Roman Catholic women led by former Irish president Mary McAleese demanded a greater decision-making role for women in the Church on Thursday, urging Pope Francis to tear down its “walls of misogyny”.
McAleese was the key speaker at a symposium of Catholic women called “Why Women Matter”, attended by hundreds of people and followed by many others around the world via web-streaming.
The Women’s Day event was held at the headquarters of the Jesuit religious order after the Vatican withdrew permission for it to be held inside its walls when organizers added controversial speakers without its permission.
McAleese, who supports gay marriage and the ordination of women as priests, joked about the change of venue to a location just a block away from the Vatican walls, saying: “I hope all their hearing aids are turned on today”.
She said the Church’s ban on a female priesthood had “locked women out of any significant role in the Church’s leadership, doctrinal development and authority structure”.
The Church teaches that women cannot be ordained priests because Jesus chose only men as his apostles. Those calling for women priests say he was only following the norms of his time.
“We are here to shout, to bring down our Church’s walls of misogyny,” she said, adding that the Church’s position on keeping women in a subordinate role to men had “kept Christ out and bigotry in”.
“How long can the hierarchy sustain the credibility of a God who wants things this way, who wants a Church where women are invisible and voiceless in Church leadership?” she said in her address. McAleese was Irish president between 1997 and 2011.
Many women, she said, “experience the Church as a male bastion of patronizing platitudes, to which Pope Francis has added his quota”.
The pope has promised to put more women in senior positions in the Vatican but critics say he is moving too slowly.
Other women speakers included Zuzanna Radzik, a Catholic theologian from Poland, who described the struggle to make priests and bishops in her homeland take her seriously as an intellectual on a par with men.
Many in the audience were nuns, who cheered on the speakers who demanded more rights for women in the Church.
Last week, a Vatican magazine denounced widespread exploitation of nuns for cheap or free labor in the Roman Catholic Church, saying the male hierarchy should stop treating them like lowly servants.
The article in the monthly “Women, Church, World”, remarkable for an official Vatican publication, described the drudgery of nuns who cook, clean and wait on tables for cardinals, bishops and priests.
A CONTROVERSIAL Catholic priest has claimed the vow of celibacy is one of the causes of clerical child abuse and called on the church to repeal the ancient law.
Father Tony Flannery will deliver a lecture at the University of Edinburgh next month entitled “Celibacy, sexuality and the crisis in the priesthood” when he will also demand the ordination of women.
The Catholic Church forbids women from joining the priesthood and men who are ordained must promise not to have sex, a rule which Flannery claims is deterring young men.
The Catholic Church has distanced itself from Flannery, denied that the celibacy rule was off-putting and said there were 12 priests ordained in Scotland last year, the highest number in 20 years.
Flannery was suspended by the church in 2012 and threatened with ex-communication unless he stayed silent, but he is set to bring his message to Scotland on February 28 and risk further sanctions by the church.
Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Herald, he said: “The rule on celibacy has to be changed because it is not working. Fewer and fewer young men are interested in becoming priests because the oath of celibacy is a big deterrent.
“Catholic priests could marry up until the 13th century. It’s purely a church regulation and as such it can be changed.
“In my experience, for a lot of priests, celibacy has been a struggle which can lead to difficulties, such as addictive behaviours.”
Flannery went on to say celibacy can be “a factor” in clerical child abuse cases. “It’s something that should be examined carefully by the Catholic church,” he said.
“The Australian investigation into child sexual abuse in institutions, in the final summing up which came out a month ago, suggests compulsory celibacy was a factor. One of the recommendations they made was the Catholic church lift the rule on compulsory celibacy.”
Flannery, who lives in Killimordaly in County Galway, was ordained more than 40 years ago and took the vow of celibacy, but he would not confirm whether he had adhered to the rule. “I have many relationships, but I don’t want to go into my personal life,” he said. “One thing I will say is I am a 71-year-old man so…”
Flannery also wants to see an end to the patriarchy which governs the church and decrees that women can’t be priests.
“I am fully supportive of the ordination of women,” he said. “I want women to have full equality in the church. At the moment women have no voice in decision-making in the church. That is so wrong and outdated that it has to change. I see women as essential for the credibility of the Catholic church going forward.”
A spokesman for the Catholic church said: “Ordination and decision-making are completely different things – the former is not a pre-requisite for the latter.”
When asked about celibacy the church spokesman added: “To suggest celibacy is a deterrent to vocations is demonstrably not true…in Scotland the number of men studying for the priesthood has increased every year for the last 10 years. In 2017 there were 12 ordinations of priests in Scotland, the highest figure in 20 years. There are currently 18 seminarians studying for the priesthood, the highest figure for over a decade.”
Flannery’s views led to sanctions by the church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was founded in 1542 to defend the church from heresy.
Flannery said: “I am no longer allowed to minister publicly as a priest. That happened six years ago. As a consequence, I have been on the fringes of the church. It’s affected my opinion of the Vatican.
