Coming out can be challenging for young people across the globe – but in Italy many young Catholics are struggling with negative attitudes from both their communities and their churches.
While some churches offer support for the LGBT community, others are still asking young people to see a psychologist or stop attending Church events. Sometimes even celibacy is expected.
Giulia is in the committee for an informal LGBT Catholic association that supports people up and down the country. Listen to her chat with her friend and fellow group member Edoardo about the challenges they’ve faced.
You can find out more about issues concerning young people and the Catholic Church by listening to the World Service’s Heart and Soul programme here.
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.
Recent news stories about financial settlements with adults who had sexual encounters with a bishop show that the issue of sex abuse in the Catholic Church is not limited to the abuse of minors. When Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was suspended from the priesthood after being credibly accused of abusing an altar boy, it was also revealed that financial settlements for his actions had been made earlier with two adults.
The church has adopted a zero tolerance for the sexual abuse of minors, but how should it deal with other sexual activity by priests?
The requirement of celibacy for priests in the Catholic Church is a topic of debate in the church today. Many, myself included, think that priestly celibacy should be optional, as it is in other Christian churches. Pope Francis has signaled that he is open to considering the ordination of married men but wants the request to come from national bishops’ conferences.
But Francis is also very strong is stating that in the meantime, celibacy must be observed. He would not throw out every priest who violated celibacy; individual lapses can be forgiven. But a priest who is incapable of observing celibacy should return to the lay state, Francis wrote before he became pope, especially if there is a child who has a right to a father.
Not everyone agrees with Francis. Some are less forgiving and would expel from the priesthood anyone who even once violates his promise of celibacy. Others argue that celibacy has never been universally observed and bad laws should not be enforced. In some cultures, bishops know that many of their priests do not observe celibacy and simply ignore it as long as it does not become public or as long as the parishioners don’t complain.
It is unknown how widespread are violations of celibacy. There are lots of anecdotes, but little data. I personally believe that most priests, especially in the United States, observe celibacy. But how are we to think about those who do not?
There is universal agreement that those who have sex with minors should be prosecuted as criminals and expelled from the priesthood. But what about violations with adults? Are there other sexual violations that should be treated by the church with zero tolerance?
Rape or other criminal violations should, of course, receive zero tolerance. These violations should be reported to the police and prosecuted under the law. There is no place in the priesthood for such criminals.
But what about other cases of sex with adults? Many Americans don’t think sex between consenting adults is an issue. But they and the church need to learn from feminists and the #MeToo movement. They have taught us about the danger of sex between adults who are not in positions of equal power.
For the church, this would clearly be the case of a bishop or priest having sex with a seminarian or a bishop having sex with a priest. The relationship here is even greater than that between an employer and employee. A bishop is supposed to be a father to his priests and seminarians. The church needs a zero-tolerance policy toward such abuse. Any bishop having sex with a seminarian or priest should lose his office, as should any priest having sex with a seminarian.
There also are many lay people employed by the church. Surely, the church should follow the highest standards in protecting lay employees from sexual harassment from their supervisors, whether priests or lay. Here the church should adopt best practices developed in the secular world.
There are also pastoral relationships that need to be examined since often the people a priest deals with are very vulnerable.
For centuries, the church has recognized this problem with regard to confessors and penitents. As a result, priests are excommunicated if they absolve their sexual partners.
Secular professionals, such as psychologists, recognize these dangers as well. Clients can be very vulnerable and dependent on their therapist. The feelings and emotions that come up in counseling can be exploited. The church can learn from other professions about best practices.
And what about sex with an ordinary parishioner?
The church needs a frank discussion of these issues with input from the laity. Sex between a priest and adult can be more than simply a violation of celibacy. It can also be a violation of professional ethics. With the advice of laity with expertise in these areas, the church needs to adopt best practices and hold itself to the highest standards. The church needs the help of laity not only in developing standards but also in enforcing them. No profession, including the clergy, is good at policing itself.
For 25 years, Jim Graham has tried to prove he is the son of a deceased Catholic priest who grew up in Lowell and graduated from Boston College.
He pulled old adoption records that mention his “alleged father.” He leaned on leaked documents from a friendly priest and petitioned Catholic leaders all the way to Rome, to no avail.
The quest continued Monday afternoon in a Catholic cemetery in Tewksbury, as a backhoe turned up earth on the Rev. Thomas Sullivan’s grave and promised to provide answers once and for all.
“We missed a lot, the two of us,” Graham said, fighting back tears after the exhumation. “Didn’t have much opportunity for father and son.”
Graham, his wife, and forensic pathologist Anna Marie Mires came to this cemetery on the grounds of an infirmary run by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate to take a DNA sample from Sullivan’s body. The sample will be compared with a sample provided by Graham and should offer a morbid capstone of Graham’s long search for the truth.
Children of Catholic priests live with secrets and sorrow: Jim Graham
“I never wanted it to come to this,” he said days earlier.
