In the lead up to the Polish elections in October this year, LGBT+ people became a central cultural issue in the country’s election campaigns. Law and Justice (PiS) – Poland’s Christian democratic and right-wing populist party – demonised the community to win votes in what is still considered a Catholic country. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s ruling party, used the populist playbook to identify perceived threats to society. According to Mr Kaczynski, those threats come from LGBT+ people and from Europe, where families can have “two mummies or two daddies”.
The Catholic Church’s anti-gay rhetoric has become the ruling party’s dominant theme. Recently the archbishop of Krakow, Marek Jedraszewski, described Poland as under siege from a “rainbow plague” of gay rights activists. In the past, the archbishop identified the “LGBT lobby” and “gender ideology” as the new threat to national freedom.
In Poland, same-sex unions are not legal. Gay couples can’t take out loans, settle taxes together, or inherit. There are no laws protecting LGBT+ people from hate crime. Life for Polish LGBT+ folk feels increasingly dangerous, especially in rural areas. Back in July, participants at a Pride parade in Bialystok in the east of the country were attacked by a violent mob, leaving many people injured. Scenes of these attacks sent shock waves across social media. In the same month, a right wing newspaper, Gazeta Polska issued “LGBT-free zone” stickers to readers which drew widespread criticism from Polish opposition parties and diplomats.
It’s midday, I’m in central Warsaw and I’m visiting the offices of Lambda, Poland’s longest running LGBT+ organisation. I’ve arranged a meeting with Krzysztof Kliszczyński, a seasoned Polish LGBT+ activist, and Sławomir Kirdzik, a 22 year-old student at Warsaw University and an intern with Lambda. I begin by asking Krzysztof about the recent elections and how anti-LGBT+ rhetoric is impacting life for the community.
Krzysztof begins, “One year ago LGBT+ people were not the topic of national political discussion, then in February this year, within days of the mayor of Warsaw signing a pledge to protect LGBT+ rights in the capital, the ruling party launched its attack on the LGBT+ community.”
Sławomir adds, “I come from Gdansk, so coming to Warsaw was not a huge change in the way I express myself. I have been attacked on the street and I know of many people who have been attacked leaving a gay club nearby.
“When I’m on the street I don’t have a problem expressing myself, because it’s more important that other young people see that there are people just like them.”
Sławomir points to his bag, which has a rainbow flag patch sewn on it, “When I carry this bag, I hear people behind me on the street calling me a ‘faggot’ nearly everyday, however there are lots of supportive people trying to help me.”
Krzysztof expands on the history of youth movements in Poland; “30 years ago, young people led the political wave against communist rule, my generation led the second wave of establishing LGBT+ groups like Lambda and greater rights for LGBT+ people, now we are seeing a newer generation of 15 and 16 year-olds that have witnessed the progress of LGBT+ rights throughout Europe who aspire and campaign for those rights too.”
Despite the violence and political rhetoric, Poland has seen an increase in the number of Pride marches and attendees. Two years ago there were seven Pride/equality marches, last year there were 70. Public opinion is shifting too – a recent survey showed 57 % support same-sex civil partnerships – the positive responses were mainly from younger people, especially women living in cities. Younger men in rural areas tend to have the most negative views of same-sex relationships and LGBT+ rights.
That evening, Krzysztof and Sławomir invite me to come back to the office as an LGBT+ youth group hold one of their weekly meetings. About 20 young people are sitting in a circle chatting among themselves. I’m introduced to a trans man called Hugo, I’m interested to learn about the legal and cultural status of trans people in Poland and find it’s not quite what I expect.
Legal gender recognition has been known to Polish courts since the late 1960’s. Changing a person’s gender marker is done through a court process known as the “assessment suit”, in which an individual has to literally file a lawsuit against their parents and both parents must agree.
A person going through gender recognition in Poland is subjected to physical examination, along with psychological and psychiatric evaluations. After those are fulfilled, the diagnostician decides whether to prescribe hormones. While it is possible to receive hormonal treatment without the diagnosis, this practice might be problematic for further court procedures.
