For a long time, Fernando Garciá-Salmones found it hard to accept his own reflection in the mirror.
When he was a schoolboy, aged just 14, a priest named José María Pita da Veiga began to sexually abuse him. Fernando says, “the vulture made the little mouse feel guilty”.
“The priest came to me one rainy day and asked me to go upstairs to dry off in his room and that’s when it started,” he said.
The abuse lasted almost a year. Speaking with Euronews, Fernando explained that much of the after-effects of sexual abuse are indelible.
“There is a destruction of the capacity to love, a complete differentiation between sexuality and affection, mistrust, a permanent feeling of guilt, a devastating fear of loneliness,” he revealed.
Groundbreaking media investigations
In October 2018 the Spanish newspaper El País launched the first investigation into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. At the time, only 34 victims had been registered.
Three years later it opened a comprehensive database that counted more than 1700 survivors of abuse.
Julio Nuñes, a journalist with El País told Euronews “The main driver was the creation of the mailbox set up by the newspaper El País. It created an umbilical cord that linked the victims to someone who could articulate and corroborate their story.”
The Spanish Bishops’ Conference says it has no authority over the different Catholic orders where cases of abuse have occurred. It admits that the response has been “slow”, but insists they’re doing everything it can to help, including the creation of two hundred offices to help victims.
“Whatever society does, whatever the Church does, it is a pain that they carry in their hearts and that must be respected,” said José Gabriel Vera, Director of Communications for the Bishops’ Conference.
The Church is proposing to meet with each of the victims face to face to know their case and their story, to know their names, and to understand how they can be helped. Either from a pastoral point of view, which is the role of the Church, or from a legal point of view.”
Creating a ‘complete picture’ of pederasty in the Catholic Church
The Spanish Church has discovered a total of 506 cases. In March last year, the Spanish Congress of Deputies commissioned an independent Ombudsman to begin work on a report on cases of pederasty in the Catholic Church and the role of the public authorities. It is the first official investigation to be carried out in Spain.
He has set up a panel of independent experts to achieve this goal. The commitment goes beyond what has been agreed with the political representatives.
“It’s also a report for the victims themselves so they can see their own situation and see that measures will be taken demanding responsibility and seeking reparation,” explained Ombudsman Angel Gabilondo.
The Ombudsman hopes that the Spanish Church will fulfil its promise to collaborate and help to create a complete picture of these crimes.
In the early hours of January 2, the fully robed body of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was transferred from the little monastery in the Vatican where he had died on the last day of 2022 to St Peter’s Basilica. There is a photograph of his remains being lifted into a vehicle. It’s shocking, but not because it shows a dead ex-pope. It’s true that today’s megapixel cameras conveyed the waxwork sheen of the corpse in unnerving detail, but that was more obvious when Benedict was lying in St Peter’s (and, anyway, we British are squeamish because we don’t open the casket for mourners).
No: the shocking thing about that photo is that Benedict XVI, the greatest Catholic theologian of the 20th century as well as a revered pontiff, is being loaded into a white van. OK, so it’s an undertaker’s vehicle, and everyone is behaving with due reverence, but what was the Vatican thinking? The optics are terrible: Benedict looks like a piece of furniture. It’s hard to escape the suspicion that Pope Francis’s staff didn’t think Benedict merited a ceremonial hearse. At the Requiem Mass, Francis preached a homily in which he mentioned his predecessor’s name only once, and couldn’t be bothered to attend the interment in the crypt. Even the Vatican correspondent Robert Mickens, a veteran critic of Benedict’s, wrote that the Pope Emeritus “deserved better”. Cardinals from around the world were horrified.
Now Francis is paying the price. No sooner was Benedict in his grave than we felt the first tremors of an earthquake that threatens to bury his successor alive. The Catholic civil war has entered a new phase. The Pope has been accused by his enemies of favouring heretics, foul-mouthed outbursts of temper, sucking up to dictators, sadistic manoeuvres against traditionalists, perverting the course of justice, a feeble grasp of Catholic doctrine and — not for the first time — of protecting a sex abuser. Catholic conservatives had been worried for years that when the ancient ex-pope finally died, Francis would be free to pursue his own agenda. For nearly 10 years he stopped short of formally changing Catholic teaching on divorce and homosexuality, restricting himself to giving a nudge and a wink to hardline liberals while missing no opportunity to give traditionalists a kicking.
