The recent document from the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic Education talks of an “educational crisis”, and alleges that discussions in relation to gender have “helped to destabilise the family as an institution”. As the parent of a trans child, I find this hugely disappointing.
I have two teenage daughters. Their dad is Catholic, and they’ve been raised in the Catholic faith. When our youngest came out as transgender, we struggled. This was five years ago, and there was limited coverage of trans people in the media. We struggled in our own minds – how can our child know so young? What if she’s wrong? What does this mean? We struggled with our families – unsure of how to tell them, or indeed how they would react. We struggled with our church – would we still be welcome? Should we find a different one? A different school?
I met with the senior leadership team of our Catholic primary school to discuss support. I also sat with our parish sister, and talked over many cups of coffee. Her response has stayed with me. “We are talking about a child. There will be people who don’t understand. The world is changing, and the church can be slow to catch up. But your child should be treated with love, compassion and kindness. Who are we to turn our backs on her?”
Staff at the primary school explained to fellow pupils, in an age-appropriate way, why our child would be using a different name and pronouns after the school holiday. The only change at this stage is a social one – there is no medical intervention. I contacted some of the parents. Messages of support came flooding back.
The year after her social transition, we flew to Ireland for a wedding. This would be the first time that many aunts, uncles and cousins (as well as my 86-year-old mother-in-law) had met our daughter as her true authentic self. Again, as parents we were nervous. These are the people we care about most in the world; how would they respond to our child? The love from family was overwhelming. There will always be those who do not understand, but I saw the relief my daughter felt at being accepted and not ridiculed. Every day I see her thrive and grow in confidence. I am proud of her.
My child’s transition has not led to the “destabilisation of the family institution”. If anything, family bonds are stronger. Her relationship with her grandparents is a joy to behold. She and her sister argue (most siblings do), but there is a closeness that was missing previously. I’ve thought long and hard about why that is. Honestly? She is no longer pretending to be someone she is not. She can relax and be herself.
The Vatican says you can’t choose your gender. Trans and non-binary people don’t “choose” their gender. They know who they are, and they wish to live authentically and happily. What I will say is that families, friends, communities and congregations can choose how to respond. In our case, they have responded with love, compassion and respect, even when they don’t understand.
As I said at the start, I have two teenage daughters. Both now attend our local Catholic secondary school. Both are thriving and happy. Pope Francis envisions an inclusive church – our experience as a family is a reminder that God welcomes all, even and especially those whom society rejects. Our community is made up of people living their faith with compassion through their actions. That, to me, is true Christianity.
America’s Catholic bishops are gathering this week to debate new measures to hold bishops and cardinals more accountable in cases of clergy sex abuse. They’ll likely say the problem is largely in the church’s past. What they won’t say is that they already know how to largely eliminate sexual misconduct with minors but won’t do it: Get out of youth ministry.
During the nearly 10 years I spent working as a canon lawyer in different dioceses in the United States, I saw firsthand that the U.S. church accepts the sexual abuse of minors as the cost of doing business the American way.
The American church’s business model relies on programs aimed at children and young males who might become priests. Those youth ministry programs, which happen outside the core worship experience, are where abuse happens. U.S. church officials know this, and they could reduce the abuse that still happens by getting out of the youth ministry business, but they won’t.
It is well established that Catholic scouting, summer camps, retreats, youth days and other programming designed to, as one upcoming Wisconsin program’s brochure called Totally Yours puts it, “ignite the hearts” of young Catholics, create contexts in which young people are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and mistreatment. There is ample evidence that, even in the post-Spotlight era, predators among the clergy and the laity seek out these opportunities to connect with Catholic youth.
The Vatican’s own press kit for the pope’s global “Meeting On the Protection of Minors” in February described a timeline of the church’s response to abuse. It noted that in Slovenia’s communist dictatorship, from 1945 to 1992, “Catholic education was almost nonexistent and for this reason the potential abusers did not have direct contact with minors.”
Yet, since 2002 the Catholic Church has doubled down on these forms of outreach, prioritizing its need to evangelize and develop the next generation of Catholics over the safety and well-being of the same.
It also turns a blind eye to the ongoing problem of clergy singling out some children for special attention under the guise of fostering vocations to the priesthood or religious life.
This remains a concerning factor in many of the cases of abuse that have occurred post-2002. Yet, the church does little, if anything, to combat this. Instead, it uses wording like this on a Seattle archdiocesan vocations blog, telling priests to “draw a young man aside” and use praise and “sincerity” to encourage him to consider the priesthood.
In any other context, this would be labeled grooming.
However, the church needs to address its priest shortage. As a result, parents and other guardians are socialized to relinquish oversight and even good judgment when it is a question of encouraging a child along this path.