To gain legal recognition as a woman one has to undergo several months of hormonal therapy. Recognition of masculinity requires undergoing chest surgery as well. In this case, one could say that Poland is strictly divided into west Poland, where trans men are not forced to undergo any surgeries, and east Poland, where mastectomy is often required before the court process can begin. Mastectomy is labeled as a condition for receiving the relevant documents needed for the lawsuit (against your parents). Some good news came in 2016, when a court in Warsaw issued a decision that allowed a Polish citizen, who transitioned legally in Germany, to change her personal data (gender marker, and first and last name) without obtaining a transsexual diagnosis and going through a civil court case in Poland.
I asked Hugo about his real life experience of being trans in Poland. He said, “It took my mother time to adjust but recently she has started using he/him pronouns when addressing me and that made a big difference.”
The Catholic Church’s grip on the country also seems to be softening. Poland is now experiencing the same scrutiny about historical sexual abuse within the clergy as the Catholic Church in Ireland did in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. This year, an independent Polish documentary directed by Tomasz Sekielski called Tell No One unearthed cases of child sexual abuse. The film addresses the issue of responsibility of the Episcopal Conference of Poland for hiding paedophile priests from the law. It was posted on YouTube in May, 2019, and received over a million views in the first five hours – a new record for Polish YouTube. Seven months later it’s had over 23 million views. Following the film, the National Public Prosecutor’s Office stated that they had established a team of prosecutors, whose task it is to analyse the cases presented in the documentary.
From the outside, Poland may seem an outwardly conservative country out of step with progressive Europe regarding LGBT+ rights, however, looking closer, I see a country that is not dissimilar to Ireland in the late ‘80s. The government are deflecting their economic failures by creating misdirection and stirring up hatred against LGBT+ people and immigrants. As the cracks appear in their cover up of clerical abuse of children, the Catholic Church are under scrutiny and using the age-old tactic of blaming LGBT+ people for their own sins. The next few years will be crucial for LGBT+ people. If broader society can continue to mobilise behind the community, Poland could to shift from a theocratic state into a more modern and pluralist society.
Editor’s Note: Last autumn, Alexis Record and Tom Rastrelli appeared together in one of many blog posts here that commemorated The Clergy Project’s 1000 Member Milestone. I thought they were a good example of the variety of religious backgrounds that people who leave religion come from. Now they are back together in what I think is even a more interesting way – a former fundamentalist reviewing the memoir of a former Catholic priest. /Linda LaScola, Editor
First, with permission from the publisher, Alexis starts with excerpts from the prologue:
The Church needed something new. In January, the Boston Globe had exposed Cardinal Bernard Francis Law for covering up the sexual abuse of minors by priests. As the months before my ordination passed, a mounting number of bishops fell in shame. I doubted my calling. But the Church was different in Dubuque. My archbishop hadn’t harbored pedophiles. He’d turned them over to the police. He’d offered their victims support and healing. I would do the same.
After the archbishop completed the prayer, a priest lifted the deacon’s stole from my shoulder and replaced it with a priest’s stole. Over my head, he lowered a chasuble with gold-and-blue embroidery matching the archbishop’s. I crossed from the center of the sanctuary to the cathedra, the ornately carved oak throne where the archbishop sat. I knelt before him. From a crystal pitcher, he poured syrupy chrism–holy oil scented with balsam–over my upturned hands. Pressing his palms against mine, the archbishop smeared large crosses as he prayed: “The Father anointed Our Lord Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. May Jesus preserve you to sanctify the Christian people and to offer sacrifice to God.” He folded his glistening hands around mine. His dark eyes were absolution. I would sacrifice myself for him, for God.
Hands dripping with chrism, I stood, turned, and walked to my spot at the foot of the altar. I glanced at the front row into my parents’ eyes. They were crying, grinning. I smiled through tears. I was a priest.
