Scandal rocks the church, and wrongly it still opposes ordaining women as priests.
By Roy Bourgeois
As a Catholic priest, I did the unspeakable. I called for the ordination of women. The Vatican’s response was swift. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith informed me that I was “causing grave scandal” in the church, and that I had 30 days to recant my support for the ordination of women or be expelled from the priesthood.
I told the Vatican that was not possible. Believing that women and men are created of equal worth and dignity, and that both are called by an all-loving God to serve as priests, my conscience would not allow me to recant. In my response, I also made clear that when Catholics hear the word “scandal,” many think about the thousands of children who have been raped and abused by Catholic priests — not about the ordination of women.
In 2010, the Vatican called women’s ordination a crime comparable to sexual abuse of children. Judging from its actions, however, it would appear that the Vatican views women’s ordination as a crime more serious than child abuse. Among the thousands of priests who raped and sexually abused children, the vast majority were not expelled from the priesthood or excommunicated. But the Vatican has excommunicated every woman ordained to the Catholic priesthood.
And in November 2012, after serving as a Catholic priest with the Maryknoll order for 40 years, I was expelled from the priesthood for refusing to recant my support for the ordination of women.
Today, scandal again rocks the Catholic Church. This time, it’s six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania. According to a grand jury report, beginning in the 1950s, more than 300 “predator priests” sexually abused more than 1,000 children.
The 1,400-page report, written by 23 grand jurors over the course of two years, said, “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.” Among the horrific crimes that Catholic priests committed:
In the Pittsburgh diocese, “a ring of predatory priests shared information regarding victims, as well as exchanging the victims among themselves. The ring manufactured child pornography and used whips, violence and sadism in raping the victims.”
One priest abused five sisters in the same family, including one girl beginning when she was 18 months old.
Another priest was allowed to stay in ministry after impregnating a young girl and arranging for her to have an abortion.
A priest raped a 7-year-old girl in her hospital room after a tonsillectomy. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reviewed his crime and decided that he should remain a priest and “live a life of prayer and penance.”
The Pennsylvania grand jury report concluded that the Catholic hierarchy “protected the institution at all cost and maintained strategies to avoid scandal.” Priests who got into trouble were shuffled to another diocese where more children were abused. The FBI determined that church officials followed a “playbook for concealing the truth,” minimizing the abuse by using words like “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues” instead of “rape.”
If the Catholic Church had women priests, the church would not be in the crisis it is in today. I am equally confident that if the Catholic Church does not dismantle its all-male priesthood and welcome women as equals, it will drift into irrelevance.
International circle of bishops with Roman Catholic Women Priests call on Pope Francis to act
By Benjamin Aubé
Though they’ve been excommunicated by the Vatican, a group of women is demanding changes in the Roman Catholic Church.
Bishops with the Roman Catholic Women Priests are calling on Pope Francis to “establish a council to explore new structures for church leadership and order within the Roman Catholic Church.”
They say the constant string of allegations against male priests is yet another sign the Church must begin letting women and men with children be ordained.
The call to action comes on the heels of last month’s grand jury report out of Pennsylvania. It found that thousands of children were abused at the hands of hundreds of priests in that state.
Marie Bouclin is a bishop emerita with the Roman Catholic Women Priests.
“Men want to protect their children too, and if they’re fathers, they can’t be ordained either,” explained Bouclin. “So we’re saying you need married people as ministers of the Church, you need women in the church, to bring a different perspective, to change this system that has perpetuated itself largely through force and fear.”
Bouclin, who is based in Sudbury, said the Roman Catholic Women Priests are essentially forced to the margins as an “underground” organization. She explained she runs small services and prayer circles, often out of her own home.
The Vatican automatically excommunicates any woman that attempts to be ordained through the movement.
“They’ve marginalized us, so we can’t operate in the local parishes and such,” noted Bouclin.
“We’ve been accused of trying to have access to power, when what we are saying is, ‘Look, we could serve.’ There’s a shortage of priests, we could do this work, we’re qualified and we’re willing, but there’s this fear of change.”
Bouclin also spoke about why she and her peers continue to fight to be part of an organization that has not only forced them out, but also continues to be peppered with child abuse allegations.
“This is our Church too,” she replied. “There’s a lot worth keeping, but there’s a lot that has to change. Rather than walk away, it’s the hope of trying to salvage the good that can be.”