There are countless other examples of the Catholic Church prioritizing its methods of operating over the safety of children.
The lack of willingness to confront the problem of clergy sex abuse of minors, and yet the drive to cover it up, are what led me to resign in 2013 as the chancellor for canonical affairs for the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul and bring everything I saw into the light as a whistleblower.
Dioceses like my own could delay expanding youth programming until it has fully functional, empirically supported and evidence-based methods in place for ensuring the safety of these programs. Instead, it continues to create new programs, like the annual archdiocesan Youth Day, which was first held in 2013. The archdiocese had learned about abuse by the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer in 2012, and although it had years worth of information about the potential danger the priest posed, it pretended that it had no indication of any potential for harm. I went public with my information the week before the event, and the county attorney launched an investigation that resulted in charges.
We don’t know if expanding the priesthood beyond an all-male, celibate clergy would eliminate sexual abuse, but the Catholic Church has made it clear that it won’t consider it even if it did. Likewise, the church is unwilling to embrace a shared-governance model including its laity, even though the primary agenda item for this week’s meeting is developing a means of addressing the frequent abuses and misuses that result from its current narrow concentration of power. Also, advocates for children continue to be outraged by the Catholic Church’s refusal to embrace seemingly common-sense reporting requirements because of some competing evangelization goal. For example, the church is fighting state laws requiring clerics to report sexual abuse they hear in the confessional, claiming such proposals violate religious freedom. As a canon lawyer, I can tell you such proposals can be easily accommodated within Catholic theology.
The Catholic Church is a religion, not a business, and therefore its operations must conform to higher considerations than merely profit and loss. Which in this case revolves around evangelization and recruiting priests.
To be clear, the issue isn’t about making or saving money. Safe environment training programs like Virtus, created by insurance providers, offer financial incentives for dioceses to participate as well as an affirmative defense in litigation. No, the currency here are souls, which the church argues it is saving by putting evangelization and priest-recruiting at the very top of the priority list, above child safety.
In an open, competitive religious American marketplace, the Catholic Church too must convince consumers that its product is the best on offer. To this end, its efforts at transparency and accountability would be greatly enhanced if its leaders would publicly acknowledge that eliminating sexual abuse by clergy is not the institution’s top priority and, furthermore, that its current efforts might reduce the frequency but are insufficient to eradicate the problem.
Statements like this would do more to deter coverups like the one I brought to light in 2013 that any other plan that is being put forward this week.
The professor who teaches “Queer Bible Hermeneutics” at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology told the College Fix that her course is “always well-enrolled.”
Susanne Scholz, professor of Old Testament at the Dallas-based school, added to the outlet that “students love to study materials that they have never encountered anywhere else in their previous studies on the undergrad level and at the seminary level.”
What is ‘Queer Bible Hermeneutics’ all about?
The course’s website states that it’s focused on the “influence of biblical meanings on hermeneutically dynamic, politically and religiously charged conversations over socio-cultural practices related to LGBTQ communities.””
The syllabus adds that queer hermeneutics is “an increasingly important research area in the academic field of biblical studies” and that the course will help students “understand the hermeneutical, theological, and cultural-political implications of reading the Bible as a queer text and its effects upon church, religion, and society at large.”
In addition, students will “learn to relate their notions about Christian ministry to the social contexts of today’s world and to engage the social, political, cultural, and theological implications of reading the Bible as part of contemporary debates on marriage-equality and the general mainstreaming of LGBTQ issues in Western societies, including churches,” the syllabus also states.
Origins of the course
Scholz told the College Fix she was inspired to teach the course following a same-sex marriage controversy involving Methodist minister Frank Schaefer who was defrocked for officiating a same-sex marriage ceremony for his son. Schaefer’s credentials later were restored.
“Rev. Schaefer’s situation made me realize that I need to teach my seminary students about queer Bible hermeneutics and to equip them to be intellectually, theologically, and biblically educated on the current debates on the Bible and queerness in the church, in academia, and in society,” she added to the outlet.
Scholz also said LGBTQ issues are a primary issue at the school of theology and in the Methodist denomination.
“Right now our UMC students seem to be rather concerned about the ecclesial situation about gay ordination and gay marriage in the [Methodist church],” she added to the Fix, noting that it’s “breaking the hearts of many UMC members, and our UMC students worry about their ministerial future in light of the decision to disallow gay ordination and gay marriages in UMC congregations.”
In February, the Methodist Church adopted the “Traditional Plan,” which continues to exclude “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ordained ministry and prohibits clergy from officiating at same-sex weddings.
“We are a diverse community that welcomes students, staff and faculty — including those who identify as LGBTQIA — from a wide range of traditions and perspectives,” the school’s statement added. “We see our inclusiveness as both an abiding strength and a positive goal.”
