Tom Rastrelli: Priests who lie; the dilemma of sexual orientation and the priesthood

People don’t expect their priests and bishops to lie, but as Michelangelo Signorile’s recent post illustrated, clerics do lie. Some even make a virtue of it. I know this from experience, for I was ordained a Catholic priest on a lie.

In spring 2002 I walked with my spiritual director along the blacktop road encircling the seminary. He’d been my confessor and guide for two years, helping me discern God’s presence in all aspects of my life, intimate and mundane. Over our heads, a canopy of newborn leaves rustled in a sunny breeze, a welcome relief from the bitter fog that had engulfed the church and my vocational surety.

For the previous two months an unprecedented number of bishops and priests, starting with Cardinal Law of Boston, had fallen from grace for participation in the sexual abuse of children and the ensuing cover-up. Their duplicity was palpable in my knotted back and abdomen. In a few months I’d be ordained a priest. I didn’t want to do so on a lie.

“I’m coming out of the closet,” I said.

My spiritual director loosened his clerical collar and lit a cigarette. “Where’s this coming from?” he asked. A couple of chattering wrens whooshed past.

I backtracked through six years of seminary formation. At events I had hobnobbed with supposedly holy men, some of whom had been harboring pedophiles. A few had done the deed themselves. By shaking their hands, mine were dirty. I knew the ecclesiology, how the bishops’ authority stemmed from a direct line to Jesus, but they were still criminals. Who were they to declare homosexuals “intrinsically depraved”?

When I’d applied for seminary, the director of seminarians — the priest who’d recruited me — explained that orientation didn’t matter, only celibacy. But on my intake interviews he’d told me to answer “yes” when the archdiocesan psychologist asked if I was attracted to women, and “no” when he asked if I was attracted to men. It was for the greater good, he said. Frightened of being cast out and ashamed of my true nature, I had lied as instructed.

In light of the sexual abuse scandal, lying about my orientation was no longer acceptable. I thought of what a gay friend who’d left seminary had said. His words became my own: “I don’t know if I can separate my private and public selves. Isn’t integration the goal of spiritual direction?”

“Of course it is,” my spiritual director said, more gravelly than usual. He stopped and turned to me. A tree cast a web of shadows over his face. His strawberry nose grew flushed, as he gestured with his hands. “Here’s the thing, Rastrelli. You have to ask yourself: Am I going to be a gay priest, or a priest” — he rolled his fingers and cigarette through the air like a barrel — “who happens to be gay?”

“What’s the difference?” I turned my head to inhale, trying to avoid his secondhand smoke. “Either way I’m gay. It’s a part of me.”

“But are you gay first, and then a priest? Or a priest first, and then gay?” He smiled, satisfied with the distinction.

“Both/and.” I’d hit him with what he’d taught me in class. “Both/and” was the paradoxical answer for every ultimate question in Catholic theology: Scripture or tradition? Faith or works? Is Jesus divine or human? Are we sinful or good? is faith a solo or communal experience?

“Touché,” he said. We walked. He sucked his cigarette. “You’re a smart guy, Rastrelli. Give it some thought.”

I kicked a pebble onto the grass. “I have. I don’t want to lie about my sexuality.”

“It’s not lying if those asking don’t have a right to the information.”

He hadn’t even flinched. I wanted to shake the nicotine from his bones, to scream, “It was that kind of thinking that landed the bishops in the papers!” Still, part of me wanted him to be right. Silence was simpler, easier, and maybe my need to come out was just pride at work. My promise of obedience demanded that I surrender my ego. My vocation was about God, not my orientation. But couldn’t we priests be honest with one another? I had to try.

“Gay Catholics don’t have positive role models,” I said. “I don’t know of a single gay priest that’s healthy. Do you?” I stopped. He kept walking. This was as close as I’d ever come to asking him if he was gay. I suspected he was. He’d lived with another priest for decades. They vacationed and picked out carpeting together. They spoke about their cat as if she were their child. Even if he and his housemate weren’t having sex, they were a couple. I stepped in stride with him. “How am I supposed to be an integrated gay priest when I have no one to look up to? How does celibacy actually work?” I stopped again. “I’m asking you.”

He turned to me. His face became whiter than a funeral pall. “I’m sorry, Rastrelli, but that’s not a conversation I’m comfortable having with a student.”

He resumed his pace. I followed silently.

The breeze picked up. The undulating trees sounded like the ocean breaking on the shore. I choked back the urge to ask, “Are you gay?” I felt like a sinking ship in a fleet that had wandered into a minefield. After laying the mines himself, the fleet commander had ordered radio silence.

I didn’t want to drown alone. I didn’t want to hear him lie. I wanted the truth, but the truth was dangerous. Were I to come out amid sexual-abuse headlines, homophobic Catholics wrongly blaming gay priests for the scandal would demand my dismissal.

