places where dedicated teachers fear for their jobs, and where LGBTQ youth are denied true acceptance and as a consequence are at risk of bullying and depression among other things.
Impact on students
My recent book Homophobia in the Hallways: Heterosexism and Transphobia in Catholic Schools explores causes and effects of the long-standing disconnect between Canadian Catholic schools and the Canadian Charter of Human Rights vis-à-vis sexual and gender minority groups.
Charter rights regularly clash with Catholic doctrine about sexuality in schools as this doctrine is selectively interpreted and applied regarding how employees embody a “Catholic lifestyle,” as suggested in Catholic lifestyle teacher contracts.
I sought to document how such homophobic policies and views are impacting teachers and students and and to uncover what is actually happening.
Through interviews with 20 LGBTQ students and teachers in some Alberta and Ontario Catholic schools, and through media accounts, I found that publicly funded Catholic schools in Canada respond to non-heterosexual and non-binary gender students and teachers and in contradictory and inconsistent ways.
All of the research participants experienced some form of homophobia or transphobia in their Catholic schools. None described a Catholic school environment that accepted and welcomed sexual and gender diversity.
I documented the firing of lesbian and gay teachers because they married their same-sex partners; the firing of lesbian and gay teachers because they wanted to have children with their same-sex partners; the firing of transgender teachers for transitioning from one gender to another.
Something as simple as discussing holiday plans can reveal that a teacher who is a lesbian has a same-sex partner. If this detail is revealed to leaders, this teacher can be at risk of being deemed to be living contrary to Catholic teaching and therefore subject to punitive action.
The teachers are given very little, if any, warning and find themselves in meetings without the support of a union representative or lawyer.
I also documented how schools seek to prohibit students from attending their high school proms with their same-sex dates, bar students from appearing in gender-variant clothing for official school photographs or functions like the prom; and deny students the right to establish Gay–Straight Alliances.
I noted a similarity of experiences among research participants in the distant provinces of Alberta and Ontario, in terms of how they were subject to heteronormative repression where schools are legally accountable to provinces but look to Bishops for pastoral leadership.
Oppression is a problem not only for LGBTQ people and our allies, but for all of us concerned about human dignity, human rights, love for our neighbours and social justice.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
Pope Francis started the new year criticizing some Catholic bishops for their role in the church’s sexual abuse crisis. In a letter to bishops gathered at Mundelein Seminary in Illinois for a spiritual retreat, the pope said that the “disparaging, discrediting, playing the victim” had greatly undermined the Catholic Church. This followed the pope’s earlier remarks asking clergy guilty of sexual assault to turn themselves over to law enforcement.
Stories of clergy sex abuse have continued to increase. Among the more recent revelations, a Catholic diocese recently released the names of Jesuit priests who face “credible or established” accusations of abuse of minors. Church members learned that many priests accused of sexual abuse on Indian reservations were retired on the Gonzaga University campus in Spokane. And another external investigation has revealed that the Catholic Church failed to disclose abuse accusations against 500 priests and clergy.
Church attendance has been on the decline for some time, with the steepest fall of an average 45 percent, between 2005 to 2008. And with these latest scandals, as a theologian recently wrote, the Catholic Church is in the midst of its “biggest crisis since the Reformation.”
But what many do not realize is that staying in the church does not mean agreeing with its policies. In the past, Catholics have challenged the church through multiple forms of resistance – at times discreet and at other times quite dramatic.
I had already begun my training as a scholar of religion and society when I learned that the priest from whom I took my first communion was a known predator in the Boston Archdiocese. I have since then researched and written about the Catholic clergy abuse cover-up.
Back in the 1960s, some radical American Catholics were at the forefront of challenging U.S. involvement in the war in Vietnam. Perhaps the most famous among them were the Berrigan brothers. Rev. Daniel Berrigan, the older brother, was an American Jesuit priest, who, along with with other religious leaders, expressed public concern over the war.
