Fine Gael Senator Jerry Buttimer has expressed disappointment at Pope Francis’ declaration that there is “no room” in the Catholic church for gay priests.
“The issue of homosexuality is a very serious issue that must be adequately discerned from the beginning with the candidates,” Pope Francis says in a book released in Italy on Saturday.
“In our societies it even seems that homosexuality is fashionable and that mentality, in some way, also influences the life of the church.”
Writing in The Strength of Vocation, Pope Francis says some priests did not exhibit any homosexual inclinations when they joined the priesthood only for it to emerge later but he reminded the faithful that the Catholic Church views homosexual acts as sinful.
“In consecrated and priestly life, there’s no room for that kind of affection. Therefore, the church recommends that people with that kind of ingrained tendency should not be accepted into the ministry or consecrated life
Mr Buttimer, who is gay and studied for five years as a seminarian in Maynooth in the 1980s, said the Pope seemed to be delivering a very traditional message with regard to people from the LGBT community which was at odds with some of his initial comments regarding gay people.
Pope Francis was now adopting “ a very hardline” approach to the LGBT community and to say that homosexuality was about being fashionable failed to recognize that people’s sexual orientation was a fundamental part of their being, he said.
‘In god’s image’
“Being gay is not transient, it’s not a phase, it’s not a passing stage of one’s life – I’ve always made the point that, as a Christian, as a Catholic, I was born and am born in the image of the god who created me and the god that I pray to and worship,” said Mr Buttimer.
“For me, this is disappointing from Pope Francis whom I thought, given his initial statements that he would not judge people, would have travelled a journey of being more open, and understanding and accepting of LGBT people but obviously I was wrong.”
Mr Buttimer said one of the fundamentals of the priesthood was that it was a celibate ministry but to say that applies to just homosexual priests without stressing that similar principles should apply to heterosexual priests was “wrong and deeply unfair”.
“The church would be a better church, a more enhanced church by having a ministry that is open to all and it just baffles that the Pope, on one level seems to be a welcoming man and then in the next breath shuts the door completely to members of the LGBT community,” Mr Buttimer said.
“There are many committed Christians and Catholics who are gay, some of them are afraid to come out but they make very fine contributions in the liturgy as lay readers and lay ministers of the Eucharist and they do a wonderful job in our churches, in our classrooms, in our choirs and as part of parish councils.”
IT IS EVIDENT that the Catholic Church is incapable on its own of exorcising the scourge of clergy sex abuse. The scandal raged unchecked for decades and, even after it was exposed in 2002 by the Boston Globe , has been met by the church hierarchy with denial, temporizing, stone walling and half-measures.
Even as the bishops of America’s 196 Catholic dioceses and archdioceses gathered in Baltimore Monday to grapple with the latest major revelations — a Pennsylvania grand jury’s report from August detailing decades of abuse involving more than 1,000 victims and at least 300 priests — they were stopped in their tracks by an abrupt message from the Vatican, which asked them to hold off. That intercession arrived along with a warning from Pope Francis’s ambassador in the United States, Archbishop Christophe Pierre, who seemed to scoff at the proposal, which the bishops had been set to vote on, to establish a lay commission that would assess bishops’ misconduct — “as if we were no longer capable of reforming or trusting ourselves,” as he put it.
That remark crystallized the arrogance that has often characterized the church’s stance even as countless exposés have laid bare the culpability of its leaders. From high and low, the church has broadcast its conviction that its own transgressions are no worse than that of other institutions; that state statutes of limitations that shield dioceses from lawsuits should be preserved; that no foothold may be allowed for mechanisms to discipline bishops who have enabled abuse by transferring pedophile priests from parish to parish.
Voices of moral clarity have been heard from within the church, urging genuine change. “Brother bishops, to exempt ourselves from this high standard of accountability is unacceptable and cannot stand,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said in a speech to the gathered bishops Monday following that of Mr. Pierre. “Whether we will be regarded as guardians of the abused or the abuser will be determined by our actions.”
Yet, more often than not, those voices have been ignored.
The pontiff has summoned bishops from around the world to the Vatican for a meeting to address the scandal in February; this summit, we are urged to believe, will once and for all set the church on a path toward surmounting the blight of abuse. The fact of that pending event was the proffered pretext for the church’s request that the U.S. bishops put off two items on their agenda this week in Baltimore: establishing the lay commission to review complaints against bishops, and adopting a code of conduct for themselves — the first such codified ethical guidelines.
The agenda was modest, and Rome’s intervention is telling. Again and again, the Vatican pays lip service to the suffering of victims. Again and again, it undercuts its own assertions of contrition.
