As Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger was head of the Catholic Church from 2005 to 2013. Using archival footage and conversations with contemporary witnesses, this film provides insight into the rise and fall of the German pope.
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 Andy!” )
(“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.
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’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.
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:
Period. But let me not rant further.
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:
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?
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.
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.
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↩!
By Serene Jones
In a few days, Christians around the world will celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. They will recount how Mary and Joseph made the long, hard journey to Bethlehem and how she gave birth to Jesus in a manger.
It’s a story with beautiful themes of God’s humble love, tenderness and vulnerability. But this holiday season, there’s a part of this story that it’s time to move past: Mary’s purported virginity.
I’m a theologian and am very familiar with the biblical stories of the birth of Jesus, as well as the many views of Mary’s virginity. For centuries, religious scholars have debated whether Mary was in fact a virgin, or whether this interpretation is based on a mistranslation of the Bible.
Regardless of the truth, one thing is for certain: The focus on Mary’s virginity created the rationale behind centuries of harmful views about virginity and perfect womanhood — how we should dress, act and approach our sexuality. These views are, in turn, tied to the gross inequalities women face still 2,000 years later — from the wage gap to attacks on reproductive rights.
For centuries, Christians have held that Mary was herself conceived immaculately — that is, perfectly free of sin and therefore fit to be a pure vessel to carry Jesus. Then, when Mary was a teenager — and importantly, still a virgin — the Holy Spirit conceived Jesus, another perfect, sinless child. Many Christian scholars say that Mary remained a virgin for the rest of her life.
Theologians have long questioned these beliefs, even as religious leaders have used Mary’s purported virginity as a model for how women should behave. Sex is sin. Abstaining from sex is saintly.
St. Augustine was one of several church fathers who characterized sex for pleasure as a sin because it diverted one’s attention away from God. His work created a strong connection between purity and virginity, and laid the groundwork for countless social movements to control and shame women’s sexuality.
Today, this view remains very much alive. In many U.S. conservative Christian communities, women are still instructed that it is their duty — and notably, not the duty of men — to eschew sex for pleasure and to have sex only after marriage and only for reproduction
They are duly told to refrain from dressing in a way that draws male attention. They must reject sexual advances from others and repress their own sexual urges. They wear purity rings and, in a few places, still attend purity balls — at which daughters promise their fathers that they will remain virgins until marriage. Unsurprisingly, many women who are raped or assaulted don’t report it because they don’t want to be considered “tainted.”
Similar mindsets can be found elsewhere, and in other faiths. Honor killings remain a fact of life in some countries, while others criminalize premarital sex and put women who have committed adultery to death.
In sum, a woman’s worth is greatly dependent on how “pure” she is perceived to be, and a woman’s sexual agency is at best ignored and at worst punished.
This shaming of women goes against God’s most basic teachings. In one of Jesus’ pivotal parables, recounted in the Gospel of John, he teaches the opposite lesson: A woman accused of adultery is brought before Jesus by a mob that wants to stone her to death. Instead of condemning her, however, Jesus famously responds that only those without sin should cast the first stone. Not surprisingly, no stones are thrown.
The truth is, Mary’s virginity is superfluous and turns a story that is supposed to be about the love of God into a tale that oppresses women. Instead of focusing on Mary’s sexuality, let’s celebrate the true glory of the season.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
If you think that, once they finish off Roe v. Wade, they’re not going to come for Obergefell, Lawrence, Gideon, and Griswold, I just don’t know what to tell you. Conservatives do not believe that a right to privacy exists anywhere in the Constitution. They say it all the time, and Dick Wolf even got the late Fred Thompson to say it on Law and Order. They believe any decision based on such a right is illegitimate and vulnerable to being overturned. (Both Justice Clarence Thomas and the late Justice Antonin Scalia got snotty in opinions concerning what Scalia called “the so-called right to privacy.” The context for Scalia’s scorn was Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark decision that decriminalized gay sex. Nice guy, Tony.) And, in case you were wondering where all of this might start, take a look at the mischief in the upper peninsula of Michigan. From NBC News:
A Catholic diocese in Michigan has been thrust into the national spotlight after a prominent priest and author shared its guidance on transgender members and those in same-sex relationships on social media this week. The viral guidance, which the Diocese of Marquette issued in July, says such congregants are prohibited from being baptized or receiving Communion unless they have “repented.”…The Roman Catholic Church has long held that being gay isn’t a sin but that being in a gay relationship or having gay sex is. The Vatican also ruled in March that priests can’t bless same-sex unions.
Obviously, this is another example of a wingnut American bishop who isn’t too fond of Papa Francesco. And the official text of the “guidance” reads like it was written in 1957 by a nun who grew up in a cardboard box far from other human beings.