Graham, 72, had longed for some kind of confirmation from the Oblates, a 202-year-old Catholic religious order. He sought some acknowledgment that they knew and had tried to save face all these years.
“But they wouldn’t do that so I was left with no choice,” Graham said.
Although his quest appears to be unique, Graham is one of thousands of people around the world with credible claims that they were fathered by Catholic priests, often with no confirmation or financial support from the church. Frequently compelled to lead lives of silence and sorrow, they are the unfortunate victims of a religion that has, for nearly 900 years, forbidden priests to marry or have sex but has never set rules for what priests or bishops must do when a clergyman fathers a child.
Earlier this year, Graham received permission to conduct the exhumation from the Washington, D.C., office of the Oblates and had to overcome a variety of obstacles before the digging could begin.
He acquired a permit from the town of Tewksbury. Later, he went shopping for a drill bit that would be used to bore into Sullivan’s femur, an optimum location for retrieving DNA from a body that may have decomposed.
“So, there I was at Lowe’s buying some of the tools that the forensic anthropologist would use on my father,” said Graham, who was featured in a 2017 Globe Spotlight investigation into the children of Catholic priests. “I’m learning about all these procedures in ways I never thought I would.”
That drill bit came into play Monday. Mires, the forensic anthropologist, said the metal casket was raised from the grave. A nameplate identified the remains as the Rev. Thomas Sullivan, ensuring her that she had found the right body.
Mires said the remains were so well-preserved that she could recognize Sullivan from the photos she had seen. She took a sample from Sullivan’s femur, and three additional samples from other parts of his body, which was standard procedure for her. “From a DNA perspective, I was very happy about that,” Mires said.
The accelerated DNA testing will be done in Virginia, by Bode Cellmark Forensics, and Graham expects to receive test results in about a month. He said the total cost of the exhumation, the forensic anthropologist, a funeral director, and testing will exceed $10,000.
Coping International, a group that provides counseling and other support for priests’ children, has followed Graham’s case.
“I’m happy for Jim and I hope he finally finds closure,” said Vincent Doyle, the son of an Irish priest and the group’s founder. “But this was really a last resort and I can’t help but wonder, after 70 years, was there not a simpler solution?”
The Oblates say there was not. “Nobody is denying Jim’s idea that Father Tom Sullivan was his father,” said the Rev. Thomas G. Coughlin, the assistant to the order’s United States provincial. “We’ve been attempting to put his mind at ease. We just don’t have the information he wishes we would give him.”
Graham remains skeptical of that explanation, and for good reason. For a quarter century, at times working with the help of a detective agency, he has collected documents showing that Sullivan was almost certainly his father. The documents include more than 30 pages of records from a New York City adoption agency, which his mother used for day-care services after she left her husband, the man who raised Graham, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Those records refer to Jim as an “o.w. child,” or a child born out of wedlock, and mention a sympathetic “alleged father” living nearby.
Other records — church documents given to Jim by a friendly priest, and a transcript of his mother’s divorce proceedings — strongly suggest Sullivan deserted the Oblates and moved to New York City at about the same time as Jim’s mother.
The church records show that Sullivan was transferred from a church in Buffalo to the Oblate College in Newburgh, N.Y., about a 90-minute drive from Manhattan, “to protect him and save him” from “a serious occasion.” They also show that Sullivan left the college a month later, without leaving a forwarding address, saying he would never return.
If Graham’s mother and the Rev. Sullivan were attempting to start a new life as lovers and his parents, their plans were abruptly dashed when private detectives raided their New York City apartment. This, according to Graham, gave his stepfather the evidence he used to divorce his mother and retain custody of him and two girls that Graham now believes are his half-sisters.
After the raid, Sullivan rejoined the Oblates and spent the next 16 years doing penance — translating religious texts and performing menial tasks — at a shrine the Oblates maintained in upstate New York, according to church records reviewed by The Boston Globe. When the Oblates deemed him rehabilitated, he fulfilled assignments in far-flung regions of the country and eventually returned to Tewksbury, where in 1993 he died of melanoma in the infirmary overlooking the cemetery where he was buried.
Troubled by questions about why the man who raised him treated him so coldly, Graham carefully assembled the documents and interviewed clergy members, including a nun who knew the priest well. He petitioned Oblate leaders in Rome, asking that they formally acknowledge Sullivan was his father, but to no avail.
Then, last year, when Graham was prominently featured in the Spotlight investigation, he was contacted by a clergy abuse survivor from the Boston area who has been a vociferous advocate for other survivors.
Olan Horne, who was molested by the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham, offered to broker a meeting with Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley, the leader of a commission established by Pope Francis to study the issue of priests who sexually abuse children and young people. It was Horne’s hope, and Graham’s, that O’Malley would use his influence to push the Oblates to be more responsive.
O’Malley met with Horne in late December, Graham said, although Graham was not permitted to be there. As a result, Graham received a call from the Rev. Louis Studer, the head of the Oblates in the United States, though Studer offered little in the way of help.
