Just before dusk on Nov. 2, 2003, Bishop Frank Griswold III looked out at more than 3,000 congregants, clergy and protesters at the University of New Hampshire’s ice hockey arena. He was moments away from consecrating the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church.
Now was the time, the Rev. Griswold told the crowd, for anyone to raise an objection. He knew what was coming. For months, the planned elevation to bishop of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson had tested the unity within the Episcopal Church in the United States and its bonds to other Anglican communities around the world.
The atmosphere was so tense that the Rev. Griswold and Robinson wore bulletproof vests under their robes.
A few people walked out of the arena in a show of opposition. Some shouted insults. A priest from Pittsburgh began to describe sexual acts between men. “Spare us the details,” the Rev. Griswold said, cutting him off.
In the end, the ordination went ahead with a mix of celebration and defiance. It also underscored the struggles of change-versus-tradition that would define the Episcopal Church leadership of the Rev. Griswold, who died March 5 at a hospital in Philadelphia at 85. He served as presiding bishop, the leader of the Episcopal Church in the United States, from 1997 to 2006.
“It has not been easy to be the presiding bishop in this season … My basic task is to keep as many people at the table as possible,” he told PBS in 2004.
The rifts opened by the Rev. Griswold were significant, but they were not new. They reflected wider demographic and cultural shifts pulling at the global Anglican Communion, a loose fellowship of more than 80 million worshipers across denominations including the Episcopal Church and the Church of England
In some parts of the Anglican world, including the United States and Canada, issues such as same-sex marriage and women’s role in church leadership were atop the agenda. Yet the Anglican center of gravity was with churches in Africa and other parts of the former British colonial map — often holding more traditional views on Christianity and seeking to emphasize issues such as poverty and education
The Catholic Church and some mainline Protestant denominations face similar internal pressures as flocks grow in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The battles within the Anglican churches, however, have set some of sharpest dividing lines.
The Rev. Griswold was often left trying to explain himself to both sides. (The Anglican-affiliated Church of Nigeria, for example, has an estimated 18 million members and is growing, while the Episcopal Church has been shrinking for decades, with now about 2 million followers.)
For decades, he said the Episcopal Church needed to make its “big tent” credo even bigger. In Chicago, as bishop from 1987 to 1998, the number of female priests in the diocese went from zero to 41, or more than a quarter of the total diocesan priests. When Robinson was proposed as bishop of New Hampshire, the Rev. Griswold said he could see “no impediment” because of his sexual orientation.
The Rev. Griswold had already made his position known. In 1994, he was among 90 bishops who signed a statement that called sexual orientation “morally neutral” in terms of church teaching and that same-sex couples should be treated with the same dignity as others.<
He lamented, however, how the attention given to gender and sexuality had come at the expense of more pressing concerns for the church such as hunger and mortality rates in some parts of the developing world.
“I find the endless fixation on sexuality, and more specifically homosexuality, a distraction from other areas that quite frankly are matters of life and death,” he said in a 2004 interview.
A feared full-scale rupture in the Anglican Communion did not occur over Robinson’s elevation to bishop. Yet some African churches assigned missionaries to the United States to try to lure disgruntled Episcopal members. Another faction split to form a more traditionalist Anglican Church in the United States and Canada.
The Episcopal Church itself was hit with several high-profile rebukes led by African and Asian church leaders, including a 2016 statement saying the Episcopal Church was no longer welcome on panels and commissions dealing with Anglican policies.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the nominal figurehead of the global Anglican churches, had to play mediator. He allowed traditionalists in Africa and elsewhere to vent their anger but also issued an apology to gay, transgender and other people in the Anglican fellowship who felt alienated
The Episcopal Church will always be a trigger for controversy, the Rev. Griswold believed. Despite its relatively small numbers, the church’s U.S. base carries outsize influence — for good and bad — across the Anglican world.
“I think often the Episcopal Church is so associated with American policy abroad that we are thought of as arrogant and insensitive to other cultural realities and other concerns,” he said.
