The Conservative Resistance Inside the Vatican

Some Catholic leaders are using the sex abuse crisis to unseat Pope Francis.

By Kaya Oakes

In August, in a letter published in the National Catholic Register, Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò blamed the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crisis on gay priests who “act under the concealment of secrecy and lies with the power of octopus tentacles, and strangle innocent victims and priestly vocations, and are strangling the entire church.” Pope Francis, he wrote, had sheltered such priests. Viganò specifically named Theodore McCarrick, a “serial predator” who resigned as a cardinal in July after the news broke that he’d sexually abused adolescent boys while rising to become one of America’s most prominent archbishops. Viganò called on Francis to “set a good example” and resign, along with the other cardinals and bishops implicated in the scandal. He wrote little about the fact that McCarrick’s abuse took place during the papacies of Francis’s conservative predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Whatever Francis knew about McCarrick, the previous popes likely knew more. But their complicity was overlooked.

Viganò belongs to a traditionalist wing of the church that has never truly accepted Pope Francis. In the United States, this contingent includes Cardinal Raymond Burke of St. Louis, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, and Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput. These powerful clergymen aren’t just conservative on theological matters, but in their politics as well. While serving as the Vatican’s apostolic nuncio, or ambassador, to Washington, Viganò was responsible for introducing Pope Francis to Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to grant marriage licenses to gay couples in 2015. From San Francisco, Cordileone publicly supported California’s Proposition 8, which opposed same-sex marriage, raising over $1 million to get it on the ballot. Chaput has called on the University of Notre Dame to give President Donald Trump an honorary degree. And Burke plans to partner with former Trump campaign chief Steve Bannon to construct a Catholic compound near Rome that will host meetings and seminars with church leaders and politicians interested in protecting “Christendom.”

In late August, several conservative American bishops and their allies published letters in support of Viganò, even after journalists from The Washington Post and The New York Times reported that he had likely exaggerated many of the claims he made in the Register. They are using the worst crimes of the church to attack Francis and his liberal policies. What should have served as a reckoning has been transformed into an opportunity to take him down.

Francis has been fighting off critics practically since the day he was elected in 2013. When Benedict, a Bavarian theologian nicknamed “God’s Rottweiler,” stepped down earlier that year, he still had significant support in the Vatican for his most extreme conservative stances—he once quoted fourteenth-century texts that criticized Islam as “evil and inhuman”; lifted the excommunication of a British bishop who denied the Holocaust; and claimed condoms worsened the fight against AIDS. Since then, conservative dissenters in the Catholic hierarchy have formed a resistance of sorts, pushing back against Francis’s pronouncements on divorce, immigration, climate change, and poverty.

Much of this resistance comes from the United States. Although 63 percent of American Catholics support the pope, according to a recent CNN poll, conservative clergy and wealthy Catholic donors remain among his fiercest critics. Their most common line of attack focuses on Francis’s supposed support for gay priests. In 2013, the pope quipped, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gay Catholics. Two years later, he met with an openly gay former student, Yayo Grassi, and his partner in Washington. And more recently, he asked James Martin, a Jesuit priest who has written a book on LGBT Catholics, to deliver a talk at the World Meeting of Families in Ireland this past summer. Francis has actually taken no official action to change church policy about homosexuality, but conservatives have still reacted in horror. In May, when Francis told a gay Chilean sexual abuse survivor that God made him gay and loves him anyway, American Conservative columnist Rod Dreher said the pope was destroying the church like a “wrecking ball.” Conservatives like Dreher maintain that gay priests are the main perpetrators of child sexual abuse, and that their powerful supporters within the Vatican—whom Dreher calls the “lavender mafia”—are responsible for harboring them.

Of course, there is no evidence of a higher rate of abuse among gay clergy; in fact, abuse, religious and secular, is most commonly the result of “situational generalists” who abuse whoever is in their control, male or female, children or adults. But that hasn’t stopped conservatives from arguing that gay men are responsible for the abuse crisis. In his letter, for example, Viganò uses the word “child” twice; “homosexual” appears 16 times. Cardinal Burke compared gay priests to murderers in a 2015 interview with LifeSite News, a pro-life web site. The problems the church faces, from child abuse to a lack of men applying to the priesthood, he once said, are because it has become too “feminized,” which, given Burke’s track record, could be taken as a way of saying “too gay.”

The conservatives attempting to blame gay priests for sexual scandals appear to have two main objectives. First, they hope to purge the church of its gay clergy. And second, they want Francis out. Because he has softened the church’s stance on LGBT issues, his opponents can accuse him of sheltering gay priests and, in their minds, saddle him with responsibility for the sexual abuse crisis, despite the fact that it began long before he was elected pope.

