Women are still barred from taking the priesthood in the Catholic Church, but Pope Francis has made some other small tweaks to the rules he thinks the ladies are gonna be pretty excited about. Thanks to the Cool Pope’s new amendments, per the Washington Post, women will now have the right to act as readers and altar servers during mass, and even to administer Communion.
If you, like me, are confused by this news because you’re pretty sure you can recall receiving a dry wafer from a woman at church before, you’re probably not wrong. Many women have already been performing these roles during Catholic mass for years, at the discretion of local bishops or priests, the Washington Post explained. What Pope Francis’s decision does, however, is formalize these roles as a right for women within the Church, one they cannot be denied on the basis of their sex. Previously, while women in many parts of the world were permitted to serve in these positions, individual Church authorities still retained, and sometimes executed, the right to enforce male-only altar services. Thanks to the Pope’s most recent decision, that will no longer be an option.
“Francis, on one side, is merely acknowledging reality on the ground, as it is right now,” said Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University. “But this is important because the [conservative] bishops have been contradicted, openly, by Pope Francis.”
Essentially, this all makes for a relatively insignificant shift in policy that falls far short of the large-scale changes needed within the Catholic Church to render its culture anything approaching progressive. While the Pope has characterized the decision as a step toward recognizing the “precious contribution” women are still capable of making to the Church despite not being men, any hope of claiming the priesthood remains distant for women of the Catholic faith.
“We’re still 100 steps behind the historic moment that we live,” said Cristina Simonelli, president of an Italian association of female theologians, who added that while Francis’s move marks a “minimal” step forward, it’s still “better than standing still.”
Anyway, congrats to the Catholic women who now have the Pope-sanctioned right to continue doing the same things they’ve been doing all along, and nothing more.
One of the things I’ve been saying a lot over the past year or so is that if you’re gay and Catholic (or in another Christian church with a relevantly-similar sexual ethic) it is good to reach a point where you are grateful to be gay. You will probably need to work to get there. Your education in the faith will not have encouraged you to think this way and will likely have discouraged you. And yet coming to a place of gratitude will almost certainly help you resist despair and trust in God’s tender love for you.
I just wrote an unnecessarily-long email to somebody who was asking me what this might look like. In order to answer her question I just listed some of my own reasons for gratitude. This is not a comprehensive list even of my own reasons, and it’s unlikely that every item will be relevant to every gay person seeking to practice our Faith. But I hope this list will help others reflect on what they’re grateful for in their experience of being gay. These are experiences in which we can see truth and beauty; they aren’t things God does to us in order to trap us or punish us or trick us into doing bad stuff.
Okay, so, an incomplete list of reasons to be grateful that I am a big ol’ lesbian, in the order that I thought of them:
# Women are beautiful! It’s always good to notice beauty and be grateful for it. I and some other gay Christians I know have found it really nourishes our faith, our trust in God, when we thank God for the beauty of other people when we notice it. He has given us the chance to see this.
# Similarly I’ll sometimes have that inexplicable chemistry where you just notice more good things about a person, where you’re attracted to her and she has a kind of special glow. This isn’t necessarily about physical beauty in an obvious way, although lol that doesn’t hurt, but even when I wouldn’t ordinarily consider a woman unusually pretty I’ve sometimes found myself sort of humming in her presence, like a struck tuning fork. And that makes me see her good qualities with an unusual intensity. I notice her in a way I don’t always notice others. And I think God wishes us to respond to one another with this awe and delight. I’m not sure I’d call this “sexual attraction,” I think sex is only one part of it or one possibility for how it’s expressed, but it is some kind of attraction and I definitely have it more with women than with men. Straight people can also have this chemistry with people of the same sex, and come up with unwieldy terms like “girl crush” or “bromance,” but I think it is more common for gay people for fairly obvious reasons.
# I do think both being gay and being celibate have led me to put more effort into my friendships, and I have really strong and sustaining friendships as a result. This is especially true of friendships with women, but also just friendships in general; since I know that friendship will likely be the kind of relationship with others that I experience most deeply, I’ve really tried to learn how to be a good friend, and friendships have been, I think, “sanctifying” for me in much the same way that people say marriage can be.
# I’ve really loved like 95% of the people I’ve met because of being publicly gay and Christian. You get to meet other gay Christians, and they are great!
# Nowadays being gay in the Church is a marginalizing experience. I don’t think it needs to be this way, but since it is this way now, I can be grateful for the chance to see the Church from the margins, where Jesus is always present in a special way. And I think to some extent it has helped me have solidarity and compassion for others who really struggle or are mistreated in the Church. Respectability is often bad for the soul.