Frank Tracy Griswold III, was born on Sept. 18, 1937, in Bryn Mawr, Pa. His father won the first Watkins Glen Grand Prix in 1948 in an Alfa Romeo coupe. His mother was a homemaker. A 19th-century relative, the Rev. Alexander Viets Griswold, served as the Episcopal presiding bishop from 1836 to 1843.
The Rev. Griswold graduated from Harvard University in 1959 with a degree in English literature and received a master’s degree in theology at the University of Oxford’s Oriel College in 1962. He was then ordained as a deacon and entered the priesthood in 1963, serving in several parishes in Pennsylvania.
As a priest in the mid-1970s, the Rev. Griswold helped draft revisions in the Episcopal Church’s main text, the Book of Common Prayer, which was compiled in the 16th century after King Henry VIII broke from the Roman Catholic Church and formed the Church of England in a dispute with the Vatican over his demand for an annulment.
During his time as presiding bishop, he helped negotiate a 2001 accord of “full communion” with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to share clergy, churches and missionary activities. In 2006, he was succeeded as presiding bishop by the Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first woman to lead any church in the Anglican Communion.
His books included “Praying Our Days: A Guide and Companion” (2018) with short prayers to mark the rhythm of the day.
His daughter Eliza Griswold said her father died of respiratory-related problems. Other survivors include his wife of 58 years, the former Phoebe Wetzel; another daughter, Hannah Griswold; and three grandchildren.
The Rev. Griswold was always proud of his decision to open the way for greater inclusion in the church hierarchy. He often joked that it obscured the rest of his resume.
“I hope that I’m known for something other than this issue,” he said.
— Pope Francis promulgates an updated version of the Church’s norms to prevent and counter sexual abuse against minors and vulnerable adults, harmonizing various legislative reforms introduced since 2019 and extending the norms to cover lay leaders of international associations of the faithful recognized by the Holy See.
By Vatican News
Following nearly four years of experimentation and extensive consultation with bishops and the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, Pope Francis has definitively promulgated procedures to prevent and counter sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.
The updated version of the motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi was published on Saturday, and enters into force on 30 April. It replaces the previous version published in May 2019, and confirms the Church’s desire to continue to combat crimes of sexual abuse.
Leaders of lay associations
The most significant change introduced in the new version of the normative text concerns the provisions in “Title II” which lay out the responsibilities of bishops, religious superiors, and clerics in charge of a particular Church or Prelature.
The updated text specifies that “the lay faithful who are or have been moderators of international associations of the faithful recognized or created by the Apostolic See [are responsible] for acts committed” while they were in office.
Various other modifications were introduced to harmonize the procedural text against abuse with other normative reforms introduced between 2019 and the present. These include the revision of the motu proprio Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela (norms amended in 2021), changes made to Book VI of the Code of Canon Law (2021 reform), and the new Constitution on the Roman Curia Praedicate Evangelium (promulgated in 2022).
Vulnerable adults and abuse reporting
One notable modification regards the inclusion of “vulnerable” adults in the normative text.
The previous version referred to “sexual acts with a minor or a vulnerable person”. However, the updated text speaks of “a crime against the Sixth Commandment of the Decalogue committed with a minor, or with a person who habitually has an imperfect use of reason, or with a vulnerable adult.”
Another change concerns the protection of the person who submits a report of alleged abuse.
Whereas the earlier text stated that no constraint of silence may be imposed on the person who reports alleged abuse, this protection has now been extended to “the person who claims to have been offended and those who were witnesses.”
Additionally, the text strengthens calls to safeguard “the legitimate protection of the good name and privacy of all persons involved,” as well as the presumption of innocence for those who are under investigation during the period in which determinations of responsibility are underway.
The updated version of Vos estis lux mundi also specifies that dioceses and eparchies must operate an “organisation or office” (the earlier version spoke in general about a “stable system”) which is easily accessible to the public in order to receive reports of cases of abuse.
It also clarifies that the task of proceeding with the investigation lies under the responsibility of the bishop or Ordinary of the place where the reported events allegedly took place.