Less than two years later, I turned my back on the archbishop. This time, I held my tears. I rushed from his office into February’s darkness. The frigid night air burned my cheeks. In the corner of the icy parking lot, my black pickup offered refuge. My only private space, it was where I retreated to sing, talk on my phone, and cry–all the things a young priest didn’t want his pastor or cleaning lady to witness. I drove through blocks of Catholic neighborhoods, people who trusted the archbishop. Now, I had to obey his command by covering up sexual abuse.
On the north end of town, a boat ramp would provide easy access to the frozen Mississippi. My plan: drive until the ice buckled under the weight of the truck.
Confessions of a Gay Priest: A Memoir of Sex, Love, Abuse, and Scandal in the Catholic Seminary
By Alexis Record
For half a decade now I have been a Free Hugs Mom at our local Pride parade with Sunday Assembly San Diego. I become everyone’s mom despite age differences and embrace hundreds of people while making sure they’re drinking water and wearing sunscreen in the summer sun, you know, Mom concerns. Most importantly of all, I tell folks I’m proud of them. Most laugh or smile at my apron, some cry, and a few collapse into my arms as if a stranger’s acceptance might squeeze their fractured parts into some semblance of wholeness. As our group discussed doing an emotionally exhausting two-day Pride event this year, I was still recovering from finishing my tear-stained advanced copy of Tom Rastrelli’s book, Confessions of a Gay Priest: A Memoir of Sex, Love, Abuse, and Scandal in the Catholic Seminary. It solidified my resolve to love on those kids.
Recently it felt as if an additional child was in my home: young Tom Rastrelli. I poured my love and support into him as he navigated pure hell. “Oh baby,” I’d tell him as he doubled down on homophobic lessons and planted deeper roots into his own victimization, like a vulnerable plant choosing the darkest corner where growth was promised.
What makes Rastrelli’s story so compelling are his flourishes of detail. His experiences are incredibly visceral–a real strength of his writing–which in turn make the abuses he suffered that much more excruciating. Each page is pure beauty and heartbreak. I found myself unable to put it down, needing to know what happens next. Needing to know Tom would be okay.
Rastrelli excavates the darker parts of his theology and clerical experiences without being anti-Catholic. In fact, I was struck with the humanity of his fellow seminarians and priests. The religious boy’s club included drinking, swearing, smoking, sexism, and jokes about pedophilia as the topic of the day which would not look out of place among a group of men in any other part of society. These boys grow through spiritual practice into priests. They are portrayed with a fair hand, not as monsters, but as loving servants of congregants who become unwitting facilitators of abusive and inhumane doctrines. They encouraged counseling, but not from women who pointed out sexism within the system. They practiced forgiveness, but used it to sweep grievous abuses under the rug. They offered real friendship, but caused their friends to hate their sexualities. They were real people, good people, doing the best they could with the tools they had. It made me want to take my local priest out to coffee to see how he’s holding up.
I’ve never been Catholic. The closest I’ve come is years ago working as a priest’s sign language interpreter during Mass. I outed myself as protestant by signing each word of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” instead of crossing myself and as a result wasn’t asked back. Yet, I did not need to be completely familiar with all aspects of Catholic tradition to follow this story. Any conservative Christian will recognize, as I did, the strong desire to be lost in God’s presence, the pressure to cover up for the sins of godly men, and the deep self loathing after every masturbatory orgasm.
Rastrelli takes the reader on a unique journey most of the faithful never see. Like many of the other wide-eyed liberal students who loved the Church, he set out to affect change from within it only to be gradually and incessantly chiseled into the very shape of those hard beliefs he did not think reflected Christ. Seminarians during this process swallowed larger and larger boluses of cognitive dissonance until they were either consumed from within or vomited out of God’s presence. They were told not to make waves and not to confuse the faithful with their own doubts about the system. It was amazing to me just how so many good people became unwilling participants in facilitating horrific evils. Offering a holy profession for homosexual men who would never be allowed to have sex within the confines of that system and then laying all the blame for child predation upon the gays is just one of those evils.