The refusal of the Church to purge abusers and pedophiles from the clergy and accept human sexuality as a blessing, is leading to the end of the Church as we know it, says Matthew Fox on Reality Asserts Itself with Paul Jay
Facing double-barreled criticism of their handling of clergy sexual abuse and church finances, America’s Catholic bishops began their annual spring meeting Tuesday vowing to codify for the first time rules to hold themselves accountable for misconduct.
The strong possibility that the U.S. Church will vote this week to create a system of bishop oversight is historic, though critics and watchdogs remain worried about a possible weakness: In the measures under consideration, all future probes will remain in-house. Lay people can be involved, but it’s not mandatory, and the pope retains full power over whether to keep or how to punish bishops.
“This week we continue a journey that will not end until there is not one instance of abuse in our church,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in opening the meeting Tuesday morning.
The past year has seen church leaders — especially in the Northeast — enmeshed in scandals involving cardinals and bishops accused of engaging in sexual harassment and financial abuse, or looking the other way when their fellow, high-ranking peers did so. Last week, The Washington Post reported that a Baltimore archbishop investigating sexual and financial misconduct by a West Virginia bishop edited out part of the investigative report that included the archbishop himself.
Under global pressure, Pope Francis issued a sweeping new law last month requiring dioceses worldwide to create a system of some kind for bishops and other higher-ups to be investigated — a move that comes nearly 20 years after the bishops made it mandatory to remove priests who were accused of child sexual abuse.
Debate about what kind of oversight is needed and how far it should go is expected to be intense on the floor at the Marriott Waterfront in Baltimore, where the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will meet from Tuesday through Thursday. The broader questions behind specific policies that will be under debate include: What do transparency and accountability really mean to this 2,000-year-old global church run out of Rome? And if theology holds that only the pope oversees bishops and cardinals, is there still room for modern-day transparency best practices?
“I think that’s a question many are asking. And one that needs to be further studied, if you will. What can be done within the parameters of canon law and the structures of the church to allow for the kind of transparency and accountability that would give people confidence in what’s being done?” said Francesco C. Cesareo, chair of the National Review Board, a body created by the bishops to monitor their work preventing clergy sex abuse of minors.
Terry McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability, a group that tracks the church’s handling of child sex abuse cases, said he was discouraged that the proposals on the table this week leave the power in the hands of the bishops.
He noted the case of Bishop Michael J. Bransfield, bishop emeritus of West Virginia, who was at the center of an internal church report made public by The Post last week. The report alleges sexual and financial misconduct by Bransfield, including excessive personal spending into the millions. McKiernan noted that Bransfield was a former treasurer of the bishops’ conference and wrote a recent version of the U.S. Church’s financial best-practices guidelines.
“He’s obviously not acting in compliance with the guidelines he himself drew up,” McKiernan said. “The big problem is these people have never behaved as they know they ought to and as they’re saying they’re supposed to. So where’s the teeth?”
James Rogers, spokesman for the bishops’ conference, said the bishops with whom he has spoken are expressing a feeling of urgency. They “want to get something done. They’re hearing from people in the pews who want to know the church is doing something about [the lack of bishop accountability]. And bishops want to be responsive. On the one hand, they realize we aren’t going to solve everything this week, but we have to have a good start building upon the foundation of child protection already in place.”
A new poll released Tuesday found that almost all Americans — Catholics and non-Catholics — are aware of reports related to sexual abuse in the Catholic Church but are split on whether the problem is ongoing and on whether it’s more common among Catholic leaders.
The Pew Research Center study finds that 48 percent of Americans believe sex abuse is more common among Catholic clerics than among other religious leaders, while 47 percent say it’s equally common among leaders of all faiths.
Catholic Americans are less likely to see sexual misconduct as particularly tied to their denomination, the country’s largest. According to the Pew survey, conducted in the spring, 33 percent say abuse is more common among Catholic priests and bishops, while a majority — 61 percent — believe that abuse is equally common among all religious leaders.
The reports of misconduct are spurring debates and decisions inside and outside Catholic sites of worship across the nation. Nearly half (46 percent) of Catholics say they have discussed the subject with family members, friends or acquaintances, while roughly a quarter of Catholics say they began attending Mass less frequently as a result of the accounts. A similar percentage — 26 percent — of Catholics say they reduced their parish donations in response to the reports of misconduct.
Still, American Catholics retain relatively positive views of their religious leaders’ response to the scandals. More than half — 55 percent — of Catholics believe that Francis has done an “excellent” or “good” job responding to reports of abuse, and 49 percent say the same of their own bishop. Thirty-six percent, however, believe that U.S. bishops as a whole have done an “excellent” or “good” job handling the allegations.