In New York, Daniel Berrigan joined hands with a group called the Catholic Workers, in order to build a “decent non-violent society” – what they called “a society of conscience.” Among their protests was a public burning of draft cards in Union Square in 1965.
Months earlier, the U.S. Congress had passed legislation that made mutilation of draft registration a felony. A powerful commentary by the editors of the Catholic “Commonweal” magazine described the event as a “liturgical ceremony” backed by a willingness to risk five years of freedom.
But some in the Catholic leadership were concerned that Daniel Berrigan’s peace activism was going too far. Soon after another Catholic protester set himself on fire in front of the United Nations in an act of protest, Berrigan disappeared from New York. He’d been sent to Latin America on an “assignment” by his superiors.
The word among Catholics was that Cardinal Francis Spellman had Berrigan expelled from the U.S. The accuracy of the decision is selectively disputed. However, the narrative had great power. The public outcry among Catholics was immense. University students took to the streets.
The New York Times carried a vehement objection that was signed by more than a thousand Catholic practitioners and theological leaders. The repression of free speech, they said, was “intolerable in the Roman Catholic Church.”
Catholic symbols of protest
In May 1967, Berrigan returned to the United States, only to renew his protest against the draft. Joined by his brother Philip, they broke into a draft board office in Baltimore and poured vials of their own blood on paper records.
In pouring vials of their own blood on draft records, they were extending the use of Christ’s blood of sacrifice, to promote peace, as part of Catholic teachings.
The next year they joined by seven other Catholic protesters in a protest action in Catonsville, Maryland. The group used homemade napalm to destroy 378 draft files in the parking lot of a draft board. Daniel Berrigan was put on the FBI’s most wanted list. Both brothers later served time in federal prisons.
After the Vietnam war, their protests continued under a group called Plowshares. The name came from the commandment in the book of Isaiah to “beat swords into plowshares.” The Berrigan brothers put their energy into anti-nuclear protests around the country. At a nuclear missile facility in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, they hammered on nuclear warheads and once again poured their own blood upon them, bridging Catholic symbols with religious protest.
Church leadership, they said, was too cozy with a heavily militarized America.
Protests inside the church
Around the same time, another group of Roman Catholics was challenging the leadership of the church using different tactics. In 1969, a group of Chicano Catholic student activists that called itself Católicos Por La Raza, objected to the money that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles was spending on building a new cathedral called St. Basil’s. They believed that money could be better spent on improving the social and economic conditions of Catholic Mexican-Americans.
Católicos Por La Raza posed a list of demands for the Catholic Church that included the use of church facilities for community work, providing housing and educational assistance, and developing health care programs.
On Christmas Eve, 300 people marched to protest at St. Basil’s. Outside, they chanted “Que viva la raza” and “Catholics for the people.” Some members also planned to bring the protest across the threshold of the cathedral and into the Christmas Eve Mass.
The church locked its front doors. The marchers were met at side doors by undercover county sheriffs.
Later, the protesters publicly burned their baptismal certificates. Catholic teaching maintains that, once baptized, Catholic identity cannot be divested. By burning these symbols of Roman Catholic belonging, members of Católicos Por La Raza were making a powerful statement of their renunciation of the religion that they perceived could not be reformed.
Back in New York, a generation later, Catholics also organized confrontations with Church leadership. At the height of the AIDS crisis, in 1989, the American Catholic Bishops drafted an explicit condemnation of the use of condoms to stop the spread of the AIDS virus. “The truth is not in condoms or clean needles,” said Cardinal John O’Connor. “These are lies … good morality is good medicine.”
In response, AIDS activists organized an action called “Stop the Church” to protest against the “murderous AIDS policy” at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan. Thousands of people gathered to protest. Outside, activists distributed condoms and safer-sex information to passers-by. Inside, some protesters staged a die-in.
And this does not even get into waves of protests over women’s ordination since 1976.