In a development that would have been unthinkable 30 years ago, Latin Mass parishes and communities are attracting disproportionate numbers of young priests and worshippers. Some of them cultivate a fogyish, holier-than-thou manner that gets up the nose of ordinary Catholics — but most of them are breathing new life into a moribund Church. Pope Francis loathes them. In 2020, with no warning, he banned many of their Latin Masses, and according to multiple sources, at a meeting with seminarians in December he ranted against “fucking careerists who fuck up the lives of others”. In his defence, perhaps the words were less vulgar in Spanish. Then again, it’s no secret in the Curia that the air turns blue when the Vicar of Christ is displeased.
With his scholarly predecessor finally dead, the thinking went, the Argentinian Pope could really let rip. And so his conservative critics decided to get their revenge in first. Benedict’s private secretary Archbishop Georg Gänswein landed a blow within hours of his boss’s death. The ex-pope, he said, was “heartbroken” by Francis’s Latin Mass ban, and no wonder: it was Benedict who reintroduced the old liturgies in his 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum. On January 12, Gänswein rushed out a book, Nothing But the Truth, which claimed that Benedict thought Francis had misrepresented his reasons for issuing the document. It also hinted that he felt his successor was adopting a dangerously careless approach to Catholic teaching on sexuality.
In the same week came more bombshells. To the anguish of the Church’s conservative wing, Cardinal George Pell, former head of Vatican finances, died suddenly after a routine operation on January 10. A few hours later, The Spectator published an article by Pell that tore mercilessly into Pope Francis’s pet project, a forthcoming “Synod on Synodality” whose agenda has been dictated by liberal Catholics who support women’s ordination and are obsessed with placating the LGBT+ lobby. Pell said the synod was shaping up to be a “toxic nightmare” and poured scorn on the working document’s “neo-Marxist jargon”.
Never before had the Australian cardinal expressed himself so bluntly — or so it seemed, until the celebrated Vatican mischief-maker Sandro Magister revealed that Pell was the author of a memo, signed “Demos”, that circulated among cardinals last year. And “blunt” doesn’t begin to describe the language Pell used when writing under a pseudonym. The cardinal — once one of Francis’s closest advisers — described this pontificate as “a disaster in many or most respects; a catastrophe”. He accused the Pope of remaining silent in the face of “heretical” voices calling for the scrapping of the Church’s ban on women priests and gay sex, while encouraging “the active persecution of traditionalists” and writing papal documents that marked an intellectual “decline” from the standards of John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
Pell warned his fellow cardinals that the Church was heading towards bankruptcy. He accused the Pope of turning the Vatican’s trial of Cardinal Angelo Becciu and other defendants on massive corruption charges into “an international scandal” by shifting the legal goalposts. That was a typical Pell touch: although Becciu had been his arch-enemy in the Curia, he had himself been the victim of a grotesque miscarriage of justice when he was jailed in Australia on false charges of sex abuse, and he did not want to see a fellow cardinal denied “due process”. The memo mentioned the regular phone-tapping that frightens everyone in the Curia, Francis’s habit of ruling through decrees that allow no appeals, and the Vatican’s betrayal of Chinese and Ukrainian Catholics. “The Holy Father has little support among seminarians and young priests,” it added.
Pell would have been amused to watch Francis’s dwindling band of admirers jump like scalded cats when the authorship of the Demos memo was revealed. Given that he had died the day before, they couldn’t savage his memory; nor could they challenge the damningly precise detail in the memo; and perhaps some of them realised that George Pell had never been a traditionalist and, when Francis was elected, had believed that he might be the right man for the job. His despair came from his personal dealings with the Pope, whom he came to regard as devious but dithering and, worse, not fully committed to the Catholic faith.