The Sacrament of Matrimony, the marital covenant, is a permanent partnership of one man and one woman ordered to the procreation and education of children and the good of the spouses (c. 1055). Christian spouses are strengthened by the grace of this sacrament to love each other with the love of Jesus Christ. Only in the context of marriage between one man and one woman can sexual intercourse express a love that is permanent, because they have given their whole lives to each other by the promises that they made to each other on their wedding day. Outside of marriage, sexual activity cannot express permanent love.
Tell that to those bishops who kept shuffling child molesters from parish to parish.
I mean, holy orders, Batman. Who thinks like this? Humanae Vitae was chock-full of this kind of anti-human nonsense, and it doesn’t smell any better with age. But these kind of moments are when the fire starts. Pretty soon, it jumps from internal Church politics into the secular politics of the day. There is no lack of wingnut-welfare legal chop-shops willing to fashion lawsuits to gussy up any threadbare argument with the latest style. And, before you know it, your ability to buy birth control through the mail is hanging by a thread. Pour enough holy oil on it and any slope becomes slippery.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
A Catholic diocese in Michigan has been thrust into the national spotlight after a prominent priest and author shared its guidance on transgender members and those in same-sex relationships on social media this week. The viral guidance, which the Diocese of Marquette issued in July, says such congregants are prohibited from being baptized or receiving Communion unless they have “repented.”
An advocate said it was the “most egregious” guidance ever issued by a diocese.
It instructs the church’s priests on how to develop pastoral relationships with “persons with same-sex attraction” and “persons with gender dysphoria” and “lead them step‐by‐step closer to Jesus Christ in a manner that is consistent with the Church’s teaching.”
The Roman Catholic Church has long held that being gay isn’t a sin but that being in a gay relationship or having gay sex is. The Vatican also ruled in March that priests can’t bless same-sex unions.
Regarding transgender people, the Vatican in June 2019 released “Male and Female He Created Them: Towards a Path of Dialogue on the Question of Gender Theory in Education,” which rejected the idea that trans people can exist and said the “ideology” aims “to annihilate the concept of ‘nature.’”
The Diocese of Marquette said in its guidance that trans people deserve “love and friendship” and compared them to people “suffering from anorexia nervosa.”
“In this disorder there is an incongruence between how the persons perceive themselves and their bodily reality,” the guidance says. “Just as we would refer a person with anorexia to an expert to help him or her, let us also refer persons with gender dysphoria to a qualified counselor to help them while we show them the depth of our love and friendship.”
The document says people in same-sex relationships and trans people can’t be baptized or confirmed or receive Holy Communion. They also can’t serve as witnesses at Catholic baptisms or confirmations.
But, the guidance says, gay and transgender people can participate in such sacraments if they repent. For gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer people, that would mean ending same-sex relationships, and for trans people, it would mean living as the sexes they were assigned at birth, although the guidance says trans people who have undergone “physical changes to the body” aren’t required to reverse them.
Also, in accordance with Catholic doctrine, the guidance says children of same-sex married couples can be baptized if they are raised in the Catholic faith and taught that same-sex marriage goes against the church’s teachings.
“Unlike a man and woman who are cohabitating or in an invalid marriage, the status of same‐sex couples can never be regularized, which presents a particular pastoral concern,” it says. “To avoid scandal, the baptism should be celebrated privately, and care should be taken to avoid the impression of accepting the redefinition of marriage and parenthood.”
The document surfaced after the Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, LGBTQ advocate and best-selling author, criticized it on Twitter, writing Tuesday, “It is not a sin to be transgender.”
Martin added: “Transgender people are beloved children of God struggling to understand their identity. They need to be accepted with ‘respect, compassion and sensitivity.’ As Cardinal Gregory told a trans person, ‘You belong to the heart of this church.'”
Wilton Gregory, the archbishop of Washington, D.C., is the former president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
He tweeted later that assertions that being transgender is a sin and that trans people don’t exist “do immense harm to LGBTQ people and their families.”
He continued, “The Catholic Church needs to listen to LGBTQ people, not give them more reasons to distance themselves from the church.”
In a statement emailed Thursday, the Diocese of Marquette said the guidance was shared with pastors and school principals, among others, to provide “a framework” for them to develop pastoral relationships with LGBTQ congregants.
“The Church teaches that persons experiencing feelings of same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria is not sinful, but freely acting upon them is,” read the statement, shared by John Fee, the diocese’s communications director.
The statement also noted that the diocese’s bishop, John Doerfler, “served as a Courage chaplain” in his previous ministry and “found working with the Catholic apostolate to persons with same-sex attraction for several years as a priest to be a ‘privilege’ and he remains inspired by the members’ ‘faith and desire to live chastely.’”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, the executive director of DignityUSA, which advocates for LGBTQ rights in the Catholic Church, said the guidance is part of a larger trend of dioceses’ “making statements that look like they’re trying to be helpful to gay, queer and transgender people but that are really doing harm to the spiritual, emotional and physical health of our community and to families.”