# Similarly, if people know you’re gay and therefore in their minds “weird,” they often share their own stories of feeling out of place in the Church, and that’s a great blessing. I ended up editing an anthology of writing about staying Catholic after being harmed in the Church, even though my own experience has been really gentle, just because so many people would come up to me and share such painful experiences and such heartbreaking testimonies of faith in God in spite of suffering. Being a trustworthy recipient of those stories is priceless.
# You’re kind of forced to discover aspects of the Catholic faith which are now neglected. I’ve been amazed to learn about the way same-sex love and friendship are honored in Scripture, which nobody taught me when I was becoming Catholic! I’ve been able to discover that friendship used to be much more central to people’s ordinary lives than it is today, when we feel like the only “real” form of love between adults is marriage. I’ve learned about alternative forms of kinship and communal life, from super traditional stuff like godparenthood as kinship to newer things like intentional community. And I doubt I would have even tried learning about celibacy if I didn’t have to, whereas now I see celibacy as countercultural (always good, lol) and a way of life which can offer deep intimacy with God.
# Nowadays I mostly think about being gay as offering opportunities for love rather than temptation to sin, but even the aspects of temptation can be offered to God and used by Him to make us more humble. Any temptation, no matter how we end up responding to it, can remind us of our total dependence on God. And it can equally remind us that He loves us in our weakness. We don’t need to be somehow temptation-free or perfect for Him to cherish us.
# Celibacy is a pointed reminder that all our sexual longings are in some way preparations for or images of our longing for God. He is the complete fulfillment of a longing which even the best marriage fulfills only incompletely. (This may be why there’s no marriage in Heaven, although lol I don’t pretend to know exactly why God does things.)
# Celibacy almost always involves an element of sacrifice and suffering. I’m intentionally placing this last because I agree with those who say Catholics often put way too much emphasis on being gay as essentially, primarily “a cross” to be patiently borne. Again I think it just does not have to be as hard for gay people in the Church as it is, and I don’t want to romanticize our suffering or act like suffering is the best way to understand our sexuality. But we can be grateful for our suffering or sacrifices, by uniting them to Christ on the Cross and/or “offering them up” for other gay people, for those who persecute us, or for anybody we like. For some people this approach makes sense, for others it’s frustrating or depressing, but really none of the items in this list will make sense for every single gay Christian, so hey.
I think I have more stuff but this list is already too long! Your capacity for love is good, even if you struggle to find ways to express it. The fact that you share something important in common with other people, many of whom feel marginalized in the Church, is good even if it’s also complicated. If you were straight, or if you had no sexual desires at all, of course God would still make a way for you to serve Him and His people, but you’d be missing some experiences and possibilities which are open to you now. You’d gain certain things but lose others. The things you learn through being gay in the Church can help you be a good friend, a good Catholic, a good child of God.
“In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”
Fr Tony Flannery has said he believes he should no longer be called a dissident because he is now ‘mainstream’.
The co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests has also questioned why senior members of the Catholic Church are not being sanctioned, as he was, for airing their views in favour of women being ordained.
His public expression of support for women’s ordination and same-sex marriage, as well as more liberal views on homosexuality, led him to be suspended from public ministry by the Vatican in 2012.
He has been told he can return to ministry if he vows in writing to obey the Church’s teaching on women and LGBT+ people.
However, he has now noted that two senior members of the Catholic Church – one of them the Archbishop-elect of Dublin – have made statements similar to his own about the position of women in the Church, and specifically about women’s ordination.
Fr Flannery said: ‘Given that the opinions I have expressed on these matters are now being held and expressed by many people of all levels right across the Church, without any apparent sanction, I am curious to know how any Church authority, ecclesiastical or religious, can justify and condone the sentences that have been imposed upon me.’
He said the Archbishop-elect of Dublin, Dermot Farrell, in an interview with The Irish Times, had said he would like to see women becoming deacons in the Church.
Fr Flannery said: ‘He is reported to say that “the biggest barrier to having female priests in the Catholic Church is probably tradition, not the Scriptures”.
‘In saying this, he appears to undercut the main argument used by the Church against the ordination of women.’
Fr Flannery said that Bishop Batzing, the president of the German Bishops Conference, had been reported as saying he was in favour of women being ordained deacons.
Bishop Batzing went on to say, in relation to the arguments against the ordination of women: ‘I must honestly say that I am also aware that these arguments are becoming less and less convincing and that there are well-developed arguments in theology in favour of opening up the sacramental ministry to women as well.’
Fr Flannery said: ‘So now the German bishop who supports women’s ordination has been joined by the new man in Dublin, who supports women deacons, and undercuts the main argument about ordination – that Scripture forbids it. No longer dissident, I am now mainstream!’