“My main dispute there wasn’t so much that they objected to things I had written. I don’t mind that. The authority structure has the right to question people. My main problem was the process in which the Vatican dealt with me was totally unjust.
“I had no opportunity to defend myself. I was never told who accused me or the nature of the allegation. I was never communicated with directly by the Vatican. There was no court of appeal.”
A church spokesman said: “The Vatican processes are far from unjust and ensure the right of defence for all involved.”
FLANNERY COULD FACE PROTESTS BY CATHOLIC STUDENTS AT EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY
Diego Maria Malara, a lecturer in social anthropology, is organising Flannery’s visit and expects opposition. He said: “Father Flannery’s scheduled appearance at the University in February will be boycotted by more conservative members of the Catholic Student Union, but many of Edinburgh’s Catholics will welcome the chance to hear this charismatic speaker, who represents the progressive side of the Catholic Church.”
Maya Mayblin, who is also a lecturer in social anthropology, invited Flannery to speak. She is researching how sexuality affects the lives of Catholic priests.
She said: “Father Flannery is one of relatively few people within the church to have addressed this issue directly and publicly, so I think people will be very interested in what he has to say. I haven’t encountered any opposition and my hope is that even those who disagree him will want to attend his talk.
“Father Flannery is an important figure because he’s in a position to give voice to opinions which lots of priests hold, but are unable to express due to something of a culture of silence within the priesthood.
“The church is a very centralised institution, so any divergent voice, especially from a priest, can seem troubling to the institution.”
The Sunday Herald contacted the University of Edinburgh’s Catholic Students’ Union for comment, but did not receive a response.
Flannery said: “If they turn up with placards and try to interrupt me I would find it hilarious.”
On Dec. 17, the Rev. Gregory Greiten shared a secret with parishioners at the St. Bernadette Catholic Parish: “I am gay.” Greiten was then greeted with a standing ovation, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The next day, Greiten wrote a column in the National Catholic Reporter. As someone who now uses the descriptor “recovering Catholic” to answer questions about my religious identity, was once approached for the priesthood, struggled with reconciling my faith with my sexual orientation, and just finished writing about these experiences and more in a book called I Can’t Date Jesus, much of what Greiten wrote felt all too familiar.
“Each time I had a great desire to speak out I was challenged by other priests and leaders,” he wrote before breaking down the various responses—all of which can be tied under the bow of the sentiment “Keep your sins to yourself.” The advocacy for his continued silence was centered on the belief that to come out as gay would result in damages to his ministry at least, and expulsion from the church at worst. While it might have been wrong to call upon Greiten to deny who he is in a space where people go to seek answers about God and themselves, their fears were aided by precedent.
Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest who has written a book called “Building a Bridge,” about L.G.B.T. Catholics, said that between 20 percent and 30 percent of Catholic priests are celibate gay men and that a larger reason they have not been public about their sexuality is homophobia in the church.
It is no wonder that Greiten laments about the “heavy burden” he carried with him. I know that burden, despite not being a member of the clergy. If you find yourself the child, brother, son or friend of a religious person with rigid ideas of what’s right and wrong, then you, too, will find yourself told to be silent, purportedly for the sake of your own good.
Like Greiten, I was taught that homosexuality was something “disordered, unspeakable and something to be punished.” I thought I was going to go to hell for every thought I had, every touch I contemplated, each time I gave in to temptation. It’s a haunting, shameful feeling that eats you inside. You become so accustomed to guilt that even if you dare to be truthful about who you are in all settings, you may still find yourself having to learn to shake off old habits, like guilt. Religions in general tend to make their believers feel guilty about their misdeeds, but Catholics are particularly adept when it comes to guilt.
That’s why it matters so much that Greiten has stepped forward and gained national attention. There are many more like him. Just how many is unclear, but none of them should feel compelled to linger in the shadows.
Greiten explains the necessity for more visible gay priests to step forward:
There is no question there are and always have been celibate, gay priests and chaste members of religious communities. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, in 2016, there were 37,192 diocesan and religious priests serving in the United States. While there are no exact statistics on the number of gay Catholic priests, Fr. Donald B. Cozzens suggested in his book, The Changing Face of the Priesthood, that an estimated 23 percent to 58 percent of priests were in fact gay. It would mean that there are anywhere from 8,554 (low) to 21,571 (high) gay Catholic priests in the United States today.
By choosing to enforce silence, the institutional church pretends that gay priests and religious do not really exist. Because of this, there are no authentic role models of healthy, well-balanced, gay, celibate priests to be an example for those, young and old, who are struggling to come to terms with their sexual orientation. This only perpetuates the toxic shaming and systemic secrecy.
