International circle of bishops with Roman Catholic Women Priests call on Pope Francis to act
By Benjamin Aubé
Though they’ve been excommunicated by the Vatican, a group of women is demanding changes in the Roman Catholic Church.
Bishops with the Roman Catholic Women Priests are calling on Pope Francis to “establish a council to explore new structures for church leadership and order within the Roman Catholic Church.”
They say the constant string of allegations against male priests is yet another sign the Church must begin letting women and men with children be ordained.
The call to action comes on the heels of last month’s grand jury report out of Pennsylvania. It found that thousands of children were abused at the hands of hundreds of priests in that state.
Marie Bouclin is a bishop emerita with the Roman Catholic Women Priests.
“Men want to protect their children too, and if they’re fathers, they can’t be ordained either,” explained Bouclin. “So we’re saying you need married people as ministers of the Church, you need women in the church, to bring a different perspective, to change this system that has perpetuated itself largely through force and fear.”
Bouclin, who is based in Sudbury, said the Roman Catholic Women Priests are essentially forced to the margins as an “underground” organization. She explained she runs small services and prayer circles, often out of her own home.
The Vatican automatically excommunicates any woman that attempts to be ordained through the movement.
“They’ve marginalized us, so we can’t operate in the local parishes and such,” noted Bouclin.
“We’ve been accused of trying to have access to power, when what we are saying is, ‘Look, we could serve.’ There’s a shortage of priests, we could do this work, we’re qualified and we’re willing, but there’s this fear of change.”
Bouclin also spoke about why she and her peers continue to fight to be part of an organization that has not only forced them out, but also continues to be peppered with child abuse allegations.
“This is our Church too,” she replied. “There’s a lot worth keeping, but there’s a lot that has to change. Rather than walk away, it’s the hope of trying to salvage the good that can be.”
Bouclin added it’s a mistake to believe that child abuse at the hands of priests hasn’t happened in Canadian cities like Sudbury.
One pope was a father of 10 through multiple mistresses, a man who purchased the papacy with mule-loads of silver. It is said that Alexander VI, the most debauched of the Borgia pontiffs, elected in 1492, even had an affair with one of his daughters.
Another pope contracted syphilis during his reign — a “disease very fond of priests, especially rich priests,” as the saying went in Renaissance times. That was Julius II, known as “Il terrible.”
A third pope, Pius IX, added Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary” and John Stuart Mill’s book on the free market economy to the Vatican’s List of Prohibited Books during his long reign in the 19th century. He also formalized the doctrine of papal infallibility.
What these Holy Fathers had in common was not just that they were badly flawed men putting forth badly flawed ideas: At the root of their moral failings is Catholicism’s centuries-old inability to come to grips with sex.
I say this as a somewhat lapsed, but certainly listening, Catholic educated by fine Jesuit minds and encouraged by the open-mindedness of Pope Francis. The big issue behind the budding civil war in a faith of 1.3 billion people — a rift that could plunge the church back into a medieval mind-set on sexuality — is the same old thing.
And most of the church’s backward teachings, dictated by nominally celibate and hypocritical men, have no connection to the words of Jesus.
If you’re going to strike at a pope, to paraphrase the line about taking down a king, you must kill him. Right-wing Catholics, those who think allowing gay members of the faith to worship with dignity is an affront to God, have just taken their best shot at Francis.
The attempted coup was disguised as an exposé by a conscience-stricken cleric, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. He claims that the pope must resign because he knew about the sexual abuse of young seminarians by a disgraced cardinal and did not defrock the predator.
It’s a fair point, and one that demands a full response from Francis. But if you read Viganò’s full 11-page letter, you see what’s really driving him and his ultraconservative cabal — an abhorrence of gay Catholics and a desire to return to the Dark Ages.
“The homosexual networks present in the church must be eradicated,” Viganò wrote. Those close to Francis, he claimed, “belong to the homosexual current in favor of subverting Catholic doctrine on homosexuality.” For theological authority, he cited the infamous 1986 letter to bishops condemning homosexuality as “a moral disorder.”
That instructive was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, designed to do to heretics what the Inquisition once did, without the stake-burning.
The bishop’s letter cites Old Testament sanctions against “sodomites” and a New Testament interpretation from St. Paul, who admitted he was not speaking with direct authority from the divine. St. Augustine, who loved sex and had plenty of it before he hated it, set the church template in the fifth century, saying, “Marriage is only one degree less sinful than fornication.”
What’s missing from these puritanical pronouncements, from then till now, is the figure at the center of the faith. That’s because, outside of condemning adulterous behavior, Christ never said anything about whom you could love. Nothing about homosexuals. Nothing about priestly celibacy or barring women from clerical ranks, for that matter.
Last year, while walking the thousand-year-old Via Francigena, I came upon many Catholics along that pilgrim’s path to Rome excited about the fresh air blowing through a Vatican that hadn’t opened a window in decades. The only cloud over these spiritual sojourners was the constant news about criminal clergy.
