Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer has expressed disappointment at Pope Francis’ declaration that there is “no room” in the Catholic church for gay priests.
“The issue of homosexuality is a very serious issue that must be adequately discerned from the beginning with the candidates,” Pope Francis says in a book released in Italy on Saturday.
“In our societies it even seems that homosexuality is fashionable and that mentality, in some way, also influences the life of the church.”
Writing in The Strength of Vocation, Pope Francis says some priests did not exhibit any homosexual inclinations when they joined the priesthood only for it to emerge later but he reminded the faithful that the Catholic Church views homosexual acts as sinful.
“In consecrated and priestly life, there’s no room for that kind of affection. Therefore, the church recommends that people with that kind of ingrained tendency should not be accepted into the ministry or consecrated life
Mr Buttimer, who is gay and studied for five years as a seminarian in Maynooth in the 1980s, said the Pope seemed to be delivering a very traditional message with regard to people from the LGBT community which was at odds with some of his initial comments regarding gay people.
Pope Francis was now adopting “ a very hardline” approach to the LGBT community and to say that homosexuality was about being fashionable failed to recognize that people’s sexual orientation was a fundamental part of their being, he said.
‘In god’s image’
“Being gay is not transient, it’s not a phase, it’s not a passing stage of one’s life – I’ve always made the point that, as a Christian, as a Catholic, I was born and am born in the image of the god who created me and the god that I pray to and worship,” said Mr Buttimer.
“For me, this is disappointing from Pope Francis whom I thought, given his initial statements that he would not judge people, would have travelled a journey of being more open, and understanding and accepting of LGBT people but obviously I was wrong.”
Mr Buttimer said one of the fundamentals of the priesthood was that it was a celibate ministry but to say that applies to just homosexual priests without stressing that similar principles should apply to heterosexual priests was “wrong and deeply unfair”.
“The church would be a better church, a more enhanced church by having a ministry that is open to all and it just baffles that the Pope, on one level seems to be a welcoming man and then in the next breath shuts the door completely to members of the LGBT community,” Mr Buttimer said.
“There are many committed Christians and Catholics who are gay, some of them are afraid to come out but they make very fine contributions in the liturgy as lay readers and lay ministers of the Eucharist and they do a wonderful job in our churches, in our classrooms, in our choirs and as part of parish councils.”
For nearly two decades, to be an advocate for survivors of Catholic clergy sex abuse was often to be a lonely protester, frequently ignored or sometimes even maligned as disrespectful by some Catholics and clergy.
That has changed dramatically since June, when clergy abuse scandals surfaced again in the U.S. church. Enormous energy has been pumped into the movement, with parishes around the country holding crowded listening sessions on the topic, bishops making abuse the focus of their annual fall meeting this week and legislators finding new support for measures to expand statutes of limitation for child sexual abuse.
But the victims’ advocacy movement is also being transformed by bitter ideological divides among Catholics. That chasm was dramatically on display this week at the semi-annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore.
Monday’s two public events were dominated by the older groups — research site BishopAccountability and SNAP — whose leaders focus on oversight and justice and participate less in the controversial debates over the perceived roles of celibacy and homosexuality in the crisis. A dozen or so people attended each of those events, and around 20 came Tuesday to stand with survivors who raised signs with words including “truth” and “reform.”
A few hours later, the right-wing advocacy group and news site Church Militant hosted more than 300 protesters under a pavilion for a revival-like rally. The profile of the group, whose leaders and web site blame abuse scandals on homosexual priests and a general falling away from orthodoxy, got a boost Tuesday as James Grein, one of two people who this summer accused ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of child sexual abuse, appeared for the first time in public at the rally.
The crowd roared as Grein singled out a pope who some on the right wing see as heretical and politically too liberal.
“Jesus’ law is much higher than pontifical secrets. It’s not Francis’ church, it’s Jesus Christ’s church,” said Grein, who says McCarrick abused him for nearly two decades, starting when he was a boy. McCarrick’s suspension in June launched the current scandal in the church.
While mainstream survivors groups declined to team up with Church Militant in Baltimore, its hefty social media audience — 200,000 Facebook followers — adopted the abuse scandals as a cause this summer.
The older survivors’ groups have shied away from Church Militant in part because it does not routinely cover female victims of clergy sex abuse or go after conservative bishops who have allegedly abused. These groups want to keep the focus on goals like identifying abusers and creating policies and practices that require transparency and help victims.