He added: ‘Will these two senior clerics be asked by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to sign a document which states “a baptised male alone receives ordination validly”?
‘It is not my wish that they be requested to do so, but it is worth pointing out that this is what I have been ordered to sign as a precondition of being “gradually” restored to ministry.’
Fr Flannery also noted that Bishop Batzing had said he believed it was necessary to change Church teaching on homosexuality, while Pope Francis disliked the Church’s description of homosexuality as an ‘intrinsic moral evil’.
He queried if either of them would be asked, like him, to sign a statement declaring homosexual practices to be ‘contrary to the natural law’.
Their ranks include ex-federal prosecutors, a retired judge, a one-time assistant police chief, even a former priest. But a group of prominent Catholics say they still can’t get an audience with Seattle’s new archbishop in their push to address the fallout of a lingering scandal.
Members of Heal Our Church, a Seattle-based alliance of practicing Catholics who seek a public review of how the Roman Catholic Church’s worldwide sexual abuse scandal secretly festered within the parishes of Western Washington, contend they’re being stonewalled by Archbishop Paul Etienne.
Since requesting a meeting with Etienne in January, group members said the archbishop has refused to discuss their call for a citizen-led review of the Seattle Archdiocese’s private records on clergy abuse. Group members contend only full disclosure of the secret files — with a public airing about the archdiocese’s known pedophile clergy members and how the church dealt with them — can ultimately heal the church and rebuild trust within the broader community.
“What we’re proposing is not radical,” said Clark Kimerer, a retired Seattle police assistant chief and core member of Heal Our Church. “It’s truth and reconciliation — a time-tested process that provides healing.”
But so far, Etienne has responded with only impersonal, pro-forma letters that dispute the necessity for such an initiative, group members said.
In a recent email, a spokesperson for the archdiocese partly blamed the coronavirus lockdown for scuttling the archbishop’s plan for an in-person discussion with the group.
“We had a meeting set but the pandemic came, which postponed this meeting,” according to the archdiocese’s email. “This is a meeting that would be better done in person, which can’t be done right now.”
But the email added that a “thorough outside review of the files by qualified lay people (and) a review of allegations by a group of qualified lay experts has already been done.”
Before Etienne’s appointment to Seattle in 2019, the archdiocese undertook various efforts to examine and address clergy sexual-abuse cases. They included creating a case review board in 2004 to examine child sex-abuse claims against several priests, and hiring former FBI-agent-turned-consultant Kathleen McChesney to evaluate the archdiocese’s clergy-abuse archives. McChesney’s review resulted in the archdiocese’s 2016 publication of a list naming 77 clergy members with credible accusations of rape or other abuse dating back decades.
Etienne has since established a pastoral council to take input from the laity, and the archdiocese continues to keep a review board of appointed citizens for consultation on sex-abuse cases, the email said. It also has quietly updated its “credibly accused” list with the names of scores of clergy on loan from other dioceses or religious orders who worked in Western Washington schools and churches but were left off the archdiocese’s initial accounting.
“Given our history and deep commitment to healing and transparency, as well as our deep respect for and trust in the experts like Kathleen McChesney and review board members, we are not planning to replace them or create parallel structures or processes,” the archdiocese’s email said.
But the church’s efforts to date have failed to fully address the scandal and continue to promote secrecy, according to the Heal Our Church group members.
They contend the archdiocese has failed to explicitly reveal how much church officials knew about credibly accused clergy members and when they first learned of individual abuse allegations. The archdiocese also hasn’t provided details as to whether its high-ranking officials played any role in enabling or covering up cases of abuse, and if so, why that happened, the members said.
“There’s never been discussion of the how and why this all evolved,” said Terry Carroll, a retired King County judge. “We think a lot has to do with the bishops and decisions by the church, but there’s been no real accountability for that era because the whole story hasn’t been told.”
At times, such details have separately emerged in lawsuits brought against the archdiocese by abuse victims. In one case, the archdiocese’s required legal disclosures of portions of the secret file kept on one notorious priest, the Rev. Michael Cody, showed the late Seattle Archbishop Thomas Connolly knew Cody was a pedophile but nonetheless moved him from parish to parish. After The Seattle Times detailed the case in 2016, Seattle University removed Connolly’s name from its athletics and recreation center.
Carroll and Mike McKay, the former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, both served on the Seattle Archdiocese’s first review panel. They’ve since become outspoken critics of what they’ve described as the archdiocese’s opaque handling of the scandal. The two were among a core group who helped launch Heal Our Church and the latest push for more transparency.
More than 250 practicing Catholics in the Seattle Archdiocese have signed on as supporters of the group, including Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and City Attorney Pete Holmes. Heal Our Church, which runs a website to promote its cause, hosted a webinar in October and invited Etienne, but the archbishop was a no-show.