And then it looked as if another bombshell had landed. On January 20, Benedict XVI spoke from beyond the grave in his final book, What is Christianity?, which he hadn’t wanted published during his lifetime because anything he said provoked hysteria from German liberals. Would Joseph Ratzinger finally settle scores with Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who genuinely had humiliated him by trashing his ruling on the Latin Mass? The answer was no, as anyone who knew Benedict should have guessed. His book is a collection of essays, infinitely better written and, yes, more conservative than Francis’s writings — but the late Pope Emeritus would have considered it just as wrong to break his promise to show loyalty to his successor after his death as before it. So, nothing to see here, then.
But try looking somewhere else, to a book by Cardinal Gerhard Müller, appointed Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith by Benedict and sacked without warning or explanation by Francis in 2017. Müller, a moderate conservative with liberal friends who seemed like a bridge between the two pontificates, was understandably furious. Recently he has criticised the theological incoherence of this pontificate. On January 27, a book-length interview with Müller entitled In Good Faith was published in Italy. In it, the 75-year-old German cardinal sailed closer to the wind than Pell ever did under his own name. Pope Francis, he said, surrounds himself with “a kind of magic circle… composed of people who, in my opinion, are not prepared theologically”. Papal reforms of the Curia were a disaster, reducing it to “a business that works to provide assistance to ‘clients’, the episcopal conferences, as if it were a multinational enterprise and no longer an ecclesial body”.
What makes Müller’s interview so deadly for Francis, however, is that it is the first time that a cardinal has drawn attention to the Pope’s favouritism towards clergy who have been accused of sex abuse. Müller mentions the “special status” given to Bishop Gustavo Zanchetta, an Argentinian protégé of Francis whom he made a bishop as soon he became pope. In 2017, Zanchetta had to resign from his diocese of Orán amid allegations of abusing seminarians and financial mismanagement. Francis promptly created a job for Zanchetta in the Vatican overseeing the Holy See’s property and financial assets. This jaw-dropping appointment came to an end, however, when Zanchetta was jailed in Argentina for abusing two seminarians — despite the Vatican’s mysterious refusal to supply the courts with its own investigations into the charges.
This was at least the third time Francis had stuck his neck out — and risked his reputation — to defend a Latin American ally either plausibly accused or convicted of sexual abuse. Now there are questions about what the Pope knew about another of his clergy friends — his fellow Jesuit Fr Marko Rupnik, a celebrity artist whose tacky mosaics adorn churches all over the world and in the Vatican. The Rupnik scandal beggars belief. In 2015 the Slovenian priest seduced a novice nun and then absolved her of the sin of sleeping with him in the confessional. He was convicted of this grave offence — which incurs automatic excommunication — by a church court in January 2020. But his official excommunication was not imposed until May 2020, and lifted that same month because he had repented.
In between the conviction and the official excommunication, however, Rupnik was asked to preach the Lenten homilies at the Vatican in March 2020 and Francis signed off on it. Did he really not know about Rupnik’s trial for the seduction and absolution of a novice, particularly as Rupnik had been ordered not to preach in public without permission or to hear women’s confessions as a “preliminary” measure as early as June 2019? But that’s not the worst of it. Last December, Italian websites began claiming that Rupnik was suspected of serially abusing women in the Nineties. After the reports appeared, a former religious sister gave an interview to an Italian newspaper alleging that during the Eighties and Nineties Rupnik abused half the members of a community of consecrated women he founded in Slovenia. She claimed that he demanded that she play “erotic games in his studio… while painting or after the celebration of the Eucharist or confession”. Those “games” became increasingly pornographic.
Then it emerged that in 2021 the Jesuit order had started investigating allegations by nine women, but that nothing was done because the Vatican refused to investigate them, citing its statute of limitations. In 2022, the Jesuits asked for this to be lifted because the alleged offences were so “gruesome”, but the Vatican again refused. In January 2022, Rupnik had a private meeting with Francis. We know nothing about it, but we do know that in February the Diocese of Rome posted a talk by Rupnik on Eucharistic Adoration on its YouTube channel. And for the rest of the year this celebrity priest swanned around Italy giving retreats.