Abuse of authority
The procedures introduced in 2019 set out precise guidelines on how to deal with reports of abuse and ensure that bishops and religious superiors—who now including lay people with responsibility for international associations—are held accountable and are obliged through a universally-established legal precept to report abuse of which they have become aware.
The document includes, and continues to include, not only abuse and violence against children and vulnerable adults, but also covers sexual violence and harassment resulting from the abuse of authority.
Therefore, the obligation to report also includes cases of violence against religious women by clerics, as well as cases of harassment of adult seminarians or novices.
— Researchers look to ‘fraud triangle’ in parish life
Priests who steal are often motivated by resentment, envy, and a desire to cover up for other moral lapses, new analysis has found.
BY The Pillar
Priests who steal are often motivated by resentment, envy, and a desire to cover up for other moral lapses, new analysis has found, adding that isolation and weak oversight can contribute to the rationalization of theft through “moral licensing.”
But the same analysis concluded that a relatively small number of priests have been caught stealing from parishes, and that the priesthood does not seem to attract fraudsters or financial con artists.
A new scholarly article, “Exploring Embezzlement by Catholic Priests in the United States: A Content Analysis of Cases Since 1963,” documented almost 100 instances of stealing by priests, which have sometimes involved hundreds of thousands stolen.
The study aims to assess financial crimes committed by Catholic priests in light of what researchers call the “fraud triangle” — pressure, opportunity, and rationalization.
“The fraud triangle… has proven a remarkably robust analytical device for the understanding of a broad range of financial deviance,” the report said.
“In the religious arena [it] offers several advantages, beyond the irony of its presence. Anecdotal accounts characterize these entities as reluctant and slow adopters of modern business practices including elementary internal controls.”
Researchers Robert Warren and Timothy J. Fogarty compiled documented financial crimes committed by American Catholic priests in the last six decades. They looked at environmental and personal factors, aiming to understand how parish pastors can be tempted into large-scale theft from their parishes.
“Priests are a highly distinctive occupational group,” the report noted, while explaining that while pressures, opportunities, and rationalizations varied case to case, distinctly clerically Catholic elements were identifiable.
The report was published in the January-June issue of the Journal of Forensic and Investigative Accounting.
Crimes of opportunity
The peer-reviewed scholarship looked at 98 cases of priestly fraud committed between the years 1963 through 2020, but discounted three cases in which the fraud was unrelated to the priests’ ministry.
Of the remaining cases studied, more than 90% of priests were serving in parish ministry at the time of their crimes, in which an average amount of nearly $500,000 was stolen, at a median amount of more than $230,000, over an average period of 6 years.
In all of those cases, the authors wrote, the opportunity to steal was consistent with conditions facing virtually all priests in parish ministry – and not only the ability to steal once, but the opportunity “to successfully continue it through time,” the authors explained.
“Catholic priests would seem to have a strong ability to commit fraud,” the article concluded, noting that “they command local positions of unchallenged authority over cash-generating operations with weak internal controls that would detect or deter the misappropriation of resources. For many, priests also exist as citizens above suspicion for misdeeds such as fraud.”
The analysis found that while priestly fraudsters used a variety of ways to steal, four common ways emerged:
“Taking cash directly from the weekly collection and poor box, coercing vulnerable elderly parishioners (primarily widowed females) to gift money to the parish or to the priest personally under false pretenses, diverting checks payable to the parish into non-parish accounts, and improper reimbursement of personal expenses and using secret bank accounts in the church’s name as a slush fund.”
While some of those methods are created by the realities of priestly life, like the potential to abuse moral and spiritual authority in office, the report noted that others are the result of systemic vulnerabilities in the Church’s internal ordering.
The report noted that canon law “still gives the pastor sole control over the parish assets, even though he is obligated to use it for the good of the parish. Thus, a pastor can unilaterally open bank accounts, disperse funds, and sell assets.”
“Parish councils consisting of volunteer parishioners tend to provide ceremonial oversight, often rubber stamping the acts of a priest who most consider a person beyond suspicion,” the report found, while “hierarchical authorities of the dioceses expect parishes to be self-sustaining or to send money upstream and are not generally the source of structure or discipline.”
