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.”
Pope Francis did an about-face last month and denounced the widespread coverup of sexual abuse by priests in Chile, prompting all 34 of the country’s bishops to offer their resignations.
He has said he was not receiving “truthful and balanced” information from the bishops, and on Thursday he released a letter to all Chileans declaring “never again” to “the culture of abuse and the system of coverup that allows it to perpetuate.”
The Vatican also announced the pope was sending a team of prelates to Chile to “advance the process of reparation and healing of abuse victims.”
But the pope has not revealed his plans for the church officials who ignored or actively covered up the abuse.
He faces competing demands. Prominent abuse-victims-turned-activists have demanded sweeping prosecutions under canon law, and some analysts agree that such accountability is the only way to restore public faith in the church. But one key figure in the scandal, Chilean Cardinal Francisco Javier Errazuriz, is extremely close to the pope, and if church prosecutions stack up in Chile, Francis may find too few untainted candidates to replace the accused.
One senior Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Francis may start replacing bishops in the next few weeks.
The first to go, according to the official, are likely to be the four bishops who trained under Fernando Karadima, the Chilean priest at the center of the scandal, and have been accused of witnessing or covering up his abuse. Karadima abused scores of boys during the 1980s and 1990s and in 2011 was sentenced by the Vatican to a life of penance, banning him from public ministry to repent for his sins and pray for his victims.
One Vatican expert predicted Francis would ultimately accept the resignations of almost half of the bishops.
“To the four Karadima students, we can add four others who are over 75 and due for retirement,” said Luis Badilla, a Chilean journalist who lives in Rome and edits the website Il Sismografo, which reports on the Vatican. “That’s eight and that will happen fast, while another five or six replacements will take longer.”
Robert Mickens, editor of the Catholic newspaper La Croix International, said the Vatican’s ambassador to Chile was also in danger of losing his job for allegedly keeping Francis in the dark over the extent of abuse by priests in Chile.
The big question though is whether those moves will be enough to placate the victims and Chileans whose faith in the church has been shaken.
“Resignations are a good step, but that is the minimum,” said Juan Carlos Cruz, who was abused by Karadima in the 1980s and who over the last decade has emerged as a key advocate for justice. “If there is a case to respond to in canon law, I expect punishments.”
He and other activists said those punishments must also extend to Errazuriz, who was the top bishop of Chile from 1998 to 2010 and ignored reports of abuse by Karadima until the victims went public. He has been accused of actively covering up for Karadima and working to discredit the priest’s accusers.
“He is as evil as you can get, and I would like to see him punished,” said Cruz, 51, who now lives in Philadelphia and works as a brand manager for a multinational company.
In emails to Chilean Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati in 2013 and 2014, which were leaked to the Chilean press, Errazuriz refers to Cruz as a “serpent.” The emails seem to show the cardinal blocking a 2014 effort to get Cruz appointed to a papal commission on clergy abuse worldwide.
Marie Collins, an Irish abuse victim and advocate who served on the commission, also called on the pope to investigate and prosecute Errazuriz for his alleged role in the coverup.
“You can see from the emails he has no compunction in working behind the scenes at the Vatican to silence a victim,” she said.
But prosecuting Errazuriz may prove too much for the pope. The two men are close, their friendship dating to a 2007 conference of Latin American bishops that was held in Brazil. Since 2013, Errazuriz has been the pope’s right-hand man on the so-called C9 committee for Vatican reform, which Francis established to shake up the Vatican’s opaque bureaucracy.
Badilla said he expected Errazuriz would be eased off the committee when Francis next reshuffles members, though the pope may be less likely to single out such a high official for blame.
Still, the pope’s actions last month are part of a dramatic U-turn.
Francis is widely seen as a reformer working to bring the church in line with modern society, but he has long been criticized for paying lip service to combating abuse without truly understanding its pervasiveness.
In a visit to Chile in January, he accused Karadima’s victims of peddling “slander” and publicly supported Juan Barros, a Chilean bishop who faces accusations that he witnessed abuse by Karadima and did nothing to stop it.