Bouclin added it’s a mistake to believe that child abuse at the hands of priests hasn’t happened in Canadian cities like Sudbury.
The Catholic Church is being rocked — again — by high-level sexual abuse scandals, with allegations in recent weeks surfacing in Chile, Honduras and the District, home to Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, a once-super-popular cleric who is facing accusations by five males of harassment or abuse.
And again, people say they are shocked and outraged, which shows how Catholics still refuse to see that there is an underlying issue to these cases. It is the fact that almost all of them concern males — whether they are adolescents, post-pubescent teens or young men.
And while no adult who is of sound psychosexual health habitually preys on those who are vulnerable, there is no denying that homosexuality is a key component to the clergy sex abuse (and now sexual harassment) crisis. With such a high percentage of priests with a homosexual orientation, this should not be surprising.
But let me be very clear: psychologically healthy gay men do not rape boys or force themselves on other men over whom they wield some measure of power or authority.
However, we are not talking about men who are psychosexually mature. And yet the bishops and officials at the Vatican refuse to acknowledge this. Rather, they are perpetuating the problem, and even making it worse, with policies that actually punish seminarians and priests who seek to deal openly, honestly and healthily with their sexual orientation.
McCarrick’s case made me think of that of the late Scottish Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who in 2013 was removed from ministry after the surfacing of reports that he’d harassed and been involved with seminarians. That year, cardinals picked a pope, and O’Brien stepped back – or was pulled back by higher-ups.
Something I wrote then comes to mind amid the McCarrick scandal: O’Brien should not have recused himself from voting in the pope-picking “conclave,” as “only a naif could believe that he is the only man among the electors who has broken his solemn promise to remain celibate,” I wrote in the March 9, 2013, edition of the Tablet. “There are likely others. And even those who’ve done worse,” I warned.
Our problem in the Church is of the abuse of power, an abuse that happens as a result of homophobia that keeps gay men in the closet, bars them from growing up and results in distorted sexuality for many gay priests. We need to address this elephant in the rectory parlor.
Had O’Brien attended the 2013 conclave, I believe he could have looked several of his red-robed confreres who have also “fallen below the standards” directly in the eyes.
This is not to justify his conduct, but rather to say that the hypocrisy must end.
Incredibly, there are still priests and bishops who would deny or profess not to know that there are any homosexually oriented men in the ordained ministry. O’Brien and many other priests and bishops who have engaged in sex with men would probably not even identify as gay. They are products of a clerical caste and a priestly formation system that discourages and, in some places, even forbids them from being honest about their homosexual orientation.
Sadly, many of these men are or have become self-loathing and homophobic. Some of them emerge as public moralizers and denouncers of homosexuality, especially of the evil perpetrated on society by the so-called gay lobby. Unfortunately, O’Brien was, at times, one of the more brazen among them.
The Vatican knows all too well that there are large numbers of priests and seminarians with a homosexual orientation. But rather than encourage a healthy discussion about how gays can commit themselves to celibate chastity in a wholesome way, the Church’s official policies and teachings drive such men even deeper into the closet.
And like any other dark place lacking sunlight and air, this prevents normal development and festers mold, dankness, distortion and disease. Nothing kept in the dark can become healthy or flourish.
As recently as 2005, just a few months after the election of Benedict XVI, the Vatican issued a document that reinforced the “stay in the closet” policy by saying men who identified as gay should not be admitted to seminaries.
In fact, one of the prime authors of that document — Monsignor Tony Anatrella, a priest-psychotherapist from Paris — was recently stripped of his priestly faculties after being credibly accused of abusing seminarians and other young men in his care.
And yet there are gay priests who have found a way to wholesome self-acceptance of their sexuality. Some of them are sexually active, but many live celibately. Arguably, they are among the best and most compassionate pastors we have in our Church.
Their more conflicted gay confreres — and all gay people, indeed the entire Church — would benefit greatly if these healthy gay priests could openly share their stories. But their bishops or religious superiors have forbidden them from writing or speaking publicly about this part of their lives.
This, too, only encourages more dishonesty and perpetuates a deeply flawed system that will continue to produce unhealthy priests.
O’Brien admitted he was sexually active with adults.