The brutal parts of this story include the author’s homophobia recounted from his early years and directed selfward like a knife at his own throat, the sexual abuse the reader voyeuristically shares, and, almost worse, the excusing and minimizing of that abuse by the very men supposedly speaking and acting for God himself. Worshipping a tortured savior meant suffering throughout the story was almost always mistaken for love. Oh baby.
Silent no longer, Tom Rastrelli bravely reopens wounds and lays bare scars for all to see. His memoir is a breathtaking, priceless treasure–a bright light in the darkness. I’m proud to recommend it to believers and unbelievers alike. For victims of abuse, I suggest being gentle with yourself while reading. Also, drink some water, wear your sunblock, and avoid hazardous religious systems.
Confessions will be available April, 2020. Preorders available now, from Amazon.
The cardinal’s response was not what Yolanda Martínez had expected — or could abide.
Her son had been sexually abused by a priest of the Legion of Christ, a disgraced religious order. And now she was calling Cardinal Valasio De Paolis — the Vatican official appointed by the pope to lead the Legion and to clean it up — to report the settlement the group was offering, and to express her outrage.
The terms: Martínez’s family would receive 15,000 euros ($16,300) from the order. But in return, her son would have to recant the testimony he gave to Milan prosecutors that the priest had repeatedly assaulted him when he was a 12-year-old student at the order’s youth seminary in northern Italy. He would have to lie.
The cardinal did not seem shocked. He did not share her indignation.
Instead, he chuckled. He said she shouldn’t sign the deal, but should try to work out another agreement without attorneys: “Lawyers complicate things. Even Scripture says that among Christians we should find agreement.”
The conversation between the aggrieved mother and Pope Benedict XVI’s personal envoy was wiretapped. The tape — as well as the six-page settlement proposal — are key pieces of evidence in a criminal trial opening next month in Milan. Prosecutors allege that Legion lawyers and priests tried to obstruct justice, and extort Martínez’s family by offering them money to recant testimony to prosecutors in hopes of quashing a criminal investigation into the abusive priest, Vladimir Reséndiz Gutiérrez.
Lawyers for the five suspects declined to comment. The Legion says they have professed innocence. A spokesman said that at the time, the Legion didn’t have in place the uniform child protection policies and guidelines that are now mandatory across the order.
De Paolis is beyond earthly justice — he died in 2017 and there is no evidence he knew of, or approved, the settlement offer before it was made. But the tape and documents seized when police raided the Legion’s headquarters in 2014 show that he had turned a blind eye to superiors who protected pedophiles.
In addition, the evidence shows that when De Paolis first learned about Reséndiz’s crimes in 2011, he approved an in-house canonical investigation but didn’t report the priest to police. And when he learned two years later that other Legion priests were apparently trying to impede the criminal investigation into his crimes, the pope’s delegate didn’t report that either.
And a few hours after he spoke with Martínez, De Paolis opened the Legion’s 2014 assembly where he formally ended the mandate given to him by Benedict to reform and purify the religious order. The Legion had been “cured and cleaned,” he said.
In fact, his mission hadn’t really been accomplished.
Benedict had entrusted De Paolis, one of the Vatican’s most respected canon lawyers, to turn the Legion around in 2010, after revelations that its founder, the late Rev. Marcial Maciel, had raped his seminarians, fathered three children and built a cult-like order to hide his crimes.
There had been calls for the Vatican to suppress the Legion. But Benedict decided against it, apparently determining in part that the order was too big and too rich to fail. Instead, he opted for a process of reform, giving De Paolis the broadest possible powers to rebuild the Legion from the ground up and saying it must undergo a profound process of “purification” and “renewal.”
