Words of welcome for gay people from Cork-born bishop removed from promo clip
The Association of Catholic Priests has said it find it “impossible to understand” why words of Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles had been edited out of a promotional video for the World Meeting of Families 2018.
It has called on Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, who is hosting the event which will take place at the end of August, to issue a statement clarifying the matter.
Words of welcome from the Cork-born Bishop David O’Connell for gay people raising children and people in second marriages were removed from the video.
“Pope Francis, he gets it. Today there are all sorts of configurations of families – mum and dad; mum or dad on their own; gay couple raising children; people in second marriages,” he said. These have been cut.
A spokeswoman for the World Meeting of Families 2018 has insisted however that everyone will be welcome to the event which is being hosted by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin at the end of August next.
She noted how, in Amoris laetitia, “Pope Francis specifically stresses that ‘every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration’ . . . as is repeated throughout the parish programme.
“The meeting has always been understood as a meeting open to all. This remains the position of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin.”
In a statement on Tuesday, the association, which represents between a third and a half of Catholic priests in Ireland, said it was concerned that “following the earlier removal of photographs from a leaflet, the organisers of the World Meeting of Families have now also removed the words of Bishop O’Connell” from their promotional video.
“His words were such that we find it impossible to understand how anyone who supports the message of PopeFrancis could object to them.”
It was the case that “no clear statement has been made as to why these actions were taken, and on whose direction. Both leave themselves open to interpretations which are very damaging to the WMOF.”
It asked: “Who is making the decisions? Where is the funding coming from? Has the source of the funding anything to do with the decisions being made?
“Without clear explanations, questions like these, and many others, will continue to be asked.”
The ACP concluded: “We believe that it is important that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin makes a statement clarifying why these two alterations were made, who decided on them, and why. Otherwise any further effect to present the WMOF as a welcoming place for everyone will be seen for what it is, empty rhetoric.”
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A male escort told Italian media that he outed the priests because he couldn’t stand their hypocrisy any longer.
The archdiocese of Naples says it has sent the Vatican a 1,200-page dossier compiled by a male escort identifying 40 actively gay priests and seminarians in Italy.
In a statement on the diocesan website, Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe said none of the identified priests worked in Naples. But he said he decided to forward the file to the Vatican because “there remains the gravity of the cases for which those who have erred must pay the price, and be helped to repent for the harm done.”
The dossier, containing WhatsApp chats and other evidence, was compiled by a self-proclaimed gay escort, Francesco Mangiacapra. He has told Italian media that he outed the priests because he couldn’t stand their hypocrisy any longer.
None of the 34 priests or six seminarians was accused of having sex with minors, Mangiacapra was quoted as saying in the diocesan statement.
“We’re talking about sins, not crimes,” the escort was quoted as saying in the statement.
It’s the latest sex scandal to convulse the Italian church and the Vatican.
Last month, a Vatican judge pleaded guilty in a Rome tribunal to having child porn on his computer after police were brought in when he allegedly tried to fondle an 18-year-old man. Monsignor Pietro Amenta was a judge on the Roman Rota, the Holy See tribunal that hears marriage annulment cases, as well as a consulter to various Vatican congregations. He resigned after the plea deal, the Vatican said.
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Ross Douthat and Massimo Faggioli argued over Francis’s legacy last week.
Two high-profile Catholic thought leaders duked it out last week in a debate over the five-year legacy of Pope Francis — and what his papacy means for a church in crisis.
Longtime intellectual rivals Villanova professor Massimo Faggioli and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat engaged in a conversation on Pope Francis, hosted by Fordham University in New York. The debate ultimately developed into a far broader question: How far should the church change in dialogue with modern sexual ethics when it comes to issues like women priests, divorce, abortion, and same-sex marriage?
And — perhaps even more importantly — the conversation turned broader still, as both participants asked if change should be seen as a theologically necessary part of the Catholic tradition.
Faggioli, a self-professed liberal Catholic, and Douthat, a conservative, have long expressed differing views on Francis’s papacy, and on the trajectory of the Catholic Church more generally through bold rhetoric on Twitter.
Since the beginning of Francis’s time as pope, much secular media attention has focused on what, to non-Catholics, have appeared to be relaxed stances on usually taboo issues for Catholics. Francis’s papacy, while changing little in terms of Catholic doctrine, has nevertheless made welcoming those who fail to follow that doctrine (whether on abortion, LGBTQ issues, or divorce) into the Catholic community a priority.