In August, in a letter published in the National Catholic Register, Italian Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò blamed the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual abuse crisis on gay priests who “act under the concealment of secrecy and lies with the power of octopus tentacles, and strangle innocent victims and priestly vocations, and are strangling the entire church.” Pope Francis, he wrote, had sheltered such priests. Viganò specifically named Theodore McCarrick, a “serial predator” who resigned as a cardinal in July after the news broke that he’d sexually abused adolescent boys while rising to become one of America’s most prominent archbishops. Viganò called on Francis to “set a good example” and resign, along with the other cardinals and bishops implicated in the scandal. He wrote little about the fact that McCarrick’s abuse took place during the papacies of Francis’s conservative predecessors, John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Whatever Francis knew about McCarrick, the previous popes likely knew more. But their complicity was overlooked.
Viganò belongs to a traditionalist wing of the church that has never truly accepted Pope Francis. In the United States, this contingent includes Cardinal Raymond Burke of St. Louis, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, and Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput. These powerful clergymen aren’t just conservative on theological matters, but in their politics as well. While serving as the Vatican’s apostolic nuncio, or ambassador, to Washington, Viganò was responsible for introducing Pope Francis to Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to grant marriage licenses to gay couples in 2015. From San Francisco, Cordileone publicly supported California’s Proposition 8, which opposed same-sex marriage, raising over $1 million to get it on the ballot. Chaput has called on the University of Notre Dame to give President Donald Trump an honorary degree. And Burke plans to partner with former Trump campaign chief Steve Bannon to construct a Catholic compound near Rome that will host meetings and seminars with church leaders and politicians interested in protecting “Christendom.”
In late August, several conservative American bishops and their allies published letters in support of Viganò, even after journalists from The Washington Post and The New York Times reported that he had likely exaggerated many of the claims he made in the Register. They are using the worst crimes of the church to attack Francis and his liberal policies. What should have served as a reckoning has been transformed into an opportunity to take him down.
Francis has been fighting off critics practically since the day he was elected in 2013. When Benedict, a Bavarian theologian nicknamed “God’s Rottweiler,” stepped down earlier that year, he still had significant support in the Vatican for his most extreme conservative stances—he once quoted fourteenth-century texts that criticized Islam as “evil and inhuman”; lifted the excommunication of a British bishop who denied the Holocaust; and claimed condoms worsened the fight against AIDS. Since then, conservative dissenters in the Catholic hierarchy have formed a resistance of sorts, pushing back against Francis’s pronouncements on divorce, immigration, climate change, and poverty.
Much of this resistance comes from the United States. Although 63 percent of American Catholics support the pope, according to a recent CNN poll, conservative clergy and wealthy Catholic donors remain among his fiercest critics. Their most common line of attack focuses on Francis’s supposed support for gay priests. In 2013, the pope quipped, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gay Catholics. Two years later, he met with an openly gay former student, Yayo Grassi, and his partner in Washington. And more recently, he asked James Martin, a Jesuit priest who has written a book on LGBT Catholics, to deliver a talk at the World Meeting of Families in Ireland this past summer. Francis has actually taken no official action to change church policy about homosexuality, but conservatives have still reacted in horror. In May, when Francis told a gay Chilean sexual abuse survivor that God made him gay and loves him anyway, American Conservative columnist Rod Dreher said the pope was destroying the church like a “wrecking ball.” Conservatives like Dreher maintain that gay priests are the main perpetrators of child sexual abuse, and that their powerful supporters within the Vatican—whom Dreher calls the “lavender mafia”—are responsible for harboring them.
Of course, there is no evidence of a higher rate of abuse among gay clergy; in fact, abuse, religious and secular, is most commonly the result of “situational generalists” who abuse whoever is in their control, male or female, children or adults. But that hasn’t stopped conservatives from arguing that gay men are responsible for the abuse crisis. In his letter, for example, Viganò uses the word “child” twice; “homosexual” appears 16 times. Cardinal Burke compared gay priests to murderers in a 2015 interview with LifeSite News, a pro-life web site. The problems the church faces, from child abuse to a lack of men applying to the priesthood, he once said, are because it has become too “feminized,” which, given Burke’s track record, could be taken as a way of saying “too gay.”
The conservatives attempting to blame gay priests for sexual scandals appear to have two main objectives. First, they hope to purge the church of its gay clergy. And second, they want Francis out. Because he has softened the church’s stance on LGBT issues, his opponents can accuse him of sheltering gay priests and, in their minds, saddle him with responsibility for the sexual abuse crisis, despite the fact that it began long before he was elected pope.