My spiritual director was right. Who were they to judge, to put my orientation before my vocation? They had no right to that knowledge. It was safer to be a priest who happened to be gay. Perhaps it was God’s will. The fear accompanying us back to the seminary told me so.

That day, I learned the unspoken rule passed down through generations of priests: the doctrine of justification for lying by clergy. I went on to be ordained a priest. I preached that “the truth will set you free” while living in silence and shame. After a long journey and much pain, I came out. I left the priesthood, finally refusing to live the lies that I’d been taught to venerate.

Complete Article HERE!

Belgian bishop faces new abuse allegations

A Belgian lawyer said on Monday he had launched an inquiry into a new case of alleged sexual abuse by the former bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, who has already admitted to having abused his under-age nephews.

“The present case concerns sexual abuse in the 1990s,” at a care home in Loker, in western Belgium near the French border, the lawyer, Walter Van Steenbrugge, said.

He said he had handed the allegations to a court in Brussels and lodged an inquiry with it. It was up to the court to decide whether the statute of limitations ruled out a prosecution, and if not, whether or not to prosecute the bishop, he added.

Vangheluwe, who was bishop of Bruges from 1984 to 2010, is the highest-ranking member of the Belgian Catholic Church to be involved in a child abuse scandal which resulted in 475 complaints of molestation by priests.

Vangheluwe admitted in 2010 that he had abused one of his nephews during the 1980s, when the nephew was a child.

That case was beyond the statute of limitations, but he was forced to resign as bishop and left Belgium under Vatican orders.

He caused outrage in 2011 when he told a Belgian TV station that he had also abused a second nephew but that he did not consider himself a paedophile.

Complete Article HERE!

‘We’re not supposed to touch,’ said Woodburn priest accused of sex abuse

The ordination of Rev. Angel Perez in 2002 was significant for two reasons: He was the rare Mexico native among priests in Oregon and, in a year when the Catholic Church sex abuse scandals were making national news, he was the rare priest ordained period in the state.

A decade ago, Oregonian reporter Shelby Oppel wrote a profile of Perez that described his ascent from a seminary student in Mexico to the archdiocese in Portland. The piece, which follows in its entirety, was published on the front page on Aug. 5, 2002.

On Monday, Perez, now the parish priest at Saint Luke Catholic Church in Woodburn, was arrested after police responded to a complaint at about 1:30 a.m. Monday alleging inappropriate contact between the priest and a 12-year-old boy.
He faces accusations of sexual abuse, use of a child in a display of sexually explicit conduct and furnishing alcohol to a minor. Perez, 46, was booked into Marion County Jail Monday evening and remains held without bail. He is scheduled to be arraigned at 3 p.m. in Marion County Circuit Court, according to the jail.

Perez is only the second priest to face criminal charges in Oregon since 1983, when the Rev. Thomas Laughlin was convicted of molesting two boys in Multnomah County.

Complete Article HERE!

Bishop Patricia Fresen on Excommunication to Ordination

Imprisoned for breaking apartheid law, excommunicated for breaking Vatican law, Bishop Patricia Fresen looks more sweet grandma than warrior ​— ​especially carrying the stuffed black sheep she presents with a smile: “We’re the black sheep of the church,” she said.

She’s no stranger to working the outskirts.

Raised “a proper white South African,” Fresen was stunned upon entering her convent after matriculation (and years of segregation), greeted by 55 women ​— ​15 of them black. “I didn’t know it would be racially mixed,” she says now. “It never occurred to me. But I became colorblind.”

That journey would prove significant. After university, Fresen ​— ​in Santa Barbara last week to teach a workshop at La Casa de Maria ​—  worked in the city of Welkom as principal of a school for whites. But by the 1970s, Fresen remembered she and her fellow Dominicans began thinking, “Something’s wrong; we can’t go on like this.”

Apartheid was law by then, but a debate — ​that would prove a theme of Fresen’s life ​— ​ensued. On one side were those who said they couldn’t change apartheid: “The law must change first,” Fresen recounted. She said the others believed, “We mustn’t follow an unjust law; we must follow our conscience.” Their bishop, Denis Hurley, agreed with the latter group. It was risky and illegal, but he believed breaking the law was the only way it would change.

Essentially ignored by the police, they had some wiggle room to plot. Bishop Hurley challenged the principals to bring black students into their schools. They spent a year preparing ​— ​ensuring white students’ families were comfortable, reaching out to black families, teaching black children English ​— ​all while keeping it out of the papers to hold trouble at bay, relying instead on the African drum to spread the word.

On the first day of school, Fresen was overcome watching the children ​— ​black, white, all in the same uniform ​— ​streaming in. But before the goosebumps could dissolve, the hairs on the back of her neck stood up: She heard the stomping of police boots approaching her office. They gave her a week to get in line.