“I feel like they’re using victims for a political agenda and I’m concerned about that. They’re using this to kind of get to where they want to be,” SNAP’s regional director, Becky Ianni, said of Church Militant. “And I hate when someone uses victims. Victims aren’t conservative or liberal. We’re victims. And that’s what people need to focus on.”
At the same time, Church Militant represents a large new audience for some longtime advocates who want to keep attention on abuse— even as its approach presents land mines for long-established groups.
Referring to Church Militant and other far-right websites like Breitbart and LifeSite that have taken up aspects of the cause, BishopAccountability co-director Anne Barrett Doyle said, “I see they perform a service to some extent in that they expose predatory bishops and predatory priests that mainstream press aren’t yet covering. But at the same time, because they have a different goal, their goal isn’t simple justice and accountability and transparency — there is a bias.”
Asked for comment on the role of Church Militant, the bishops’ conference issued a statement saying the umbrella group “supports everyone’s right to a peaceful protest.”
Until this summer, posts on the Church Militant site were primarily focused on aggressively fighting advancements toward gay equality in the church, as well as some conservative secular politics. A typical headline is: “The Depth of My Anger Over Decades of Effete Priests.”
Michael Voris, a former television reporter who founded Church Militant in 2012, said the McCarrick case shifted his group’s focus.
Voris in 2016 released a video saying that for much of his 30s, he had multiple sexual relationships with men, including those with whom he lived. He portrayed himself as a victim of the devil.
Voris said the McCarrick scandal — in which many top clergy in Rome and in the United States are alleged to have known of at least rumors that McCarrick was harassing male seminarians — merges with his followers’ belief that a cabal of gay top clergy is at the core of church division.
“Since McCarrick, there is a lot more anger from faithful Catholics who feel like they’ve been duped. They feel like they’ve been lied to by the establishment,” he told the Post.
It was hard for conservative Catholics to go after the establishment, Voris said, but “not anymore.”
There was the feeling, he said: “’Well, they’re the successors of the apostle. We have to look at things in a charitable way,’” he said. “But the fact that McCarrick was the one who ran the show, and he was covered up for — that was the last straw.”
This isn’t the first time the survivors’ movement has seen disagreement, said some long-term watchers. The key division decades ago, in the 1990s and early 2000s, they said, was more about tactics. Some groups like the Linkup, now faded, were focused on healing and care for survivors, while SNAP was more about confronting the church and publicizing crimes.
It’s also not the first time the ultraconservative wing of the church was focused on the topic of abuse. Terry McKiernan, Barrett-Doyle’s partner at BishopAccountability, said some of the most aggressive reporting on the issue in the 1980s and early 1990s was by the Wanderer, a 151-year-old Catholic newspaper whose motto is “No one can be at the same time a sincere Catholic and a true Socialist.” Some of the earliest reporting on rumors of McCarrick’s behavior with seminarians in the early 2000s appeared on conservative blogs.
McKiernan said liberals and conservatives tend to focus on abusers who fall in their opposing ideological camps but that he feels it has been — until now — harder for orthodox Catholics to display leadership on the issue.
“Conservative Catholics didn’t want any activism that seemed to be counter to the power structures of the church, which they respected and felt had doctrinal valiance,” McKiernan said. “McCarrick gave them permission to be aggressive but still be thinking with the mind of the church.”
Some survivors and leaders at events in Baltimore said they see in 2018 a far greater level of interest in the topic of abuse among the typical churchgoing Catholic.
“What I’m seeing for the first time is we have Catholics joining us in droves. I have Catholic groups saying: ‘What can we do for survivors?’ ” Ianni said. While there was huge publicity in the early 2000s around the Boston crisis, the interest seemed to come and then go, as faithful Catholics believed the leadership that the problem was all cleaned up.
Then came Chile. And Ireland. And the grand jury reports in Pennsylvania And Buffalo. And McCarrick. And more than a dozen state investigations into clergy sex abuse.
Ianni said lay Catholics may be “realizing they are the church. Maybe for the first time, they’re finding their voices.”
Shaun Dougherty, a survivor originally from Johnstown, Pa., stood Monday with a sign outside the Baltimore Marriott. He said he believes it is now more comfortable for victims and advocates who speak out, but that’s not enough.
“We see so many tragedies today — Parkland, Las Vegas,” he said, citing recent mass shootings. “And people poured into the streets and marched for reforms. In Pennsylvania, we had wall-to-wall media coverage [of the grand jury report], and we couldn’t even pack the [state] Capitol for reforms. The fact that parishioner support is not there is very hard to take.”
