Makers of documentary hope it expands Catholic LGBTQ outreach

‘Building a Bridge’ is based on the book of the same name by Jesuit Father James Martin


Jesuit Father James Martin is seen in the documentary ‘Building a Bridge,’ a film about his LGBT ministry.

By Mark Pattison

The makers of the documentary Building a Bridge, which makes its debut on streaming platforms and video on demand on May 3, hope the film will extend the Church’s outreach to LGBTQ Catholics.

“I really want this film to be accessible in any part of the world, for that matter. We’re hoping that we’re going to launch educational opportunities to show in different high schools and colleges and universities and hopefully maybe have it at libraries,” said Evan Mascagni, one of two co-directors of the movie.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to do a lot of those grassroots community screenings, and follow that up with Q-and-A’s,” Mascagni added. “Hopefully our film can be a resource or a tool for a parish, like someone who wants to start their own LGBTQ ministry in a place like Kentucky,” from which he hails.

“I really hope that the film can reach young people, and people who might not know any other clear path and feel they can joining a community or even start a community like Out in St. Paul,” a gay Catholic ministry featured in Building a Bridge, said Shannon Post, the other co-director, during an April 28 conference call with Catholic News Service.

Building a Bridge is based on the book of the same name by Jesuit Father James Martin, editor at large of America magazine and a consultor to the Vatican’s Dicastery for Communication as well as being the author of several books.

Father Martin, who admitted being “uncomfortable” being the focus of the film — “the film should be about the ministry, not me,” he said on the conference call — added, “parishes, too,” as an important point outreach with the movie.

Post had wanted to make a documentary about the shooting rampage at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which killed 49 people, including a college classmate of hers

“My real target is the LGBTQ Catholic youth, who is wondering if there really is a place in the church for LGBTQ people,” Father Martin said. “They will see this and know that God loves them, and to quote Cardinal (Wilton D.) Gregory (of Washington), know that they are at the heart of the church.”

Post and Mascagni co-directed the 2015 documentary Circle of Poison, about the manufacture and sale in the United States of pesticides banned by the federal government for use in other nations.

Post had wanted to make a documentary about the shooting rampage at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, which killed 49 people, including a college classmate of hers. Mascagni, who had pretty much turned his back on the Catholic Church in which he was brought up, relented to his mother’s importuning that he go to a talk given by “a cool priest” she’d found on Instagram.

The priest was Father Martin. “It was one of his first Building a Bridge talks, Mascagni recalled. He then went to Post and said, “I think there’s a story here.”

They convinced Father Martin to let himself be filmed. When he was invited to speak at the Vatican’s World Conference of Families in 2018 in Dublin, Mascagni and Post told him: “We’re going to Dublin.” “Why are you coming to Dublin?” he remembers asking them. “They said, ‘We’re making a documentary,'” which is when he realized “this wasn’t going to be a fly-by-night operation. This was going to be a serious documentary.”

Three years later, Building a Bridge had its cinematic debut at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. Assessments by many of those featured in the movie had good things to say. Critics of Father Martin’s ministry — among them Michael Voris of Church Militant, who is featured in the documentary — have yet to weigh in.

But Mascagni said: “In the film, we point out all the trolling that happens on Father Martin’s social media. Now that we’ve announced the film on social media, we’re starting to get a tiny part of that.”

In addition to Post and Mascagni’s “impact plan” to take the movie on the road with post-screening question-and-answer sessions and LGBTQ profiles they couldn’t jam into a feature that already was running 90 minutes long — America Media is introducing in May a new website called https://outreach.faith.

Father Martin will coordinate news and resources to be posted on the website, as well as details for a new “Outreach” conference for LGBTQ Catholics in June at Jesuit-run Fordham University.

“Parishes, particularly in the West, are realizing they have to deal with LGBTQ kids — as well as LGBTQ parishioners themselves,” he said. “That trend is not going to change. People are not going to stop coming out.”

Building a Bridge will be available on video on demand May 3, followed by a launch on AMC+ June 21 and broadcast premiere on Sundance TV June 26.

Complete Article HERE!

Black gay priest in NYC challenges Catholicism from within

Rev. Bryan Massingale

By Kwasi Gyamfi Asiedu 

Parishioners worshipping at St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Harlem are greeted by a framed portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. — a Baptist minister named after a rebellious 16th century German priest excommunicated from the Catholic Church.

The Rev. Bryan Massingale, who sometimes preaches at St. Charles, pursues his ministry in ways that echo both Martin Luthers.

Like King, Massingale decries the scourge of racial inequality in the United States. As a professor at Fordham University, he teaches African American religious approaches to ethics.

Like the German Martin Luther, Massingale is often at odds with official Catholic teaching — he supports the ordination of women and making celibacy optional for Catholic clergy. And, as a gay man, he vocally disagrees with the church’s doctrine on same-sex relations, instead advocating for full inclusion of LGBTQ Catholics within the church.

The Vatican holds that gays and lesbians should be treated with dignity and respect, but that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered” and sinful.

In his homily on a recent Sunday, Massingale – who became public about being gay in 2019 — envisioned a world “where the dignity of every person is respected and protected, where everyone is loved.”

But the message of equality and tolerance is one “that is resisted even within our own faith household,” he added. “Preach!” a worshiper shouted in response.

Massingale was born in 1957 in Milwaukee. His mother was a school secretary and his father a factory worker whose family migrated from Mississippi to escape racial segregation.

But even in Wisconsin, racism was common. Massingale said his father couldn’t work as a carpenter because of a color bar preventing African Americans from joining the carpenters’ union.

The Massingales also experienced racism when they moved to Milwaukee’s outskirts and ventured to a predominately white parish.

“This would not be a very comfortable parish for you to be a part of,” he recalled the parish priest saying. Thereafter, the family commuted to a predominantly Black Catholic church.

Massingale recalled another incident, as a newly ordained priest, after celebrating his first Mass at a predominantly white church.

“The first parishioner to greet me at the door said to me: ‘Father, you being here is the worst mistake the archbishop could have made. People will never accept you.‘”

Massingale says he considered leaving the Catholic Church, but decided he was needed.

“I’m not going to let the church’s racism rob me of my relationship with God,” he said. “I see it as my mission to make the church what it says it is: more universal and the institution that I believe Jesus wants it to be.”

For Massingale, racism within the U.S. Catholic Church is a reason for the exodus of some Black Catholics; he says the church is not doing enough to tackle racism within its ranks and in broader society.

Nearly half of Black U.S. adults who were raised Catholic no longer identify as such, with many becoming Protestants, according to a 2021 survey by the Pew Research Center. About 6% of Black U.S. adults identify as Catholic and close to 80% believe opposing racism is essential to their faith, the survey found.

The U.S. Catholic Church has had a checkered history with race. Some of its institutions, such as Georgetown University, were involved in the slave trade, and it has struggled to recruit African American priests.

Conversely, Catholic schools were among the first to desegregate and some government officials who opposed racial integration were excommunicated.

In 2018, U.S. bishops issued a pastoral letter decrying “the persistence of the evil of racism,” but Massingale was disappointed.

“The phrase ‘white nationalism’ is not stated in that document; it doesn’t talk about the Black Lives Matter movement,” he said. “The problem with the church’s teachings on racism is that they are written in a way that is calculated not to disturb white people.”

At Fordham, a Jesuit university, Massingale teaches a class on homosexuality and Christian ethics, using biblical texts to challenge church teaching on same-sex relations. He said he came to terms with his own sexuality at 22, upon reflecting on the book of Isaiah.

