A Catholic priests’ group has said it will continue to advocate for the ordination of women within the Church.
Speaking ahead of the Irish Association of Catholic Priests annual general meeting on Wednesday, spokesman Fr Roy Donovan from the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly said the organisation would discuss the ordination of women and married deacons.
The Catholic Church’s treatment of women as second class citizens and its failure to consider the ordination of women to the priesthood is a “massive injustice at the heart of the Church”, Fr Donovan said
A discussion around the ordination of married deacons, in light of the recommendations from last week’s Amazon synod, will also be top of the agenda at the association’s AGM in Athlone on Wednesday, confirmed Dr Donovan.
Many priests who have left the ministry to get married could bring a “huge richness and wisdom” to the Church if they were allowed to return as leaders, he said.
Despite the recent summit’s more open minded approach to the ordination of married deacons in the Amazon region, it continues to fail to address the issue of inequality for women within the Church, said Fr Donovan. “Women can’t become deacons at the moment which means there’s no opportunity to become leaders. The synod has left women as second class citizens. The Church is not treating women as human beings and it’s a massive injustice at the heart of the Church.”
While Pope Francis has shown openness towards the issue of married deacons, Fr Donovan does not expect him to be equally accepting of the ordination of women. “He doesn’t have it in him to embrace full equality for women. But we’re running out of time. The Church needs these changes now and women need these changes. Obviously he’s trying to keep a balanced approach but he’s moving very slowly, he needs to crack the egg now.”
Citing the results of a survey carried out in the Killala diocese earlier this year which found nearly 70 per cent of parishioners backed women being ordained to the priesthood, Fr Donovan said it was clear the general public wanted to see equality of the sexes within the Church. With the low number of men entering the vocation at crisis level, immediate changes are needed to ensure the survival of the Church, he said.
At present, with the collapse in numbers, priests are unable to fully retire, said Fr Donovan, adding that between 25-30 men aged over 75 had remained on as curates in his own parish to “keep the system going”.
“A lot of priests are over-worked and I think more and more priests are going to retire early rather than bolstering up this dysfunctional system. The reality is in the next 10 years there will be lots of parishes without priests.”
Wednesday’s AGM will also discuss the recently updated charter of fundamental rights for the Church which states that all Catholics should be treated equally and that there is “no place among Christ’s faithful for any discrimination on the basis of gender, nationality, language, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, age, social status, political or theological views”. The topic of how the late Fr Seán Fagan was silenced by the Church is also expected to be discussed.
François Ozon has long been regarded as an enfant terrible of French cinema for his subversive, darkly comic, sexually provocative, and genre-hopping films, including 2012’s In the House, 2003’s Swimming Pool, and 2002’s musical murder mystery 8 Women (featuring a cast of iconic French actresses).
Yet the gay auteur has earned a new reputation as the good son this year thanks to By the Grace of God, a briskly paced procedural about the real-life case of a French pedophile priest, Bernard Preynat; the Lyon-based Catholic cardinal Philippe Barbarin, who covered up and enabled Preynat’s crimes for decades; and the adult victims who urgently fought for justice against a ticking statute-of-limitations clock.
With help from Preynat’s victims and their activist organization, La Parole Libérée (or, Lift the Burden of Silence in English), By the Grace of God takes cues from 2016’s Oscar-winning film Spotlight, following father of five Alexandre (Melvil Poupaud) as he realizes the priest who abused him decades earlier, Father Bernard Preynat (Bernard Verley), is still interacting with children. In communications and meetings with Cardinal Barbarin (François Marthouret) and Preynat himself, Alexandre grows increasingly frustrated by the Church’s inertia in the matter, which leads to his collaboration with other former victims, including fellow family man François (Denis Ménochet), whose experiences shattered his relationship with his brother, and the emotionally crippled, seizure-prone Emmanuel (Swann Arlaud).
The now 74-year-old Preynat unsuccessfully attempted to block the movie’s release in France, for fear it would influence his trial (he was defrocked by the Church this past summer, while Barbarin was found guilty in civil court and received a suspended prison sentence). Visiting New York during By the Grace of God’s opening weekend, Ozon spoke with NewNowNext about the powerful film, which he was first inspired to make when coming across the victims’ website.
Were the victims familiar with your work when you approached them to make this film?
Yes. They had seen some of my films, and because I was a director of fiction features, they trusted me. They had done so many interviews with journalists and TV people, they were very proud that someone from the fiction world came to them, and it was right after Spotlight, which was really important in France. When they did interviews with me, I realized they were waiting for me to make a kind of French Spotlight about their story.