One week later, they took her to prison. Not one child was sent away; today the school is flourishing.

Years later, after receiving her doctorate in theology in Rome, Fresen began teaching seminary ​— ​teaching men to be priests ​— ​in Pretoria. And a longing to be a Catholic priest herself began to nag. She shushed it as best she could, telling herself, “Don’t be stupid.”

In 2002, while teaching at Johannesburg’s Catholic university, she heard about the Danube Seven ​— ​seven women who were ordained Catholic priests on Germany’s Danube river. Two months later, fate intervened: Fresen was sent to Germany for a weeklong course. She spent a day with two of those women; they asked if she felt called to the priesthood. She said yes. They rendezvoused in Barcelona on August 7, 2003 (nine years to the day of our interview); Fresen was ordained.

And then, all hell broke loose. Her parish phoned the Vatican; the cardinal ordered her to recant. Or, he said, leave.

Heartbroken and staggered, she left. She lost her job, her congregation, her family, and moved to Germany.

Since then, she’s found a home, a community. She’s been ordained bishop (by proper apostolic succession ​— ​which means sympathetic male bishops are ordaining women, at great personal risk), ordains women, performs sacraments, and leads workshops.

She’s also been excommunicated. While in St. Louis performing an ordination (in a borrowed sacred space where these clandestine events take place: this time a Jewish synagogue), Cardinal Raymond Burke sent a cadre of “spies,” with cameras. (He followed up, excommunicating any identifiable participants.) Someone handed Fresen an envelope (she thought it might be a check): inside, a summons. She ignored it. Three weeks later, the mail carrier delivered an official decree of excommunication, “with my name beautifully written,” she says, eyes shining.

Burke was promoted.

As for the big question ​— ​why stay? ​— ​Fresen says she believes there are two churches: the hierarchy and the people. She believes the people, the ones who want reform ​— ​the separation of celibacy and priesthood, the ordination of women ​— ​are reaching a critical mass. And this: “If I left, nothing would change. The hierarchy would take no more notice of us. We can only make change if we stay, so we are not going away.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pope’s ex-butler Paolo Gabriele to stand trial

The former butler to Pope Benedict XVI will stand trial for stealing confidential papers and leaking them to the press, a magistrate has ruled.

Paolo Gabriele was arrested in May after police found confidential documents at his Vatican flat.

He has been charged with aggravated theft, including stealing a 100,000-euro (£78,000) cheque, while a computer analyst faces complicity charges.

The Vatican says it will continue to investigate the leaks.

Mr Gabriele admitted he was the source of leaked letters published in a controversial book by an Italian investigative journalist in May.

The bestseller, entitled His Holiness, revealed private correspondence between the Pope and his personal secretary discussing corruption and malpractice among Vatican administrators.

The Vatican called the book “criminal” and vowed to take legal action against the author, publisher, and whoever leaked the documents.

‘Evil everywhere’

Mr Gabriele told investigators he acted because he saw “evil and corruption everywhere in the church” while the pope was “not sufficiently informed”.

As the Pope’s butler and personal assistant, Mr Gabriele was one of a select few lay people with access to the papal apartments.

If convicted, he faces up to six years in prison.

The 46-year-old has been living under house arrest at his family’s flat in Vatican City, where police discovered a stash of confidential correspondence taken from the Pope’s Secretariat of State.

As the Vatican has no jail, Mr Gabriele would probably serve his sentence in an Italian prison under an agreement between Italy and the Vatican, Italian media reported.
The Pop’s butler Paolo Gabriele sits in the Popemobile on 18 April 2012 Mr Gabriele had worked as the Pope’s personal valet since 2006

The Holy See also accuses Vatican employee Claudio Sciarpelletti, a computer analyst and programmer, of acting as Mr Gabriele’s accomplice.

He has been charged with aiding and abetting a crime.

The trial is not expected to start until October at the earliest, court officials said.
Scapegoat theory

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said the Pope, as the sovereign head of Vatican City, could intervene at any time to stop the trial or pardon Mr Gabriele.

The BBC’s David Willey, in Rome, says some Vatican observers believe Mr Gabriele may be the scapegoat for a wider conspiracy to smear certain of the Pope’s top aides.

The highly sensitive media leaks, dubbed “Vatileaks”, have been an evident embarrassment to the Pope, prompting the rare investigation, our correspondent says.

The scandal has dominated the columns of Italian newspapers, filling TV programmes and magazines.

The controversy began in January, when investigative journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi published letters from a former top Vatican administrator begging the Pope not to transfer him for having exposed alleged corruption.

Other leaked documents concerned “poison pen” memos criticising Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the pope’s number two, and the reporting of suspicious payments by the Vatican Bank.

Complete Article HERE!