Last December, the Cardinal Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, Angelo De Donatis, issued a statement claiming that Rome learned of the Rupnik allegations “only in very recent times”. It ended with the statement that his diocese was “comforted by the discernment of her Supreme Pastor”. This prompted a veteran Vatican correspondent, Christopher Altieri of Catholic World Report, to claim that De Donatis was speaking in code. “Basically, Cardinal De Donatis is telling everyone who reads and understands curialese that Pope Francis is calling the shots on this one, and that Pope Francis has Fr Rupnik’s back,” he wrote. This was just before the deaths of Benedict and Pell and the flurry of books criticising Pope Francis. Vatican-watchers forgot about the Rupnik scandal for a few days, then started asking with increasing alarm whether Francis was party to a cover-up.
The Pope seems to have panicked. On January 24, he gave a long interview in Spanish to Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press — definitely one of the safer choices for a pontiff worried about being grilled. Francis called for homosexuality to be decriminalised everywhere, which AP justifiably ran as the headline. Winfield gushed about what a milestone this was for LGBT people, while admitting that the Pope “referred to the issue in terms of ‘sin’”. In fact, he had described homosexuality as a sin, which is not the teaching of the Catholic Church. As a result, he had to write a hasty letter to the Jesuit gay rights activist Fr James Martin explaining that he meant that all sexual acts outside marriage were sinful, though “circumstances may decrease or eliminate fault”. For his critics, it was an example of Francis at his worst: a mixture of confusion, evasion and sleight of hand.
Inevitably, both sides in the Catholic civil war slugged it out over the episode — which was embarrassing for the Pope but at least deflected attention from the very slippery answer he gave when he was asked about his friend Rupnik. To quote AP: “Francis denied he had any role in the handling of Rupnik’s case, other than to intervene procedurally to keep the second set of accusations from the nine women with the same tribunal that had heard the first.” His only decision was “let it continue with the normal court, because, if not, procedural paths are divided and everything gets muddled up”. And, he added: “So I had nothing to do with this.”
This makes no sense. As Altieri points out, you can’t simultaneously claim that you intervened in a procedural matter and had “nothing to do with this”. And then there’s the fundamental question of why the Vatican was so determined to scupper a Rupnik trial by invoking a statute of limitations that Francis could easily have waived. Someone in Rome needs to do some more pushing on Francis’s protection of Zanchetta and others. And here we encounter the infuriating reluctance of accredited Vatican correspondents to subject the ruler of Western Europe’s most corrupt independent state to the scrutiny that any president or prime minister would receive.
As a result, most Catholics, and even some of the cardinals who will be voting in the next conclave, don’t know the extent of the crisis. And that’s why Cardinal Pell, with a heavy heart, wrote the Demos memo. He was doing everything in his power to ensure that the next pope was an orthodox Catholic — not something previous conclaves have had to worry about, but some of the red hats Francis has doled out have landed on the heads of clerics whose views are more liberal Protestant than Catholic. Unfortunately Pell died first, reminding us that a man regarded by countless Catholics as the worst pope for centuries has one precious asset: he’s lucky.
1. I’ve said this before, it’s in Tenderness, but I’ve been thinking about the way that spiritual progress can make you look gayer. I do my best to obey the guidance of Mother Church in all things (lol my best is not always that good but I do try) and I’ve noticed this dynamic in my own life more than once. I’ve seen it in others’ lives too. Coming out is, for many people, a practice of honesty and integrity: living in truth. In this interview I mentioned how when I got sober, I stopped getting weird fantasy-based, reality-fleeing “crushes” on guys; I went from “mostly gay but also bisexual???” to just lesbian, because of an extraordinary experience of healing and rescue that I received from the Lord, my Higher Power.
I’ve known people whose orientation shifted more straightwards as they healed or grew in various ways. But I want to make it clear that healing and spiritual growth can also shift people in the other direction.
Even in the area where people might expect “gay identity” to be especially fraught for Catholics, viz. chastity, I and others have seen how the same experiences that make us more obviously queer have also helped us grow in chastity. Coming out can be part of that story: it can be a way of taking responsibility for your sexuality and seeking to integrate it. I’ve written about my various *~*struggles with chastity*~* and while I uhhh have still not received that angelic girdle Aquinas got, my deepening love for a woman has brought me increased peace in that area as well. I love her, and being with her offers all kinds of help: increased accountability, but also her prayers; my greater ambition to give all my desires to God through my love of her; my deep longing to integrate body and soul, so that I can respond to her beauty in the way that she deserves.