The conservatives would do nothing to fix this, but would make the church a global pariah. The old guard is infuriated by statements like the one Pope Francis made on Sunday. When asked how a parent should treat a gay child, he said, “Don’t condemn, have dialogue, listen.”
The way out of the present crisis is more light, less darkness and a few bold and dramatic moves. For starters, clerics should not be judging other clerics; let lay members, women and men, conduct the investigations.
Priestly celibacy should be optional. It’s an anachronism, certainly not one of the “infallible” truths, and may be one of the main reasons pedophilia is thick in clerical ranks. For the first thousand years of the church, married men could become priests, as they still can in the Greek Orthodox faith.
Women should be priests. Duh. When asked about this, Francis said only men could serve because Jesus chose only men as his apostles. This logic is flawed, as Jesus also chose Jews, and you don’t see a lot of them being invited into the priesthood.
A final alternative might be to look to the United States ambassador to the Vatican for moral guidance. That would be Callista Gingrich, who carried on a six-year affair with a married Newt Gingrich and became his third wife. In Rome, as always, hypocrisy is eternal.
Traditionalists want strict adherence to church doctrine. Liberals want the doctrine changed.
By Matthew Schmitz
Pope Francis must resign. That conclusion is unavoidable if allegations contained in a letter written by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò are true. Archbishop Viganò, the Vatican’s ambassador to the United States from 2011 to 2016, says that Pope Francis knew Cardinal Theodore McCarrick had abused seminarians, but nonetheless lifted penalties imposed on Cardinal McCarrick by Pope Benedict XVI.
No matter what Francis does now, the Catholic Church has been plunged into all-out civil war. On one side are the traditionalists, who insist that abuse can be prevented only by tighter adherence to church doctrine. On the other side are the liberals, who demand that the church cease condemning homosexual acts and allow gay priests to step out of the closet.
Despite their opposing views, the two sides have important things in common. Both believe that a culture of lies has enabled predators to flourish. And both trace this culture back to the church’s hypocritical practice of claiming that homosexual acts are wrong while quietly tolerating them among the clergy.
As the liberal Vatican observer Robert Mickens writes, “There is no denying that homosexuality is a key component to the clergy sex abuse (and now sexual harassment) crisis.” James Alison, himself a gay priest, observes, “A far, far greater proportion of the clergy, particularly the senior clergy, is gay than anyone has been allowed to understand,” and many of those gay clergy are sexually active. Father Alison describes the “absurd and pharisaical” rules of the clerical closet, which include “doesn’t matter what you do so long as you don’t say so in public or challenge the teaching.”
The importance of not challenging church teaching is seen in the contrast of two gay-priest scandals of the Francis pontificate. The first is the case of Msgr. Battista Ricca, a Vatican diplomat who, while stationed in Uruguay, reportedly lived with a man, was beaten at a cruising spot and once got stuck in an elevator with a rent boy. (In Uruguay, the age of consent is 15.) These facts were concealed from Pope Francis, who in 2013 appointed Monsignor Ricca to a position of oversight at the Vatican Bank.
After Monsignor Ricca’s sins were exposed, Francis chose to stand by him, famously saying, “Who am I to judge?” Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa suffered a less happy fate. The priest, who worked at the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, announced in 2015 that he was gay and had a male partner, and asked the church to change its teaching. He was immediately fired. Both Monsignor Ricca and Monsignor Charamsa had sinned, but only one had stepped out of line.
The other rule of the clerical closet is not violating the civil law — or at least not getting caught. Francis defended Monsignor Ricca by distinguishing between sins and crimes: “They are not crimes, right? Crimes are something different.” This distinction provides cover for sex abuse. When countless priests are allowed to live double lives, it is hard to tell who is concealing crimes. Cardinal McCarrick was widely seen as “merely” preying on adult seminarians. Now he has been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.
Corrupt as this situation is, many Catholic leaders prefer it to the coming civil war. That seemed to be the attitude of Bishop Robert Barron when he called for an investigation that avoids “ideological hobby horses” like priestly celibacy and homosexuality. Bishop Barron is right to insist that accountability comes first. This is why anyone implicated in cover-up — up to and including Pope Francis — needs to resign.
But even if all the men at fault are held accountable, the hypocrisy will continue. The real danger the church faces is not ideological challenge from left or right but a muddled modus vivendi that puts peace before truth.
In 2005 the Vatican attempted to address this problem by instructing seminaries to turn away men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.” But several Catholic leaders immediately indicated that they would not abide by this rule. Because Pope Benedict did nothing to enforce the decree, it became yet another symbol of Catholic hypocrisy.
According to Catholic teaching, every act of unchastity leads to damnation. But many bishops would rather save face than prevent the ruin of bodies and souls. If the church really does believe that homosexual acts are always and everywhere wrong, it should begin to live what it teaches. This would most likely mean enforcing the 2005 decree and removing clergy members caught in unchastity. If the church does not believe what it says — and there are now many reasons to think that it does not — it should officially reverse its teaching and apologize for centuries of pointless cruelty.