In all these protests, Roman Catholics were demanding that powerful members of the hierarchy acknowledge their demands for the ethics of the church.
Bringing change in the church
Similar resistance continued in 2002, when the Boston Globe Spotlight investigation team exposed the systematic cover-up of child sexual abuse in the Boston Archdiocese, under Cardinal Bernard Law.
On Sundays Catholics came out to protest in front of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston, where the cardinal said Mass. They shouted and held up signs calling for his resignation. Other Catholics were creating pressure to have the cardinal removed by cutting off lay financial support for the Archdiocese.
They encouraged continuing giving to the poor or to the local parish. But until the cardinal was held accountable, those in the pews were encouraged to abstain from institutional giving. Before the next New Year, enough financial and legal pressure forced Cardinal Law to be removed from the Archdiocese.
February 2019 will bring a crucial meeting between the pope and the cardinals. Catholics today could well ask what is their way of showing resistance. After all, there is a rich Catholic heritage that shows that members of the church who put their bodies on the line can make a difference.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
By Garry Wills
Year after year, we seem to reach new depths of priestly depravity in the Catholic church’s “ministry” to children in its charge. After 16 years of bad news on that front, a Pennsylvania grand jury reported last August that more than 1,000 children had been molested by more than 300 priests in that state. And now the attorney general of Illinois, Lisa Madigan, has revealed that 500 cases of alleged molestation were kept hidden by Catholic authorities. They were rejected as unproven by their own investigation. But Madigan says these were not real investigations at all, since the clerical bodies involved “will not resolve the clergy sexual abuse crisis on their own.” Civil authorities are needed where spiritual guidance has been nothing but misguidance.
The first instinct of bishops in these scandals was to “lawyer up,” and the first instruction of lawyers was not to show compassion or admit to any accusation. Large amounts of money are at stake here — millions already paid in settlements, with more millions to come. Madigan rightly says: “The priority has always been in protecting priests and protecting church assets.” I have a priest friend who went to console a family he knew when their child reported an abuse, but he was told by his religious superiors to cut it out. He was just lending credibility to the accuser.
The church response has consistently been to doubt, dismiss, or minimize reported acts of abuse. How, we have to wonder, can men dedicated to the Gospel allow or abet such a response? Have they never read the Gospel of Matthew (19.13-14)? When children were trying to reach Jesus, the disciples held them back, prompting Jesus to say: “Release (aphete) the children, do not hinder them from reaching me, since the heavenly reign belongs to those similar to them.”
Some say that an untenable demand for priestly celibacy fosters such crimes. But it would be unfair to the priests I know and admire to think they are covering up the crimes merely because they have some sympathy with the criminals, or that they are protecting the rule of priestly celibacy (which some have blamed for the crimes). They have a better motive (though a wrong one): They are trying to protect the aura of the priesthood that has been built up over the years. They fear that any loss of respect for priests will prevent them from doing good in service to their “flock.” The molestations diminish that respect.
Five years ago, when I wrote the book “Why Priests?”, some people criticized it because I did not include the pedophile scandal, even though it was filling the news. That was deliberate on my part. I did not want to give the idea that if only the sex scandal could run its course, all would be well with the priesthood — or that some reforms like removing the celibacy rule or ordaining women would make the priesthood work again. I don’t think it should work again. The priesthood is itself an affront to the Gospel. Jesus told his disciples: “You must not be addressed as ‘Rabbi,’ since you have only one Teacher, and you are brothers to each other. . . . And you must not be addressed as leaders, since you have only one Leader, the Messiah” (Matthew 23.8, 10).