“I realized that no matter what the church said, God loved me and accepted me as a Black gay man,” he said.

His ordination in 1983 came in the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic that disproportionately affected gay men and Black Americans. Among his first funerals as a priest was that of a gay man whose family wanted no mention of his sexuality or the disease.

“They should have been able to turn to their church in their time of grief,” Massingale said. “Yet they couldn’t because that stigma existed in great measure because of how many ministers were speaking about homosexuality and AIDS as being a punishment for sin.”

Pope Francis has called for compassionate pastoral care for LGBTQ Catholics. However, he has described homosexuality among the clergy as worrisome, and Vatican law remains clear: same-sex unions cannot be blessed within the church. Some dioceses have fired openly LGBTQ employees.

Massingale has a different vision of the church: one where Catholics enjoy the same privileges regardless of sexual orientation.

“I think that one can express one’s sexuality in a way that is responsible, committed, life giving and an experience of joy,” he said.

Massingale has received recognition for his advocacy from like-minded organizations such as FutureChurch, which says priests should be allowed to marry and women should have more leadership roles within the church.

“He is one of the most prophetic, compelling, inspiring, transforming leaders in the Catholic Church,” said Deborah Rose-Milavec, the organization’s co-director. “When he speaks, you know very deep truth is being spoken.”

Along with his many admirers, Massingale has some vehement critics, such as the conservative Catholic news outlet Church Militant, which depicts his LGBTQ advocacy as sinful.

At Fordham, Massingale is well-respected by colleagues, and was honored by the university with a prestigious endowed chair. To the extent he has any critics among the Fordham faculty, they tend to keep their misgivings out of the public sphere.

He says he receives many messages of hope and support, but becoming public about his sexuality has come at a cost.

“I have lost some priest friends who find it difficult to be too closely associated with me because if they’re friends with me, ‘what will people say about them?’” he said.

Massingale remains optimistic about gradual change in the Catholic Church because of Pope Francis and recent signals from bishops in Europe who expressed a desire for changes, including blessing same-sex unions.

“My dream wedding would be either two men or two women standing before the church; marrying each other as an act of faith and I can be there as the official witness to say: “Yes, this is of God,” he said after a recent class at Fordham. “If they were Black, that would be wonderful.”

German Catholic Priests Come Out As Queer, Demand End For Institutional Discrimination

Around 125 people including former and current priests in Germany came out as gay and queer and demanded an end to institutional discrimination against the queer community.

Over 120 priests and employees with the Catholic church community in Germany came out as queer and launched a campaign demanding an end to institutional discrimination against LGBTQ people.

The Roman Catholic Church in Germany on Sunday faced renewed calls for better protection of LGBTQ rights and an end to institutional discrimination against queer people.

Around 125 people, including former and current priests, teachers, church administrators and volunteers, identified themselves as gay and queer, asking the church to take into account their demands and do away with “outdated statements of church doctrine” when it comes to sexuality and gender.

The members of the church community published seven demands on social media under the “OutInChurch” initiative. These demands range from queer people saying they should be able to live without fear and have access to all kinds of activities and occupations in the church without discrimination.

They said their sexual orientation must never be considered a breach of loyalty or reason for dismissal from their occupation. They ask the church to revise its statements on sexuality based on “theological and human-scientific findings.”

Besides asking for equal rights, employees also put down demands that the church takes accountability for their discrimination against people of the community throughout history, calling on the bishop to take responsibility on behalf of the church.

What has been the Vatican’s stance?

The Vatican, home of the pope and the Roman Catholic Church, ruled last year that priests cannot bless same-sex unions and that such blessings weren’t valid.

But the ruling also reignited a debate on the matter, and there was considerable resistance against it in some parts of Germany.

Last year, at least two bishops in Germany, including Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich, one of the pope’s top advisers, showed some support for a kind of “pastoral” blessing for same-sex unions.

In Germany and the United States, parishes and ministers also began blessing same-sex unions in lieu of marriage, with growing calls for bishops to institutionalize gay marriage.

However, in response to formal questions from a number of dioceses on whether the practice was allowed, the Vatican’s doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) made clear it wasn’t, ruling: “negative.”

Pope Francis approved the response, adding that it was “not intended to be a form of unjust discrimination, but rather a reminder of the truth of the liturgical rite” of the sacrament of marriage.

Complete Article HERE!

LGBTQ Catholic priest who rescues homeless youth rebukes Bishop

I wanted to keep him out of trouble with the Church, but he shows no evidence of wishing the same in this impassioned plea for love & justice

St. Peter Cathedral of Marquette, the Catholic Diocese of Marquette, Michigan

By James Finn

Fr. Andy Herman is a Roman Catholic priest who corresponds with me about LGBTQ issues. I have sometimes observed that Catholic priests are reluctant to publicly criticise Church teachings and practices.

Andy is a remarkable, refreshing exception. He offered to be interviewed. I asked him to write up a first-person story. This is it, after I edited and polished it. I wanted to keep him out of trouble with the Church, but he shows no evidence of wishing the same, which you’ll see in this impassioned, earthy plea for love and justice.

If this story inspires you, ask him for more, especially accounts of his youth rescue work in Los Angeles, which is hair-raising love in action.

Hi! My name’s Andy!

(“Hi Andy!” )

I’m bisexual!

(“Welcome, Andy!” [Applause.])

And I have been “intrinsically disordered” for… 74 years!

([Applause picks up, whoops & shouts of encouragement and congratulations.])

I know that’s tweaked a bit, because to be honest I’m not personally familiar with 12-step meetings. But the real problem is, it’s ass backwards.

My real name IS Andy. Andy Herman. Father Andy Herman. I’m a Roman Catholic priest.

I retired myself from public ministry with the institutional Catholic Church, because many years ago I vowed to make sure my mom and dad would never have to go into a nursing home as they declined in age. Which vow I was able to keep.

I was also canonically bounced out of my religious community, because I decided not to return to them while I was taking care of my parents. It was all very friendly. Honestly. I have the documentation to prove it.

But I’m not here to talk about me.

I am here to talk about the ass backwards garbage coming out of the Catholic Diocese of Marquette, Michigan.

I’m sure those of you who keep up with Catholic news know what I’m talking about. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community in that diocese have, in essence, been told to go eff themselves.

LGBTQ Catholics are not wanted in Upper Michigan in any way, shape, or form. They will not be permitted to take part in most (or any) of the sacramental and communal life of the Church.

What I do now is try to help homeless people on the street, most especially homeless kids, and really most especially, LGBTQ kids.

The Marquette Diocese is led by a Bishop whose name I will not utter, in the manner of news organizations not repeating the name of a perpetrator of a particularly terrible crime. That’s what’s going on in Upper Michigan — crimes against LGBTQIA+ people, especially Roman Catholics.

Let’s call him Bishop ID, Intrinsically Disordered, because that’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls US. Or better yet, let me refer to him as Bishop AB. Sure you get that one right off.

I ranted about this situation in a letter to the Prism & Pen editors, when it was first reported here. I was told maybe I could pen something, but just shave off some of the rougher ranting edges. So, I think I’ve un-ranted pretty much, and also don’t want to go into some analysis that’s already been done.

I just want to present a couple of points to the people of Upper Michigan, especially those of you who may be LGBTQ+ Catholics, and, I guess, particularly to those of you who may want to remain in the Church.

Or not.

I’ll also presume that latter description is one that many of you have already answered. Like so many of us, you’ve already left a place where you’re not wanted.

Let me just briefly tell you what these points are, and, if you think they’re worth something, please share them if it’s at all appropriate, especially with young people who are on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.