As a result of infrequent audits in many dioceses, usually undertaken during a change of parish leadership, “detection is left mostly to happenstance,” the report found, noting that only 29.5% of fraud or theft cases were discovered in the course of a routine diocesan audit or parish-level financial controls.
Nearly half of studied cases came to light as a result of whistleblowers, sting operations, or unrelated law enforcement investigations.
But even while administering parishes presents a target-rich environment for fraud, the report found that the data “does not attest to whether Roman Catholic priests are more or less honest than other groups.”
It added that financial crimes were found to have been only committed by a “small fraction of all priests.”
Indeed, the evidence suggests that the priesthood does not attract intentional fraudsters, or those necessarily predisposed to theft. Were that the case, one would expect to see instances of theft arise in the early years of ministry, or begin when the opportunity first presented itself.
Instead, the article said, the cases examined took place later in a priest’s ministry, at an average age of 52 and after an average of more than two decades in ministry.
A key part of the “fraud triangle” used to analyze patterns of theft is the pressure to commit a crime in the first place. Among priests, the report found, “the collected evidence points to few conventional pressures.”
Common drivers of first-time financial crime include sudden material necessity, like the loss of employment or the need to provide for a family’s basic needs — all of which, the report noted, were not present for Catholic priests.
Other kinds of urgent financial necessity did arise in a minority of cases, they found, including gambling debts (8.4% of cases) and, more often, the need for financial resources to cover other moral failings, usually sexual: in nearly 12% of cases, money was taken to support “illicit relationships.”
Among such cases are “a priest in Virginia [who] embezzled $591,000 to support his secret wife and three children; a priest in Connecticut [who] used about $1,000,000 in church funds to pursue romantic relationships with at least three men before abandoning his parish; and a priest in Pennsylvania [who] embezzled at least $32,000 to spend on men he met on a dating website.”
Outside of acute financial needs, the report said, ordinarily a key pressure to steal comes from maintaining a publicly successful lifestyle and the appearance of material success to maintain personal reputation. But, the authors pointed out, the reverse pressure is actually present for Catholics priests, for whom an ostentatious lifestyle could actually detract from their social standing.
Instead, they said, “the incentives to steal could be summed up as a desire to live a life very different from that usually associated with a priest.”
“A recent study found that newly ordained priests were paid between $26,000 and $30,000 depending on their geographic area, with lead priests (pastors) earning between $26,000 and $34,000,” said the article.
“Although the diocesan priest also enjoys a plethora of other benefits including free room and board, health insurance, a car allowance, and a retirement plan, these rates of pay put them barely above minimum wage rates for a job that is quite demanding.”
This, the report said, can lead to some priests experiencing a sense of frustrated entitlement, and even jealousy, when compared to the relative lifestyles of ministers of other religions and even their own parishioners.
“The pressure felt by a priest might be closely associated with the very occupation itself, or more precisely the demands that the role makes upon its incumbents” said the report. “The pressure felt by priests might not be in the nature of a sudden emergency or an unexpected reversal, but instead be the grinding and persistent force of envy.”
More than half of the cases studied showed that priests spent stolen or misappropriated funds “primarily to support a lavish lifestyle.”
“Many of these priests used the ill-gotten gain to support second and third homes,” the study found, while noting that in a handful of cases the priests said they were trying to provide for their own retirement. In one extreme case, a priest in New York City “was caught with a handgun and $50,000 in cash told police it was his ‘401-K plan.’”
‘Not really stealing’
A key factor in the cases studied is the phenomenon of “moral licensing,” or the rationalization of the financial crime by the priest. In many cases, the report said, stealing priests believed that taking parish money, or using it for personal benefit, was justifiable self-compensation for hard work, long hours, or even a more general lack of remuneration or appreciation for other good behavior .