A month later, Francis sent an investigator to talk to those victims.
In Cruz’s view, the pope realized the church was in danger of losing more followers if he failed to act.
The first indication of that came when fewer people than expected turned out for his visit to Chile. Another wake-up call came later that month when U.S. Cardinal Sean O’Malley said Francis’ “slander” accusation had created “great pain” for the victims.
After the 2,300-page investigative report was completed — its conclusions have not been made public — Francis invited Cruz and two other Karadima victims to meet with him in Rome.
Cruz said that he told Francis: “You could be the most amazing pope in the world if you stop this.”
“I think he was listening,” Cruz said.
Two weeks after the meeting, the pope met with Chile’s bishops and accused them of destroying evidence of abuse and putting church investigators under pressure to play down accusations.
Not only did that spur the bishops to offer their resignations, it also prompted calls for the Vatican to revive plans to create a tribunal within the church to punish bishops for covering up abuse. The pope dropped the plan in 2016, promising instead to beef up existing procedures for sanctioning bishops. Critics accused the pope of bowing to pressure from other Vatican officials.
In an editorial last month, the National Catholic Reporter wrote: “The shock of these mass resignations creates an opportunity and momentum that Francis should seize upon to implement the tribunal he proposed three years ago. No more delays. He should act now.”
Collins, who was serving on the papal commission investigating abuse, resigned in protest when the tribunal plans were scrapped.
She remained skeptical that the pope would act aggressively.
“If he won’t use that procedure to handle bishops in Chile, I doubt it will ever be used,” she said.
Collins pointed to Australian Archbishop Philip Wilson, who was found guilty in a civil court last month of covering up child sex abuse in the 1970s by a priest in New South Wales.
“Wilson has now been convicted but has yet to be sanctioned by the church,” she said.
Pope Francis’ stealth reform of the Roman Catholic Church shows no sign of slowing down — and may even be accelerating.
Stealth is key here. If the pope had declared earlier this month that henceforth the Roman Catholic Church would authoritatively teach that homosexuals should be happy being gay, that God made them homosexual, and that God himself (along with the pope) loves them just the way they are, it would have been a massive story in the history of Catholicism — and one that quite likely would have precipitated a major schism, with conservative bishops and priests (mainly in North America and Africa) formally breaking from Rome.
But because word of the pope saying these things comes to us second hand, in a report of a private conversation between Francis and a gay man named Juan Carlos Cruz who is also a victim of the clerical sex abuse crisis in Chile, the utterance will go down as just the latest example of the pope making unorthodox statements in settings in which he has plausible deniability and in which he can claim he was speaking as a pastor rather than as an expositor of the church’s official dogmas and doctrines.
Most popes view themselves as caretakers of the church’s authoritative teachings on faith and morals. When it comes to homosexuality, they would therefore be inclined to reaffirm the position laid out in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which clearly states that homosexual desires are “intrinsically disordered” because they are not oriented to the end of procreation. (The same is true of masturbation and other non-procreative sex acts.)
If Pope Francis were a straightforward reformer, he would seek to change church doctrine regardless of the potentially dire consequences for church unity. But Francis is well aware of the limits of his power and the danger of pushing too far too fast. So he has set out on a different, and distinctive, path.
We first saw it early in his pontificate when the pope spoke to reporters about his views on homosexuality. In contrast to Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), who declared in a 1986 letter to the bishops of the church that same-sex desires aim toward an “intrinsic moral evil,” Francis told the press that “if someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
It continued in September 2014 with a marriage ceremony over which Francis presided at St Peter’s. Some of the 20 couples involved had been previously married, while others had given birth to children out of wedlock or lived with their fiancées before marriage. That prior behavior placed them firmly out of step with the requirements of Catholic doctrine, and yet the pope participated and blessed the marriages.
And on it has gone, through the notorious footnote in the apostolic exhortation that was published at the conclusion of the 2015 Synod on the Family, seeming to give priests the pastoral leeway to offer the sacrament of communion to parishioners who have been divorced and remarried without receiving an annulment of their first marriages. It has made headlines most recently when an elderly Italian journalist asserted that in an interview with Francis the pope had denied the dogma of hell.