No one yet knows how much Francis knew about the abuse. On the papal plane hours after Viganò’s letter was released, he did not deny the charges leveled at him. Instead he told journalists on board, “You have the journalistic capacity to draw your own conclusions.” A strong denial would have been preferable, under the circumstances—he was traveling back to Rome from Ireland, where he had just met with victims of sexual abuse there, which reached such a horrific scale that an entire generation of people had left the church. The pope later said the meeting left a “profound mark” on him. Presented with the letter so soon after seeing the traumatized victims, he may simply have been too shaken to answer. Or it could mean that Francis did know about McCarrick. He has been pope for five years. He could have taken a stronger stance against sexual abuse in the church already. He still can.
But amid this muddled, internecine conflict, one thing is clear: Conservative attempts to tear Francis down, while absolving his predecessors and blaming a global sexual crisis on gay priests, are sinister and abusive. The problems of the Catholic Church stem not from homosexuality but from an entrenched culture that protects clergy—and the church itself—at the expense of the people they are meant to serve. Long ago, the Vatican and its leadership lost their connection to the ordinary lives of the billion Catholics worldwide. Now, they privilege reputation above truth, and, like many of the current accusations flying around, that instinct is rotten.
The Vatican has decided to fight fire and brimstone with fire and brimstone.
Six weeks after Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former Vatican ambassador in the United States, shook the church by accusing Pope Francis of covering up sexual abuse, the Vatican broke its public silence on Sunday with a scathing public retort from a powerful prefect for the Congregation for Bishops.
The prefect, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, called the accusations by “dear Viganò” “false,” “far-fetched,” “blasphemous,” “incomprehensible” “abhorrent” and politically motivated to hurt Francis. He suggested that the archbishop would be wise to “quickly repair” his break with the pope.
“I cannot begin to understand how you let yourself be convinced of this monstrous accusation, which does not stand up,” Cardinal Ouellet said in the letter, which was written in French.
Archbishop Viganò did not immediately return a request for comment on Sunday.
On Aug. 26, conservative Catholic outlets critical of the pope published a long letter by the archbishop accusing Francis of lifting punishment for sexual misconduct for a former American cardinal, Theodore McCarrick, that were reportedly imposed by Pope Benedict XVI.
On Sunday, just a day after the Vatican announced that Francis had ordered a “thorough study” into its archives to investigate the charges, Cardinal Ouellet wrote to Archbishop Viganò that accusing the pope of covering up for this “presumed sexual predator” and judging Francis unfit to lead the church was “incredible and far-fetched.”
He noted that he was responding with the permission of a pope to whom he, unlike Archbishop Viganò, had remained loyal. He seemed to suggest that the archbishop, who has disappeared from view, was in serious danger of severe punishment from the church and called on him to “come out of hiding, repent for your revolt and return to better feelings toward the Holy Father instead of worsening hostility against him.”
Cardinal Ouellet urged him to “quickly repair” the injustice of a “political set up” and, in a deft dig at the ambitious cleric, to overcome the “bitterness and disappointment” that had marked his clerical career.
“You should not finish your priestly life involved in an open and scandalous rebellion that inflicts a very painful wound” on the church, he wrote.
Archbishop Viganò’s initial letter was a remarkable broadside against the Vatican hierarchy. Francis has essentially said he would not dignify the accusations with a response. But Cardinal Ouellet did, and he answered in kind.
Cardinal Ouellet offered personal testimony based on his own interactions and the congregation’s archives. He said that there was no written record of punishment against Archbishop McCarrick, though he acknowledged that the American had been “strongly exhorted” to live a discreet life of prayer, without travel or public appearances, because of the sexual misconduct rumors.
“We come to the facts of the matter,” Cardinal Ouellet wrote to Archbishop Viganò, whom Benedict XVI sent to Washington as the papal envoy in 2011, after his involvement in a scandal in Rome that revealed his frustration at not being made a cardinal.
“How is it possible,” Cardinal Ouellet wrote, that Archbishop McCarrick was promoted to the “high offices of archbishop of Washington and cardinal?”
A professor in a New Jersey seminary sent warnings to the Vatican of the sexual misconduct allegations, in 2000, when Archbishop McCarrick was made archbishop of Washington.
Pope John Paul II, who was accused of allowing sexual abuse to fester in the church, made him a cardinal in 2001. Other accusations have recently surfaced, including from men who say they were abused as young teenagers.
In his letter, Cardinal Ouellet treads carefully on the fact that the American’s ascent took place under John Paul, while making clear that Francis had nothing to do with Archbishop McCarrick’s promotions from New York to New Jersey to Washington.