“Those that took money to spend in hedonistic ways and on purely personal pursuits did not tend to profess their entitlement as a general rule,” the report found. “In that priests often see themselves as independent contractors or entrepreneurs, they are more willing to buck the hierarchical authority of their organization in the name of a personal view of what is in the best interests of the clientele.”
“The latter may be a highly occupationally specific fraud rationalization.”
The article also noted that the “‘it’s not really stealing’ rationalization” was explicitly cited by six priests caught stealing, each of whom argued that canon law gave them authority to spend parish funds wherever they wished.
Sometimes that argument worked, the report found. A judge in Arizona dismissed an indictment against a priest who argued that he was canonically allowed to rent a parcel of real property with parish money even without a proper parish purpose.
But the “good purpose” line of reasoning also has “considerable variation,” the authors wrote.
“Two pastors indicated that they maintained secret bank accounts to have more funds available to the parish. For instance, a diocesan priest from Connecticut kept an ‘off the books’ bank account to ensure the parish had enough funds to operate in the summer months when regular church attendance slipped, although doing so had been expressly forbidden by the bishop. During a four-year period, the priest spent $2,000,000 from that account, with $1.7 million going to various legitimate projects for the parish and school.”
“However,” the report noted, “the priest spent the remaining $300,000 to enjoy a lavish lifestyle and maintain an alleged inappropriate relationship with a male friend with whom he maintained an apartment in New York City.”
The report also highlighted that, in a number of cases, stolen and misappropriated parish funds were not actually used for the benefit of the priest who took them.
Of the 95 cases examined, seven of the priests used their ill-gotten gains to support family members or charities in foreign countries: One priest in Wisconsin pocketed parish funds to buy goods sent to the poor in his native Nigeria, a priest in Kansas took cash from the collection plate to take back to Mexico for his family, and priest from Pennsylvania skimmed funds from his parish to support a charity hospital in his native Lebanon.
Crime and punishment
“Opportunity can also be judged by final consequences,” the authors noted, and flagged that even when caught and convicted, “long sentences were the exception rather than the rule,” and in many cases priests faced only internal discipline by Church authorities.
While in each of the 95 cases examined the priest unquestionably stole Church funds, only 58 were actually charged with embezzlement, fraud, or larceny, and almost a third of those who were criminally convicted were subsequently returned to ministry, in some cases even when there were exacerbating factors to the crime:
“A former pastor (and self-described ‘sexaholic’) in Minnesota who embezzled $73,733 to finance his pilgrimages to strip clubs and massage parlors pleaded guilty, served a short stint in the county prison with work release privileges, and was eventually returned to ministry as an assistant pastor,” the report noted, while “a priest in Nevada who served 36 months in federal prison after gambling away $650,000 in parish funds, was transferred to another diocese where he became head of human resources.”
“Opportunity is abetted by the probable awareness that those detected will not be severely punished nor will there be sizable reputational consequences,” the report concluded.
While the report identifies a number of unique aspects to fraud by U.S. Catholic clergy, it also underscores that those are essentially sector-specific iterations of the “fraud triangle” of pressure, opportunity, and rationalization found everywhere.
Although Catholic parish and diocesan structures present a “strong and obvious” opportunity for fraud and theft, and their reliance on the personal trustworthiness of priests can actually increase the risk of stealing and drive down the chances of being caught, the article’s authors stress that priests appear no more likely to succumb to temptation than anyone else, and the kind of long term, high value thefts examined represent a tiny minority of priests..
The article explains that while certain idiosyncrasies of fraud in parish life do emerge from the data, the authors could not claim a predictive model for identifying potential fraudsters.
But the report does highlight that “the pressure felt by a priest [to steal] might be closely associated with the very occupation itself, or more precisely the demands that the role makes upon its incumbents.”
Across cases, whether motivated by the financial gain itself, a need to cover up illicit relationships, or even the conceit that a priest can decide for himself how any and all parish funds are spent, the findings of the report would seem to point to an underlying commonality of isolation, disaffection with ministry, and a disordered relationship with Church structures among clerical financial criminals.