If you see us out and about, including at Mass, you’ll likely guess that we are a lesbian couple. We are! We are also learning to live more deeply in harmony with our shared Catholic faith, the bedrock of our lives and our love.
2. I love seeing how the symbols of faith and the saints emerge to play new roles in our lives as we love one another. I’m creating a workbook companion for Tenderness, and one thing I want to include is reflection questions asking readers to interpret a hymn, Scripture passage, or symbol of faith in a way that sheds light on their experience of being LGBT+. There is so much in what we already know of God’s love that can guide and comfort us. The star that guides us to Christ, the blue of Mary’s cloak, the dove; St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Francis, St. John the Beloved; the raising of Lazarus, the empty tomb, the Resurrection: they have all gained new resonance in our life together.
Pope Francis stirred the pot last week by calling for an end to criminal penalties for homosexuality.“Being gay is not a crime, it’s a human condition,” he told the AP in a wide-ranging interview in Spanish.
Harking back to his famous “Who am I to judge?” remark, Francis imagined an exchange with an objector:
We are all children of God and God loves us as we are and with the strength that each one of us fights for our dignity. Being homosexual is not a crime. It is not a crime.
Yes, but it’s a sin.
Well, first let’s distinguish sin from crime. But the lack of charity with the neighbor is also a sin, and how are you doing?
In other words, who are you to judge?
It’s possible Francis was sending a message to the bishops of Africa, where he is visiting this week and where 35 of the 54 countries have anti-gay criminal laws. Bishops who support such laws, he said in the interview, “have to have a process of conversion” and should apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”
As has almost always been the case, Francis gave no indication that he intends to change church doctrine in order to advance his inclusive vision of the church. The sole exception has been his allowing (on a case-by-case basis) people who are divorced and remarried to have access to the Eucharist. The question is whether a similar opening might be made for those in same-sex unions.
According to the Catholic Catechism, while homosexual persons “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity,” they are “called to chastity” — i.e. no licit sex for them. As for same-sex unions, the church will not bless them because, the Vatican declared two years ago, God “does not and cannot bless sin.”
Those teachings are likely to be up for discussion in the church-wide Synod on Synodality that will bring bishops to Rome for October sessions this year and next. Per the pope’s instructions, the preparations for it have entailed extensive consultations with ordinary Catholics.
Last September, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a report on the consultations that highlighted criticism of the church for not doing a better job of including those suffering from “the wound of marginalization.”
Among these are members of the LGBTQ+ community, persons who have been divorced or those who have remarried without a declaration of nullity, as well as individuals who have civilly married but who never married in the Church. Concerns about how to respond to the needs of these diverse groups surfaced in every synthesis.
In October, the Vatican issued a synthesis of reports from around the world that noted, “Issues such as the Church’s teaching on abortion, contraception, ordination of women, married clergy, celibacy, divorce and Holy Communion, homosexuality, LGBTQIA+ were raised up across the Dioceses both rural and urban.”
Last week, San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, whom the pope made a cardinal last year, wrote an article in the Jesuit magazine “America” that openly questioned the exclusion of sexually active people who are not in what the church considers a legitimate marriage.
Calling such exclusion “pre-eminently a pastoral question, not a doctrinal one,” McElroy took direct aim at the church’s refusal to concede to gay people a right to same-sex sexual expression.
The distinction between orientation and activity cannot be the principal focus for such a pastoral embrace because it inevitably suggests dividing the L.G.B.T. community into those who refrain from sexual activity and those who do not. Rather, the dignity of every person as a child of God struggling in this world, and the loving outreach of God, must be the heart, soul, face and substance of the church’s stance and pastoral action.
“We must,” wrote McElroy, “examine the contradictions in a church of inclusion and shared belonging that have been identified by the voices of the people of God in our nation and discern in synodality a pathway for moving beyond them.”
It’s important to recognize that the relaxation of doctrine for pastoral purposes is itself a Christian doctrine — known in Eastern Orthodoxy as the principle of oikonomia. Based on the idea that in a fallen world there are circumstances that require doctrinal relaxation, the principle is employed within Orthodoxy, for example, to permit divorced people to be married in church a second and even a third time.