“Without getting into the details,” he wrote, decisions are made by the popes based on the information available at the time, and the judgments “are not infallible.”
Coming to the defense of John Paul II, who is beloved by Archbishop Viganò and his conservative allies, Canadian Cardinal said it seemed unfair to call the decision makers corrupt, even if “some indications supplied by witnesses should have been examined further.”
He said that Archbishop McCarrick showed great ability in defending himself, and, in response to Archbishop Viganò’s ad hominem attacks on Vatican officials for being homosexual or supporting homosexuals within the church, he wrote that “the fact” that in the Vatican there could be people who practice or support sexual behavior “contrary to the values of the gospel” was not reason to generalize and declare “unworthy and complicit” a broad swath of people, “even the Holy Father.”
To do say, he said, was only “slander and defamation.”
He acknowledges that Archbishop McCarrick, who retired in May 2006, was strongly urged “not to travel and not to appear in public, so as not to provoke more hearsay about him,” but he said it was false to present those measures taken against him as punishments decreed by Pope Benedict XVI and then lifted by Francis.
“After a review of the archives, I find that there are no documents signed by either pope in this regard” Cardinal Oullet wrote.
That seems to undercut the central claim of Archbishop Viganò’s story. He had written in his August letter that he first learned from Cardinal Giovanni-Battista Re, Cardinal Oullet’s predecessor, of the punishment Benedict had imposed on Archbishop McCarrick. He has said his own predecessor in Washington, the late Archbishop Pietro Sambi, received instructions to enforce those measures.
Cardinal Ouellet suggests that the moves were merely precautionary.
“Thus, the Congregation’s decision was inspired by prudence, and the letters from my predecessor and my own letters urged him, first through the Apostolic Nuncio Pietro Sambi and then through you, to lead a life of prayer and penance, for his own good and for the good of the Church.”
The direct accusation by Archbishop Viganò was that he had personally told Francis about Cardinal McCarrick’s sexual misconduct during an audience with many papal emissaries on June 23, 2013.
“I can only imagine the amount of verbal and written information that was provided to the Holy Father on that occasion about so many persons and situations,” Cardinal Ouellet wrote. “I strongly doubt that the Pope had such interest in McCarrick, as you would like us to believe, given the fact that by then he was an 82-year-old Archbishop emeritus who had been without a role for seven years.”
To counter the archbishop’s description of Archbishop McCarrick as the pope’s American confidante and political ally, he writes that he had never heard Pope Francis even mention him.
Cardinal Ouellet ends his letter by accusing Archbishop Viganò of harboring political motivations.
“Dear Viganò, in response to your unjust and unjustified attack, I can only conclude that the accusation is a political plot that lacks any real basis that could incriminate the Pope and that profoundly harms the communion of the Church.”
Last week Pope Francis acknowledged that the way the Church’s leadership has handled child sex abuse was driving away those who are the future of the Church: young people. He stated, “we ourselves need to be converted…we need to change the many situations that, in the end, put you off.”
The speech came not long after a Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed that over 300 priests had sexually abused at least 1000 children over a period of 70 years, and a study in Germany found a similar pattern of abuse and the Church’s failure to address it. The pope himself has been accused of protecting the now ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who is alleged to have sexually assaulted seminarians and a child. People have rightly wondered why, for so long, the pope and his bishops, who are supposed to be shepherds over their flock, have left the wolves to the sheep.
The pope, rather than asking for forgiveness, or having the Church’s leadership undergo an unspecified “conversion,” should focus on some basic institutional reforms. The first among those is revising the Code of Canon Law—the legal rules by which the Church operates. Bishops are sworn to follow canonical procedures as well as various instructions later issued by popes to clarify the application of canon law. As Cardinal Francis George of Chicago said in a deposition, “A bishop must obey the rules of the Church. We’re all in a society of law in the Church too.” Bishops also are only responsible to the pope—they do not answer to fellow bishops or parishioners.
It’s clear that if Francis wants to start solving the problem of how the Church has mishandled child sex abuse cases, he needs to undertake a revision to the Code of Canon Law to make the first response to abuse punitive, restore to diocesan bishops the capacity to defrock priests, raise the statute of limitations, reduce the stress on secrecy about alleged cases, require reporting to local civil authorities, and implement rules for handling errant bishops.
Canon law sees abuse through the lens of a priest violating his vow of celibacy, not from the perspective of harming a child. This has led bishops to interpret child sex abuse as a priest “really struggling with his sexuality” or as a “morals incident,” not as a case of criminal behavior.