I grew up in Chicago and have been out here in Los Angeles for many years. What I do now is try to help homeless people on the street, most especially homeless kids, and really most especially, LGBTQ kids.

So I am sick and tired — to put it mildly — to have to, for the 3 millionth time in my life, explain THIS to kids who are of our community:

  • There is not a damn thing wrong with you.
  • God does love you, and Jesus never said an effing thing against you.

Period. But let me not rant further.

Let me, as a trained Roman Catholic priest, make the following points:

1.) Apparently, the Bishop of Marquette, and so many others like him, have spent not one moment praying, meditating, contemplating, experiencing, talking about, or studying anything of any consequence regarding the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What the Bishop is perpetrating is utterly opposite to that Gospel. I’m wrong about a lot of things in life, but I damn well know what I just said is accurate. The only persons who are “intrinsically disordered” here are Bishop AB and his cohorts.

To my fellow LGBTQ people, I say continue to be safe, protect yourselves, and THRIVE in all the practical ways you can, especially you who are our children. Never be the victims of this garbage, inside or outside yourselves.

2.) Pope Francis has called for a two-year process of synodality, and especially asked that people whose voices are opposite to, or never heard in the context of the Catholic Church, be given a seat at the table to discuss where the hell the Church should be going in years to come.

So, if you have the inkling to, speak up and tell Bishop AB that the Pope has personally invited you to sit at the table and give, even if that giving is seen as opposing the traditional, death-encrusted way talking about our faith that our Catholic leaders have indulged in for far too long.

3.) What Bishop AB has done is absolutely and utterly in contradiction to the morality of the Gospel, and certainly to the best pastoral practice of Catholic Church teaching. More than anything, he stands in utter defiance of Pope Francis’ attitude, which puts caring about people in front of stagnant, dormant, full-of-crap definitions of dogma and Catholic practice.

Bishop AB has declared dangerous nonsense against our community in the Diocese of Marquette, and if you want to get involved, please, you should immediately contact the Office of the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre. Ask that a canonical investigation of Bishop AB be initiated, and ask that — if the findings are as accurate as they are publicly presented now, and he is in egregious violation of the teachings of Jesus Christ — that he be removed from office immediately.

With a sigh, I would also suggest that you might recommend an investigation to determine if Bishop AB is something like a “Bishop Roy Cohn,” a name I would give him if he, sadly, is a self-hating member of our community, just like the notorious lawyer on the national scene years ago.

Here is the Nuncio’s contact information:

Apostolic Nunciature

Office: 202-333-7121Fax: 202-337-4036 Working Days and Hours: Monday through Friday, from 9:00 am until 4:30 pm

With…www.nuntiususa.org

4.) No matter what you want to do, please always realize you don’t have to celebrate sacraments to get into heaven, if that’s the way you think about things, especially if the people who are supposed to guard the integrity of your “immortal soul” refuse you access to those very sacraments.

You can really get in contact with Jesus with the same surety as they supposedly offer, by simply sitting and praying — or gathering together with priests who have the cojones to offer Mass and celebrate the other sacraments, with and for you.

And if none of those “guys” up there in Michigan’s UP will do this, do it yourselves. Baptize one another. Confirm your kids reaching adulthood into belief that Jesus loves them. Forgive one another.

And most of all, consecrate bread and wine under the aegis that if two or three are gathered together in Jesus name, he is absolutely and uncontestedly present with and to you.

This is not BS passing for shallow theology. It is based in the Gospels.

5.) My last point is an old one from a most moldy and oldie traditional pastoral theology of the Sacrament of Penance, but it bears looking at. If a penitent is not able in some ways to recognize that he or she has sinned, or there are other confusions and concerns about whether or not the sins can be forgiven, a confessor can take upon himself the sins of the penitent, in order that the penitent be freed and given absolution.

So all of you LGBTQ people out there who make love, get married, and have great and loving sex, all of which are considered grievous sins by the Catholic Church, send the damn things over to me, because I sure as hell WILL accept them without any fear of ending up in hell myself. (If you even talk in language like that, because I don’t.)

Even if you don’t go to confession anymore, that’s my offer as a priest. Just sit down, get yourself into a state where you can think about these things, and send them over to me.

I will absorb them, and you are free to go about your normal, regular daily life. But please only do this if it really bothers you and you think that way. Otherwise, who cares?

Do you really think Jesus is sitting at the prosecutors’ table or even behind the bench as the judge, and wants to forgive you for stuff that, even to a nitpicker, isn’t worth being denied 10 nanoseconds of eternity without being completely wrapped up with God?

Remember who’s intrinsically disordered.

You may be an ass, you may be a jerk, you may be evil as hell, you may be lots of things, but you are not an evil person just because you are LGBTQ. You/We are exactly the opposite: we are the sons and daughters of a loving God, brothers and sisters of Jesus of Nazareth, the Anointed One.

If that’s how you want to phrase it.

The only kind of sex that is ever evil or sinful is coercive sex, otherwise known as assault and/or rape. That includes trafficking, but cannot include sex workers themselves, per se.

If someone is forced to do that to stay alive, or doing it for some negative psychological or emotional reason, the situation is evil, not the people forced into it. Gay, straight, or anywhere on the spectrum.

Let’s not get confused about this. Jesus never said anything about this.

Back when the early church sought to make itself more credible, it adopted certain forms of Greek philosophy, including this idea known as the “Natural Law.” Saint Thomas Aquinas adopted and pushed these ideas. He was apparently not a bad guy, but he cannot possibly stand in as a substitute for Jesus.

All that extra-Biblical natural law business, mixed up with the rather primitive prescriptions against any kind of same-sex anything, especially in the Jewish scriptures — well, that leads to the wondrously inhumane, tragically harmful attitudes and behaviors we see too often in the Church today.

Stay away from this thinking, these attitudes and actions.

Read the Gospel. Talk to people who don’t like being cruel and hateful to others, especially to kids. Band together with them. I think you’ll find that the brief analysis I’ve given here on these points is accurate.

Stay away from those who are the opposite, like Bishop AB and his followers. If you feel like telling them to go to hell, I don’t think it’s going to really matter because they may be on their way anyway.< But everyone, even the most horrible sinners, can be forgiven. So I say, “Look in the mirror, Bishop AB.” In the words of Pope Francis, “Who am I to judge?” I don’t know who any of you are in person, but I send you my love and my support and my prayer and I ask you, please — for me and most especially for the homeless LGBTQ youth I work with — to throw it all back at me. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, Son of God, Son of Man, or whoever you really think he is: Love one another, unconditionally, as he loves us. Thanks for reading. Fr. Andy Herman
***********************

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic Officials on Edge After Reports of Priests Using Grindr

A conservative Catholic media organization, The Pillar, has published several reports claiming the use of dating apps at several churches and the Vatican.

The Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. One report made claims about the use of Grindr by unnamed people in unspecified rectories in the Archdiocese of Newark.

By Liam Stack

The reports hit the Roman Catholic Church in rapid succession: Analyses of cellphone data obtained by a conservative Catholic blog seemed to show priests at multiple levels of the Catholic hierarchy in both the United States and the Vatican using the gay hookup app Grindr.

The first report, published late last month, led to the resignation of Msgr. Jeffrey Burrill, the former general secretary of the U.S. bishops’ conference. The second, posted online days later, made claims about the use of Grindr by unnamed people in unspecified rectories in the Archdiocese of Newark. The third, published days after that, claimed that in 2018 at least 32 mobile devices emitted dating app data signals from within areas of Vatican City that are off-limits to tourists.