In your recent interview with The Guardian, you mentioned that you narrowly avoided being molested by a priest when you were 7 or 8 during a game of hide-and-seek.
es, it was something I had totally forgotten. While listening to the testimonies of the victims suddenly it came back to me, and I remembered this very strange moment with a priest when I was a child. I realized maybe it could have happened to me.
Did you consider trying to find that priest now, so you could ask him about it?
No, no. I remember his name, but nothing happened, so I think it was a fight inside him.
How did you decide which victims you’d frame the film’s narrative around?
It was obvious that I should use Alexandre and François’ stories. For the third character, I was looking for someone from a different social background—someone who maybe was not able to have a family and children and a good job. They told me about Emmanuel, and I met him and it was very powerful, because he was exactly what I was looking for. But I also met some other victims who helped me understand more what the experience of being a survivor of child abuse is like.
Did you also try to find a gay man to spotlight?
Yes, of course. I asked, and it was very sad because the answer they told me was that very often gay men [in these situations] commit suicide. It’s a real fight for them to come out and make the link with what happened as a child, being raped. So it was a struggle inside them, especially within very Catholic families.
Some feel that the policy of celibacy within the Catholic Church is partly to blame for some priests turning to children for sexual release. Do you feel this is the case?
I don’t know. It’s a big question, but what I saw is that the Catholic Church has to start a revolution in its relationship with sexuality. There is a problem because sexuality is always linked to reproduction, and as long as sexuality is not accepted as something human, this change won’t be possible.
Dan Savage pointed out in a tweet that “if kids got raped by clowns as often as they get raped by priests it would be illegal to take your kids to the circus.” Why do people keep going back to the Catholic Church when this happens over and over?
It’s not the case in France. I think the Catholic religion has lost many people in France because they were very shocked by the way the institution dealt with all these problems. But maybe in America it’s different.
Have there been any updates on Preynat and Barbarin since the film was released?
Preynat was defrocked, and that was a big victory for the survivors. Barbarin was condemned and went to the Vatican to propose his resignation to Pope Francis, but the Pope refused it, and that was a big scandal. People, especially French Catholics, didn’t understand, because the Pope didn’t stop saying “zero tolerance for pedophilia.” His words were always against pedophilia, but the acts don’t follow those words. A big problem.
How do you personally feel about Preynat?
I think he’s an asshole and a product of the old church. He doesn’t really feel guilty. He lives with this vice, and it’s terrible because he always told the truth. He has always said, “I have a problem with kids.” And the institution protected him for such a long time, so he had a feeling of impunity [like] he’s outside of reality, beyond reality. Now he’s defrocked and his life has totally changed, because he doesn’t exist as a priest or have the institution to protect him anymore. So I hope he has changed, but I’m not sure. When I read the reports from his interviews, I got the feeling he hasn’t understood what he really had done.
Has the experience of tackling a real-life big issue changed you as a filmmaker?
Of course it was a great adventure and a big challenge for me, and it was a big discovery to see things can be changed through fiction. Often journalists ask me and other directors if we think cinema can change the world, and we always answer, “No, of course not.” But with this film, things really did change in France. Many victims told me what happened to them, and that the film made it easier to accept and speak out after watching it. So this film was very important and had a big impact on the Catholic Church in France, and I’m very proud of that, but I didn’t imagine that before the film.
Does this film need a follow-up? Is there more to say on the subject?
I’m not a politician. I’m an artist, and don’t give the answers to all these problems. I just ask questions. That’s what interests me. Afterwards, it’s up to you to change things. That’s why at the end of the film when the son asks his father Alexandre, “Do you still believe in God?,” I don’t show the answer. It’s because it’s not my part as a director. My part is just to ask the good questions.
By the Grace of God is now playing in theaters in New York City and Los Angeles.
Campaigners have gathered in Rome to call for the lifting of a ban on female priests that would “save the Catholic Church” where it is failing to ordain enough men.
Activists from the Women’s Ordination Worldwide (Wow) group protested outside the Vatican on Tuesday as the church’s hierarchy pondered the idea of allowing married men in the Amazon to become priests in order to plug the shortage in the region.
The activists argue that ordaining women priests would solve the issue as effectively and should be prioritised.
”Empowering women would save the church,” said Kate McElwee, a Rome-based representative of Wow. “Our church and our Earth are in crisis – and empowering women in roles that they are already serving in their communities is a solution. We’re advocating for equality and that includes ordination.”