No one yet knows how much Francis knew about the abuse. On the papal plane hours after Viganò’s letter was released, he did not deny the charges leveled at him. Instead he told journalists on board, “You have the journalistic capacity to draw your own conclusions.” A strong denial would have been preferable, under the circumstances—he was traveling back to Rome from Ireland, where he had just met with victims of sexual abuse there, which reached such a horrific scale that an entire generation of people had left the church. The pope later said the meeting left a “profound mark” on him. Presented with the letter so soon after seeing the traumatized victims, he may simply have been too shaken to answer. Or it could mean that Francis did know about McCarrick. He has been pope for five years. He could have taken a stronger stance against sexual abuse in the church already. He still can.

But amid this muddled, internecine conflict, one thing is clear: Conservative attempts to tear Francis down, while absolving his predecessors and blaming a global sexual crisis on gay priests, are sinister and abusive. The problems of the Catholic Church stem not from homosexuality but from an entrenched culture that protects clergy—and the church itself—at the expense of the people they are meant to serve. Long ago, the Vatican and its leadership lost their connection to the ordinary lives of the billion Catholics worldwide. Now, they privilege reputation above truth, and, like many of the current accusations flying around, that instinct is rotten.

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Catholic Church must face reality

Scandal rocks the church, and wrongly it still opposes ordaining women as priests.

Pope Francis greets the crowds in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican in July.

By Roy Bourgeois

As a Catholic priest, I did the unspeakable. I called for the ordination of women. The Vatican’s response was swift. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith informed me that I was “causing grave scandal” in the church, and that I had 30 days to recant my support for the ordination of women or be expelled from the priesthood.

I told the Vatican that was not possible. Believing that women and men are created of equal worth and dignity, and that both are called by an all-loving God to serve as priests, my conscience would not allow me to recant. In my response, I also made clear that when Catholics hear the word “scandal,” many think about the thousands of children who have been raped and abused by Catholic priests — not about the ordination of women.

In 2010, the Vatican called women’s ordination a crime comparable to sexual abuse of children. Judging from its actions, however, it would appear that the Vatican views women’s ordination as a crime more serious than child abuse. Among the thousands of priests who raped and sexually abused children, the vast majority were not expelled from the priesthood or excommunicated. But the Vatican has excommunicated every woman ordained to the Catholic priesthood.

And in November 2012, after serving as a Catholic priest with the Maryknoll order for 40 years, I was expelled from the priesthood for refusing to recant my support for the ordination of women.

Today, scandal again rocks the Catholic Church. This time, it’s six Catholic dioceses in Pennsylvania. According to a grand jury report, beginning in the 1950s, more than 300 “predator priests” sexually abused more than 1,000 children.

The 1,400-page report, written by 23 grand jurors over the course of two years, said, “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.” Among the horrific crimes that Catholic priests committed:

  • In the Pittsburgh diocese, “a ring of predatory priests shared information regarding victims, as well as exchanging the victims among themselves. The ring manufactured child pornography and used whips, violence and sadism in raping the victims.”
  • One priest abused five sisters in the same family, including one girl beginning when she was 18 months old.
  • Another priest was allowed to stay in ministry after impregnating a young girl and arranging for her to have an abortion.
  • A priest raped a 7-year-old girl in her hospital room after a tonsillectomy. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reviewed his crime and decided that he should remain a priest and “live a life of prayer and penance.”

The Pennsylvania grand jury report concluded that the Catholic hierarchy “protected the institution at all cost and maintained strategies to avoid scandal.” Priests who got into trouble were shuffled to another diocese where more children were abused. The FBI determined that church officials followed a “playbook for concealing the truth,” minimizing the abuse by using words like “inappropriate contact” or “boundary issues” instead of “rape.”

If the Catholic Church had women priests, the church would not be in the crisis it is in today. I am equally confident that if the Catholic Church does not dismantle its all-male priesthood and welcome women as equals, it will drift into irrelevance.

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New Religion Books Embrace Women’s Sexuality

By Lynn Garrett

One topic in religion and sexual ethics hasn’t been addressed much: the ways women’s sexuality has been suppressed and distorted by religions. Books on the topic include Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free (Touchstone, out now), Linda Kay Klein’s account of growing up in the “purity movement” of the 1990s, which taught that a girl’s sexual purity was the most important thing about her and proved her good standing as a Christian. It also taught that women are responsible for men’s sexual urges: if a girl inspired lust—through her dress, behavior, or mere presence—she was a “stumbling block,” an obstacle to a Christian man’s relationship with God. Klein interviewed other women who had absorbed those teachings as girls, and she found that they had been harmed in the same way she had been and “were haunted by sexual and gender-based anxiety, fear, and physical experiences that sometimes mimic the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder,” she writes.