Dougherty said the focus on celibacy or homosexuality as the solution is a distractions to the movement. “The Roman Catholic bishops have a serious problem with child molestation, and they are conferencing here to figure out how to get away with it,” he said. “A lot of this other stuff bogs it down.”
During this month’s Synod of Bishops, an international gathering at the Vatican, Deborah Rose-Milavec and Kate McElwee, who lead groups dedicated to advancing women in leadership roles in the Roman Catholic Church, made sure that Cardinal Lorenzo Baldisseri, the synod’s general secretary, was presented with a hefty pink folder.
Inside was a petition with more than 9,000 signatures and one specific request: Allow female religious superiors at the synod to “vote as equals alongside their Brothers in Christ.”
The petition’s request, said Ms. Rose-Milavec, the executive director of Future Church and Ms. McElwee, who holds the same post at the Women’s Ordination Conference, was a minor volley in what has seemed to be an insurmountable battle to get the male-centric Catholic Church to pay serious attention to women, who represent about half the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics but count for little where it matters.
Vatican synods are held every few years. Women have emerged as a major concern of this one, which opened earlier this month and focuses on how the church can better minister to today’s youth in an era of emptying pews.
“The presence of women in the church, the role of women in the church,” has been repeatedly raised, in the synod’s plenary meeting and within smaller working groups, said Sister Sally Marie Hodgdon, the superior general of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chambery, and a synod participant. “The youth bring it up, as have some of the bishops and cardinals.”
“Clearly,” she added, the issue of women will be in the final document, which will be voted on Saturday.
But women, who make up about a tenth of the 340 or so synod participants, won’t be among the voters. Until this synod, only ordained men were allowed to vote on recommendations to the working document, whose final draft is given to the pope, who can include as much as he wants in his own post-synodal reflection.
This year, though, two men who are not ordained but are the superiors general of their respective religious orders have been granted the right to vote. Sister Hodgdon, too, is a superior general, but she has no voting rights.
For some Catholics, the difference clearly smacks of the sexism that “underlines the grave marginalization of women in the church,” said Lucetta Scaraffia, the editor of a monthly insert on women in the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. “It’s a clamorous injustice. It demonstrates that the criteria they use is not between priest and lay people, but between women and men,” she said.
The cover of the October insert, “Women, Church, World,” depicted a woman shouting angrily. The intent of the issue, Ms. Scaraffia said, was to encourage debate and to get women “to protest every time there is a reason to protest.”
“What are they afraid of? One woman voting, honestly!” said Ms. McElwee, of the Women’s Ordination Conference, who helped to draft the petition and was an organizer of a protest that coincided with the synod’s opening, on Oct. 3.
Standing outside the gates that lead to the synod hall inside Vatican City that day, several dozen women and men chanted: “Knock, knock.” “Who’s there?” “More than half the church.” The protest was peaceful — “a prayer groups is more disruptive,” Ms. McElwee said — but still drew the attention of the police, who brought the protest to a halt, identified all the protesters and forced some to delete footage of the demonstration from their mobile phones
The petition to allow female superiors general a synod vote was a “strategic” move toward their more equal participation in church matters, Ms. McElwee said, adding that she realized it confirmed the “ultimate fear” of some clerics who see it as a step down a “slippery slope that could eventually lead to women’s ordination” as priests.
Such ordination, Ms. McElwee said, was “the last door that’s closed to women,” though there are many doors in between. Church teaching says that women can’t be priests because Jesus chose only men as his apostles.
Those numbers have not raised the loud warning bells in the Catholic Church that they should have, critics say.
“For the first time in history women are leaving at greater rates than men,” said Ms. Rose-Milavec. “That is a deep dive.”
Pope Francis has spoken often of a more-incisive presence for women in the church, and six women occupy senior roles in the five dozen departments that make up the Catholic Church’s governing body, the Holy See. Critics say he needs to do more.
In 2016, Francis appointed a commission to review the place that female deacons had in the early church, a move seen by some as possibly opening the way to female deacons in the modern era. But the commission has not made its finding public, and the cardinal who heads it made clear last June that advising the pope on modern-day female deacons had never been on its agenda
“Through his positive statements, Pope Francis has really raised women’s expectations about the changes that he plans in order to bring more women into leadership roles,” Petra Dankova, the advocacy director of Voices of Faith, replied in a written response to questions. “But concrete actions have followed slowly and without an overarching plan.”