The reports by the blog, The Pillar, have unnerved the leadership of the American Catholic Church and have introduced a potentially powerful new weapon into the culture war between supporters of Pope Francis and his conservative critics: cellphone data, which many users assume to be unavailable to the general public.

“When there is reporting out there that claims to expose activity like this in parishes around the country and also on Vatican grounds, that is a five-alarm fire for church officials, there is no doubt about it,” said John Gehring, the Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, a progressive advocacy group.

The reports have put church officials in an awkward position: Priests take a vow of celibacy that is in no way flexible, and the downloading or use of dating apps by clergy members is inconsistent with that vow. But officials are also deeply uncomfortable with the use of cellphone data to publicly police priests’ behavior. Vatican officials said they met with representatives from the blog in June but would not publicly respond to its reports.

“If someone who has made promise of celibacy or a vow of chastity has a dating app on his or her phone, that is asking for trouble,” said Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark at a Zoom panel organized by Georgetown University. (He declined to be interviewed for this article.)

“I would also say that I think there are very questionable ethics around the collection of this data of people who allegedly may have broken their promises,” he said.

The only app explicitly named in the reports has been Grindr, which is used almost exclusively by gay and bisexual men, although The Pillar has made vague references to other apps it says are used by heterosexuals. Only one of the reports directly links an app to a specific person, Monsignor Burrill.

The reports have been criticized by Catholic liberals for tying the general use of Grindr to studies that show minors sometimes use the app as well. That conflation of homosexuality and pedophilia is part of a longstanding effort by Catholic conservatives to blame the church sex abuse crisis on the presence of gay men in the priesthood.

The reports have raised a host of questions: How did The Pillar obtain the cellphone data? How did it analyze the data, which is commercially available in an anonymous form, to identify individual app users? How widespread is the use of dating apps among Catholic priests, and how much has The Pillar been able to learn about specific individuals?

The editors of The Pillar, J.D. Flynn and Ed Condon, have refused to answer any of those questions and did not respond to a request seeking comment for this story. They have also declined interview requests from other news media.

In a podcast, Mr. Flynn and Mr. Condon said their work was motivated by a desire to expose a secretive culture of wrongdoing within the church.

“Immoral and illicit sexual behavior on the part of clerics who are bound to celibacy, but also on the part of other church leaders, could lead to a broad sense of tolerance for any number or kinds of sexual sins,” Mr. Flynn said on the podcast.

They said Newark was the only American diocese they wrote about because it was once led by the former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was defrocked in 2019 and charged last month with sexually assaulting a child in Massachusetts in 1974.

But their decision to investigate the use of a gay dating app in suburban New Jersey, instead of a city with a large gay population, has raised suspicion that their real goal may have been to undermine Cardinal Tobin, an ally of Pope Francis.

Mr. Flynn and Mr. Condon’s former employer, the conservative Catholic News Agency, published a report the day before the first post on The Pillar that said it had been approached in 2018 by “a person concerned with reforming the Catholic clergy.”

That person offered them similar cellphone data and also provided specific information about a nationally prominent priest who was not Monsignor Burrill, the executive editor of the agency, Alejandro Bermudez, said in an interview. He declined to name that priest.

At that time, Mr. Flynn and Mr. Condon were both editors at the agency, but Mr. Bermudez said he did not discuss the offer with them.

Mr. Bermudez said he thought the data was accurate but he ultimately declined to accept it because he thought it had been gathered in a “sketchy” way. He also said he thought using it to expose the private lives of priests would not be an effective or ethical way to reform the church.

The Pillar’s reports have been based on what it describes as “a very large data set” derived from data signals from multiple smartphone apps that were collected over two 26-week periods, one in 2018, and one in late 2019 and early 2020.

Until 2020, Grindr routinely provided user location data to freewheeling online ad exchanges, where it could be harvested by data brokers.

In January, Grindr was fined $11.7 million by the Norwegian Data Protection Authority for its history of providing user data, including precise locations, to advertising companies that later shared it with potentially more than 100 other entities.

In a statement, Grindr said it was trying to determine how The Pillar had acquired its user data. But it said those efforts were complicated by the writers’ “vague and incomplete descriptions of their work.”

“What is clear is that this work involved much more than just a small blog,” Grindr said in its statement.

The complexity and size of the data set makes it likely that The Pillar’s source had money and analytical skills, said Ashkan Soltani, a former technology adviser to the White House and the Federal Trade Commission.

Cellphone app data is often purchased from data brokers by corporations and political groups who analyze it to determine patterns of behavior. They can also use location filters to find users of a certain app in a certain location, like Grindr users within the compact borders of Vatican City.

Some firms specialize in de-anonymizing cellphone data, and a user’s identity can sometimes be determined by following their movements, said Mr. Soltani. That may be how The Pillar identified Monsignor Burrill, who the blog said it tracked to his home and office as well as to gay bars and a bathhouse.

“This is a cottage industry, and all of this stuff is really available out there,” said Mr. Soltani. “There is a risk for anyone who uses these apps. This could potentially happen to anyone.”

The reports have set the Catholic Church on edge.

Matteo Bruni, a Vatican spokesman, said that Vatican officials, including the powerful secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, met with “representatives from The Pillar” on June 17.

But he said the Vatican had decided not to respond to the report and did not say whether it planned to investigate the claims. It is unclear how church officials might punish the use of a cellphone app, if The Pillar’s reports were to be confirmed.

In Newark, church officials instructed priests not to speak to journalists. Several who spoke, on condition of anonymity, expressed dismay at the use of cellphone data to track priests. Even lay leaders were reluctant to discuss the controversy on the record, although not many parishioners appear to be aware of it.

The Pillar has not said whether it plans to publish more reports using cellphone data, but priests in other dioceses have waited anxiously to see whether it would publish anything about their communities.

Father Bob Bonnot, the executive director of the Association of U.S. Catholic Priests, said the use of cellphone data to track the movement of Monsignor Burrill had deepened a sense of vulnerability many priests feel.

“It can be terribly threatening,” he said. “It can make all priests uncomfortable and worried.”

Mr. Flynn and Mr. Condon are canon lawyers well known for their work at the Catholic News Agency, which is owned by the right-leaning Eternal Word Television Network, and their ties to conservatives in the church.

The Pillar provided information about its findings to the Archdiocese of Newark after church officials spent several weeks asking for details, said Maria Margiotta, an archdiocese spokeswoman. She said church officials were reviewing the findings.

“It is not acceptable for any member of the clergy to use any app, social media or website in a way that is inconsistent with Church teachings and their own religious vows,” she said. “We are committed to protecting the faithful, and when we learn of immoral behavior or misconduct, we immediately respond appropriately to address concerns.”

Complete Article HERE!

The Deep Strangeness of the Catholic Church’s Latest Scandal

The outing of a top administrator of the nation’s conference of Catholic bishops as a regular Grindr user was clearly a story. But what kind?

By Peter Steinfels

Once, it was said that the eyes were the windows to the soul. Now the cellphone is. Consider Jeffrey Burrill, a man who regularly logged in to the gay dating app Grindr and whose cellphone emitted signals marking his visits to gay bars and a Las Vegas gay bathhouse. Hardly a story there, you might say.

Except Jeffrey Burrill was Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, the secretary-general of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. And his July 20 resignation was forced by a newly founded Catholic online newsletter using commercially available data to trace his calls, movements, and behavior since 2018.

The outing of a top administrator of the nation’s conference of Catholic bishops was clearly a story. But what kind? A story about high-tech surveillance and invasion of privacy? About a new breach of journalistic ethics? About the Catholic Church?

