A prominent and outspoken British member of a papal advisory commission on sexual abuse by the clergy on Saturday refused to step down despite a no-confidence vote, and said only Pope Francis could dismiss him.
A Vatican statement issued earlier said that “it was decided” at a commission meeting that Peter Saunders would take a leave of absence. Saunders, head of Britain’s National Association for People Abused in Childhood, would now “consider how he might best support the commission’s work”, it said.
But Saunders, who as a child was abused by two priests, told a hastily called news conference: “I have not left and I am not leaving my position … the only person who can remove me is the person who appointed me, the pope.”
Saunders said he had not been aware of the Vatican’s statement until after it was issued.
Saunders had been publicly critical of the commission, which was set up in 2014. Made up of clerics and lay people from around the world, its task is to help Pope Francis establish “best practices” in dioceses around the world to root out sex abuse in the Church. Eight of its 17 members are women and two are themselves victims of abuse by clerics.
Saunders said that on Saturday morning the commission had taken a near-unanimous vote of no-confidence against him, accusing him of being hard to work with and a “campaigner”, and of talking too much to the media.
“For me, as a survivor, the commission is a disgrace,” Saunders said. “They believe that child abuse is behind us, but it is in no way behind us …
“I made it clear that I would not be a member of a public relations exercise. The protection of our children is much more important than that.”
Another commission member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was “deeply committed to the protection of children”, but that its brief was to advise and not investigate or judge.
In a worldwide sex abuse scandal, which first became prominent in Boston in 2001, abusers were shunted from parish to parish instead of being defrocked and handed over to authorities.
A year ago, Saunders criticized Francis for appearing to endorse parents who spanked their children in order to discipline them.
And in April, Saunders and three other lay commission members met with a top Vatican official to complain about the appointment of a bishop in Chile who had been accused of covering up abuse by a priest.
Saunders said on Saturday that the pope should dismiss Juan Barros as bishop of Osorno, as a test of his “seriousness on stopping child sex abuse”. Barros denies having known that abuse took place.
Bishop Blanchet High School in Seattle has refused to run an announcement in its alumni magazine for the same-sex marriage of an alumna who once served as student body vice president and homecoming queen.
In response to the submission by the 1997 graduate, the school sent her a letter saying, in part, “… the archdiocese does not permit this type of information to be published in our Catholic school magazine.”
The reaction has been a much-circulated Facebook post by James Nau, who was student body president in Blanchet’s class of 1997 and homecoming king.
In an open letter to the Archdiocese of Seattle, Nau quoted St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians — “if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” and wrote:
“The policy which prohibits the public acknowledgment of (the) marriage stands behind a faith that you no doubt believe is right, but it does so at the cost of what is greater: Love.
“When there is an opportunity to rejoice in love that exists among the members of your community, you have chosen instead to shut them out, and on this issue Pope Francis has warned, ‘a church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission.'”
Seattle Archbishop J. Peter Sartain firmly closed all doors to same-sex marriage after Washington voted for marriage equality in 2012.
Sartain published a “policy refresher” raining down prohibitions on same-sex “marriage” — quotation marks courtesy of the archbishop. They include:
“No priest or deacon or lay minister may officiate at a same-sex marriage.”
“No church facility or school facility may be offered for such an event, even if it is to be witnessed by a non-Catholic minister or civil official.”
“No church facility or school facility may be used for a reception after such an event.”
“No church ministers, ordained or lay, may offer ‘wedding preparation’ for such couples.”
The archbishop’s chilly, hard-line stand on same-sex marriage has never gone down well with many Catholics.
Then-Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Catholic, helped persuade the Legislature to vote for marriage equality. Eastside Catholic High School students walked out of school and mounted a sustained protest in late 2013 after the school’s vice principal was forced out over marriage to his husband.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, a devout Catholic, went to St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in 2013 to marry his husband, Michael Shiosaki, in a deeply traditional ceremony.
Nau has received a strong, affirming response to his Facebook post, 227 “likes,” 59 comments and 122 shares by mid-afternoon Thursday.
“The Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle has played a large role in my life,” he wrote.
Nau is a graduate of St. Louise School, Blanchet and Seattle University. He has mentored fellow Catholics at confirmation, worked at CYO summer camps, taught and coached for three years at Blanchet, and participated in campus ministries. He stood vigil beside the body of Archbishop Thomas Murphy as the popular prelate lay in state at St. James Cathedral.
“It is my education by the Archdiocese of Seattle that has made me into the person who writes this letter,” he concluded.
In a subsequent update, Nau writes that he received a “gracious” email response from Antonio DeSapio, in which the president of Bishop Blanchet thanked Nau for his engagement but said that “we cannot knowingly publish anything that is contrary to Church teachings.”
The experience has been “very alienating,” Nau wrote in a response to DeSapio, adding:
“As a teacher, I keep thinking about what this policy says to your current students, and I hope that you consider what this incident teaches the students in the Archdiocese who might be gay or questioning their sexual identity as well as what it says to their friends, families and teachers who love and support them.
“What does it teach students whose parents are gay?”