She described the Marquette diocese’s guidance in particular as the “most egregious” ever issued by a diocese, saying it “goes much further than any diocese has gone before.”
She said that since the Vatican released “Male and Female He Created Them” — which she said was supposed to have been narrowly focused on education — more than a dozen U.S. dioceses have implemented their own policies or released additional statements.
“This educational mandate was sort of just put on the shelf by almost every other country in the world, but it just shows how many culture warrior bishops we have here in the United States, that they have really amplified this kind of teaching to the detriment of LGBTQ Catholics, who feel evermore excluded by the hierarchy of our church,” Duddy-Burke said.
The guidance from the Diocese of Marquette, as well as similar guidance from other dioceses, is also in conflict with many of Pope Francis’ teachings and the overtures he has made to the LGBTQ community, she said. In 2013, for example, Francis responded “Who am I to judge?” to a question from a reporter about gay priests. Last year, he told a group of parents that God loves their LGBTQ children.
But Francis’ statements conflict with church doctrine about LGBTQ people — a doctrine that Duddy-Burke said has been driving people out for decades.
A 2015 Pew Research Center survey found that half of people who were raised Catholic had left the church at some point. While it’s unclear how many left over the church’s LGBTQ policies, a survey in 2019 by the Public Religion Research Institute found that nearly three-quarters of white and nonwhite Catholics, or 74 percent, support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The majority also support same-sex marriage, with 68 percent of Hispanic Catholics and 63 percent of white Catholics in support.
Duddy-Burke said young adults are even more accepting of LGBTQ people than previous generations were — and nearly 1 in 5 have said they aren’t straight, according to one global survey — which means they have grown up in a world “where many of them expect equity and inclusion for LGBTQ people.”
“If the church continues to have discriminatory attitudes, policies and teachings, the trend of people opting out of Catholicism is only going to continue,” she said.
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
As we move towards Sept. 30, many schools and universities will be talking about observing the new National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Many schools formerly observed this day as Orange Shirt Day to acknowledge the intergenerational impacts of the residential schooling system — but Sept. 30 has now been declared a statutory holiday by the federal government in response to calls by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
When it comes to all of our institutions — and educational institutions in particular — it’s critical to move far beyond a single day of remembrance.
We are educational researchers who seek to understand how teacher education programs are — or aren’t — addressing truth and reconciliation education. Reconciliation in education begins by acknowledging how educational systems — in particular, our universities, teacher education programs and curricula — have reproduced systemic anti-Indigenous racisms across Canada.
There are many First Nations, Inuit and Métis-led grassroots social justice activities and campaigns that teachers can take up during and after Sept. 30th. It will be important to reconsider how respecting relationships and honestly examining and sharing our histories might guide the educational work ahead of us this school year.
A misconception that remains about the Indian Residential School system is the myth of its beneficial, benevolent intentions.
This myth that continues to be put forth by some settler Canadians avoids acknowledging the intergenerational trauma stemming from residential schooling. It also denies that residential schooling was part of a larger settler colonial system.
This settler colonial system was driven by the expropriation of land and institutionalized genocide designed, as Duncan Campbell Scott, deputy superintendent of the Department of Indian Affairs (1913-32), stressed, to “get rid of the Indian problem.” It was a means for seizing and securing land for the expansion of a commonwealth empire.
As political commentator and journalist John McGrath writes: “Residential schools were as much a part of the Canadian national project as railroads, medicare or fighting in two world wars.”
Greater and specific understandings of who designed, administered and taught at these institutions is needed to help people understand the specific ways we can become more accountable to redress their harms.
For example, two of the authors of this story research and teach at the University of Ottawa. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, a Catholic order from France, founded the educational institution which later became our university. The Oblates ran at least 34 per cent of the Indian Residential Schools in Canada, including the Kamloops Residential School, where the remains of 215 children were discovered in May.
This past September, on the front lawns of University of Ottawa’s main building, Tabaret Hall, representatives of the Algonquin First Nations and Elder Peter Decontie lit a ceremonial fire. This occasion was named Pinzibìwin | Amitié | Friendship and sought to acknowledge and renew our relations for moving forward together in a good way.
At the University of Ottawa’s faculty of education, one way we can respond to the responsibilities we inherit to uphold the spirit of Pinzibìwin is by seeking to understand interconnections between the role that the Oblate religious order had in founding the University of Ottawa and in operating residential schools. More information is needed to move towards deeper understanding and accountability, particularly as we seek to educate teachers about standing in classrooms and discussing truth and reconciliation.
Teachers and leaders in educational institutions must continue to question and address how teacher education programs, as well as provincial curricula, continue to be largely framed by settler colonial worldviews, histories and perspectives.