And now there is Francis’ apparent elaboration of his latitudinarian beliefs about homosexuality.
What unites all of these examples is a distinctive approach to church dogma and doctrine. Instead of acting as an expositor of these core teachings of the church, the pope selectively diverges from them in his actions and statements without deigning to change the teachings themselves. The implicit message is the same in every case: The pope himself thinks it’s possible to be a member of the church in good standing while failing to abide by all of the institution’s rules.
This is significantly different than the pope acknowledging that everyone is a sinner and will therefore break the rules from time to time. That standard view presumes that the divergence from the rule is a failing that requires repentance and reconciliation (the sacrament of confession), along with the intention on the part of the sinner to do better next time. Francis’ position is different — implying that the lack of conformity to church teaching is acceptable, requiring no change or improvement in behavior.
Juan Carlos Cruz is gay, that’s how God made him, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
But of course church teaching contradicts this. Which puts Pope Francis in the position of effectively promulgating two truths — implicitly affirming the official, harsher doctrine while subtly undermining it with a less stringent pastoral teaching. Instead of seeking to change the underlying rules, which would risk divisiveness and even schism, he shows that it’s perfectly alright for a priest or layperson to diverge from or ignore the rule in the name of welcoming as many people as possible to Christ’s church.
Conservative Catholics like Ross Douthat (the author of a new book on this very topic) worry that Francis’ fudging of doctrinal truth will have bad consequences for the church because it simply defers a necessary debate about what the church actually believes. Better to have the argument sooner rather than later.
But I think the pope’s strategy for a longer game displays greater psychological acuity — and Machiavellian cunning. Francis may be betting that once the church stops preaching those doctrines that conflict most severely with modern moral norms, the number of people who uphold and revere them will decline rapidly (within a generation or two). Once that has happened, officially changing the doctrine will be much easier and much less likely to provoke a schism (or at least a major one) than it is in the present.
That’s the great advantage of pursuing a strategy of stealth reform: The seed planted now with a minimum of conflict bears fruits in the future with even less.
It’s never been more obvious that this is precisely what Pope Francis has in mind.
During hours of emotional meetings at the Vatican, Pope Francis begged for forgiveness from Chileans alleging priestly sexual abuse — according to those in attendance — who described their meeting with the pontiff as a “defining moment” in his papacy and demanded that he follow through by ousting Chilean bishops they accuse of coverups.
“I have never seen someone so contrite. He was truly sorry, and I felt he was hurting,” said Juan Carlos Cruz, one of three people invited to sit down with the pope over the weekend for individual meetings. “He said, ‘I was part of the problem. I caused this,’ ” said Cruz, who called his three-hour meeting with Francis “very raw.”
The three men allege they endured sexual abuse as youths in Chile at the hands of prelate Fernando Karadima, who was sentenced by the Vatican in 2011 to a lifetime of penance, which means he’s been forced to retire from public life and public ministry to a life of prayer for atonement.
The Vatican did not, however, believe the men’s claim that the abuse was witnessed and covered up by Chilean Bishop Juan Barros. Francis appointed Barros bishop of the town of Osorno in 2015, hugged him publicly during his visit to Chile in January and dismissed the men’s accounts as “slander.”
But as public fury in Chile grew, Francis drastically changed course last month, dispatching an abuse investigator to interview the men, inviting them to Rome, admitting he had made “serious mistakes” and summoning Chilean bishops to Rome later this month for a dressing down.
“For almost 10 years we have been treated as enemies because we fight against sexual abuse and coverup in the church,” the three men said in a statement released as they met reporters in Rome. “These days we met the friendly face of the church,” they added.
In a letter sent to Chilean bishops last month, Francis announced he felt “pain and shame” over the men’s accounts and said he wanted to “apologize to all those I have offended.”
A Vatican spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Critics of Francis’ track record on halting abuse in the church say his blind spot in Chile proves he still “doesn’t get it.”