There are no priests in the Gospels, except the Jewish priests, some of whom plotted against Jesus. Jesus is only called a priest in the late and suspect anonymous Letter to the Hebrews, where he is made a priest in the line of a mythical non-Jew, Melchisidek — and even there he is the sole and final priest. Peter and Paul never call themselves or any other Christian a priest. Outside the Letter to the Hebrews, the only New Testament titles for service to the community are episkopos (overseer), presbyter (elder), apostolos (emissary), and diakonos (servant), never priest (hiereus). None of these offices gave any of them a pivotal role in what would later become the seven sacraments.
Baptism was, from the outset, the entry ritual for the Christian community, but it could not originally be administered by priests, who did not yet exist. As the priesthood was gradually developed in the Middle Ages, it tended to subordinate all Christian activity to priestly superintendance — from childhood (baptism), to adolescence (confirmation), to mid-life (matrimony, sacred orders), to devotions (eucharist, penance), to the end of life (last rites). No wonder church leaders would try desperately to protect this imperial rule over the whole of Catholic life, trying to mute or erase any demeaning revelations of priestly predation.
The grip of the priests on Catholic life was illustrated for me when discussing “Why Priests” with Stephen Colbert on his earlier show (“The Colbert Report”), where he asked, “Don’t you really want a priest to be with you when you die?” I said no, even though I was brought up thinking that if you died with a mortal sin on your soul you would go to hell unless there was a priest at hand to hear your confession. Colbert also asked me if I believed that the eucharistic bread and wine were the literal body and blood of Christ. I did (and do) not. At the last supper, when Jesus handed out the bread and said “Take and eat,” his real body was there, offering bread as a symbol. If they were to eat the real body, they would have to chew on the offering hand not the offered bread. Augustine knew, in the fourth century, that the eucharist was not the real body of Jesus: “The visible [symbol] is received, eaten, and digested. But can the body of Christ be digested? Can the church of Christ be digested? Can Christ’s limbs be digested? Of course not.” (Sermon 227).
But Catholics are so convinced that only a priest can perform the miracle of transubstantiation that, if no priest shows up at a Mass, there is nothing for believers to do but go back home. There is no miracle without the magician. Colbert said to me after that show, “You are no better than a Protestant.” Right. I am no better than a Protestant. All Christians are brothers and sisters, whether or not priests show up at their gatherings. Many Catholics think they cannot do any real worshiping without priests. But why not? Peter did without priests. So did Paul. And all the early Christians.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther of Wittenberg circulated his 95 theses, critiquing the Catholic Church and launching the Protestant Reformation. Liz McCloskey of Falls Church has five.
Fed up with the way Catholic bishops have handled clergy sexual abuse of children, the 54-year-old academic’s group from Holy Trinity parish in the District has joined recently with groups from parishes in places such as Seattle and New York City on a project. They are affixing fliers with five demands to the doors of cathedrals and parish churches — meant to conjure a famous (if unconfirmed) tale about Luther nailing his demands to a German church door, an image that has come to embody grass-roots folks rising up for religious reform.
Among the details on the list of five: Stop qualifying their actions or lack thereof and just cooperate fully with civil prosecutors who are investigating abuse in the church. Stop wearing fancy royalty-like garb and dress and live simply. Give space in every edition of every church newspaper to abuse survivors.
The groups pushing for changes are among a small but growing number of U.S. Catholics who are organizing for internal reform — action that not long ago would have been an unheard-of challenge to church authority. In some cases, lay Catholics are making demands in cooperation with priests.
“We’re in disruptive times, right? So many institutions have failed, in a way that people inside feel: ‘Hey, we’ve given institutional power to leaders for too long and they’ve failed us,’ ” said Keith Norman, a 52-year-old media executive who is part of a group at his Vienna, Va., parish that wrote its own petition of demands to the U.S. bishops.
This has been a year of bitter discontent among American Catholics, with several high-level clerics leaving office because of alleged abuse or mishandling of abuse. While polls show thousands of Catholics have left the church in part because of anger over the handling of abuse allelgations, millions remain active in parish life. They tend to be those who — until 2018 — believed any abuse-related failings were sufficiently public and that reparations had been made.