Some of the things O’Brien’s three accusers alleged he did to them (similar to some of the accusations against McCarrick) certainly fall under the category of sexual harassment. And because these alleged actions occurred with people in his charge when he was a seminary official or bishop, they constitute an abuse of power.
But this should not be confused with the sexual abuse of minors, which some people have deliberately tried to do.
That, by the way, is just another effort to refuse to deal with the issue of homosexuality and a clericalist, homophobic culture in the Church.
A retired Bishop has come out in support of the ordination of women priests and says he has felt this way since his own ordination 53 years ago.
Bishop Crowley, formerly Bishop of Middlesbrough but now retired and living in London, also said the time is ripe for further church examination on “the key theological premises regarding the exclusion of women from the priesthood”.
In a letter to The Tablet following Gerald O’Collins’ “measured response to the recent pronouncement from the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith which has restated that the Church’s teaching definitively excludes women from the priesthood”, Bishop Crowley wrote that “as far back as 1965” (the year he was ordained): “I had sensed on a purely instinctive, subjective level, that whether someone was married or single, male or female, should not be determinative in admitting someone to the priesthood.”
However he said it was made clear to him at the time that he should not express his personal views publicly but, now that he is retired with no public teaching role in the church, he feels able to do so.
He wrote: “Though there might yet be a shift in the Church’s insistence on compulsory celibacy for her priests, on the question of women’s ordination the full weight of the church’s long teaching and tradition sits firmly tight on opening up that possibility”.
He said “a growing number of theologians” and “a number of bishops … would want this burning issue to be at least looked at again in a calm, open and public discussion within the church” in a debate which “is already manifestly happening around the world among many lay people and some priests.”
Pat Brown of Catholic Women’s Ordination has welcomed Bishop Crowley’s comments about admitting women priests.
Ms Brown said: “There’s no theological or logical reason why women can’t become priests. Women and men were made equally in the image of God. If you don’t believe that then you’re not a Christian.” She continued: “Women were present at the Last Supper, Jesus spoke to the woman at the well and Mary Magdalene. [Not wanting female priests] is based on misogyny and prejudice.”
Ms Brown said: “Sometimes I think the situation [on women priests] is improving, especially in Europe but some people won’t open their hearts and ears to understand that women are called by the Holy Spirit to become priests.”
For 25 years, Jim Graham has tried to prove he is the son of a deceased Catholic priest who grew up in Lowell and graduated from Boston College.
He pulled old adoption records that mention his “alleged father.” He leaned on leaked documents from a friendly priest and petitioned Catholic leaders all the way to Rome, to no avail.
The quest continued Monday afternoon in a Catholic cemetery in Tewksbury, as a backhoe turned up earth on the Rev. Thomas Sullivan’s grave and promised to provide answers once and for all.
“We missed a lot, the two of us,” Graham said, fighting back tears after the exhumation. “Didn’t have much opportunity for father and son.”
Graham, his wife, and forensic pathologist Anna Marie Mires came to this cemetery on the grounds of an infirmary run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to take a DNA sample from Sullivan’s body. The sample will be compared with a sample provided by Graham and should offer a morbid capstone of Graham’s long search for the truth.
Children of Catholic priests live with secrets and sorrow: Jim Graham
“I never wanted it to come to this,” he said days earlier.
Graham, 72, had longed for some kind of confirmation from the Oblates, a 202-year-old Catholic religious order. He sought some acknowledgment that they knew and had tried to save face all these years.
“But they wouldn’t do that so I was left with no choice,” Graham said.
Although his quest appears to be unique, Graham is one of thousands of people around the world with credible claims that they were fathered by Catholic priests, often with no confirmation or financial support from the church. Frequently compelled to lead lives of silence and sorrow, they are the unfortunate victims of a religion that has, for nearly 900 years, forbidden priests to marry or have sex but has never set rules for what priests or bishops must do when a clergyman fathers a child.
Earlier this year, Graham received permission to conduct the exhumation from the Washington, D.C., office of the Oblates and had to overcome a variety of obstacles before the digging could begin.
He acquired a permit from the town of Tewksbury. Later, he went shopping for a drill bit that would be used to bore into Sullivan’s femur, an optimum location for retrieving DNA from a body that may have decomposed.
“So, there I was at Lowe’s buying some of the tools that the forensic anthropologist would use on my father,” said Graham, who was featured in a 2017 Globe Spotlight investigation into the children of Catholic priests. “I’m learning about all these procedures in ways I never thought I would.”