Pastor and author Nadia Bolz-Weber calls for a new liberation movement in Shameless: A Sexual Reformation (Crown, Jan. 2019), writing that Christians must reject antiquated and harmful ideas about sex, gender, and their bodies. She illustrates her argument with stories from her own life and her parishioners’, then digs into what the Bible really says versus what churches have taught about sex. Bolz-Weber tackles patriarchy and power in the church and shows how they have distorted sex. In Shameless, she circles back to what she calls the heart of Christianity: “The Gospel is powerful enough, transgressive enough, and beautiful enough to heal not only the ones who have been hurt but also those who have done the hurting.”

Sex features prominently in Jessica Wilbanks’s memoir, When I Spoke in Tongues: A Story of Faith and Its Loss (Beacon, Oct.). Wilbanks was raised in poverty in the backwoods of southern Maryland, and her family’s lives revolved around their Pentecostal church. When her parents discovered she had kissed her friend Sophie during a sleepover, everything changed, she writes. “My mother was shocked and sad…. [But my father] had tasted more of what the world had to offer than my mother had. He wasn’t surprised that I had said yes to cigarettes and alcohol, warm arms and lips, female or male. But they both rejected the idea that I was intrinsically bad. Instead they had decided that evil had gotten into me and jumped under my skin. This unnatural sexual urge that I had was a virus, a pollutant. It went without saying that I would never be allowed to spend time with Sophie again.” At 16, Jessica walked away from the church, alienating her deeply religious family. Wilbanks is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and was selected as a finalist for the PEN Center USA Literary Award for Journalism.

In Girl Boner: The Good Girl’s Guide to Sexual Empowerment (Amberjack, out now), August McLaughlin counters negative messages about sex, including those that come from religions. She writes, “If you were raised with religion, you might have learned any of the following myths, and then some…. Sex and pleasure are strictly or mostly for guys; preserving your ‘virginity’ as a young woman is essential for an honorable, moral, and worthy future; masturbating is sinful (but guys can’t help it); a woman’s body is best hidden, to prevent uncontrollable sexual urges in men; gayness, or acting on gayness, is wrong, unnatural, and hellworthy.” She adds, “Sexual shame related to religion is not only worth addressing, but fully surmountable. And the rewards can be dang near miraculous.”

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LGBTQ activists decry flag-burning priest: ‘No idea this hate was in his heart’

Ald. Deb Mell (33rd) speaks at a demonstration across the street from Resurrection Catholic Church on Wednesday, days after the Rev. Paul Kalchik burned a rainbow-cross flag on church grounds.

By Mitchell Armentrout

Two dozen LGBTQ activists rallied Wednesday night outside the Avondale church where a priest burned a rainbow flag last week against the orders of Cardinal Blase Cupich.

Calling the Rev. Paul Kalchik’s Sept. 14 flag-burning at Resurrection Catholic Church a “hate crime plain and simple,” Ald. Deb Mell (33rd) called on Pope Francis and Cupich “to send this hateful bigot packing.”

“I had no idea that this hate was in his heart for our community,” Mell said, noting she’s in regular contact with Kalchik about parking and community issues. “We know each other well. … I take it very personally, and it’s very hurtful.

“We’ve come so far as an LGBTQ community, and we have so many things to celebrate, and to think that this hatred is being spread in our neighborhood is not acceptable,” she said. “This isn’t who we are . . . LGBTQ families are a fabric of our neighborhood.”

Rev. Paul Kalchik burned this LGBTQ-friendly banner on church grounds last week, against the order of Cardinal Blase Cupich.

Mell said she was “encouraged” by Cupich telling Kalchik not to go forward with his plans announced Sept. 2 to burn the flag, which featured a rainbow cascading down over a cross. But she and other protesters called for the priest’s removal.

Rev. Paul Kalchik (Me thinks she doth protest too much.)

Kalchik did not return messages seeking comment before or after celebrating Mass on Wednesday.

Archdiocese of Chicago spokeswoman Anne Maselli on Wednesday issued the same statement as a day earlier when news of the flag-burning gained momentum, saying “we are following up on the situation. As Catholics, we affirm the dignity of all persons.”

After the rally, a parishioner who have his name only as Patrick said he supported Kalchik and insisted the priest is a supporter of the LGBTQ community.

“The flag that he burnt was . . . meant for evil things,” he said. “It brought prey to predators. And we’re anti-predator priests.”

The man said reactions were mixed among parishioners.

“Some people are for it, some people don’t know what to think. It’s all over the board.”

Kalchik, 56, told the Chicago Sun-Times during an interview on Tuesday that the flag was forgotten in church storage for over a decade before he found it while cleaning last month. According to the priest, it was put on display for a few years after the St. Veronica and St. Francis parishes were merged to become Resurrection Parish in 1991.