But in a CBS poll earlier this fall, a quarter of U.S. Catholics said that as a result of recent reports of priest sexual abuse, they have personally questioned whether to stay in the church. The recent revelations have led some across the ideological spectrum to say they are not satisfied leaving reform in the hands of the bishops and diocesan lawyers.
“Catholics are newly awakened to power relationships. . . . The laity are for the first time feeling their own powerlessness,” said Kathleen Sprows Cummings, a historian at the University of Notre Dame who runs the school’s center for the study of American Catholicism.
While a wave of Catholics began organizing for internal reform in the early 2000s, Cummings said, even then the push only went so far. The call then was more for laypeople to be involved than for them to be in charge in any way, which is what’s happening now.
“Now for the first time in American Catholic Church history, members of the laity are more educated than ever before, more accomplished than ever, more elite,” she said. “For most of U.S. history, the most accomplished people in the Catholic Church were the hierarchy. Now you have laity who are saying: ‘I wouldn’t run the church like this.’ ”
Among the parishes where groups are organizing are two very large ones in the Arlington Diocese, known as one of the country’s most conservative. There are about 70 churches in the diocese, but the organized demand for internal reform is new. As are priests serving as neutral facilitators or supporters.
Norman, who has taught Sunday school and served as a Eucharistic minister, is part of the group organizing at the 12,000-member Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church in Vienna. Following several meetings about what could be done to demand repair from clergy, about 250 members of the affluent and diverse parish signed on to a parish-crafted petition made public a few weeks ago. The document includes a list of action items sent to all U.S. bishops with a letter. The signers, it noted “are here to help save our Church.”
The three-page list calls for more transparency and authority for the laity, including a call for nonclergy to have a greater role in the selection of bishops, priests and seminarians. It called for an end to an all-male hierarchy. It called for all financial records and decisions to be open, including any payouts of abuse claims.
The meetings and compilation of the document were well-publicized within Our Lady, and the Rev. Matt Hillyard encouraged those who agreed as well as those who did not to participate. This is a tightrope for Catholic priests, who seldom publicly criticize or challenge bishops, and the mere existence of the public document is controversial at Our Lady.
Some felt allegations and criticisms being made this year against American bishops and cardinals — including two District leaders, Donald Wuerl and Theodore McCarrick — hadn’t been fully proved. Others felt giving laypeople authority over clergy would make the Catholic Church un-Catholic — or even Protestant.
Hillyard asked the group not to refer to itself as the “parish” group but to take another name, which it did: the D.C. Area Catholic Action Group.
The priest said he worked hard to encourage people with different views to write their own letters to the bishops. The priest said what feels new about this era is the scope of the abuse and mismanagement that is alleged in different scandals, including in Pennsylvania, where a grand jury this summer released a devastating report about abuse and a coverup.
“This was different because it was bigger,” he said. “The problem has raised the issue of transparency. I don’t think it’s unhealthy. It’s just where that dialogue goes.”
Our Lady is pairing in its organizing with St. John Neumann, a 4,000-household parish in nearby Reston. A group there worked for months this fall on various mission statements and drafts and careful rules for even speaking in their sessions. They began meetings with a prayer: “My God . . . help us to conduct ourselves during this time, in a manner pleasing to you. Amen.”
More than 600 people at St. John signed a letter to the bishops with action items including a call for the church to stop lobbying against the repeal of statutes of limitations, to incorporate women into “every level” of decision-making, to stop excusing “criminal or abusive behavior” by referencing norms and protocols “acceptable in previous eras.”
The St. John letter also calls on bishops to stop “scapegoating . . . the problem of sexual abuse is not related to homosexuality.”
Hillyard isn’t the only one who approaches the new organizing with caution. Even the Catholics who are most passionate about reform can be wary.
“I’m not sure I’d use the word challenge,” said Betty McFarlane, one of the leaders of the St. John group.