Warren and Fogarty’s findings noted that priests are unique among financial criminals, and that large scale or systematic embezzlement in religious institutions is often under-studied, even while religious institutions often involved considerable amounts of cash accounted for on a basis of personal trust.
In addition to calling for better mechanisms of financial oversight and accountability, the study’s findings highlight the need for ongoing spiritual and personal formation in priests throughout their ministry.
The researchers explained that focusing on Catholic priests presented a unique opportunity for study, both because the Catholic Church is the country’s largest religious denomination, and because it allowed for a study sample with broadly consistent hierarchical and financial policies.
The University of Notre Dame is hosting a “Queer Holiness” event next week to discuss “Experiential Christian Anthropology,” according to the event page.
On March 23, the university’s John J. Reilly Center is hosting a “Queer Holiness” event with Rev. Dr. Charlie Bell to address the church’s “hostile questions” regarding the LGBTQ community. Bell, a gay deacon in the Church of England and a Cambridge fellow, is also the author of the book “Queer Holiness,” which claims to “find a better way to do theology – not about, but with and of LGBTQI people.”
“From prohibitions on who they might love or marry, to erasure and denial, the theological record is one in which LGBTQI people are far too often objectified and their lives seen as the property of others,” the book’s summary read. “In no other significant religious question are ‘theological’ arguments made that so clearly reject overwhelming scientific and experiential knowledge about the human person. This book seeks to find a better way to do theology – not about, but with and of LGBTQI people – taking insights from the sciences and personal narratives as it seeks to answer the question: ‘What does human flourishing look like?’”
The event is being sponsored by the Center for Spirituality at Saint Mary’s College alongside Notre Dame, according to the event page.
“For millennia institutional churches have told LGBTQI people what God expects them to be and how to act,” the event’s flyer read. “In parts of the church, LGBTQI people remain the subject of hostile questions rather than being embraced as equal children of God. Charlie Bell’s … thesis is simple—to reject the overwhelming scientific and experiential knowledge about LGBTQI people is no longer valid.”
The university says that its mission is “defined by its Catholic character,” but Bell’s event appears to contradict several recent comments by Pope Francis. In January, the pope said that homosexuality, while not a crime, was a sin and most recently called “gender ideology” one of the “most dangerous ideological colonizations.”
Notre Dame made waves earlier this month when it was revealed that the Catholic university invited a transgender abortion doula to speak for the school’s “Reproductive Justice” series.
Notre Dame, JJRC, CS and Bell did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
— Published as women worldwide mark International Women’s Day, the survey shows a growing push for reform.
BY Ruth Gledhill
There are calls for the Catholic Church to ordain women as deacons and priests and to allow women to preach the homily during Mass from in a new survey of more than 17,000 Catholic women around the world.
The International Survey of Catholic Women, carried out last year in response to the call for submissions to the 2021-2024 Synod of Bishops on synodality, is published as women worldwide celebrate International Women’s Day.
Recommendations include changes to Canon Law to permit women to preach the homily during Mass and considering the ordination of women to the diaconate and priesthood as a legitimate expression of doctrinal development.
There are also calls to respect women’s freedom of conscience in matters of sexual and reproductive health and decision-making, and for changes to Catholic theology, doctrine and liturgical practice to ensure women, LGBTIQ+ Catholics, and divorced and remarried Catholics “are valued and fully included in all aspects of church life”.
The report, devised and managed by researchers Dr Tracy McEwan and Dr Kathleen McPhillips at the University of Newcastle in Australia and Professor Emerita Tina Beattie at the University of Roehampton, London, draws on 17,200 responses from women in 104 countries.
Of those surveyed, 79 per cent agreed women should be fully included at all levels of church leadership, 84 per cent agreed reform is needed, 85 per cent agreed clericalism is damaging the Church and 80 per cent agreed Church leaders are not doing enough to address the perpetration and cover-up of sexual abuse.
Participants were recruited across multiple networks and forums worldwide including dioceses, parishes, and women’s networks and organisations.
“There was a significant concern regarding the prevalence of sexual, spiritual, physical, and emotional abuse in church contexts,” the report says.