Much of the national attention to this unusual episode focused on privacy issues. The basic problem is not complicated. In principle, data from mobile devices are “anonymized” by substituting a unique numerical identifier for users’ names and phone numbers. But mobile-phone location information and app usage is often recorded. A sufficiently interested party, with some additional information about residences, workplaces, and other data points, can connect the dots (or in this case the pings) to tie specific devices to specific individuals, such as Burrill.

“There’s not much to stop similar spying on politicians, celebrities and just about anyone that’s a target of another person’s curiosity—or malice,” Maggie Gile noted in Newsweek. Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, recalls years of warnings that data harvested from phones could be used to track their users and “reveal the most personal details of their lives.” A “vast and largely unregulated” industry assured the public that the information it collected was anonymous, he says. “As this awful episode demonstrates, those claims were bogus.”

The difficulty of safeguarding privacy from invasive technology cries out for remedies. But as a journalist and a Catholic (who has covered and written extensively about religion), I am even more interested in the other two stories, about journalistic ethics and about the Catholic Church.

I can reasonably be ranked among those labeled liberal Catholics. I am on record arguing that the Church should thoroughly rethink its teachings on sexuality, including contraception, same-sex relationships, and priestly celibacy. But I have little patience for the thankfully few dismissals of Burrill’s “indiscretions” on the grounds that “we are all sinners.” We are indeed all sinners, but we are not all secretaries-general of the United States Conference of Catholic bishops. Those of us who make solemn promises, whether of priestly celibacy or marital fidelity, should keep them. All the more so when our vows bear directly on our public roles.

If Burrill was in fact regularly violating his public commitment and leading a double life, it does not pain me that he was forced from office. What does pain me is how that came about, setting, as it does, dangerous precedents for both journalism and Catholicism.

The Pillar, the online newsletter that outed Burrill, was founded last January by J. D. Flynn and Ed Condon, two Catholic crusaders for a purer Church. Its founding statement promised to uphold “the highest standards of journalistic independence and craftsmanship.” The newsletter’s reporting on Burrill, though, has prompted questions about whether it has lived up to that mission.

The Pillar story acknowledged that the data it had obtained contained “no evidence to suggest that Burrill was in contact with minors.” But from the opening paragraph, the story missed no opportunity to mention the Church’s sex-abuse scandal, charges that Grindr and other “hookup apps” are used to facilitate sex with minors, and unrelated cases here and abroad of such criminal behavior by priests. Responding to protests that the exposé dwelled on a homophobic stereotype of gay predators, Flynn and Condon went on Twitter the day after it was published to repeat that no evidence linked Burrill’s use of gay dating apps to minors, and that they had had no intention to “insinuate” otherwise. Fair enough, if you don’t consider devoting more than 1,100 words of a 2,900-word article to that kind of linkage an insinuation.

Criticism of The Pillar’s journalism did not end with complaints about its use of innuendo. The newsletter’s resort to an ethically disturbing, even if legal, high-tech method to expose private behavior was also clouded by unanswered questions. In their lengthy exposé, Flynn and Condon went into detail about how the hookup app’s signals indicated Burrill’s systematic violation of his vow of celibacy. But they were vague about the source of this data. “The data obtained and analyzed by The Pillar,” they wrote, “was obtained from a data vendor and authenticated by an independent data consulting firm contracted by The Pillar.”

Who was the data vendor? Were the data purchased or volunteered? How were they analyzed to pinpoint a particular individual? And who funded this possibly expensive process? To critics of The Pillar’s journalism, these are key questions. Relying on anonymous sources is legitimate, and sometimes necessary. But good journalism requires giving readers some indication of the reason for anonymity and what it might suggest about the source’s perspective or motives.

Questions about the data source are underlined by another article, published at 3 a.m. on July 19—one day before The Pillar’s July 20 exposé—by the Catholic News Agency (CNA), a similarly conservative outlet where Flynn and Condon had previously worked. Written by Alejandro Bermudez, the agency’s executive director, the story said that in 2018, CNA had been approached by someone claiming “to have access to technology capable of identifying clergy and others who download popular ‘hook-up’ apps.” The person’s aim, Bermudez wrote, was to save the Church from clergy engaged in scandalous conduct. Recognizing the potential for blackmail in such data, however, the source wanted to keep them from falling “into the wrong hands.” Bermudez met with the person, who named “high-profile Catholic personalities” that the technology identified. Nonetheless, Bermudez said, he distrusted the offer and turned it down.

This is a tantalizing story, and I phoned Bermudez about it. “Chatter” from friends, he told me, about a coming revelation of online activities by major Church figures had brought to mind the 2018 offer and moved him to rush out his account. “It was important for us to say as a news organization that from a Catholic journalists’ standpoint this was a dangerous door to open.” The 2018 offer, he explained, was not only for a “whole package” but for an ongoing relationship with a steady flow of information from the source. This was hardly an ordinary offer, I noted. Was it believable, as his story claimed, that Bermudez couldn’t recall the name of the person who made it and never mentioned it to Flynn, who was CNA’s editor in chief at the time? Bermudez did not budge from his previous explanation that “crazy” accusations against Church leaders were so commonplace that they were not a matter of conversation. Avoiding any mention of The Pillar, he was simply adamant about rejecting, in 2018 and today, this way to reform the Church.

In view of the CNA story, one naturally wonders whether its unnamed source is the same person who was anonymously peddling a pre-targeted and tailored data set, indeed a working relationship, in 2018. The Pillar won’t say. (I emailed the publication to ask for comment, but received no reply.)

There is another eyebrow-raising aspect of The Pillar’s successful identification of a single individual from a data set that might have begun with billions of signals from millions of users: It’s costly. It may require a team of researchers. Not everyone agrees, but several technical experts have estimated the cost at hundreds of thousands of dollars. One data expert, Zach Edwards, the founder of an analytics firm, even said millions.

This story has opened an entirely new, scorched-earth stage of the decades-long conflict between Catholic conservatives and liberals that began after the 1962–65 Second Vatican Council, simmered for decades, and has broken into civil war since the election of Pope Francis in 2013. The issues at stake in this struggle include changes in the liturgy authorized by the Council, questions about sexual morality that the Council never considered, and the relationship between the papacy and bishops around the globe. Should the priesthood continue to be open only to celibate males? What priority should the Church give to issues of personal, especially sexual, morality compared with those of social justice?

These debates are not new. But what was once jousting among theologians, intellectuals, and papal authorities, as the laity silently aligned themselves with one side or the other, has become a battle between Pope Francis and a phalanx of high-ranking bishops. In August 2018, the retired Vatican diplomat (and onetime Vatican ambassador to the U.S.) Archbishop Carlo Viganò even demanded that Francis resign.

When Flynn and Condon, both trained as canon lawyers—specialists in Church law—started The Pillar in January, they declared that the newsletter would be “independent of any ecclesial agenda but the holiness of the Church.” Yet their take on “the holiness of the Church” implies a definite “ecclesial agenda,” on which few concerns rank higher than sexual morality, at least as I read it. To Flynn and Condon, a major threat to that holiness is tolerance of homosexuality and homosexual conduct, particularly among the clergy and bishops.

For decades, Catholic ultraconservatives have charged that the Church’s American hierarchy was being manipulated by a gay cabal. The same note has been sounded by Archbishop Viganò, who extends this charge to include Vatican circles. In a different register, it has been sounded by gay advocates, including gay priests and ex-priests, who argue that the hidden lives compelled by the Church’s strictures against same-sex relations are responsible for grave pathologies among the clergy. Even some advocates of a married (heterosexual) priesthood have echoed something similar: The requirement of celibacy has made the Catholic priesthood a refuge for many gay men who have not come to terms with their sexuality.