Her husband, Tom, doesn’t hesitate.
“It’s more a function of the degree of frustration among all Catholics. With the way the bishops have failed to address the issue over time.”
It’s not clear how the bishops will react.
Angela Pellerano, the spokeswoman for the Arlington Diocese, did not respond to several requests for comment for this article. A diocesan official who was scheduled to attend one of the opening meetings at Our Lady canceled the night before, and Bishop Michael Burbidge has held no open forums on the abuse issue this year — only ones that have been invitation-only, parish members said. The diocese has not posted a list of priests accused of abuse in the diocese but said earlier this fall that it will.
Burbidge did respond to a copy of the document created by the Our Lady parishioners, writing Hillyard a two-paragraph letter that some congregants found disrespectful.
“It is my hope that you have been faithfully sharing with your parishioners the many ways I have personally addressed the issues raised in the petition,” he wrote.
Many of the most involved Catholics say they are still working out what they mean when they say they want more accountability.
The Five Theses calls for “dismantling clericalism,” but McCloskey cedes that Catholics disagree on what that means. Give the laity authority over bishops? Have bishops and cardinals dress more humbly?
“Some feel it’s overstepping boundaries or not respecting the good work of priests and bishops or their authority,” she said. “I don’t know if we all mean the same thing by ‘clericalism.’ . . . But what most people agree upon is that the distance between bishops in particular and the people of God has been too great.”
In recent weeks her parish at Holy Trinity in the District has held a woman-led retreat, in which the priest was a participant — not the leader. They have created postcards with their demands to which some are affixing two pennies and putting them in the Sunday offering basket, a plainly defiant donation. They have created a Web site with their reform priorities and begun hosting female Bible scholars who can talk about women’s role in scripture.
Despite such moves, Cummings and others who study American Catholicism agree that the recent burst of organizing, while historic, involves a small minority of U.S. Catholics.
Most people who want change, Cummings said, are either quietly leaving organized Catholic life, or scaling back to just the spiritual — coming to Mass but going out the side door before coffee hour.
Or simply praying that things change.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
This past summer’s credible allegations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick have fundamentally altered the way Catholics are talking about the abuse crisis. In the wake of the Boston Globe’s 2002 exposé (memorialized in the important and painful film, Spotlight), the conversation revolved around the most shocking tales of abuse – namely, of priests sexually molesting children. And indeed, it’s the allegation that “Uncle Ted” sexually assaulted a minor that finally brought his story into its own recent spotlight.
However, the allegations against McCarrick also include repeated sexual transgressions with adult seminarians. While lacking the initial shock-value of child-molestation, this pattern of behavior has become a new focal point in conversations about the crisis. Part of this shift can be attributed to a religious extension of #MeToo, sometimes called #ChurchToo.
The #MeToo movement has drawn attention to the way that power dynamics contribute to sexual predation. Harvey Weinstein is perhaps the most famous case but, again and again, powerful figures in the workplace have used their influence to sexually prey upon their subordinates. A similar power dynamic can be seen in the seminary. In this setting, where vows of celibacy and chastity are ostensibly operative, powerful figures such as McCarrick have groomed future priests by offering enticing political-ecclesiastical connections – and have manipulated those offers to satisfy their own sexual appetites.
McCarrick is not a one-off case. The associate pastor of my childhood parish in Iowa (and now a former priest) has written about being sexually assaulted during his own journey to the priesthood and the culture of drinking, sex, lies and secrecy during his days as a seminarian. This phenomenon is wide-ranging enough to include supposed “progressives” like McCarrick as well as supposedly “conservative” dioceses like Lincoln, Nebraska.
And so in recent months it has become commonplace to hear Catholics insist that the abuse crisis is not just about children, but about young adults, too – especially seminarians. It’s a refrain echoed on Catholic news and websites, on social media and at a recent panel discussion which I attended at a local parish in Salt Lake City. Attention to this pervasive and long-overlooked problem is a good thing in itself.