“Respondents highlighted the misuse and abuse of power as a central factor in historical and current sexual and gender-based harm. Clericalism was identified by a substantial majority of respondents as an abuse of power and an indicator of a need for urgent reform measures.
“Many respondents drew attention to a lack of accountability and transparency in church leadership and governance, particularly in the hierarchy’s handling of sexual abuse allegations. This was a barrier to participation in church life.”
Respondents also conveyed concern for those who are marginalised by Catholic theology, doctrine, and liturgical practice, including LGBTIQ+ Catholics, divorced Catholics, and single parent Catholics.
— I feel like a second-class citizen in the Church of England
The church made me answer prurient questions in order to be ordained – and if I were to enter a civil marriage, I’d essentially be sacked
In many ways, my partner and I are quite boring and conventional. We may have met through a dating app – very 21st century – but otherwise there’s been nothing particularly scandalous or unusual about how we do things. Quite frankly, most people wouldn’t bat an eyelid.
Except, of course, for the fact that I’m a priest in the Church of England – and that’s where the problems begin. For while the rest of the country seems able to see the clear and unambiguous good that springs from same-sex relationships, the church continues to drag its heels. For years, in fact, it has told us that there’s nothing good at all about our love for one another – that it’s something to be shunned, embarrassed about, even erased. Our love is, ultimately, a problem.
The poverty of such a view has become increasingly obvious to those within the church and without, but the bishops of the C of E have resolutely refused to say anything at all for years. They – including those bishops who are secretly gay – have been cowed into silence by threats from those who oppose same-sex marriage. A few years ago, in 2017, they finally said something – recognising that the church’s record had hardly been positive towards LGBTQ people but coupled with a firm refusal to do anything about it. And the clergy of the C of E told them to get stuffed.
So we find ourselves here in 2023, at the end of a long and, at times, tedious and painful process of thinking and discernment about sexuality across the church. We all knew something was coming, whether it was to keep the status quo or to make some kind of change. What we weren’t expecting was the inability of the House of Bishops to keep stumm before the official announcement.
And so, on Wednesday, we woke up to news that the bishops had decided that our love wasn’t all that bad after all, and that we may be allowed to have our relationship blessed in a church in the near future. As a priest, too, I may finally be able to support the same-sex couples that come to us asking for blessings or for marriage, and who we have to turn away.
And perhaps, at last, the prurient and strange questioning that we face as clergy could soon be a thing of the past, because at the moment people outside the church would genuinely not believe the kind of things we are asked about our love lives, and the things we have to commit to in order to be ordained – among them an almost obsessive focus on celibacy. Our priests, deacons and even bishops either put utterly unacceptable and unsustainable pressure on their relationships and on their partners, or they are actively encouraged to lie. And if we enter into civil marriages with people of the same sex, we are essentially sacked too. We are in one hell of a mess.
The problem, though, is that while the bishops have offered us blessings, they’ve stopped short of offering us marriage. There are all kind of complicated political and pragmatic reasons for going no further than blessings, but somehow that doesn’t quite make it better. It still feels like crumbs under the table. We remain second-class citizens.
For me, and for many of my clergy friends and colleagues, we may understand the politics and the pragmatism, and the reality of the situation we find ourselves in. We may know it will only ever be a slow process towards inclusion, and this is the next stepping stone on the journey. Yet it still feels like a gut punch. It still feels like we are begging for our place at the table. It still feels like we’re worth fighting for, but only so far. The church may indeed be planning to apologise, but it continues to do the damage.
So Piotr and I won’t be getting married any time soon. The C of E doesn’t want us to just yet. But change is coming, however slowly and painstakingly – and we aren’t giving up the fight for justice. And one day, the church may just recognise our love for what it really is – a love that moves mountains, and a love that changes everything.
Charlie Bell is an Anglican priest in the diocese of Southwark and a Fellow at Girton College, Cambridge
Gian Luca Rodrigues Cavallaro has a unique claim to fame: he’s a gay Catholic bishop who’s happily married – and he’s got a powerful message of love and inclusivity for the world.
by Patrick Kelleher
It should go without saying that Gian isn’t a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church – homosexuality is strictly frowned upon by the church, and gay sex is still viewed as a sin.