“We’ve told him our records contain no reference to any offspring by Father Tom Sullivan,” said Coughlin, Studer’s assistant. “We have records but they don’t contain the information he’d like us to find there.”
But Graham persisted, until the Oblates agreed to allow him to exhume the Rev. Sullivan’s remains, leading him to pursue his quest to the end of the line – the small cemetery here on the grounds of the Oblate infirmary. “I’m pretty persistent,” Graham said. “I wasn’t going to go away.”
A CONTROVERSIAL Catholic priest has claimed the vow of celibacy is one of the causes of clerical child abuse and called on the church to repeal the ancient law.
Father Tony Flannery will deliver a lecture at the University of Edinburgh next month entitled “Celibacy, sexuality and the crisis in the priesthood” when he will also demand the ordination of women.
The Catholic Church forbids women from joining the priesthood and men who are ordained must promise not to have sex, a rule which Flannery claims is deterring young men.
The Catholic Church has distanced itself from Flannery, denied that the celibacy rule was off-putting and said there were 12 priests ordained in Scotland last year, the highest number in 20 years.
Flannery was suspended by the church in 2012 and threatened with ex-communication unless he stayed silent, but he is set to bring his message to Scotland on February 28 and risk further sanctions by the church.
Speaking exclusively to the Sunday Herald, he said: “The rule on celibacy has to be changed because it is not working. Fewer and fewer young men are interested in becoming priests because the oath of celibacy is a big deterrent.
“Catholic priests could marry up until the 13th century. It’s purely a church regulation and as such it can be changed.
“In my experience, for a lot of priests, celibacy has been a struggle which can lead to difficulties, such as addictive behaviours.”
Flannery went on to say celibacy can be “a factor” in clerical child abuse cases. “It’s something that should be examined carefully by the Catholic church,” he said.
“The Australian investigation into child sexual abuse in institutions, in the final summing up which came out a month ago, suggests compulsory celibacy was a factor. One of the recommendations they made was the Catholic church lift the rule on compulsory celibacy.”
Flannery, who lives in Killimordaly in County Galway, was ordained more than 40 years ago and took the vow of celibacy, but he would not confirm whether he had adhered to the rule. “I have many relationships, but I don’t want to go into my personal life,” he said. “One thing I will say is I am a 71-year-old man so…”
Flannery also wants to see an end to the patriarchy which governs the church and decrees that women can’t be priests.
“I am fully supportive of the ordination of women,” he said. “I want women to have full equality in the church. At the moment women have no voice in decision-making in the church. That is so wrong and outdated that it has to change. I see women as essential for the credibility of the Catholic church going forward.”
A spokesman for the Catholic church said: “Ordination and decision-making are completely different things – the former is not a pre-requisite for the latter.”
When asked about celibacy the church spokesman added: “To suggest celibacy is a deterrent to vocations is demonstrably not true…in Scotland the number of men studying for the priesthood has increased every year for the last 10 years. In 2017 there were 12 ordinations of priests in Scotland, the highest figure in 20 years. There are currently 18 seminarians studying for the priesthood, the highest figure for over a decade.”
Flannery’s views led to sanctions by the church’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was founded in 1542 to defend the church from heresy.
Flannery said: “I am no longer allowed to minister publicly as a priest. That happened six years ago. As a consequence, I have been on the fringes of the church. It’s affected my opinion of the Vatican.
“My main dispute there wasn’t so much that they objected to things I had written. I don’t mind that. The authority structure has the right to question people. My main problem was the process in which the Vatican dealt with me was totally unjust.
“I had no opportunity to defend myself. I was never told who accused me or the nature of the allegation. I was never communicated with directly by the Vatican. There was no court of appeal.”
A church spokesman said: “The Vatican processes are far from unjust and ensure the right of defence for all involved.”
FLANNERY COULD FACE PROTESTS BY CATHOLIC STUDENTS AT EDINBURGH UNIVERSITY
Diego Maria Malara, a lecturer in social anthropology, is organising Flannery’s visit and expects opposition. He said: “Father Flannery’s scheduled appearance at the University in February will be boycotted by more conservative members of the Catholic Student Union, but many of Edinburgh’s Catholics will welcome the chance to hear this charismatic speaker, who represents the progressive side of the Catholic Church.”
Maya Mayblin, who is also a lecturer in social anthropology, invited Flannery to speak. She is researching how sexuality affects the lives of Catholic priests.
She said: “Father Flannery is one of relatively few people within the church to have addressed this issue directly and publicly, so I think people will be very interested in what he has to say. I haven’t encountered any opposition and my hope is that even those who disagree him will want to attend his talk.
“Father Flannery is an important figure because he’s in a position to give voice to opinions which lots of priests hold, but are unable to express due to something of a culture of silence within the priesthood.
“The church is a very centralised institution, so any divergent voice, especially from a priest, can seem troubling to the institution.”
The Sunday Herald contacted the University of Edinburgh’s Catholic Students’ Union for comment, but did not receive a response.
Flannery said: “If they turn up with placards and try to interrupt me I would find it hilarious.”