Voice of Faith, based in Liechtenstein, is pushing for women to gain full leadership roles in the Catholic Church. It has urged the close-knit group of cardinals who advise the pope on various issues that it should establish a special advisory board for women, Ms. Dankova said.
The question of their involvement in the church, she added, “is too complex and it cannot be expected to be somehow solved on the side without a concentrated attention and without the collaboration with women themselves.”
That suggestion has fallen on deaf ears, although some top prelates at the synod have been vocal in their support of women.
On Wednesday, speaking to reporters at a daily Vatican briefing, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, chairman of the German Bishop’s Conference, said that the issue of women’s roles in the church was “important for the entire church,” which must understand the evolution of women’s equality as a gift from God.
“We would be foolish not to make use of the potential of women,” Cardinal Marx said. “Thank God we are not that stupid.”
Male religious superiors at the synod have also been supportive, and the umbrella groups of both male and female superiors general have drafted a concrete proposal to allow women superiors to participate as voting members in future synods. If ratified by their respective boards, the proposal would be presented to the pope, Sister Hodgdon said.
After living in Rome for eight years, Sister Hodgdon, an American, said she has learned that the ways of the Church took time. Female superior generals were not likely to get the right to vote in this synod, she conceded. “But do I believe it will happen for the next one? Yes, I really do believe that.”
The next synod is scheduled for October 2019, and will focus on issues related to the Amazon region.
In a yellow townhouse just steps from Georgetown University on a recent evening, members of the campus group Catholic Women at Georgetown talked about how the Virgin Mary strengthens them in hard times as they shared a dinner of Domino’s pizza.
In between swapping thoughts on homesickness and avoiding sin, the conversation turned to new allegations of sexual abuse by clergy in a church under siege.
The group’s president, Erica Lizza, asked the dozen students seated in a circle how they lean on Mary as the faith they’ve relied on for spiritual sustenance faces a crisis.
“I still do feel a level of disgust and betrayal by the Catholic hierarchy,” Lizza, a 21-year-old senior, said after the weekly dinner discussion. “As someone who cares a lot about her faith and who is very involved in a campus ministry organization, it’s something that there’s no escaping from.”
Similar conversations are playing out in dining halls and campus ministry centers across the country as college students wrestle with what it means to be Catholic at a time when they feel disappointed and angered by the church.
The church has seen multiple scandals in recent months: former U.S. cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s resignation amid accusations of abuse and a sweeping grand jury report out of Pennsylvania that implicated more than 300 priests in abusing about 1,000 children.
Then, Pope Francis accepted Cardinal Donald Wuerl’s resignation from his position as Washington’s archbishop after the Pennsylvania report described Wuerl as having a mixed record on responding to sexual abuse in his former diocese of Pittsburgh. Wuerl remains in charge of the archdiocesan administration until the pope names his successor. Clergy sex abuse scandals have also rocked Chile and Australia.
In an era when the church is frequently perceived as behind the times on matters of importance to them, some young Catholics have responded to the latest setbacks by pulling further away from the beleaguered institution, while others have drawn closer.
This generation of Catholic college students has grown up amid the stain of the sexual abuse crisis, which was first exposed by The Boston Globe in 2002 and has since implicated clergy around the world. Most can’t even remember a pre-scandal church.
At the same time, they and young people generally are a critical demographic for the future of Catholicism, which has an aging parishioner base and has struggled to attract and retain young people.
Catholicism has seen the largest decline in participation among major religious groups, according to a report in 2016 from the Public Religion Research Institute. Almost one-third of Americans said they were raised Catholic, but just 21 percent currently identify that way.
At a gathering this month of several hundred bishops to discuss the church’s ministry to young people, Pope Francis acknowledged those who have stood by the church, despite its failings.
“I thank them for having wagered that it is worth the effort to feel part of the Church or to enter into dialogue with her; worth the effort to have the Church as a mother, as a teacher, as a home, as a family, and, despite human weaknesses and difficulties, capable of radiating and conveying Christ’s timeless message,” Pope Francis said to open the synod, according to a copy of his remarks released by the Vatican.
Increasing disaffiliation with religion
Disillusionment over clergy sex abuse is not the only force pulling younger generations away from the Catholicism, particularly in the United States.
Increasingly over the past few decades, young adults have realized they can choose their own faith or combination of faiths, apart from those of their parents — or affiliate with none at all, said Theresa O’Keefe, a theology professor at Boston College who specializes in young adult faith. A growing distrust of institutional leadership of all kinds also means some students respond rather jadedly as more allegations of clergy abuse come to light, O’Keefe said.