The church has been struggling with a shortage of priests for decades, particularly in Europe and North America, which have had sharp falls in church membership as well as devastating sexual abuse scandals. In some places, priests have been moved from sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, where the church is flourishing, to fill vacancies.
While Pope Francis has opened up more discussion about women’s roles and appointed women in key Vatican positions, the topic of them becoming priests is still very much taboo. A huge number of women serve within the church around the world, outnumbering men in some countries, but they are denied the privilege of voting at Vatican synods, such as the one on the Amazon currently taking place, because they are not ordained.
“The consequences of this massive injustice are far-reaching beyond the church,” said Miriam Duignan, from Wow’s unit in the UK. “It’s not just a matter of who stands at the altar each Sunday and blesses the bread … women are silenced and sidelined, and this has a tidal effect beyond the priesthood in terms of how women are seen.”
The campaigners, who held umbrellas to shield themselves from the afternoon sun, said they were often insulted during protests, with one Rome police officer telling them to move away and close their umbrellas because they featured a “women priests” slogan.
Their biggest fear over the idea of allowing married men in the Amazon to be ordained is that the many women who already carry out ministerial roles in the region could be supplanted by men.
“The church would not be alive in the Amazon if it wasn’t for women,” said Duignan. “They are undertaking priestly roles without having the title of priest.”
Pat Brown, also from the UK, said the situation for women serving the church in the developing world is more acute. “It’s not so bad for us but they suffer this misogyny: the church endorses sexism.”
The Amazon synod, which wraps up on 27 October, has discussed the role of women in the region, with Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, the president of the synod, proposing that “a suitable ministry” be established for “women community leaders”. Many bishops have supported the ordination of married men despite criticism from more conservative factions.
The pope has previously said he would be open to allowing married men to be ordained in areas where there was a scarcity of priests, while maintaining the requirement for most priests to be celibate. He has also spoken about “allowing space for women in the church at all levels”.
As the event draws to a close, the Vatican on Tuesday lambasted the two extreme conservative Catholics who stole Amazonian statues from a church near the Vatican and dumped them in the Tiber River.
The wooden statues, which depict a pregnant woman and represent an indigenous Virgin Mary, were presented to the pope at the start of the synod but critics consider them to be pagan. Paolo Ruffini, the Vatican’s head of communications, said the theft was “a stupid stunt”.
The four statues were stolen from the Santa Maria in Traspontina church on Monday and the stunt filmed by the perpetrators.
“In the name of tradition and doctrine, an effigy of maternity and the sacredness of life was dumped in contempt,” said Ruffini, adding that the “violent and intolerant gesture” had “passed from hate on social media to action”.
A new short film is seeking to shine a spotlight on HIV among Catholic priests.
Holy Water, which is currently raising funds for production through Kickstarter, centers on a closeted priest who is newly diagnosed as positive. The production tackles the stigma that occurs at the intersection of faith, health, and sexuality.
Filmmaker Sebastian LaCause, who also stars in Holy Water, was inspired to create the film after reading research showing that Catholic priests were disproportionately impacted by HIV. During the height of the crisis, Catholic priests died of AIDS-related illnesses at up to six times the rate of the general population from the mid-1980s onward, according to a confidential survey conducted by The Kansas City Star.
In the groundbreaking survey, hundreds also indicated they were living with the virus. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has gone to great lengths to hide this epidemic from the public.
The issue of grappling with an HIV diagnosis hits close to home for LaCause. As he explained in a statement forwarded to The Advocate, the story of a struggling priest led him to “a deeper understanding of my own demons.” In his Kickstarter video, the filmmaker comes out as HIV-positive for the first time publicly. His hope is to tackle the stigma surrounding the virus.
“It was a big moment for me to speak publicly about it but I have been inspired to create work that inspires the LGBTQ community to love themselves. To look within to make changes to live fuller, happier lives,” LaCause said.
“Sharing my experience was the first step toward that work. I truly believe [in] knowing our value and believing that we are worthy of love, and our dreams are one of our strongest defenses against HIV. Because when you truly love yourself, you have access to thinking differently and to making different choices.”
This is not the first time LaCause has tackled difficult subject matter related to the LGBTQ community. He is also known as the creator of Hustling, a web series that centers on an aging sex worker as he contemplates his life’s next chapter.
Holy Water is bring produced by LaCause, Roxanne Morrison, and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy‘s Jai Rodriguez. Support itat Kickstarter.com. As of the time of this article’s publication, it has raised over $9,000 of an $18,111 goal.
The text from Stephen Parisi’s fellow seminarian was ominous: Watch your back.