Nothing in such critiques of Church teaching on homosexual relations is more inflammatory than linking them to the scandal of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, despite the fact that the most extensive study of that scandal, by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, rejects the connection.

For The Pillar, Burrill was no one-off. It had already taken its data set to the archdiocese of Newark, headed by Cardinal Joseph Tobin, a strong supporter of Pope Francis, and to the Vatican itself. The Pillar claimed that signals from both homosexual and heterosexual hookup apps going back to 2018 could be traced to “more than 10” Newark rectories and clerical residences, including “several” with a frequency indicating use by residents. (The Newark archdiocese has 212 parishes.) As for the Vatican, The Pillar reported that over six months in 2018, at least 32 mobile devices emitted signals from dating apps, including Grindr, within areas of Vatican City not accessible to the public. By The Pillar’s standards and my own very traditional ones, all these hookup efforts in Newark and Rome were regrettable, but whether their numbers should be considered extensive or whether they came from clergy or lay employees, the newsletter did not say.

One wonders if the bishops conference, like so many corporations confronting charges of sexual impropriety, might not enlist an independent investigator to shed light on the whole episode. Who, for example, promoted and vetted Burrill for his post? How did his quite extensive double life escape notice? It is an unnoted irony that Burrill was ordained in the diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, when its bishop was Raymond L. Burke, today an archbishop, a leading opponent to Pope Francis, and an outspoken advocate of Church teachings on homosexuality, divorce, and abortion. Nothing in Burrill’s subsequent career steps marked him as anything but a conventional doctrinal conservative.

Questions about Burrill are only the starting point. What are the implications for Catholicism if the traditional surveillance of theological ideas and pastoral practice by Church authorities is replaced by the high-tech surveillance of moral failings by freelance journalists? The implications for journalism and personal privacy are serious. Even the person peddling the surveillance technology back in 2018 recognized its potential for blackmail. Without either strong professional censure or legal regulation, tech-savvy and scoop-hungry reporters on the brawling frontiers of online journalism are likely to make this kind of personally invasive technology part of their tool kit. A thoroughgoing inquiry and report could be a service well beyond the Church.

Defenders of The Pillar’s actions have shrugged off these concerns about privacy, journalism, and the Church. Stephen P. White, of Catholic University and the Ethics and Public Policy Center, dismissed those “ticked off” by The Pillar’s reporting—including “data-security gurus, would-be gatekeepers of the journalistic guild,” and “the usual voices on Catholic social media who cry ‘homophobia’ every time it is suggested that an unnatural vice among clerics might be a problem worth addressing.” The real problem was that “ecclesially minded journalists like Flynn and Condon” were being treated as “pariahs” for exposing “inconvenient truths about clerical sins.” In the defenders’ confidence that no ominous red lines are being crossed here, they seem to be forgetting one fundamental component of the Catholic teaching to which The Pillar pledged itself at its founding: Original Sin.

Complete Article HERE!

‘Outing’ of priest shines light on power – and partisanship – of Catholic media

By

It had all the hallmarks of a sensationalist tabloid sting.

On July 21, 2021, an article appeared alleging that a senior U.S. priest, Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, had used the hook-up app Grindr, with data from the app placing him at a number of gay bars. Burrill, the now former General Secretary of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, promptly resigned.

But the report was not published by an outlet that many Americans would associated with such sex “exposés.” Indeed, most would have never have heard of it at all. It was The Pillar, a small newsletter founded in early 2021, that makes up just a tiny part of the Catholic media landscape in the U.S.

As a scholar of American Catholicism and culture, I take a keen interest in Catholic media. My recent book, “Follow Your Conscience: The Catholic Church and the Spirit of the Sixties,” draws upon dozens of articles in the Catholic media as primary sources for historical analysis. While many Americans may be familiar with evangelical outlets like Christianity Today or the Christian Post – not to mention the hundreds of evangelical radio stations across the nation – the Catholic media seems to have less prominence on the national stage.

But as The Pillar’s reporting on Burrill shows, Catholic journalism can nonetheless be influential – and can split opinion in just the same way as media with a wider audience.

A newspaper for every diocese

The Catholic mediascape is made up of a series of publications at the local, national and global level. Almost every diocese has its own newspaper that covers local events like first communions – when a Catholic receives the Eucharist, the bread and wine transformed into Christ’s body and blood, for the first time – or the construction of a new school gym.

But many Catholic readers also like to be informed on the bigger picture of Catholicism, and notably the Pope. In 2014, the Boston Globe, with the help of journalist John Allen, founded Crux to report on the Vatican for an American Catholic audience.

Catholic journalists not only report on the church itself, they aim to offer a Catholic perspective on broader American stories. That was the founding premise behind important Catholic magazines like Commonweal, founded by laypeople in 1924, and America, a monthly publication run by Jesuits in New York City.

Increasingly, like the secular media, Catholic outlets have been polarized and drawn into the culture war. They too have taken positions that divide readers and win constituents with particular worldviews. National Catholic Reporter, in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council – the meeting of the world’s bishops 1962 to 1965 that introduced changes like Mass in the vernacular and a new respect for the religious liberty of members of other faiths – is a liberal outlet that cut its teeth on criticism of the Vietnam War and continues to promote social justice.

Its counterpart, the National Catholic Register, prefers the moral clarity and conservative positions offered by Popes like John Paul II and Benedict XIV, particularly on matters of gender, sexuality and politics. Its readers overlap with viewers of the Eternal Word Television Network, a network critical of the more liberal Pope Francis.

On the issue of homosexuality, Catholic media similarly expresses a variety of views. America magazine consistently features the writings of Father Jim Martin, a Jesuit priest who has encouraged the church to treat the gay community with more dignity. The periodical First Things, meanwhile, delights in offering readers searing critiques of secular modernity by Catholic conservative writers.

Ethical concerns

Into this partisan media mix emerged The Pillar in 2021 and its recent report on Burrill. The investigation prompted ethical concerns over the use of data privacy – The Pillar’s report relied on geolocation data from the Grindr app that it legally bought. There were also complaints that the reporting appeared to conflate Burrill’s apparent homosexuality with the child abuse scandal in the Catholic church.

The ethics of The Pillar’s article aside, the reporting does tap into a tradition of Catholic media shining a light on church issues and elevating it to national attention.

A generation ago, Catholic media reporting was crucial in helping expose the sexual abuse of children by priests.

On June 7, 1985, an article by investigative journalist Jason Berry in the National Catholic Reporter exposed not only the pedophilia of priest Gilbert Gauthe, but also the church’s complicity to cover it up. Berry, a practicing Catholic who covered the case initially for a local Louisiana paper, detailed for a national readership how Gauthe had abused dozens of children in the Diocese of Lafayette starting in 1972. He charted the local hierarchy’s efforts to keep the case out of the public eye and how church officials ignored reports of the abuse. Berry’s article ran for several pages, replete with headlines like “PEDOPHILE PRIEST: STUDY IN INEPT CHURCH RESPONSE” and “MANY KNEW OF FATHER’S PROBLEM BUT NO-ONE STOPPED HIM.”

The national press picked up the story only after it appeared in National Catholic Reporter.

The publication of Berry’s writings on Gauthe marked the beginning of a new, vigorous mode of national criticism in the Catholic press of church hierarchy for allegedly covering up sex abuse scandals.