For example, Francis opened a temporary window for women who have had abortions to seek forgiveness from the church in 2015. One of his most famous early statements may have been asking “Who am I to judge?” when it comes to homosexuality, although Francis has elsewhere maintained traditional Catholic doctrine.
Douthat, a Catholic convert, has frequently been critical of what he deems Francis’s divisive tactics, including using unofficial or “leaked” communications to the media to informally express more controversial views. He also opposes a willingness to, in his view, upend church tradition for the sake of pacifying liberal attitudes and retaining church membership.
For his part, Faggioli, an admirer of the Francis pontificate, has frequently condemned Douthat as an intellectual dilettante, criticizing his lack of formal theological training and what he sees as Douthat’s partisan perspective on church issues.
Their personal disagreement masks a wider debate, not simply between “liberal” and “conservative” Catholics, or between “progressives” who want to change the church to fit contemporary cultural mores and “traditionalists” who want to preserve the church exactly as it was.
It’s a debate between those who see a degree of dynamism as already part and parcel of what it means to be Catholic, and those who see it as an exterior, dangerous force.
The debate on Francis is also a debate on the aftermath of Vatican II
Although Faggioli and Douthat’s debate was about the pope, it wasn’t just about the pope. Central to their disagreements were their perceptions of the effects of Vatican II (formally known as the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965), which explored if and how the church should adapt to a changing world.
At that point, Catholics the world over were still responding to the aftermath of World War II, and the Holocaust in particular, leading some Catholics to question the language and tone with which the church approached interfaith issues.
Those changes under Vatican II included an increased focus on ecumenical relations, and on Catholic-Jewish relations. But the relative liberalization of Vatican II (for example, eschewing Latin during Mass) has often been seen by later critics as paving the way for an acceptance of more extreme elements of “modernity,” such as the sexual revolution. That movement challenged the formal Vatican positions on abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, divorce, and premarital sex more generally.
Official church doctrine has never changed on any of these positions (nor, should it be noted, has even the “liberal” Pope Francis ever sought to change them).
Still, the “spirit of Vatican II,” or its overall ecumenical ethos, is cited by proponents and critics alike to refer to post-Vatican-II liberalizing tendencies that exceed the remit of Vatican II’s more narrow reforms. To Vatican II’s critics, a broad definition of this spirit is responsible for a more general “liberalization” in the church.
The subsequent half-century or so of the Catholic Church has been marked by various popes’ differing responses to and reckoning with Vatican II, its spirit, and the question of what “moving forward” even means within a Catholic context. That brings us to the current debate — last week’s and among Catholics in general — around Pope Francis’s somewhat lax views.
Faggioli and Douthat’s debate reflected broader divides
Douthat, a perhaps more natural debater, took a more aggressive approach, referring to a coming “schism” and a “civil war” in the church, and saying that Francis’s approach risked fomenting a “crisis of papal authority itself.”
Speaking specifically about Francis’s opening to providing communion to remarried couples, Douthat warned that, by relaxing rules around communion, Francis risked promulgating the idea that “the papacy allows for changes around these contested issues of sexual ethic,” and thus challenging the idea — central to Catholic theology — that the church’s continuity on issues remains unchanged.
Faggioli, though, rejected Douthat’s very premise. Focusing on continuity as a metric for a “good” pope, he says, and “looking at Catholic doctrine in terms of continuity or discontinuity, in my mind, assumes one thing: that Christianity, at some point … was complete.”
Furthermore, Faggioli said his assessment of Francis’s perspective centered not on doctrine but on pastoral care. The church need not change its teachings, he said, but rather ask itself, “What can the Catholic Church do to make the faithful able to receive sacraments?”
For Douthat, Pope Francis represents a break with tradition so profound that it risks rendering a fundamental principle of Catholic thought irrelevant: the idea that the church exists in continuity with its past traditions and perspectives.
Citing the case of allowing parish priests license to grant communion to remarried Catholics, which Francis has quietly campaigned for, Douthat argued that such a procedure would, in practice, vitiate the church’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage (because, in Catholic tradition, marriage is seen as an irreversible sacrament between the couple and God, divorce is not seen as legitimate).
It is, for Douthat and other Catholic conservatives, a back-door form of Catholic-sanctioned divorce. By advocating for it and similar reforms, Francis, in Douthat’s view, represents a dangerous figure for the church: one too willing to cede ground to modern liberalism.