But De Paolis refused from the start to remove any of Maciel’s old guard, who remain in power today. He refused to investigate the cover-up of Maciel’s crimes. He refused to reopen old allegations of abuse by other priests, even when serial rapists remained in the Legion’s ranks, unpunished.
More generally, he did not come to grips with the order’s deep-seated culture of sexual abuse, cover-up and secrecy — and its long record of avoiding law enforcement and dismissing, discrediting and silencing victims. As a result, even onetime Legion supporters now openly question his reform, which was dismissed as ineffective by the Legion’s longtime critics.
“They always try to control victims, minimize them, defame them, accuse them of exaggerating things,” said Alberto Athié, a former Mexican priest who has campaigned for more than 20 years on behalf of clergy sexual abuse victims, including victims of the Legion.
“Then, if they don’t achieve that level of control, they go to the next level, looking for their parents, trying to minimize them or buy them off, silence them. And if that doesn’t work, they go to trial and try to do what they can to win the case,” he said.
Now, victims of these other Legion priests are coming forward in droves with stories of sexual, psychological and spiritual abuse, and how the Legion’s culture of secrecy and cover-up has remained intact.
“They say they’re close to the victims and help their families,” Martínez told The Associated Press at her home in Milan. “My testimony is this didn’t happen.”
Martínez, a 54-year-old mother of three, chokes up when she recalls the day she received the phone call from her son’s psychologist. It was March of 2013, and her eldest son had been receiving therapy on the advice of his high school girlfriend. Martínez thought she was about to learn that she would be a grandmother; she thought her boy had gotten the girl pregnant.
Instead, Dr. Gian Piero Guidetti told Martínez and her husband that during therapy, their son had revealed that he had been repeatedly sexually molested by Reséndiz starting in 2008, when he was a middle schooler at the Legion’s youth seminary in Gozzano, near Italy’s border with Switzerland. Guidetti, himself a priest, told them he was required by his medical profession to report the crime to prosecutors.
His complaint, and the testimony of Martínez’s son, sparked a criminal investigation that resulted in Reséndiz’s 2019 conviction, which was upheld on appeal in January. Resendiz, 43, who was convicted in absentia and is believed to be living in his native Mexico, has until the end of March to appeal the conviction and 6 1/2-year prison sentence to Italy’s highest court. His lawyer, Natalia Curro, said an appeal is being considered, and said her client denied having abused Martinez’s son, though he admitted to abusing another boy.
The investigation, however, netted evidence that went far beyond Reséndiz’s own wrongdoing. Documents seized by police and seen by AP in the court file showed a pattern of cover-up by the Legion and the pope’s envoy that stretched from Milan to Mexico, the Vatican to Venezuela and points in between.
Personnel files, for example, made clear Resendiz was known to the Legion as a risk even when he was a teenage seminarian in the 1990s, yet he was ordained a priest anyway in 2006 and immediately sent to oversee young boys at the Gozzano youth seminary.
“He’s a boy with strong sexual impulses and low capacity to control them,” Reséndiz’s novice director, the Rev. Antonio León Santacruz, wrote in an internal assessment on Jan. 9, 1994. “Given his psychological character, he’s inclined to not respect rules without great difficulty and the psychologist thinks it will be difficult for him to undertake consecrated life given he has little respect for rules. He follows them as long as he’s being watched, but as soon as he can, he breaks them and has no remorse.”
A year later, on Reséndiz’s 19th birthday, the seminarian wrote a letter to Maciel — addressing it as all Legionaries addressed the man they regarded as a living saint: “Nuestro Padre,” “Our Father.”
“I’m having various problems in the field of purity and the truth is I’m having a hard time, because temptations are coming to me,” he wrote. “I’m praying to the Holy Virgin every day for grace and asking her for strength to not offend again; I say again because I have had the disgrace of falling, but with the help of God I will fight to form that pure, priestly heart.”
When Martínez saw such letters in the court file, her heart fell.
“My son wasn’t even born yet,” she said. “How can you put someone like that in charge of a seminary?”