The Blanchet denial, as with removal of the vice principal at Eastside Catholic, appears to have had an unintended consequence — one worth pondering at the archdiocesan chancery on First Hill.
The Eastside Catholic students came together in their protest and bonded with students at other Catholic high schools, such as Seattle Prep and Blanchet.
The refusal to announce the wedding appears to have similarly connected and reconnected Blanchet alumni. Here is how Nau put it to DeSapio:
“Thanks to social media, we do not lack the means to come together in support and celebration of one of our own, but your policy forces us to do it outside your walls.
“Do you wish for Blanchet to remain an institution that forces large portions of its warm and affirming alumni community to exist separate from itself?
“This effort to rally . . . has more quickly and effectively connected me with my classmates than any issue of the Blanchet magazine. … My connection to the archdiocesan community has grown not because of your policy, but because of our shared objection to it.”
God, what are you calling me to do here, prayed the priest. Come out, or stay in the closet?
After 23 years in Chicago parishes, the question had pushed its way to the surface.
He weighed his options. He thought about his parishioners. Many, he knew, were accepting of gay people, even of same-sex marriage, but others — less so. He had grown up in a large Catholic family; he understood what people’s faith meant to them. He didn’t want to harm his flock, or the Catholic Church.
He wondered if he could be penalized in his job. And, in truth, he considered his status. He knew many Catholics had what he might call a romanticized view of the priesthood: Priests are supposed to be pure, almost above the world of sexuality, selflessly willing to give up creating a family of their own to serve God. This would mean falling from that pedestal.
Then, he weighed these factors against the impact his coming out could have on the lives of young gay people in treatment for addiction or who are suicidal, on the parents and grandparents who feel they must choose between their gay child and their church. For some, knowing their priest is gay — and at peace with it — could be healing, he felt.
He thought of his complex feelings. He had no ax to grind, and he wasn’t an advocate.
He set the rules at the outset: He did not want to be identified in this article. But at the end of the first conversation, he said: I’m leaning towards using my real name.
At a time when the phrase “coming out” is starting to sound almost quaint, the Catholic priesthood may be one of the last remaining closets — and it’s a crowded one. People who study gay clergy believe gay men make up a significant percentage of the 40,000 ordained priests in the United States, including some who believe they may even be the majority. Meanwhile, the number who are out is minuscule.
The Catholic Church is in the throes of a historic period of debate about homosexuality. Between Pope Francis’s now-famous “Who am I to judge?” line and two high-profile, global meetings he called in the past year to open up discussion about sex and family, there has perhaps never been as much dialogue among Catholics about how far to extend the welcome mat to gay people.
Francis is expected in the next couple of months to release his conclusions from the meetings. Both sides claimed a measure of victory two weeks ago when he told a Vatican court that “there can be no confusion” between the family willed by God and any other type of union. To some, it was a sign that Francis will not give a doctrinal inch; others saw it as evidence that he might not put up a fight on civil unions.
Gay priests are invisible in this debate; the church does not research the topic. However, interviews with a dozen priests and former seminarians who are gay, and experts on gay priests, reveal a group of men mostly comfortable with their sexuality. Many express no urgency for the church to accept it. Some, however, say the priesthood remains sexually repressive; one said there is an “invisible wall” around the topic among priests.
They speak forcefully about the tough work they had to do to accept their sexuality and how important a part it is of who they are. But their acceptance of the closet often harks back to an earlier time.
This is in part, they say, because as priests they vowed to put service to God over all else.
The Rev. Warren Hall decided to join the tiny number of out priests after he was removed as campus minister of Seton Hall University last May. Officials noted he had supported a group on Facebook that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and racial justice.
But while Hall has since been outspoken about the need for more tolerant, open dialogue about human sexuality, he said he understands why gay priests don’t come out — or see gay rights as their cause.
“Priests want to be good priests, they want to do their job,” said Hall, who was reassigned to a Hoboken, N.J., parish. “More priests are rightfully more concerned about homelessness versus getting caught up in something about sex. We should be more concerned about those issues [like homelessness] that are impacting people.”
But some also fear the consequences of coming out in the Catholic Church, whose hierarchy frames a gay life as a diversion from God’s ideal. Parts of church teaching call being gay “objectively disordered.”
The Chicago priest remembers wanting to speak from the pulpit when same-sex marriage became legal in California in 2008. But he talked himself out of it. “I thought: ‘Oh my gosh, if I talk about it, they’ll think I’m gay.’ ”
He is torn as he watches the spike in dioceses firing employees who marry someone of the same gender, but his instinct has been to defer to the church.
“I have a problem with Monday-morning quarterbacking. There’s always stuff you don’t know about why people are fired,” he said. It grates on him, though. “But where do you draw the line? There are all kinds of folks not in line on morality stuff.”
Priests who have come out — in some cases citing the need to confront anti-LGBT discrimination — say they have found scant support among other priests.
“Parishioners were very supportive. Religious women were very supportive. One group that was silent were my brother priests. Gay as well as straight,” said the Rev. Fred Daley, a Syracuse, N.Y., priest who came out in 2004 after he was angered by people blaming gay priests for the global clergy sex abuse crisis. “In a sense, it was like I sort of broke the rules of the clerical club.”