Faggioli, though, argued that Douthat’s perspective — of “continuity” and “discontinuity” within church tradition — was flawed and ahistoric. He pointed out that Francis is not seeking to allow divorce — something that would be a striking change in church teaching — but only advocating that divorced and remarried couples be allowed to receive the sacrament of communion — and thus participate fully in church life.
Instead, Faggioli said, Douthat’s view failed to reflect the way in which Catholic tradition has long existed in dialogue with itself, and how interpretations of Scripture have consistently grown and developed over time. The Catholic tradition, Faggioli said, “is not a mineral, it’s an animal. It moves. It adapts. It grows.”
Decades after Vatican II, the church faces demographic and social upheaval
While Douthat and Faggioli differ on the degree to which the Catholic Church is in danger, it’s fair to argue that it is — if not in crisis — at least in flux.
Decades of sex abuse scandals have eroded public trust in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Mass attendance has drastically fallen in America and Europe, especially among young adults. There is an increasingly severe shortage of Catholic priests. And the face of Catholicism is changing, too. Catholicism is in decline in Western Europe and America, but drastically on the rise in Africa. Like it or not, the church is changing in demographics if not doctrine.
But the question remains: Where do we go from here?
The debaters’ differing perspectives may be as attributable to their methods as their politics. Douthat’s interest lies in the church as an institution; the questions he asks focus on that institution’s survival and transformation.
In many of his columns, as well as in his forthcoming book, To Change the Church?, Douthat approaches the church as a political scientist might, looking at how different conservative or modernizing factions have jockeyed for support and survival. His questions of “continuity” and “discontinuity” are questions one asks of an institution, rather than a faith.
Douthat comes to the study of the church as a zealous outsider, and that perspective — one that tends to see the church as a holistic, uniform body that, while sometimes under temporary threat, nevertheless remains intact — suffuses his work. That Francis seems to endanger that perceived unity makes him a threat.
Frequently during the debate, Douthat warned of the potential of a schism within the Catholic Church as a result of Francis’s developments: “Things can break … there is a deep conflict.”
Faggioli, however, is both a church historian and a trained theologian, whose concern is both with the church as an institution and with theology as a living, dynamic body of discourse, constantly being shaped by new questions and voices both inside and outside the academy.
As a theologian, he appears more comfortable with the often-murky process by which the exploration of ideas — theological debate — becomes calcified into church doctrine, and the way in which these ideas morph and change over time. Rather than arguing whether or not the church should adapt to shifting culture, he argued that a degree of dynamism is part and parcel of church tradition and always has been.
The Catholic Church’s priority should be on finding ways for the faithful to remain within the church, not expelling those who do not follow its teachings, he says. (And it’s important to stress, in this debate, neither Faggioli nor Francis is necessarily saying that its teachings should change. Faggioli’s point is about access, not ideas).
Both Douthat and Faggioli ask vital questions. And Douthat’s challenge — how does an institution address cultural change without losing its founding principles — is completely valid. Any answer that does not take seriously that for faithful Catholics, the doctrine being debated is a matter of weighty metaphysical truth, not just politics or optics, fails to appreciate the gravity of the question being asked.
Faggioli’s response — that “in order to get close to Jesus, there has to be some kind of discontinuity” — may provide “liberal” Catholics a viable alternative to Douthat’s reactionary historicism, and a way forward for a church that is both weighed down and grounded by its past.
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On Dec. 17, the Rev. Gregory Greiten shared a secret with parishioners at the St. Bernadette Catholic Parish: “I am gay.” Greiten was then greeted with a standing ovation, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The next day, Greiten wrote a column in the National Catholic Reporter. As someone who now uses the descriptor “recovering Catholic” to answer questions about my religious identity, was once approached for the priesthood, struggled with reconciling my faith with my sexual orientation, and just finished writing about these experiences and more in a book called I Can’t Date Jesus, much of what Greiten wrote felt all too familiar.
“Each time I had a great desire to speak out I was challenged by other priests and leaders,” he wrote before breaking down the various responses—all of which can be tied under the bow of the sentiment “Keep your sins to yourself.” The advocacy for his continued silence was centered on the belief that to come out as gay would result in damages to his ministry at least, and expulsion from the church at worst. While it might have been wrong to call upon Greiten to deny who he is in a space where people go to seek answers about God and themselves, their fears were aided by precedent.
The New York Times’ Christine Hauser noted:
The Rev. Warren Hall was fired from Seton Hall University’s ministry in 2015 after he came out as gay. In 2004, the Rev. Frederick Daley, now a pastor at All Saints Parish in Syracuse, came out, angered by what he called the “scapegoating” of gay priests during the church sexual abuse scandal.
Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest who has written a book called “Building a Bridge,” about L.G.B.T. Catholics, said that between 20 percent and 30 percent of Catholic priests are celibate gay men and that a larger reason they have not been public about their sexuality is homophobia in the church.
It is no wonder that Greiten laments about the “heavy burden” he carried with him. I know that burden, despite not being a member of the clergy. If you find yourself the child, brother, son or friend of a religious person with rigid ideas of what’s right and wrong, then you, too, will find yourself told to be silent, purportedly for the sake of your own good.
Like Greiten, I was taught that homosexuality was something “disordered, unspeakable and something to be punished.” I thought I was going to go to hell for every thought I had, every touch I contemplated, each time I gave in to temptation. It’s a haunting, shameful feeling that eats you inside. You become so accustomed to guilt that even if you dare to be truthful about who you are in all settings, you may still find yourself having to learn to shake off old habits, like guilt. Religions in general tend to make their believers feel guilty about their misdeeds, but Catholics are particularly adept when it comes to guilt.
That’s why it matters so much that Greiten has stepped forward and gained national attention. There are many more like him. Just how many is unclear, but none of them should feel compelled to linger in the shadows.
Greiten explains the necessity for more visible gay priests to step forward:
There is no question there are and always have been celibate, gay priests and chaste members of religious communities. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, in 2016, there were 37,192 diocesan and religious priests serving in the United States. While there are no exact statistics on the number of gay Catholic priests, Fr. Donald B. Cozzens suggested in his book, The Changing Face of the Priesthood, that an estimated 23 percent to 58 percent of priests were in fact gay. It would mean that there are anywhere from 8,554 (low) to 21,571 (high) gay Catholic priests in the United States today.
By choosing to enforce silence, the institutional church pretends that gay priests and religious do not really exist. Because of this, there are no authentic role models of healthy, well-balanced, gay, celibate priests to be an example for those, young and old, who are struggling to come to terms with their sexual orientation. This only perpetuates the toxic shaming and systemic secrecy.
In 2013, Pope Francis shocked many Catholics when he answered a question about gay priests by saying, “Who am I to judge?” Francis has gone on to appoint archbishops and other senior church leaders who are more embracing of LGBTQ Catholics. However, in 2015, I wrote that while the pope deserves some kudos for his remarks and actions, much of the praise lavished on him is unwarranted. After all, the church continues to tolerate gay people more so than truly embracing them. The church continues to collectively hold archaic, bigoted views about transgender people. Moreover, the Vatican relentlessly clings to needless positions about women on issues like contraception that contribute to their subjugation around the world.
And for those reading this who might be thinking to quip that there aren’t that many black Catholics, think again. In November, The Atlantic published “There Are More Black Catholics in the U.S. Than Members of the A.M.E. Church.” The piece largely focused on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ decision to create a new, ad hoc committee against racism in light of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Although that is important work, I can’t help thinking about priests like Gregory Greiten and wondering why so much of the Catholic Church’s leadership continues to ignore what’s either hiding plain in sight or now demanding recognition.
Why can’t we engage in more meaningful dialogue about dogma, as in documentaries such as For the Bible Tells Me So or books such as God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships? According to the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of Catholics now support same-sex marriage. Those numbers will not dissipate with time. What is the church waiting on?
Greiten went on to write about his own role in perpetuating the stigmatization of LGBTQ people and the silence it has spurred in many of its members:
As a priest of the Roman Catholic Church currently serving in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, I would like to apologize personally to my LGBT brothers and sisters for my part in remaining silent in the face of the actions and inactions taken by my faith community towards the Catholic LGBT community as well as the larger LGBT community. I pledge to you that I will no longer live my life in the shadows of secrecy. I promise to be my authentically gay self. I will embrace the person that God created me to be. In my priestly life and ministry, I, too, will help you, whether you are gay or straight, bisexual or transgendered, to be your authentic self — to be fully alive living in your image and likeness of God. In reflecting our God-images out into the world, our world will be a brighter, more tolerant place.
It would behoove the church to listen to him. I hope it will inspire more to step forward. The church should have priests who are women; chastity should be options; LGBTQ people should be able to join the priesthood if they feel such a calling. Everyone should be loved and embraced rather than merely tolerated, and as long as they aren’t seen as whole. Many of us have already been run out of the church because of its unwillingness to change. My mama may not be able to get me back to Mass, but perhaps Greiten and others like him can keep other kids from fleeing in the future.
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