Parisi, dean of his class of seminarians in the Buffalo Diocese, and another classmate had gone to seminary officials about a recent party in a parish rectory. At the party in April, the men said, priests were directing obscene comments to the seminarians, discussing graphic photos and joking about professors allegedly swapping A’s for sex.
“I just wanted to be sure that you guys are protected and are watching your backs,” the seminarian’s text said. Authorities are “fishing to figure out who the nark [sic] is.”
Parisi and Matthew Bojanowski, who was academic chairman of the class, have made explosive news nationally recently after alleging that they were bullied by superiors, grilled by their academic dean under police-like interrogation and then shunned by many of their fellow seminarians after going public with sexual harassment complaints about those up the chain of command. The Vatican on Thursday announced it is investigating broad allegations church leaders have mishandled clergy abuse cases.
As striking as the charges is the fact that the men are speaking out at all. Parisi and Bojanowski — who both left seminary in August — are among a small but growing number of Catholic priests and seminarians who in the past year have gone to investigators, journalists and lawyers with complaints about their superiors. While still rare, such dissent has until now been nearly unheard of in a profession that requires vows of obedience to one’s bishop and offers no right to recourse, no independent human resources department.
Prompting the pushback, the men and experts on the U.S. church say, is what many Catholics view as the Catholic Church’s unwillingness to respond frankly and transparently to recently revealed cases of sexual mistreatment of seminarians and priests. That, and the #MeToo moment, in which Americans have shown new willingness to speak out against adult sexual abuse and harassment.
“My conscience bothered me. If it meant being thrown out, so be it,” said Parisi, now 45, who joined the seminary in 2018 after 25 years as a member of a Catholic religious order, caring for the sick and dying. He thought he knew the church well when he entered seminary. Now living with his parents and unemployed, he has received hate mail, and says priests in his hometown won’t acknowledge him. His faith in the institution has been “shattered,” he said. “That’s what you get for exposing the truth.”
In addition to Buffalo, young men wrestling with scandals in Washington, D.C., and West Virginia, among other places, have also weighed expectations of obedience against their desire for more accountability — and chosen the latter.
More than half a dozen priests and former seminarians were the key whistleblowers in the recent fall of West Virginia Bishop Michael Bransfield, a well-connected fundraiser and donator in the U.S. church. Two recently exited West Virginia seminarians have gone public with allegations that Bransfield sexually mistreated them and have sued. One, who has not been named, said he was assaulted. The other, Vincent DeGeorge, 30, said Bransfield kissed and groped him, and pressured him to sleep over and watch porn.
“Because of the sex abuse crisis, I told myself going in [that] I wanted to be a priest, but I wasn’t going to let myself be complicit in a corrupt institution,” said DeGeorge, who left seminary last year after he says he was sexually harassed by his then-bishop, wrote an op-ed criticizing regional church leaders and quickly became a pariah.
“To scrutinize a bishop is to attack the church, is to be a bad Catholic,” DeGeorge said.
Several current and former clergy members spoke out beginning last summer about their treatment by defrocked cardinal Theodore McCarrick, some by name and others anonymously. The Washington Post has received more calls from Catholic seminarians and clergy members with tips and concerns in the past year than in the previous decade.
“I’ve never had conversations in all the previous years like the ones I’ve had in the past year. People feel they can finally talk about things” among themselves, said a seminarian in the D.C. region who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he fears dismissal.
Some said the expanding of a more aggressive Catholic media in the past couple of years has emboldened Catholics, including seminarians, to challenge the hierarchy.
A power imbalance
But even as the scandals have spurred some to speak out, church culture and theology dissuade more from raising their voices.
In the Catholic Church, bishops are kings of their dioceses, and priests swear an oath of loyalty to them. Seminarians’ pursuit of the priesthood rests completely with their superiors — the bishop in particular. There is no appeal or required explanation if one is deemed not to be priest material.
Some seminarians described having their spiritual fitness scrutinized if they raised too many questions. They fear that criticizing a bishop or higher-up could get them removed from seminary.
An internal church report investigating allegations against Bransfield quotes one priest-secretary who was allegedly harassed as saying he was in seminary when the bishop first asked him to remove his shirt.
“He stated that he did so out of fear. ‘Your life is at the will and pleasure of the bishop when you’re in seminary,’ ” the man told the lay investigators last year, according to the report, which The Post obtained.
In an email on May 7, 2018, a diocesan official in West Virginia told DeGeorge that he must stay over with Bransfield for a week — even though the then-seminarian did not want to.
“The request … was not actually a request. It was basically an expectation. You need to be there with the bishop during those dates,” the email reads.