The rainbow-cross banner is pictured on display during a 1991 Mass at Resurrection Parish.

Kalchik claimed three “bad priests” who preceded him at the church at 3043 N. Francisco were “big in promoting the gay lifestyle” before Cardinal Francis George ordained him as pastor there in 2007.

After the Windy City Times reported on Kalchik’s plan to burn the flag, the Archdiocese of Chicago told him “he could not move forward,” Maselli said.

But Kalchik went ahead and burned the flag “in a quiet way” during a closed ceremony on church grounds with seven parishioners on Friday, he said — without the knowledge of the archdiocese, Maselli said.

“What have we done wrong other than destroy a piece of propaganda that was used to put out a message other than what the church is about?” Kalchik said in his office on Tuesday. “The people of this parish have been pretty resilient and put up with a lot of B.S.”

Kalchik — who says he was sexually abused by a neighbor as a child, and again by a priest when he began working for the church at 19 — claims the sex-abuse crisis plaguing the church is “definitely a gay thing,” a claim that Mell called “completely ludicrous.”

The flag-burning controversy drew the attention of prominent priest and author Rev. James Martin, who has written extensively on welcoming gay and lesbian Catholics into the church — a tone often shared by Cupich and Pope Francis.

“I cannot imagine a more homophobic act, short of beating up an LGBT person,” Martin tweeted on Tuesday. “What the pastor and some of his parishioners did shows the kind of hatred that LGBT Catholics still face — in their own church.”

Complete Article HERE!

Parishioners defy Chicago Archdiocese, burn rainbow flag in ‘exorcism’ ceremony

A priest and parishioners from the Resurrection Parish in Chicago burned a rainbow pride flag that had once been prominently displayed in their Roman Catholic church.

Resurrection Catholic Church in Chicago

by Alexander Kacala

In a church bulletin posted this month, the Rev. Paul Kalchik, a Roman Catholic priest at Resurrection Parish in Chicago, announced that he would burn a rainbow pride flag that had once been prominently displayed at the church.

“On Saturday, September 29, the Feast of Saint Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, we will burn, in front of the church, the rainbow flag that was unfortunately hanging in our sanctuary during the ceremonial first Mass as Resurrection parish,” Kalchik, who joined the church 11 years ago, wrote.

A footnote on his announcement stated, “US Church homosexual scandal is a sequel to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Rev. Paul Kalchik (The lady doth protest too much, methinks.)

When the Archdiocese of Chicago got wind of Kalchik’s plans to burn the rainbow flag, it told him he could not proceed. “We can confirm that the pastor has agreed not to move forward with these activities,” Anne Maselli, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Chicago, told The Windy City Times.

But despite the archdiocese’s request, Kalchik and some of his parishioners did move forward and burned the flag last Friday.

“We did so in a private way, a quiet way, so as not to bring the ire of the gay community down upon this parish,” Kalchik said in a lengthy interview Monday with NBC News. “It’s our full right to destroy it, and we did so privately because the archdiocese was breathing on our back.”

“We put an end to a depiction of our Lord’s cross that was profane,” he added, noting the flag had a cross and a rainbow intertwined. To use the image of the cross as anything other than a “reminder of our Lord’s passion and death,” he said, “is what we consider a sacrilege.”

Kalchik said that the archdiocese had told him not to burn the flag in front of the church, as planned.

“So in a quiet way we took matters into our own hands and said a prayer of exorcism over this thing,” he said. “It was cut into seven pieces, so it was burned over stages in the same fire pit that we used for the Easter vigil mass.”

When asked about his views toward homosexuality, Kalchik was unequivocal, saying he’s “quite literal” when it comes to what the Bible says in Leviticus, Corinthians and Ephesians. Leviticus 20:13, according to the King James Bible, states: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: They shall surely be put to death.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a Catholic organization that advocates for LGBTQ equality, called the Resurrection Parish’s flag burning “disrespectful and destructive.”

“Those involved in this desecration are violating the core values of the Catholic faith,” she told NBC News. “They are hijacking the parish to further an extremist agenda, and damaging the community in doing so.”

Duddy-Burke added that rainbow flags have come to symbolize a “sense of welcome” to LGBTQ people of faith and their families.

“When we see this symbol flying at our churches, we know this will be a place of welcome and affirmation and a place where God’s creativity is truly celebrated,” she said. “As Catholics, we work for the day when all of us feel fully welcomed in our church, and are able to participate in the sacramental life of our church as equals.”

In response to NBC News’ request for comment on the flag burning, Anne Maselli, a spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Chicago said the archdiocese was “unaware that this occurred.”

“We are following up on the situation,” Maselli said. “As Catholics we, the Archdiocese of Chicago, affirm the dignity of all persons.”

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