In 2013, Pope Francis shocked many Catholics when he answered a question about gay priests by saying, “Who am I to judge?” Francis has gone on to appoint archbishops and other senior church leaders who are more embracing of LGBTQ Catholics. However, in 2015, I wrote that while the pope deserves some kudos for his remarks and actions, much of the praise lavished on him is unwarranted. After all, the church continues to tolerate gay people more so than truly embracing them. The church continues to collectively hold archaic, bigoted views about transgender people. Moreover, the Vatican relentlessly clings to needless positions about women on issues like contraception that contribute to their subjugation around the world.
And for those reading this who might be thinking to quip that there aren’t that many black Catholics, think again. In November, The Atlantic published “There Are More Black Catholics in the U.S. Than Members of the A.M.E. Church.” The piece largely focused on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ decision to create a new, ad hoc committee against racism in light of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Although that is important work, I can’t help thinking about priests like Gregory Greiten and wondering why so much of the Catholic Church’s leadership continues to ignore what’s either hiding plain in sight or now demanding recognition.
Greiten went on to write about his own role in perpetuating the stigmatization of LGBTQ people and the silence it has spurred in many of its members:
As a priest of the Roman Catholic Church currently serving in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, I would like to apologize personally to my LGBT brothers and sisters for my part in remaining silent in the face of the actions and inactions taken by my faith community towards the Catholic LGBT community as well as the larger LGBT community. I pledge to you that I will no longer live my life in the shadows of secrecy. I promise to be my authentically gay self. I will embrace the person that God created me to be. In my priestly life and ministry, I, too, will help you, whether you are gay or straight, bisexual or transgendered, to be your authentic self — to be fully alive living in your image and likeness of God. In reflecting our God-images out into the world, our world will be a brighter, more tolerant place.
It would behoove the church to listen to him. I hope it will inspire more to step forward. The church should have priests who are women; chastity should be options; LGBTQ people should be able to join the priesthood if they feel such a calling. Everyone should be loved and embraced rather than merely tolerated, and as long as they aren’t seen as whole. Many of us have already been run out of the church because of its unwillingness to change. My mama may not be able to get me back to Mass, but perhaps Greiten and others like him can keep other kids from fleeing in the future.
A Roman Catholic priest in Milwaukee has come out as gay, writing that he will no longer live in the shadows of secrecy and plans to be authentic to his gay self.
The Rev. Gregory Greiten disclosed his sexual orientation on Sunday to the St. Bernadette Parish and was greeted with a standing ovation from his parishioners, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported . He also wrote a column that was published Monday in the National Catholic Reporter.
It’s rare for a priest to come out. Greiten said he revealed his sexual orientation because he wants to be a role model for others. He said he’s helping to break the silence of gay men in the clergy so he could reclaim his own voice.
“I will embrace the person that God created me to be,” Greiten wrote. “In my priestly life and ministry, I, too, will help you, whether you are gay or straight, bisexual or transgendered, to be your authentic self — to be fully alive living in your image and likeness of God.
Greiten wrote that has decided to stand with the “few courageous priests who have taken the risk to come out of the shadows and have chosen to live in truth and authenticity.”
The church’s silent stance on gay priests perpetuates toxic shaming and systematic secrecy, Greiten wrote. The church needs healthy role models for priests who are struggling to come to terms with their sexual orientation, he said.
Greiten met with Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki before coming out, according to an archdiocese spokeswoman.
“We support Father Greiten in his own personal journey and telling his story of coming to understand and live with his sexual orientation,” Listecki said in a statement Monday. “As the Church teaches, those with same-sex attraction must be treated with understanding and compassion.”
A Londonderry priest has called on the Catholic Church to acknowledge changing times and “take another look” at its position on celibacy and women priests.
Fr Paddy O’Kane, of Holy Family Church in Ballymagroarty, said such a move could help address a growing crisis which has left a quarter of parishes around the world without a resident priest.
“Many priests might choose to be celibate, but for those who want to get married it should be an option,” he added.
Fr O’Kane warned the shortage of clergy is impacting on dioceses across Ireland. “Priest-less parishes are appearing all over Ireland and may be here in this diocese before long,” he added.
“The Church needs to adapt to these changing times. We may have to take another look at celibacy and women priests.”
Writing for Derry Now, Fr O’Kane also hinted that Pope Francis may soon fulfil a special request by Brazilian bishops to allow married Anglican converts to resume their priestly ministries.
Such a move in a country which has 140 million Catholics would alleviate the severe problem which is also manifesting itself throughout Ireland.
Earlier this year the Pope said he may consider ordaining married men – under very specific circumstances – to counter the shortage of clergy, but ruled out dropping celibacy as a requirement for the priesthood.
“This year the national seminary in Maynooth had only eight students entering to study for the priesthood – half of these will probably leave during their training,” Fr O’Kane said.
The priest admitted that while his own celibacy had allowed him to live a life devoted to serving others, it had come at a personal cost.
“There are times I miss having a family and there are many times of loneliness and there have been times I have only held on to my faith by a hair’s breadth,” he said.
Fr O’Kane also expressed surprise at the number of pilgrims he has encountered who support a change in position.