Either way, something must change. Marie Collins, a sex abuse survivor, warned that the crisis in the church is bound to get worse: “More and more countries are going to come forward, and as victims find their voices, it’s going to grow bigger.” Everyone who wants to end sex abuse should pray that the Catholic civil war does not end in stalemate.
I am part of a dying breed: Catholics who still go to church.
At the rate the Catholic hierarchy is disgracing itself, there’ll soon be none of us left.
How many young people want to join a church that remains oddly obsessed with sex? That says no to gays but yes to bishops who let priests rape little children? That considers birth control a “grave sin,” even among the married?
How many young people want to join a church that still demeans and disrespects women, or half the human race?
The Catholic Church won’t ordain women as priests or even deacons, a sort of priest-lite. Incredibly, the church considers ordaining women one of its worst offenses — but on the exact par with sexually attacking boys and girls.
Women have zero power in church decisions, even those directly affecting them. Instead, hundreds of celibate men get together, by themselves, and decide what women need. Conservative Catholics don’t even want girls to join altar boys serving Mass or have women participate in an annual Easter week feet-washing ritual.
Pope Francis, women’s best hope for reform since the 1960s, nonetheless has a depressingly dated and even juvenile perspective. He has called female theologians “strawberries on the cake,” warned women to become mothers and “not an old maid,” and derided grandmothers as no longer “fertile and vibrant.”
For decades, Catholic women outside the church have trashed these and other absurdities. Earlier this week in Ireland, before Francis’ visit there, former Irish president Mary McAleese again criticized the church she has called the world’s primary “carrier of the virus of misogyny” and “a male bastion of patronizing platitudes.” A church that “regularly criticizes the secular world for its failure to deliver on human rights [but] has almost no culture of critiquing itself.” A church that has “never sought a cure [for this] though a cure is readily available . . . equality.”
McAleese, the mother of a gay son, spoke these words at a conference on women in the church this winter that was originally planned for the Vatican. But the Vatican banned McAleese — a former head of state — from speaking. So the conference was relocated.
I am a fan of Jesuits, an order of smart and typically thoughtful priests. Francis is one. Yet I remember well a Boston College event two years ago marking the selection of the new Jesuit leader. The slide show that night featured picture after picture of men, just men, hundreds and hundreds of men in a massive room — not a woman in sight. Some women in the audience exchanged knowing glances. One raised her hand and asked: What about the women? But not a single Jesuit there, if any noticed at all, remarked on how abnormal, almost ridiculous, this all looked.
I don’t think those Jesuits, or many other bishops and priests, recognize the abnormality, the ridiculousness — perhaps because that’s what the Catholic hierarchy is: men in rooms. All men. Only men. But in light of these endless stories of priests’ sadism, all men and only men seems more than abnormal. It seems diseased.
Catholics get the question all the time: Why stay? Lots of Catholics I know say their faith centers on the radical carpenter who started it all, not on the corrupt institution created and dragged close to ruin — one more time — by men. As one disgusted Catholic put it at Mass last week, she still yearns for a church worthy of Jesus Christ.
Getting there means massive reforms. But a church where men and women share power must be among them. Not that women are perfect, of course. But I have no doubt that Catholic women with power in the church would have saved thousands of children from criminal predators all across Pennsylvania, Boston, America, and much of the world. Here’s what women almost never do: rape children.
Given the magnitude of the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, you’d think Church leaders would be better at responding to the outrage. Say you’re sorry, say you’re working to make the Church more transparent, say that you’ll cooperate with law enforcement whenever there’s an accusation of wrongdoing in the future, etc.
Even though he acknowledged that some allegations are true, he went after the victims and avoided referring to the Pennsylvania grand jury report in the United States that found some 300 abusive priests in a span of seven decades in six dioceses.
Obeso Rivera’s words came last week, after the report was made public.
“I’m here happy to talk about nice things, not about problematic things, it’s an accusation that is made, and in some cases it’s true. But the evil of many is the consolation of fools, because sometimes those who accuse men of the Church should [be careful] because they have long tails that are easily stepped on.”
… Is that supposed to be a threat? You rat on us and we’ll come after you? This isn’t a parable about glass houses. Everyone’s a sinner in some way, but these people were abused by Church leaders, and their abuse was covered up by other Church leaders. When it comes to the people deserving criticism, victims aren’t on the list.
But don’t worry. Obeso Rivera wants you to know he takes the allegations very seriously.
… he did say that the accusations “make us feel bad and we want to improve.”
I’m glad more than 300 priests sexually violating more than 1,000 children over several decades gives him the feels. We wouldn’t want him shedding more than a couple of tears now, would we?
With Church leaders like these, how do Catholics expect anything to change?