It requires that the bishop’s first response be “pastoral”, not punitive, to the priest. Punishment, which can include removing the priest’s right to present himself as a priest in public and to perform the sacraments publicly, is only to be used as a last resort, when all other remedies have failed. That has led to the church failing to deal sternly and swiftly with suspected and confirmed cases of child sex abuse. Canon law encourages the bishop to wait and see if the priest will be a repeat offender.
Bishops are also prevented from defrocking their own priests under canon law. Between 1983 and 2001, priests had to be found guilty at a canonical trial, and the Vatican—officially, the pope—had to agree to dismiss them afterwards. Canonical trials are complicated, and require the participation of the victim, who may be understandably reluctant to be grilled by clerical judges or may have been advised by a lawyer not to cooperate pending a civil lawsuit. Verdicts are easily overturned on technicalities. Even when bishops recognized they had a sexual predator who should not be around diocesan children, their hands were tied. As one Los Angeles diocesan official wrote of a priest in 1988, “Given his past, I don’t think we can assign him to parish ministry, and there are no clear alternative options at the moment.”
After deciding it needed to control cases directly, since 2001 the Vatican has required that bishops send all credible cases of child sex abuse to the Vatican. It decides whether to order a canonical trial or use an administrative procedure to address the case. Even a finding that a priest has serially abused children does not automatically result in laicization (“defrocking”). Instead, the Vatican may decide, as it has in some cases, that the priest should live out his life in a state of “prayer and penance,” or that the events were so long ago that the priest doesn’t deserve punishment. Priests were dismissed in only 25 percent of 3420 cases sent to the Vatican between 2004 and 2013.
The statute of limitations in canon law needs to be extended or abolished. For decades it had been only five years. In 2001 it was raised to 10 years after the victim’s 18th birthday. With victims understandably reluctant or unable to come forward as youth, many cases eventually reported were beyond formal procedural limits. (They were usually beyond the civil jurisdiction’s statutes of limitations, too).
Canon law requires bishops maintain secrecy about suspected cases. Even though the Vatican has said bishops should obey local reporting laws, the secrecy requirement is in canon law, whereas the reporting to local authorities is not. Bishops, with a sworn moral obligation to obey the Church, opt for secrecy.
The Vatican also needs to develop formal procedures within canon law for punishing bishops who are negligent in their handling of abusive priests. There is no such procedure now. The pope needs to, at a minimum, establish a tribunal. The catch is, due to the strictures of canon law, what looks to outsiders as negligence by bishops is often behavior required by church procedures.
There are several aspects of Catholic theology that have been a hindrance to addressing clergy child sex abuse. One is the theology of forgiveness; the Church has a strong belief in the redemptive and curative power of confessing sin and being forgiven, and has applied this to priests. Pope Francis commented in 2013, “Many times I think of Saint Peter. He committed one of the worst sins, that is he denied Christ, and even with this sin they made him pope.” The Church needs to stress that one can be forgiven—but also face consequences for their actions.
Another is celibacy, not because, as is often assumed, abusing priests are substituting children for adult heterosexual partners, but because bishops, and the Vatican, bend over backwards to retain priests, due to the substantial decline in their numbers. Statistics from the Vatican show that the number of priests worldwide is lower than it was in 1970, even though the world’s Catholic population has doubled since then. The celibacy requirement is one clear barrier that discourages many men from entering the priesthood and encourages the Church to hang onto those inside, no matter their criminal behavior.
So now we must consider, will these recent revelations finally be a turning point? We’ve been here before: cardinals and bishops passing priests around and covering up abuses, Catholics outraged, the general public appalled, and attorney generals launching investigations. What may be different is that now there is public awareness that the problem goes all the way to the top. The pope and the Vatican now need to take action to change the rules by which the Church handles abusing priests and bishops.
While the Catholic church has been affected by secular trends in declining religiosity, as have other mainstream religions, its obtuseness on how it has handled clergy child sex abuse may be further damaging adherence. It has certainly hit the Church financially. It isn’t clear that the Vatican will see this any differently. In speaking to the press on the plane home from Estonia, the Pope relativized the Church’s actions, comparing that to how child abuse in families has been handled over time. He said he has never approved an appeal from a priest after a canonical trial verdict, ignoring that he has reinstated priests who were laicized through administrative processes.
The Vatican has refused to investigate ex-Cardinal McCarrick. Francis needs to be honest that the Church does not have a zero tolerance policy on clergy child sex abuse. The hypocrisy has turned away many Catholics. The risk for the Church is that while the leadership is praying for their own conversion, the faithful will convert to something else.