William Dinges, a professor of religion and culture at Catholic University, said people who feel distant from the church are more likely to be affected by the abuse crisis than those who are devout. Many young adults are already frustrated with what they view as Catholicism’s less inclusive stances on topics such as same-sex marriage and gender equality, Dinges said.
“The young person has to have a good answer: ‘Why am I here?’ ” O’Keefe said. “The church, particularly the leadership, has to come up with a good answer. Why should people show up? Membership is not inevitable, and meaningful membership isn’t inevitable.”
Caroline Zonts, a 19-year-old sophomore at George Washington University, said she had started to feel put off by the Catholic Church long before the abuse crisis reemerged.
Raised “strictly Catholic,” she said the socially liberal political views she developed in high school made her feel less connected to her faith. When she arrived at college, Zonts said she stopped practicing Catholicism, although she still considers herself Catholic.
The recent abuse crisis has become another reason she doesn’t expect ever again to fully immerse herself in the church. It hurts her to think the priests she’s built relationships with may have committed abuse.
“They were mentors for me, they were role models, they were people I went to and talked to about my faith,” Zonts said. “That’s really hard — to know that hundreds of people like that have just abused their positions of power.”
Like Zonts, George Washington University junior Evelyn Arredondo Ramirez felt her more liberal political views were at odds with some parts of her Catholic faith. But even as a supporter of same-sex marriage and abortion rights, the 20-year-old still attended Mass most Sundays during her first two years of college.
Her perspective recently began to shift. Already annoyed with homilies that expressed the priests’ political opinions, her frustration was compounded by the Pennsylvania grand jury report and accusations that Pope Francis had knowingly shielded McCarrick from accountability.
Ramirez doesn’t go to Mass anymore and said she worries about her younger brother’s safety around priests in his home parish.
“I still have my Virgin (Mary) on my desk table, I still have the cross hanging in my room, and I will sometimes just pop into a church and just sit really with God,” Ramirez said. “But I’ve just developed my own idea of what it is to have that connection.”
Questions about the institution, not the faith
Many young Catholics who still consider themselves devout have responded not by turning away but by striving to force change from within the institution. For them, the current crisis is infuriating and heartbreaking, invigorating and empowering, all at the same time.
These young Catholics are among the more than 1,500 Georgetown students who have signed a petition calling on the university to rescind an honorary degree it awarded to McCarrick in 2004 and another it gave to Wuerl in 2014.
A Georgetown spokesman, in a statement, said the university was reviewing the honorary degrees in an effort “to address the deeply troubling revelations about Archbishop McCarrick and those contained in the Pennsylvania grand jury report.”
Among the students who feel unnerved by those revelations is Ana Ruiz, an 18-year-old member of Catholic Women at Georgetown, who said the scandal has made her doubt both her faith and her devotion to the church because the faith itself is closely tied to the institution. Catholics believe the church was founded by Jesus Christ.
“To just kind of see people who definitely do not embody those values that we hold so sacred really makes me question if the institution is working for the good of Christ and the good of the people,” Ruiz said as students cleaned up after the Georgetown discussion dinner.
Although still committed to Catholicism, Ruiz said she could imagine walking away from the institution if she no longer believed it cared about the best interests of lay people. Right now, however, she still feels like God is at the center of the church’s ministry.
“In that sense, I feel like I could never really break away,” Ruiz said. “But everything else that surrounds it, the humanly aspect of the Church, there could be potential for me to be like, ‘No, I can’t deal with that anymore.’ ”
Lizza’s childhood was steeped in Catholicism, with Sunday school and family Mass attendance and her mother reading to her from a children’s Bible. Even so, she was unsure how much she wanted to engage with her religion when she got to Georgetown because she was concerned about how her devout faith would mesh with that of her peers. Then a friend convinced her to join the Catholic women’s group and Lizza found a home.
Three years later, shocked and disgusted by the magnitude of the clergy sex abuse problem, Lizza said she started thinking maybe all bishops should resign. She fought to reconcile the idea of clergy who claim to stand for selfless love and a pursuit of justice with the knowledge that many had failed to live up to that promise.
Lizza said she never considered leaving the church. Rather, she felt stronger in her conviction that good people needed to stay involved in the institution to correct its course.
She still wants more lay people involved in the Church, despite how hard it was for her to attend Mass after the McCarrick allegations and the Pennsylvania report. She also wants people to be less skeptical of abuse victims.
“Covering it up sure as heck doesn’t work,” she said. “And the only way to really address it is to look at it square in the face and make some hard choices.”