Under Francis, the synodal path appears to be leading in that direction. Whether it gets there is another question.
Pope Francis is full of surprises. He stays away from formal changes in Catholic Church doctrine but is not shy about altering the Church’s priorities. He regularly moves the conversation from judgment to mercy, and from condemnation to encounter.
He specifically called on Catholic bishops who support statutes that punish or discriminate against the LGBTQ community to change their ways. “These bishops have to have a process of conversion,” he said, adding that they should apply “tenderness, please, as God has for each one of us.”
The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit writer who has championed a shift in the Church’s attitudes toward the LGBTQ community, called the pope’s statement “a huge step forward” on “what is essentially a life-and-death issue,” since homosexuality is a capital offense in some nations.
The pope was widely cited as describing homosexual acts as sinful, in keeping with Church teaching, but Martin said that the Spanish transcript of his remarks suggested he was ascribing this view to others by way of responding to their arguments. “Yes, but it’s a sin,” the pope said, mimicking what those opposed to his view might assert. “Fine, but first let’s distinguish between a sin and a crime.” Francis added: “It is also a sin to lack charity with one another.”
Francis knows about the lack of charity. A great many conservative bishops, especially in the United States, have been highly critical of his pontificate and his insistence that addressing poverty, social justice and global inequalities should take priority over abortion and issues related to sexuality. Close students of the hierarchy see at least a third of American bishops as hostile to Francis’s anti-culture-war approach and a majority as being, well, less than enthusiastic.
But the pope’s latest salvo is likely to be popular in the pews. Despite the views of conservatives in the hierarchy, U.S. Catholics are somewhat more supportive of LGBTQ rights than Americans overall. A Gallup study of polls taken from 2016 to 2020, for example, found that on average 69 percent of Catholics, including 56 percent of weekly church attendees, favored legal recognition of same-sex marriages.
The pope appeared to go a step further toward liberalizing the Church’s position in response to questions from Martin after the AP interview aimed at clarifying whether he regarded homosexual behavior as a sin. Francis reiterated that Catholic teaching held that “every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin,” but added that “one must also consider the circumstances, which may decrease or eliminate fault.” This was classic Francis: He reiterated old doctrine but then distanced its meaning from earlier formulations far more hostile to homosexuality.
“It’s a move away from seeing all sexual sins as separating us from God’s grace,” Cathleen Kaveny, a theologian and law professor at Boston College, told me, “and instead seeing them more like other sins, which can be serious or not, depending on circumstances.”
The pope’s intervention comes amid ferment created by his call in October 2021 for a process of dialogue and consultation at all levels of the Church under the rubric of the much-debated word “synodality.” It’s not democracy but does imply listening and sharing insights.
It is also an occasion for pro-Francis bishops to speak out. In a timely essay last week in America magazine, Cardinal Robert W. McElroy, the bishop of San Diego, criticized “cultures of exclusion that alienate all too many from the church or make their journey in the Catholic faith tremendously burdensome.”
He challenged those who center “the Christian moral life disproportionately upon sexual activity,” and argued that “the distinction between orientation and activity cannot be the principal focus” of Church thinking about homosexuality.
“It is a demonic mystery of the human soul why so many men and women have a profound and visceral animus toward members of the L.G.B.T. communities,” McElroy wrote. “We must enlarge our tent. And we must do so now.”
His essay invited instant backlash from conservative Catholics. The Rev. Raymond J. de Souza charged in the National Catholic Register that McElroy’s approach to sexuality amounted to “the abolition of chastity.” The headline called it “a pastoral disaster.”
McElroy, a strong Francis ally, is accustomed to being a lightning rod for censure that is really aimed at the pope. But the response underscores how trying to diminish the power of culture-war issues is itself a spark for more cultural warfare.
Francis seems calm about the brickbats that come his way. “Criticism helps you to grow and improve things,” he told the AP, providing protection against “a dictatorship of distance … where the emperor is there and no one can tell him anything.”
Those of us who sympathize with Francis wish his internal detractors felt the same way.