The group plans to broaden its effort in the New Year and hasn’t ruled out taking legal action, Kimerer and Carroll said.
Released in November, the 449-page report found that years of allegations against McCarrick were ignored or covered up by bishops and other officials, allowing him to rise to the highest levels of Catholic church hierarchy. But the report downplayed the roles of surviving officials, placing the lion’s share of blame on the late Pope John Paul II.
“They tend to come together and circle the wagons when things go wrong,” Sullivan said of church authority.
The pandemic appears to be the archdiocese’s latest excuse for putting off dealing with the latest calls for transparency, Sullivan added.
“We’ve offered to meet virtually or with social distancing,” he said. “But (the archdiocese) refused those opportunities.”
Group members contend that ignoring the church faithful’s efforts for a definitive public airing only serves to further undermine the archdiocese’s credibility and diminish trust at a time of plummeting membership.
“We’re seeing a church in crisis,” said Kimerer, the former assistant police chief. “The faithful (are) leaving the church in droves and credibility is at an all-time low. But if, indeed, the archdiocese has addressed these issues, then why are they so averse to having a lay-led group validate that? We’d call that a clue.”
Residential school survivor Evelyn Korkmaz is calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to release thousands of documents that detail the sexual and physical abuse of thousands of Indigenous children at St. Anne’s residential school in the last century.
Korkmaz said the federal government has not turned over 12,300 reports from Ontario Provincial Police investigations of violations at St. Anne’s in Fort Albany, Ont. despite an Ontario Superior Court order.
Following the court order in 2014, Ottawa released heavily redacted copies of materials generated by the OPP between 1992 and 1996.
“They’re useless if they’re redacted,” Korkmaz said in an interview with The Canadian Press. “This is part of Canada’s Indigenous history. We can learn from this.”
St. Anne’s Indian Residential School was run by the Catholic orders of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate and the Grey Sisters of the Cross from 1902 until 1976 and was funded by the federal government starting in 1906.
It was one of Canada’s most notorious residential schools. Indigenous children from Fort Albany First Nation in northern Ontario were sexually abused, punished by shocks delivered in electric chairs and forced to eat their own vomit, according to Edmund Metatawabin, a survivor and former chief of the First Nation.
Metatawabin was forced to attend the school between 1956 and 1963. He became a chief of his nation in 1988 and used his position to sponsor a panel for survivors to share their stories, putting together a report that triggered the police investigation in autumn 1992.
“The residential school issue is a very sensitive case for us. It was an embarrassing thing for us to face.” he said in an interview.
“It’s hard to say you were abused as a child. You want to keep that private.”
Metatawabin said more than 900 survivors of St. Anne’s decided to talk about their painful memories and testified to the police in the 1990s, resulting in a trove of information and criminal convictions of six former employees at the school.
In 2006, lawyers for former students and for the churches that ran residential schools, the Assembly of First Nations, other Indigenous organizations and the government approved the Indian Residential School Settlement, which included independent assessment processes to set compensation for claims of sexual or serious physical abuse.
However, many survivors of St. Anne’s have taken the federal government to court, seeking to reopen compensation cases that were settled before the partial release of the police documents in 2014.
A group of 60 survivors launched a case in 2013, claiming that the federal government failed to turn over those documents and breached the settlement agreement.
Ontario Superior Court Justice Paul Perell, who has spent years supervising implementation of the settlement agreement, ruled earlier this year the case should be heard by a judge in British Columbia.
Perell had recused himself over his previous criticism of one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
In November, the Ontario Court of Appeal found Perell wrong to order the legal fight to be heard in B.C., saying the case pressed by survivors of St. Anne’s should remain in Ontario. The next hearing is to take place virtually on Dec. 31.
But Justice Brenda Brown of British Columbia Supreme Court issued a court order in May that permits the federal government to destroy the police documents in the new year.
The federal Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Department said in a statement Tuesday the government will retain the police reports until the courts determine the matters before them.
Metatawabin said the documents reveal wrongdoing by the government and the churches. “Instead of making amends, (the government) tried to hide these documents from survivors and from the public.”
The documents have significant value for the Fort Albany First Nation people because they contain elders’ testimonies on their history, Metatawabin said.
“These are sacred words from the elders,” he said. “It’s an insult to the memory of those elders that told their story, that the government took their words from them, and now they want to erase history.”
Korkmaz said these documents are important evidence of the violations committed at St. Anne’s.
“The government for some strange reason is protecting the pedophiles that were at our school,” she said. “A normal citizen of any country, who is caught sexually abusing a child goes to jail. … Why are the priests, the bishops, the cardinals being protected? Why are they allowed to do it?”