Reporting on scandals

Without journalists like Jason Berry, the exposure of the clergy abuse crisis may have played along very different lines. To put it simply, it moved the interpretation of the crisis away from a “bad apple” paradigm – it which individual priests were to blame – towards a much more systemic approach which looked at a Catholic culture that facilitates abuse.

The Pillar has tried to frame its investigation of Burrill in a similar light. It implies that Burrill’s use of hookup apps might further develop a culture of abuse in the church. The Pillar’s article quotes moral theologian Father Thomas Berg and the late psychological and clergy sex abuse expert Richard Sipe, both of who argue that there is a connection between a cleric violating his vows of celibacy with other adults and a potential abuse of adolescents. The suggestion is that it encourages “networks of protection and tolerance among sexually active clerics,” as The Pillar suggests.

But this argument requires a fine dance that risks falling into the trap of connecting the act of homosexuality with pedophilia. Not everybody is convinced that The Pillar’s article drew this line sufficiently.

Nonetheless, it has rekindled a debate over the role of Catholic media.

In his 1996 book, “Pedophiles and Priest,” historian Philip Jenkins criticizes Berry’s landmark reporting for making it appear as if everyone in Louisiana Church structure, from the bishops to fellow priests, were at fault for Gauthe’s prolific abuse. Jenkins argues that the June 1985 article provided a formula for future reporting: first a journalist details some rumors, then he or she writes about how the allegations troubled parents, then the reporter mentions a transfer of a priest to a new parish and, finally, the investigator quotes an expert who comments on the structural nature of the crisis. In this way, Jenkins suggested, journalists make abuse appear more pervasive than it is. Although Jenkins book was written in the mid-1990s, his analysis, while problematic, remains important.

The abuse crisis is not the only challenge the Catholic Church faces – it is currently in the midst of struggle between conservative and more progressive elements. In tying to draw a connection between Burrill’s apparent homosexuality and his potential future complicity in the clergy abuse crisis, The Pillar, one of the newest entrants in the Catholic media landscape, has waded into the church’s culture war and placed itself among the outlets that will be reporting on it in the months and years to come.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic priest who wants to prevent Biden from receiving communion resigns in sex scandal

Msgr. Jeffrey Burrill.

By

Last month, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved a measure that could prohibit President Biden, a devout Catholic, from receiving communion. Conservative bishops do not wish Biden to receive communion because of his support for abortion rights.

Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, general secretary of the USCCB, was a strong supporter of the measure, but he has resigned due to allegations of “serial sexual misconduct,” as reported in The PIllar, a Catholic publication. Burrill was allegedly using Grindr for sex hookups, which goes against Catholic priests’ vow of celibacy.

From The Pillar:

Use of location-based hookup apps is inconsistent with clerical obligations to continence and chastity, according to Fr. Thomas Berg, a professor of moral theology at St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers, New York.

Berg told The Pillar that “according to canon law and the Church’s tradition, clerics are obliged to observe ‘perfect and perpetual continence,’ as a reflection of what should be our lived pursuit of our spousal relationship with the Church and with Christ.”

Calling it “obviously a scandal” that a cleric would use location-based hookup apps, Berg said there is “a real disconnect between the appearance of a man who presumably is earnestly striving to live the life of chastity, when it becomes glaringly evident that he is dramatically failing at that because he’s gone to hookup apps to look actively for sexual partners — that itself is an enormous scandal.”

As Upworthy points out, you’d think Monsignor Burrill would have more empathy toward President Biden:

Burrill appears to be an even bigger hypocrite because the USCCB has opposed LGBTQ equality, same-sex adoption, and the development of an LGBTQ suicide hotline. It has also promoted anti-trans legislation.

It always seems to be that the religious folks who judge the harshest always wind up having something to hide. It’s a shame that Catholics such as Burrill are forced by doctrine to live their lives in the shadows. But shouldn’t that make them more compassionate towards fellow sinners instead of the first to judge?

When it comes to LGBTQ Catholics, what Pope Francis giveth, the Vatican taketh away

Pope Francis meets with German bishops during their ad limina visit Nov. 20, 2015.

By Claire Giangravé

At last month’s Pride parade in Rome, members of the city’s LGBTQ community waved rainbow flags, strewed glitter and generally exuded love to fellow marchers and those along the route. When they occasionally showed flashes of ire, their mockery and ridicule were aimed at some of Rome’s most familiar figures: Pope Francis and the Vatican hierarchy.

Some shouted at the churches they passed; others held sparkly signs with double-entendres aimed at the pontiff. Still others strutted their stuff dressed as Francis himself.

What angered Italian LGBTQ citizens was what they considered undue interference by the Vatican in its attempt to stall a controversial bill being debated in the Italian Senate that would criminalize homophobia. Named for its author, politician and activist Alessandro Zan, the bill would also institute a day aimed at raising awareness of sexuality and gender issues in schools.

Italian bishops have twice voiced their concerns about the Zan bill, claiming it would violate the religious freedom of Catholic schools, hospitals and other institutions. When that admonition fell on deaf ears, the Italian bishops’ conference sent a diplomatic note to the Italian government on June 22. The Zan bill, the bishops argued, violated the accords signed in 1929 between Italy and Vatican City, known as the Lateran Treaty, that set expectations for mutual noninterference.

In the middle of this heated debate, Francis sent a letter to the American Jesuit priest James Martin, about Martin’s efforts to promote inclusivity and to welcome LGBTQ individuals in the church.

“Our Heavenly Father comes close with love to each one of his children, each and everyone,” Francis wrote in the letter, praising Martin’s work.

Ever since Francis answered a question about a gay priest in 2013 with his own now famous question, “Who am I to judge?,” many Catholics have hailed the pontiff as a beacon of hope for LGBTQ inclusivity.

But while Francis has often shown in his words and personal acts of charity that he is close to LGBTQ individuals, the Vatican as an institution has done little to recast its hard doctrinal line, which views homosexuality as sinful and as “intrinsically disordered.”

“I can understand that it’s very confusing for people,” said Juan Carlos Cruz, a clerical abuse survivor and member of the LGBTQ community who frequently meets with Francis at the Vatican.

Despite the Vatican’s recent interference on the Zan bill, “that’s not who Pope Francis is,” Cruz said, adding that in private conversations the pontiff makes it clear that not only did God make the activist gay, but loves him the way he is.

Cruz made it clear that while he enjoys a personal relationship with the pope, and while Francis appointed him to the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in 2020, he is not a papal spokesperson.

Jamie Manson, president of Catholics for Choice and a longtime activist for LGBTQ rights in the Catholic Church, believes that Francis “wants to be compassionate and merciful to marginalized people — he sees us as marginalized people — but he doesn’t want to change the teachings that will free us from marginalization and get us justice.”

Catholic LGBTQ organizations are divided, Manson explained, between those who believe that “appealing to mercy and pulling at heartstrings” will lead to change in the Vatican and those who “have run out of patience.”

Occasionally the pontiff’s statements on homosexuality seem to contradict themselves. He has personally supported LGBTQ individuals in Italy and in Argentina — and last September, speaking to Italian parents of LGBTQ children, Francis said that “God loves their children as they are” and so does the Catholic Church. But he has also criticized gender theory, comparing it to nuclear weapons and calling it a form of ideological colonization.

The dynamic can be attributed to a “hate the sin, not the sinner” approach, but according to Cruz, it also suggests that there is not a little opposition to Francis’ support for LGBTQ Catholics among Vatican officials.

“I’ve never seen in my life a more political and LGBTQ-obsessed Curia,” he said. “It is sad to see how much Pope Francis wants to support and open his arms to the LGBTQ community and how much they put land mines in his path to be able to do it,” he added.