Normal schools were 19th-century institutions designed to train school teachers for the one-room schoolhouse model of education. At the turn of the 20th century, normal schools participated in advancing racialized narratives of settler colonial progress.
Dwayne Donald, Papaschase Cree scholar at the University of Alberta, emphasizes how settler myths in curriculum continue to deny Canadian and Indigenous relationships and to have “divisive and damaging” effects. These settler myths, he notes, deny Canadian and Indigenous relationships. Donald urges educators to reflect on new stories that repair these “colonial divides.”
Complete Article ↪HERE↩!
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.
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.
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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?
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.”
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By Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli
The Vatican has taken a highly unusual step against its neighbor, sending a diplomatic note to the Italian government that protests a draft law aimed at preventing hate and violence against LGBT people.
The complaint marks a formal effort by the Vatican to influence Italian lawmaking and could provide a test for how forcefully the church can exercise its clout on culture war issues — not just as a religion but as a state.
While it’s common for church figures to take stances on affairs in other countries — whether on same-sex marriage, LGBT rights or abortion — in this case the Vatican is invoking its prerogatives as a nation, arguing that the law, if passed, would violate the “concordat” that provides the framework for its relationship with Italy.
“Some current contents of the draft being debated by the Senate reduce the freedom granted to the Catholic Church,” the Vatican’s note said, according to the Corriere della Sera newspaper, which first reported the letter.
The Vatican’s press office confirmed that the city-state sent a note to the Italian ambassador to the Holy See last week but did not provide more details. Benedetto Della Vedova, an Italian foreign ministry undersecretary who has read the document, called the message “heavy interference” and said the Vatican city-state had not previously attempted to influence the Italian government on highly contentious issues such as abortion and divorce.
“The effects of this escalation aren’t positive for anyone,” Della Vedova said. He declined to share a copy of the letter with The Washington Post, but he described the core of the Vatican’s contention — that the draft law would violate specific aspects of the concordat dealing with religious freedom and freedom of expression. The Vatican’s goal is to have the draft bill amended.
The law, known as the Zan bill, after gay activist lawmaker Alessandro Zan, was approved last year by Italy’s lower house and has since been under debate in the Senate, amid fierce national discussion. The bill would explicitly categorize violence against LGBT people as a hate crime, making it akin to racial or antisemitic attacks, while establishing harsher penalties than those currently on the books.
Members of far-right political parties have said the legislation would suppress opinion. The leader of the far-right League, Matteo Salvini, said it would punish those “who think a mom is a mom and a dad is a dad.”
Advocates say that the law would merely put Italy in line with other Western European countries and provide belated safeguards after a series of murders and assaults targeting transgender people. According to Rainbow Europe, an LGBT association, Italy provides some of the weakest legal protections on the continent for LGBT people.
The explanation for that is based partly on the Catholic Church’s deep historical influence on Italy. When Italy was first considering granting legal rights to same-sex couples, the powerful Italian bishops’ conference sponsored protests, and Pope Benedict XVI helped lead a campaign to stop it. (When Italy approved civil unions in 2016, Pope Francis took a more hands-off approach.)
But even though Francis has at times signaled a more welcoming church stance on homosexuality, the church has not shifted its official teachings and laws. In March, the Vatican made explicit its position that priests cannot bless same-sex marriages. The church has also taken a clear stance on gender issues and said in 2019 that people do not have the right to choose their own gender.
The Zan law provides protection to people based on gender identity, among other factors.
Crux, a Catholic news outlet, noted Tuesday that Francis has called gender theory “dangerous” and an example of evil at work.
“It is an attack on difference, on the creativity of God and on men and women,” the pope said in a book released last year.
But supporters of the Italian bill say the Vatican, even if concerned about the changing cultural perception of sexuality and gender, should not feel threatened by the proposed law. They note that any viewpoint is protected, as long as it does not “incite a concrete danger of discriminatory or violent actions.” They also note that the law will not force any school — including private Catholic ones — to participate in events teaching about transphobia and homophobia.
“The worries here are absolutely groundless,” Zan, the lawmaker, said in a phone interview.
Gabriele Piazzoni, secretary general of Arcigay, Italy’s largest gay rights group, said the church was perhaps more worried about public opinion — and the fact that some Catholics disagree with church teaching. According to the Pew Research Center, 75 percent of Italians say homosexuality should be accepted, a proportion lower than in other Western European countries but slightly higher than in the United States.
“The dissonance I see is between this kind of behavior by the Vatican and the majority of the Catholic world and of Catholic public opinion,” Piazzoni said. “Maybe they are afraid that the [Catholic school] students, parents and teachers may be the ones asking to hold initiatives against discrimination or violence. There could be a groundswell of requests that they want to prevent at all costs.”
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