Instead, he’s a bishop in the Inclusive Portuguese Catholic Church, where he preaches his message that love is for all.
Gian was just eight years old when he felt the calling to become a priest, he tells PinkNews. Before long, he started to realise that he was also gay – and spent his next few years tormented.
“On the one hand I wanted to become a priest, but on the other, I didn’t want to give up on the idea of a relationship,” he says.
“My dream was to become a priest and marry at the same time with my future boyfriend, but I thought this was not possible.”
After he finished school, Gian went to a Roman Catholic seminary to train as a priest.
“I was willing to even renounce my emotional sphere,” he says. But after six months, he left the seminary due to what he describes as “the hypocrisy of some superiors”.
It was shortly after he left the seminary that he met a female priest from another church (Roman Catholicism doesn’t allow women to become priests). That chance encounter made him see another way was possible.
“That meeting, as if by magic, opened me up to a completely new world,” he says.
“Finally, I saw the plan of God, that was already written. My path was to be a priest without renouncing my emotional sphere.”
At first, Gian became a priest with the Reformed Old Catholic Church in Italy. In 2019, he moved to Portugal, but he struggled to find others there who wanted to be part of an inclusive Catholic Church.
“It was difficult and, in the beginning, I was a bit demoralised because without structure and without resources, it was difficult to reach people,” he says.
“But, with the grace of God, I was able to meet some people that were willing to share this path with me.”
It wasn’t until 2022 that Gian and others who believed in his mission decided to set up the Inclusive Portuguese Catholic Church. Shortly afterwards, members chose him to serve as a bishop within the group.
Gay Catholic bishop believes he and his husband were ‘predestined’ to be together
It was also in Portugal that Gian met Robson, the man who would go on to become his husband.
“He is Brazilian and I am Italian so it is curious that two people born in far-off countries could meet, but God chose us before the foundation of the world,” he says, referencing a passage in the New Testament.
“I am convinced that we were predestined to be together.”
Gian’s husband hasn’t always shared his love for religion and God – when they first met, he was “apathetic” about it, although he always supported Gian’s calling.
I had the joy to baptise him. No one forced him, it was his choice and he asked me.
However, before long, Robson embarked on a “personal path”, which led to him forming his own faith.
“This year, I had the joy to baptise him. No one forced him, it was his choice and he asked me,” Gian says.
While Gian has found fulfilment in his own church, he understands why so many LGBTQ+ people still see organised religion as an alienating and harmful concept.
His message to the Catholic Church is a simple one – he hopes it will come to see LGBTQ+ people as human beings who deserve love.
“I have the impression that sometimes they forget about the primacy of personal conscience, and they excommunicate priests and religious people just because they preach the gospel,” he says.
Pope Francis has a ‘strange attitude’ towards LGBTQ+ community
He doesn’t have much time for Pope Francis – the pontiff has won praise in some quarters from people who argue that he’s taken a more understanding, compassionate approach to LGBTQ+ people than his predecessors.
Others have pointed out that he’s not actually all that liberal – under his rule the Vatican has remained resolutely opposed to any progress on LGBTQ+ inclusion.
Gian says the pope has “a strange attitude”.
Even if ecumenically he works quite well, I have not a general good impression, especially in his approach with the LGBTQ+ community.
“In public, he says something that generates positive impressions – maybe in an attempt not to lose the faithful – but then in private he signs documents that contradict his declarations,” he says.
“Even if ecumenically he works quite well, I have not a general good impression, especially in his approach with the LGBTQ+ community.”
That’s why Gian is determined to amplify the voices of LGBTQ+ Catholics and create a space for them to share their faith with others.
“Some people think that I give interviews to have visibility, but that’s absolutely wrong,” he says.
“If I wanted visibility, I would be an actor, but I am a priest and so that’s not my purpose.
“I give interviews because I know that these interviews help people.”