“Seminaries should articulate that priestly obedience begins with humble and willing cooperation in seminary life, docility to direction and wholehearted compliance with the seminary’s policies,” it says.
Priests, seminarians and former seminarians described in interviews a climate of self-censure, with men often tattling on one another and gossiping rather than speaking openly. And when they do speak up, they said church authorities often do nothing.
They “say the right things, how we encourage honesty and openness, but deep down it’s clear they want to move on from [issues] as fast as possible,” said Mike Kelsey, who was a seminarian in the D.C. Archdiocese from last summer until January when students were openly upset that more hadn’t been done to learn what the past two archbishops — McCarrick and Donald Wuerl — did and knew regarding sexual misconduct.
Kelsey and other seminarians and priests interviewed for this article agreed that the problem lies in how the vows are interpreted and lived out within the church.
“I don’t think obedience is bad,” Kelsey said, noting that corporations also suffer from similar transparency problems. “But it’s also not something I’m signing up for if the hierarchy behaves in this way. If leadership and so many are not willing to get to basic levels of truth and justice, I’m not willing to sit there and obey them. I think the church is deeply corrupt and broken.”
Questions about how sexual misconduct in seminary is handled are considered so pressing that the University of Notre Dame last month released a first-of-its-kind study of 1500 seminarians on the topic. About 3,500 U.S. post-college men — who make up the vast majority of seminarians — were enrolled in programs in 2018-2019, according to Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.
Seventeen percent said sexual abuse or misconduct is a problem at their schools, the survey found. Asked whether their administrators take the issue seriously, 84 percent said “very,” while 11 percent said somewhat or not at all. Of the 10 percent who said they have experienced, or may have experienced, sexual harassment, abuse or misconduct, 51 percent said they had not reported it. Of those who did, 42 percent said their reports were either “completely” taken seriously and acted upon or acted upon “for the most part.”
To get the seminarians to talk, researchers offered anonymity.
“They are afraid they’ll be judged as temporarily unfit, too assertive,” John Cavadini, director of Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life, which crafted the new research, said about seminarians. “That’s one aspect of seminary education you wouldn’t have a close parallel of outside seminary. The bishop is a peculiar concentration of power in one person.”
The Rev. Carter Griffin, rector of the St. John Paul II Seminary in the D.C. Archdiocese, said that, if taught correctly, obedience to church authority can be a beautiful act, “to follow the Lord through the word of another.”
But younger men who grew up in the shadow of earlier abuse scandals know that automatically going “into protection mode” isn’t wise for the church, Griffin said. Regardless of what higher-ups do, he said, seminarians must do what’s right.
“ It might mean that people will misunderstand you, there may be consequences for your actions and you have to shoulder those,” he said.
Shunning as punishment
Speaking out, especially for those who do not leave seminary or the priesthood, can be risky. Some seminarians report a lack of support from their classmates — even social shunning.
An unnamed seminarian who filed a lawsuit against the West Virginia diocese earlier this year alleging that Bransfield sexually assaulted him declined to comment for this article. But his mother told The Post that many priests “whom he called friends and brothers” and many of his former fellow seminarians for the most part have kept their distance from him.
“They feel they have to choose the church,” she said. The Post isn’t naming her to protect the anonymity of her son. The Post doesn’t identify sexual assault victims without their permission.
The man and the Wheeling-Charleston Diocese reached an unspecified settlement over the summer.
DeGeorge’s allegation of sexual mistreatment by Bransfield became widely known recently when The Post reported it in a profile of William Lori, the Baltimore archbishop who led the investigation of Bransfield. He had already made waves for a seminarian — he was on leave — in December when he wrote a Baltimore Sun essay critical of Lori. Many priests and his former classmates still avoid him — or speak of him as a troublemaker, he said.
In a lawsuit filed Sept. 13 in Ohio County, DeGeorge alleges that Bransfield, the diocese and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops did not rein in someone known as a harasser, leaving seminarians vulnerable.
In Buffalo, the priests whom Parisi and Bojanowski blew the whistle on were suspended for a few weeks and returned to ministry in June. Bishop Richard Malone issued a statement that seminarians who spoke out “are to be lauded for coming forward.” Malone is accused of mishandling of sexual abuse and misconduct cases.
After more than 20 years serving Catholic organizations, Parisi says he’s looking for work outside the church.
“There needs to be major reform … But in my view, that won’t happen. The system is a very well-oiled machine,” he said. The church hierarchy believes “it doesn’t need fixing in their view because it’s running exactly the way they want it to.”