A Legion spokesman, the Rev. Aaron Smith, said the Legion has overhauled its training process for seminarians since Reséndiz’s era, applying more scrutiny before ordination.
“Things are different today,” he said in emailed response to questions.
While Milan prosecutors first heard about Reséndiz’s pedophilia in March 2013 when the therapist reported it, the crimes were old news to both the Vatican and the Legion.
The Legion has admitted it received a first report of abuse by Resendiz on March 6, 2011, from another boy who had been a student at Gozzano. The Legion says that boy, an Austrian, had first told a Legion priest of Reséndiz’s abuse. That priest recommended he report it to a church ombudsman’s office in Austria that receives abuse complaints, which he did, Smith said.
Separately, the Legion got wind of another possible victim in Venezuela, where Reséndiz had been sent from Gozzano in 2008, after he abused Martínez’s son.
Italian police were never informed by the Legion or the Vatican. Neither the Vatican nor Italy requires clergy to report suspected child sex abuse.
When police finally did get wind of the case in March 2013, they uncovered elaborate efforts to keep Reséndiz’s crimes quiet. According to one email seized by Italian police — written March 16, 2011, or 10 days after the Austrian claim was first received by the order — a Legion lawyer recommended to one of the Legion’s senior behind-the-scenes bureaucrats, the Rev. Gabriel Sotres, that a Legion priest visit with the victim in Austria.
The aim of the visit, prosecutors wrote in summarizing the email exchanges, “was to speak to the (victim’s) older brother and convince him to not tell their parents and not go to police because this could cause serious problems not only for the Legion but also Father Vladimir, all the other priests involved and the victim and his family.”
Smith, the Legion spokesman, didn’t deny the prosecutors’ account but said that “encouraging a child to keep something from their parents or guardians is contrary to our code of conduct.”
Later in 2011, the Legion arranged for Reséndiz to be transferred from Venezuela to Colombia, and prepared a legal strategy to limit the possible damage if the Venezuelan case escalated. The emails were sent to several Legion leaders, including Sotres, who remain in top positions today. In fact, in the Legion’s current leadership assembly under way in Rome to choose new superiors and priorities, at least 13 of the 89 participating priests or their substitutes were involved in some way in dealing with the Reséndiz scandal, fallout and cover-up, including two priests who are defendants in the upcoming Milan trial.
According to the seized emails, the plan proposed by a Legion lawyer involved reporting only Reséndiz’s name to Venezuelan police to comply with local reporting laws, leaving out that he was a priest, that he was accused of a sex crime against a child, and the name of the Legion, prosecutors said in summarizing the emails. The report would also note that he no longer lived in Venezuela.
The Legion has said Reséndiz was removed from priestly ministry and from his work with young people in Venezuela within days of receiving the initial Austrian report.
But the emails seized indicate that the restrictions weren’t necessarily enforced: One from Dec. 20, 2012, suggests that Reséndiz was hearing confessions in schools and celebrating Mass in Colombia, news that prompted the leadership to ultimately recommend he be sent for psychological counseling in Mexico and later assigned to an administrative position “where they don’t know his situation.”
Eventually, as part of the church’s in-house investigation, Reséndiz confessed — but only to the Legion and Vatican authorities, and only about other boys he abused, not Martínez’s son.
“I sincerely recognize my terrible behavior as a priest,” he wrote the Vatican official in charge of the sex crimes office in 2012, Cardinal Gerhard Mueller. “Truly I lived in hell when these sad facts occurred. I recognize the gravity of the acts that I committed and I humbly ask the church for forgiveness for these sad and painful facts. I can’t understand how it could have happened, and I recognize that I lacked the courage to admit to the problem and advise my superiors of the danger.”
The Vatican defrocked him on April 5, 2013 — just a few weeks after Italian prosecutors first heard about Martínez’s son.
By October of that year, the Legion was nearing the end of De Paolis’ mandate and clearly wanted to avoid the possibility that the Reséndiz case could explode publicly and jeopardize the plan to resume their independence from the Vatican.