That drill bit came into play Monday. Mires, the forensic anthropologist, said the metal casket was raised from the grave. A nameplate identified the remains as the Rev. Thomas Sullivan, ensuring her that she had found the right body.
Mires said the remains were so well-preserved that she could recognize Sullivan from the photos she had seen. She took a sample from Sullivan’s femur, and three additional samples from other parts of his body, which was standard procedure for her. “From a DNA perspective, I was very happy about that,” Mires said.
The accelerated DNA testing will be done in Virginia, by Bode Cellmark Forensics, and Graham expects to receive test results in about a month. He said the total cost of the exhumation, the forensic anthropologist, a funeral director, and testing will exceed $10,000.
Coping International, a group that provides counseling and other support for priests’ children, has followed Graham’s case.
“I’m happy for Jim and I hope he finally finds closure,” said Vincent Doyle, the son of an Irish priest and the group’s founder. “But this was really a last resort and I can’t help but wonder, after 70 years, was there not a simpler solution?”
The Oblates say there was not. “Nobody is denying Jim’s idea that Father Tom Sullivan was his father,” said the Rev. Thomas G. Coughlin, the assistant to the order’s United States provincial. “We’ve been attempting to put his mind at ease. We just don’t have the information he wishes we would give him.”
Graham remains skeptical of that explanation, and for good reason. For a quarter century, at times working with the help of a detective agency, he has collected documents showing that Sullivan was almost certainly his father. The documents include more than 30 pages of records from a New York City adoption agency, which his mother used for day-care services after she left her husband, the man who raised Graham, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Those records refer to Jim as an “o.w. child,” or a child born out of wedlock, and mention a sympathetic “alleged father” living nearby.
Other records — church documents given to Jim by a friendly priest, and a transcript of his mother’s divorce proceedings — strongly suggest Sullivan deserted the Oblates and moved to New York City at about the same time as Jim’s mother.
The church records show that Sullivan was transferred from a church in Buffalo to the Oblate College in Newburgh, N.Y., about a 90-minute drive from Manhattan, “to protect him and save him” from “a serious occasion.” They also show that Sullivan left the college a month later, without leaving a forwarding address, saying he would never return.
If Graham’s mother and the Rev. Sullivan were attempting to start a new life as lovers and his parents, their plans were abruptly dashed when private detectives raided their New York City apartment. This, according to Graham, gave his stepfather the evidence he used to divorce his mother and retain custody of him and two girls that Graham now believes are his half-sisters.
After the raid, Sullivan rejoined the Oblates and spent the next 16 years doing penance — translating religious texts and performing menial tasks — at a shrine the Oblates maintained in upstate New York, according to church records reviewed by The Boston Globe. When the Oblates deemed him rehabilitated, he fulfilled assignments in far-flung regions of the country and eventually returned to Tewksbury, where in 1993 he died of melanoma in the infirmary overlooking the cemetery where he was buried.
Troubled by questions about why the man who raised him treated him so coldly, Graham carefully assembled the documents and interviewed clergy members, including a nun who knew the priest well. He petitioned Oblate leaders in Rome, asking that they formally acknowledge Sullivan was his father, but to no avail.
Then, last year, when Graham was prominently featured in the Spotlight investigation, he was contacted by a clergy abuse survivor from the Boston area who has been a vociferous advocate for other survivors.
Olan Horne, who was molested by the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham, offered to broker a meeting with Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the leader of a commission established by Pope Francis to study the issue of priests who sexually abuse children and young people. It was Horne’s hope, and Graham’s, that O’Malley would use his influence to push the Oblates to be more responsive.
O’Malley met with Horne in late December, Graham said, although Graham was not permitted to be there. As a result, Graham received a call from the Rev. Louis Studer, the head of the Oblates in the United States, though Studer offered little in the way of help.
“We’ve told him our records contain no reference to any offspring by Father Tom Sullivan,” said Coughlin, Studer’s assistant. “We have records but they don’t contain the information he’d like us to find there.”
But Graham persisted, until the Oblates agreed to allow him to exhume the Rev. Sullivan’s remains, leading him to pursue his quest to the end of the line – the small cemetery here on the grounds of the Oblate infirmary. “I’m pretty persistent,” Graham said. “I wasn’t going to go away.”