Jose Andres Murillo, one of the accusers, said he saw a shift in Francis’ attitude when the pope told him that “abuse is not a sin, but corruption.”
In their statement, the three men said, “We spoke with the pope about the pathological and unlimited exercise in power which is the cornerstone of sexual abuse and coverup.”
During the “intense and long hours of conversation,” they said Francis asked them to come up with ideas for putting things right.
James Hamilton, another of the accusers, told reporters one of the pope’s closest advisors, Chilean Cardinal Francisco Errazuriz, was “a real criminal” who deserved to be in jail.
The cardinal has long cast doubt on the accounts of the Chilean men and is suspected of influencing Francis.
“Errazuriz covered up Karadima’s abuse for five years,” said Hamilton, who is a surgeon in Santiago, the Chilean capital.
Hamilton said if the pope meant business, he should remove Errazuriz from his so-called C9 committee of cardinals advising him on Vatican reform.
“That is my expectation,” he said. “I would also love him to remove many bishops. This is a defining moment of his papacy.”
Hamilton said he will be watching carefully when Francis summons Chile’s bishops to Rome this month. Many expect that at the very least, the pope will rescind his appointment of Bishop Barros.
“We are waiting for action. We are not here for public relations,” Murillo said.
Cruz said he believed Francis had been convinced by advisors over the years to be suspicious of the accusers.
“I told him toxic people surrounded him, and he had been duped,” he said.
On Saturday, hundreds of young Catholics gathered to give Pope Francis a piece of their minds.
They called for a more transparent and “authentic” church, one with a bigger role for women and more wisdom about the benefits and challenges of technology. They called for more flexibility, too, arguing that “unreachable” moral standards should not be the only way to live an authentically Catholic life.
These findings were part of a 16-page report assembled by 300 young people at a week-long conference sponsored by the Vatican. It drew, too, on online submissions from 15,000 others.
“We, the young church, ask that our leaders speak in practical terms about subjects such as homosexuality and gender issues, about which young people are already freely discussing,” the report said.
It was less clear how the group wanted the church to reframe its message. The young people, ages 16 to 29, did not find consensus on issues like contraception (artificial birth control is banned for all Catholics, even married couples), cohabitation before marriage (frowned upon) or abortion.
The report also pushed the church to find ways to connect to young people, who often feel “indifference, judgment and rejection” from the church.
Throughout, the report called on the church to incorporate women more fully into church leadership. Women cannot serve as priests, which means they’re absent from the church’s upper ranks. Young female Catholics said they feel alienated as a result.
“Some young women feel that there is a lack of leading female role models within the church, and they too wish to give their intellectual and professional gifts to the church,” the report found.
The report also called on the church to accept that technology is a way of life for young people. The focus should not be condemnation, they wrote, but rather guidance on how to combat online addiction and use technology responsibly.
At the beginning of the conference, Pope Francis urged the young people — selected by their national bishops’ conferences, universities or church movements — to be honest. That is reflected in the final report, which notes that young people are leaving Catholicism because of “indifference, judgment and rejection.” It also called on the church to more fully acknowledge its mistakes, such as the clergy sex abuse scandal.
“Some mentors are put on a pedestal, and when they fall, the devastation may impact young people’s abilities to continue to engage with the church,” the report said.
The document will be incorporated into an October synod of bishops, focused on how to better incorporate young people into the church.
It isn’t clear what that will entail. But at a Palm Sunday service on Sunday, Pope Francis urged young people to keep shouting and not allow the older generations to silence their voices.
“The temptation to silence young people has always existed,” he said in his homily, delivered to an audience of thousands in St. Peter’s Square. “There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible. Many ways to anesthetize them, to make them keep quiet, ask nothing, question nothing. There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive.”
“Dear young people, you have it in you to shout,” he told young people, urging them to be like the people who welcomed Jesus with palms rather than those who shouted for his crucifixion only days later. “It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders, some corrupt, keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?”
“Yes,” the young people in the crowd shouted. “Yes!”