At the same time, it is frequently paired with a disturbing follow-up, namely, the suggestion that blame for this pattern of behavior falls squarely at the feet of “homosexuality.” According to this rationale, because the preponderance of abuse cases in the church involve male priests and adolescent or young adult men, the problem must be the disproportionate number of gay men in the priesthood. And so to stop the exploitation of seminarians and other young men, the proposed solution is to purge the priesthood’s ranks of its gay clerics. This diagnosis is not new, but especially since it was advanced in Abp. Viganò’s explosive August letter, it has risen to a new level in the popular imagination of many U.S. Catholics. Its spread has been facilitated by traditionalist leaders in the Catholic hierarchy as well.
However, the cause of the #ChurchToo phenomenon can in no fair way be traced to the orientation of gay clerics. Perhaps the easiest way to call this connection into question is to compare it with the wider #MeToo movement. In the case of Weinstein, nobody judged his pattern of preying upon women to stand as an indictment of heterosexuality. (Nor was such a judgment made after similar allegations surfaced against other public figures like Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, or Matt Lauer.) Likewise, calls to ban gay actors were not made after Kevin Spacy was accused of sexually molesting several teenage boys. In yet another case, feminist New York University professor Avital Ronell, a lesbian, was accused by her former graduate student, Nimrod Reitman, of sexual harassment; Reitman is a gay man.
Even in just this handful of cases, any attempt to trace the cause of abuse to the root of sexual orientation leaves one’s mind spinning. There’s no pattern to indicate that the sexual exploitation decried by #MeToo is a function of the predator’s sexual preference; indeed, cases can be found in just about any permutation of perpetrators and victims, whether they be gay, straight, male, female, or otherwise. However, one pattern clearly does emerge: People in positions of power take sexual advantage of their vulnerable subordinates.
Catholics looking for answers in our own #ChurchToo crisis can learn from this comparison. Given the way that sexual predation works in the larger culture, how should we diagnose the problem when it occurs in a seminary? Should we suppose that, in this particular case, it’s suddenly a problem that stems from being gay? Or is it more likely that this widespread cultural phenomenon, which rises from unchecked power and lack of accountability at the top, also occurs in an all-male setting like the seminary?
Catholics today are right to widen their lenses in order to see both adult and child victims in the church’s ongoing abuse crisis. However, in turning our attention to seminarians, we cannot address the issue by blaming gay men and calling for their expulsion from the priesthood. Doing so unfairly stigmatizes the church’s many faithful gay priests, it erases the stories of girls and women who have survived clerical abuse, it focuses our much-needed efforts on a wild-goose chase that fails to address the true problems, and finally, it is almost impossible to implement. It may even exacerbate the problem.
As my hometown priest explained, it’s easy enough to lie about one’s orientation upon entering the seminary; in his own case, he was actually instructed to do so. As James Alison (himself an openly gay priest) has recently noted, there’s a larger problem at the root of the crisis: not a “gay” culture, but a culture of secrecy and lying. Vows of celibacy and chastity are routinely disregarded, and when the professed beliefs and actions of so many clerics diametrically oppose one another, a culture of “looking the other way” (from sexual misconduct, whether homo- or heterosexual) tends to emerge. Not all of this misconduct is exploitative in character, but it is precisely in such a secretive environment that sexual predators can fly under the radar, even creating predatory rings (of the sickening type described in the Pennsylvania report). Blaming and banning gay men from a ministry that attracts so many of them in the first place only reinforces this dangerous culture of sexual secrecy that consequently allows predation to flourish undetected.
Our efforts at reform need to be both structural and cultural. Power structures in the church need robust mechanisms of accountability, for bishops as well as for priests. The culture of secrecy and lies needs to be replaced with one of transparency, and one where vows mean something. Focusing our attention to these tasks is much more productive than the promoting the canard of gay culpability.
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