Martínez and her family, for their part, were coping with the trauma of her son’s abuse.
“He would have nightmares. He wouldn’t let me touch him …,” Martínez said. “He couldn’t stand anyone being close to him.”
Once, he was even prevented from throwing himself in front of a subway train.
Martínez had been in regular touch with the Legion priest closest to the family, the Rev. Luca Gallizia, her husband’s spiritual director. He was serving as the family’s contact with the Legion, after all other priests and members of Martínez’s Regnum Christi social circle severed contact — apparently on orders from the leadership.
Gallizia traveled to Milan to meet with Martínez on Oct. 18, 2013, bringing a proposed settlement to compensate the family. They met in a room off the parish playground of the Sant’Eustorgio basilica where Martínez worked.
When Martínez read it later that night with her husband, she was shocked.
“It was a second violation, because for all intents and purposes in that letter, they asked us to deny the facts. And for us it was a stab in the back because it was brought to us by our spiritual father. … He knew everything about us, because my husband confided in him. And that made it even more painful.”
The Legion declined to comment on the proposed settlement, citing the upcoming trial.
The document the Legion wanted Martínez’s family to sign states that her son ruled out having been sexually abused by Reséndiz and regardless didn’t remember. It said he denied having any phone or text message contact with him, and that his ensuing problems were due to the fact that he left the seminary and was having trouble integrating socially into his new public high school.
The document set out payments for the son’s continuing education and therapy and required “absolute” secrecy. If the family were called to testify, they were to make the same declarations as contained in the settlement — denying the abuse.
A few months later, the Legion realized it had erred in leaving the proposal with Martínez and proposed a revised settlement acknowledging the abuse occurred. Now, though, it required the family to pay back double the 15,000 euro ($16,300) settlement offer if they violated the confidentiality agreement.
It was then that Martínez called De Paolis.
“Both my lawyer and I, our jaws dropped,” she told the Vatican cardinal.
The pope’s envoy said he was surprised as well.
“Yes, but this, this is how it’s done in Italy,” he said.
The mother would have none of it. “It’s not a very nice agreement, signing a lie,” Martínez told the cardinal. “Aside from the fact that I don’t want any money, I’m not signing the letter.”
The Irish Catholic Church has been likened by a priest to an old car that has gone off the road and “sunk into the bog and is stuck”.
“The engine is still running, but the wheels are spinning and going nowhere,” said Fr Roy Donovan of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), who said it was like the U2 lyric about being “stuck in a moment you can’t get out of”.
Fr Donovan, who is parish priest in Cahersonlish, Co Limerick, said “the Catholic Church in its present state is in crisis and doesn’t seem to have any future”.
“There is also something very wrong with priesthood. It is not only young people who have become disassociated from the church as an institution but people across all the generations. The church is not on the radar of most people – it is largely irrelevant.”
He was speaking in Dublin on Monday night at a We are Church Ireland event entitled ‘What Does it Mean to be Catholic Today?’
Fr Donovan asked why the church in Ireland had not carried out research in an attempt to establish why “so many Catholics have become disconnected” with the institution.
“ (Archbishop) Diarmuid Martin remarks that, ‘the low standing of women in the Catholic Church is the most significant reason for the feeling of alienation towards it in Ireland today’, ” Fr Donovan said.
‘Christendom is over’
“Pope Francis perceptively remarked ‘we are not living in an era of change but a change of era’. Christendom is over, he stated recently. There are huge losses accompanying a change of era.”
Meanwhile “a lot of priests are saying ‘sure it will see me out’ and continue to work out of the old model. There is not enough appetite for change which would require major reversals. We never implemented the Vat 2 (Second Vatican Council) idea of empowering the people.”
Fr Donovan said he did not understand “how a church that attracted some of the best brains in the country as priests could have allowed us to end up where we are today!? What is left of us are tired and haven’t got the energy to change and move on.”