Concerning the CDF’s ban on the blessing of same-sex couples, which occurred shortly after Francis returned from his historic trip to Iraq, Cruz said he believes that “in some way (the pope) is going to try to repair the harm that document did.”

The CDF document, approved by Francis, seemed to be an attempt to rein in the discussions taking place in Germany known as the Synodal Path — a series of conferences involving local bishops and laity that has taken a progressive line on questions regarding sexuality and power structures in the Catholic Church. But LGBTQ Catholics in other countries regarded it as a gratuitous slap, and despite the ban from the Vatican, some German clergy have continued to bless same-sex couples.

Manson praised the pope for opening the conversation on LGBTQ issues in the church, which she believes has led to “meaningful change,” but she added that the time for talk is over. She called for the pope to meet with members of the LGBTQ community at the Vatican and publicly acknowledge his private statements on LGBTQ issues.

Cruz said that he known he’s “lucky” to be able to speak to the pope directly on these topics, praising Francis’ efforts to evolve the Vatican’s understanding of LGBTQ individuals, while adding that “we cannot change church teaching in a minute.”

He also longs for the pope to speak openly on these topics, he said, and for him not to “let others define it for him.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Sends More Mixed Messages on L.G.B.T.Q. Rights

An encouraging note from Pope Francis capped an especially disorienting week on the Vatican’s stance toward gay rights.

Pope Francis last month at the Vatican.

By Jason Horowitz

A leader in the Roman Catholic Church’s effort to reach out to L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics revealed on Sunday that Pope Francis had sent him a deeply encouraging note, capping an especially disorienting week on the Vatican’s attitude toward gay rights.

On Tuesday, the Vatican confirmed that it had tried to influence the affairs of the Italian state by expressing grave concerns about legislation currently in Parliament that increases protections for L.G.B.T.Q. people. And days later, the Vatican’s second in command insisted the church had nothing against gay rights, but was protecting itself from leaving the church’s core beliefs open to criminal charges of discrimination.

Nearly eight years after Pope Francis famously responded, “Who am I to judge?” on the issue of gay Catholics, it has become increasingly difficult to discern where he stands on the issue. A growing dissonance has developed between his inclusive language and the church’s actions.

The result is confusion and frustration among some of the pope’s liberal supporters who wonder whether the 84-year-old Argentine remains committed to a more tolerant church and is simply struggling to grasp the rapidly shifting contours of a difficult issue, or is really a social conservative trying to please everyone.

What is clear is that the new note will serve as fresh fodder in a battle within the church between frustrated progressives who hope the pope’s inclusive message will finally lead to change and wary conservatives, who are hoping the church will maintain its traditions. The Vatican’s own news service later reported that the pope had sent the letter.

In the handwritten letter dated June 21 and made public on Sunday, Francis praised and thanked the Rev. James Martin, a prominent Jesuit and the author of a book about reaching out to L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics.

“I see that you are continually seeking to imitate this style of God,” the pope wrote. “You are a priest for all men and women, just as God is a Father for all men and women. I pray for you to continue in this way, being close, compassionate and with great tenderness.”

Those words will almost certainly give succor to Francis’ liberal supporters, many of whom were deeply disheartened by a March response by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the church’s top doctrinal office, to an inquiry about whether Catholic clergy have the authority to bless gay unions.

Negative,” was the answer, which Francis approved.

Two people who support gay rights and are close to the pope say he told them that he relented under pressure from the congregation, a decision he regretted and hoped to rectify. The Vatican did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the accounts.

But Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, whom Francis fired from his position as the chief doctrinal watchdog in 2017, said that idea was absurd.

“The pope is the pope,” he said, adding that Francis was clearly in charge on such matters.

Cardinal Müller and other prelates say that Francis, on a personal level, simply does not like to hurt people’s feelings.

“He wants to be pastoral and he wants to be close to the people. It’s his specialty,” Cardinal Müller said. “It’s easier to be everybody’s darling than to say the truth,” he added. “He doesn’t like direct confrontation.”

Father Martin, who is often attacked by church conservatives, made the letter public after revealing it at a virtual conference for pastors and laypeople who administer to L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics.

In the letter, Francis said the Jesuit priest echoed Jesus in that his teaching was “open to each and everyone.” He concluded with a promise to pray for Father Martin’s “flock.”

But that flock has been led this way and that by the pope’s mixed signals over the years.

Francis stunned the faithful and a secular audience more accustomed to scolding about homosexuality and gay marriage when asked by reporters about a priest who was said to be gay, he responded, “Who am I to judge?”

His landmark 2016 document on family — titled “The Joy of Love” — rejected same-sex marriage but called on priests to be welcoming to people in nontraditional relationships, like gay people.

More recently, Francis expressed support for same-sex civil unions. His comments did not change church doctrine but amounted to a significant break from his predecessors.

Francis had made the remarks in a 2019 interview with the Mexican broadcaster Televisa, but the Vatican censored the report, and the footage emerged only in an October 2020 documentary.

For liberals, all of that seemed to be building momentum to real progress on L.G.B.T.Q. people in the church, which made the Vatican’s March rejection of the blessing of gay unions so much harsher.

Juan Carlos Cruz, a Chilean sexual abuse survivor and gay person whom the pope befriended, wrote an opinion article in a Chilean newspaper that criticized the doctrinal watchdog’s rejection of blessings as insulting to L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics.

The church’s doctrinal office is led by Cardinal Luis Ladaria, who was handpicked by the pope and is seen as in lock step with him.

In an explanatory note, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said that while welcoming gay people, who have a right to be blessed, the church will not bless same-sex unions because God “does not and cannot bless sin.” Blessing a same-sex union, it added, could give the impression of putting it on the same level as marriage.

“This would be erroneous and misleading,” the note said.

Vatican officials with knowledge of the document said that the pope did not at any time oppose the decision, and that he was absolutely clear on questions of church doctrine.

The decision prompted widespread disappointment, even disgust, among gay Catholics and their advocates.

Liberal Catholics were disappointed again this past week when the Vatican confirmed that the Holy See’s foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Richard Gallagher, had hand delivered a letter to the Italian ambassador to the Holy See expressing reservations about the bill that would add L.G.B.T. provisions to an existing law that makes discrimination, violence or incitement based on race or religion a crime punishable by up to four years in prison.

The church intervened early to change the bill because it feared the law might legally oblige it to conduct same-sex marriages or teach more liberal ideas about gender in Catholic schools, according to an official inside the church.

Alessandro Zan, the bill’s sponsor, said such concerns were outlandish and not reflected in the legislation.

But the pope clearly approved the intervention, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re told Rome’s Il Messaggero newspaper on Thursday.

The reaction was intense and angry from Italians who accused the Vatican of impinging on the state’s democratic process and from frustrated and confused gay Catholics who again saw the pope, despite everything he had said, as acting against them.

In an apparent effort at damage control, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s secretary of state and the second highest-ranking official after the pope, released a statement on Thursday.

He said that the Vatican was not seeking to block the legislation but worried that the vague draft language, and the enormous latitude of Italian judges, could lead to criminal discrimination charges for basic church practices. He insisted that hostility toward gay people did not motivate the Vatican opposition.

“We oppose any behavior or gesture of intolerance or hate toward people because of their sexual orientation,” he said.

Liberal supporters of Francis argue that letters like the one revealed by Father Martin on Sunday give them space to push ahead in their outreach. But Cardinal Müller said nothing of substance had changed since he left, and if anything, Francis had become stronger in his defense of the church’s core beliefs.

“The last signs were a little bit significant,” he said.

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