More than 230 professors of Catholic theology in Germany and other countries where German is spoken have signed a statement protesting the Vatican’s recent pronouncement that priests cannot bless same-sex unions, adding to dissent over the document.
The statement issued Monday declared that last week’s text “is marked by a paternalistic air of superiority and discriminates against homosexual people and their life plans.”
“We distance ourselves firmly from this position,” it added. “We believe that the life and love of same-sex couples are not worth less before God than the life and love of any other couple.”
The document released a week ago by the Vatican’s orthodoxy office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said Catholic clergy cannot bless same-sex unions because God “cannot bless sin.”
The congregation’s note distinguished between blessing same-sex unions and the Catholic Church’s welcoming and blessing of gay people, which it upheld. The document argued that such unions are not part of God’s plan and that any sacramental recognition of them could be confused with marriage.
It pleased conservatives and disheartened advocates for LGBT Catholics. The German church has been at the forefront of opening discussion on hot-button issues such the church’s teaching on homosexuality.
The professors’ statement, which was drawn up by a working group at the University of Muenster in Germany, said the Vatican note lacked “theological depth” and “argumentative stringency.”
It included signatures from professors in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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.