He recalled how “Pope Francis in his Christmas message said ‘the world has changed and so must the church’” but he feared the church was not up “ to the massive changes required”.
“Our systems/ structures/ parishes are no longer fit for purpose. We have too many dioceses, parishes, too many churches – more than we need. We have too many celebrations of masses on Sundays with small gatherings,” he said.
Over the last year and a half, 178 U.S. dioceses serving 64.7 million Catholics have released lists of priests “credibly accused” of sexual abuse. However, the problem with these lists is that they exist independently of one another, with no consensus as to what makes an accusation credible. This lack of organization makes it difficult for members of one parish to get a full picture of past accusations, leaving surviving victims feeling as if their abusers are still hiding in plain sight, with potential victims ignorant of past allegations. In order to address this problem, ProPublica combed through all existing abuser lists released by dioceses and organized them into one searchable master list.
In 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury report listed hundreds of priests accused of abuse across the state as part of a sweeping investigation, which prompted dioceses across the country to release similar lists. One of the major problems with these lists, according to ProPublica, is that there is no standard for what constitutes a credible allegation, leaving many abusers unnamed. For example, in February 2019 Larry Giacalone was paid a $73,000 settlement by the church after coming forward to name his alleged abuser, a priest by the name of Richard Donahue. However, when the Boston Archdiocese released its list of names soon after, Donahue’s name was missing. After facing pressure from Giacalone’s attorney’s the priest’s name was added to the “unsubstantiated” portion of the list.
Decisions about how and whether to form and release these lists are left to individual dioceses. And while the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops can offer suggestions and guidelines, a spokesperson for the organization, Chiedo Noguchi, explained that ultimately bishops answer to the pope, not the USCCB:
“Recognizing the authority of the local bishop, and the fact that state and local laws vary, the decision of whether and how to best release lists and comply with varying civil reporting laws have been the responsibility of individual dioceses.”
This lack of guidelines makes it much more possible for abusers to hide, even after public allegations, and churches are able to divide cases into “credible” and “incredible” with no input from courts or law enforcement, according to the ProPublica report:
“The Archdiocese of Seattle, which released its list prior to the grand jury report, began by dividing allegations into three categories: cases in which priests admitted the allegations or where allegations were “established” by reports from multiple victims; cases that clearly could not have happened; and cases that fell into a gray area, like those that were never fully investigated at the time they were reported. The archdiocese decided it would name priests whose cases fell into the first category and leave out the second group, but it sought additional guidance on the third set of cases.”
In many cases, dioceses also leave off the names of priests who have died since being accused, and 41 dioceses serving nine million U.S. Catholics have yet to release any lists whatsoever.
In order to better organize and distribute information about sexually abusive priests, ProPublica has organized all 178 of the existing lists into a searchable database, allowing users to search by priest name, parish, or diocese. The more accessible list enables searchers to track priests who appear on multiple lists, a feat that proved incredibly difficult when information was scattered.
However other groups, like Bishop Accountability, say there is much more work to be done. The group forms its own list of accused priests based on court and church documents as well as news reports and includes 450 names from dioceses that have failed to create their own lists. Furthermore, accusations against orders like Jesuits, members of their own order who often work in parishes and schools, are often not included in any lists, as they are technically outside the diocese. According to Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, the task of counting up every single abuser who has or may be committing sexually abusing prisoners is simply too difficult:
“At some point you have to make a decision,” Topczewski said. “Someone’s always going to say your list isn’t good enough, which we have people say, ‘Your list is incomplete.’ Well, I only control the list l can control and that’s diocesan priests.”
But David Clohessy, who led the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests for 30 years, says that putting together better, more accessible lists isn’t nearly as difficult as Catholic authority figures are making it seem:
“They continue to be as secretive as possible, parceling out the least amount of information possible and only under great duress,” Clohessy said. “They are absolute masters at hairsplitting — always have been and still are.”