Opinions varied according to level of engagement with the church. U.S. Catholics who attend Mass weekly were less likely to reduce their attendance or donations as a result of the reported misconduct and were more likely to hold favorable views of religious leaders.
There is a tentative agenda for the week, but bishops Tuesday morning can propose adding — or deleting — things from the schedule.
The U.S. bishops nearly voted in the fall on a plan for self-oversight but the Vatican told them to hold off until a February global meeting could be held, and the pope issued new rules in May calling for all countries by June 2020 to have some system in place. When bishops are accused of misconduct, the pope’s rules call for them to be investigated by the “metropolitan” — the archbishop of the nearest large diocese. The rules allow for, but don’t mandate, involvement of lay people.
Francis said it violated church teaching for anyone but the pope to discipline or oversee a bishop.
“There is no role for the laity to play in terms of disciplining a bishop. They can only be in the probe and make recommendations as to penal consequences,” Cesareo said. “But in the end, it’s in the pope’s hands.”
But there’s a lot more in the mix than just decisions about discipline. For example, can laypeople lead investigations in partnership with the metropolitan and make decisions such as releasing results of the investigation to the public?
U.S. Catholics have only two examples, total, of bishop investigations — both in the past year, under Francis. The Archdiocese of New York investigated sexual abuse allegations against former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, whom Francis defrocked this year. Baltimore Archbishop William Lori investigated Bransfield in an investigation that began in the fall and whose work was done by a small group of laypeople.
Post reporting last week revealed that Lori, while overseeing the Bransfield investigation, asked that his name — and those of other top clerics — be removed from the investigative report, after lay investigators found Bransfield had given hundreds of thousands in cash gifts to clerics, including $10,500 to Lori. Lori’s was among the names removed.
Under Vatican rules, church officials who get a complaint of misconduct about a bishop must meet all civil reporting requirements, such as telling police. Those vary widely depending on the country.
U.S. bishops will consider this week how to structure the independent system that will receive the complaint. They may create a single, national 800-number run by a private vendor, or they may have metropolitan bishops around the country each run one.
They also will consider allowing the conference to ban retired bishops or cardinals from national meetings if they have misconduct findings against them.
The meeting’s centerpiece is on creating a sex abuse reporting and investigative process, but the Bransfield scandal that erupted just days ago is expected to push financial accountability into the conversation mix.
The Diocesan Fiscal Management Conference, the industry group for diocesan finance officials, has asked bishops to also create systems for financial misconduct, said Pat Markey, executive director of the fiscal group.
“Understanding that safeguarding children is of the highest importance, I’m hopeful at one point they’ll take up other kinds of abuse. The only way you can restore trust is by looking at that aspect. I think the bishops who cover up, there’s a financial component,” Markey said Monday.
Bishops aren’t likely to spend a lot of time looking at the core data around abuse complaints. Catholic leaders frequently claim that the days of widespread sexual abuse in the church are in the distant past, and that even new allegations made today relate to decades-old secrets, not current priests’ behavior.
In many cases, that is correct. The latest analysis of abuse reports, commissioned by the U.S. bishops and published this year, says that 1,385 survivors and others informed dioceses of previously undisclosed abuse of minors in 2018. The incidents they reported were largely in the past, some from the 1940s.
The number of credible allegations made in 2018 were “significantly higher than in 2017,” according to a report by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, a church-run research group. The increase was largely the result of numbers from four dioceses, CARA reported. Those are in New York, where survivors were spurred to come forward by a new offer of compensation.
CARA also published results in the spring from its first study of all U.S. bishops, done in 2016. It offers a snapshot of the men at the helm of the church.
According to CARA’s spring newsletter, which excerpted the study, there are 430 active and retired bishops in the country. When asked their general theological leanings, 42 percent said traditional, 41 percent said moderate and 17 percent said progressive.
The average bishop is age 65, non-Hispanic white and born in the United States. Forty-seven percent of the bishops, CARA’s survey found, watch Fox News, while 35 percent watch CNN. Ninety-five percent agree “strongly” or “somewhat” that “secular U.S. culture is hostile to the values of Catholicism,” CARA found.
“Seven percent explicitly mentioned the clergy sexual abuse crisis as one of the greatest challenges the church faces,” the CARA newsletter said.
Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney who represents many clergy abuse survivors and was featured in the movie “Spotlight,” on Tuesday told The Post that the bishops should advocate for one thing in any case of alleged abuse, regardless of what civil laws require: Call the police.
“It would be folly to think that the culture of sexual abuse and coverup within the Catholic Church is going to change because of written rules made by the Catholic bishops who thrive in that culture and practice self-acclaim,” he said. “History is getting tired of the deception and criminality within the Catholic Church.”