The mixture of fealty to God and the church and concern about harming parishioners or their standing in the priesthood has led some gay priests to gauge each situation before opening up.
A New York priest says he comes out only in rare private circumstances, when counseling someone struggling to accept their homosexuality. “I’ve been in multiple situations where someone will say: ‘I’m a piece of s—.’ I’ll say: ‘Do I look like a piece of s— to you? God made me this way.’ ”
A Pennsylvania priest says he’s “quietly subversive,” speaking acceptingly of gay people but not to just anyone. Even the confessional is not a truly safe place for him to tell someone who is gay that it’s not a bad thing. “We have too much to lose. I’ve invested my life in this business.”
Priests’ views of the church’s handling of homosexuality are not uniform. Some blamed Catholicism for the decades it took them to accept themselves. Others credited their training and the help of other priests with their self-knowledge, saying homophobia in the non-church culture is the problem.
Even as the doctrine banning same-sex relationships has not changed, the church has varied its emphasis and message on the topic.
The most recent authoritative statement came in 2005, from Pope Benedict XVI, who, seeking to clarify doctrine after the sweeping changes under the Second Vatican Council, wrote that being gay is “objectively disordered.” The church, “while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture,’ ” Benedict said,
The message seemed clear, say many priests and several people who train seminarians. Many who had considered coming out of the closet decided to stay in.
Yet the intent behind Benedict’s words has been debated. Some say he never meant to bar gay men who are celibate. Others say he meant to keep out men who feel strongly defined by their sexuality, and perhaps would be challenged by celibacy.
Regardless, there is no question that in the past few years church leaders are emphasizing far more that Catholicism accepts people who are gay — it’s the sexual relationships or marriage that is the problem. Francis’s famous “Who am I to judge?” comment was said after a question about gay priests.
Last spring, a Jesuit — Francis’s community — wrote about being gay in a blog post believed to be the first time a Jesuit has come out with the explicit permission of his superiors. Damian Torres-Botello denied requests to be interviewed for this article.
In some communities, particularly the Jesuits, gay priests can be out — to a point, the priests interviewed said. Others say Benedict’s words created a lasting chill for gay men and that conditions are much harsher today.
“If there is a seminarian who is gay, my recommendation would be: Don’t tell anybody,” Hall said.
Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, a D.C. priest-psychologist who helps seminaries create materials about sexual health, said there is a hesitancy today to admit people who are gay and that the percentage of gay priests has dropped. All other priests interviewed disagreed.
“They’re more conservative, but no less gay,” said the Pennsylvania priest of the incoming, younger generation of clergy.
The Chicago priest doesn’t disregard the church’s teaching on sexuality, but he tries to emphasize the church’s teaching that sexuality is an expression of the divine and encourages people topray and discern their own place. His place, he says, is that of a man who didn’t understand he was gay when he entered the priesthood and now views his sexuality as a gift to his ministry.
“There’s a level of witnessing here that’s important for me to do. The Christian faith has a lot to say about the underdog, about the marginalized or the leper, the blind, the lame, the ostracized woman prostitute, widow, the little one,” he said.
“I’d like to be one of those priests, who, with great respect for the church’s teaching, can say: I’m a human being. I’m a son — one of six — I’m gay and I’m a priest, period.”
Prayer has led him to believe this article is part of that witness. He has decided he wants to be known: His name is Michael Shanahan.
The Supreme Court of India gave new hope to LGBT rights supporters on Tuesday, ordering new proceedings that could overturn a 2013 judgement that upheld the country’s colonial-era law criminalizing homosexuality.
The decision by the Supreme Court — it agreed to hear the petition and referred the case to a five-judge constitutional bench — came in a rare hearing on what is known as a “curative petition,” which allows a panel of judges to reconsider Supreme Court judgements that have already been issued. (Supreme Court cases in India are routinely decided by small panels of the court’s judges, not the court as a whole.) The odds may still be against the lawyers arguing the sodomy law should be struck down in this case, which is known as Suresh Kumar Koushal v. Naz Foundation. Curative petitions have only led a ruling to be overturned three times since the process was created in 2002.
The 2013 ruling in the Koushal case was a crushing end to a 12-year legal battle that LGBT advocates appeared poised to win. The case was first brought by the Naz Foundation Trust, an HIV organization that had its employees detained by police for more than six weeks under charges including conspiracy to commit sodomy. The group won a sweeping judgement from the Delhi High Court in 2009 that meant the law could not be enforced, and many Indians came out following the decision no longer fearing legal consequences.
But the Delhi High Court ruling was reversed by a panel of two Supreme Court judges in 2013, who wrote that the provision “does not criminalize a particular people or identity or orientation … [but] merely identifies certain acts which if committed would constitute an offense,” and therefore did not violate fundamental rights protections in India’s constitution.
In the year following the law’s reinstatement, the Indian Home Ministry reported nearly 600 people were arrested under the law. There was also widespread fear that it had reopened the door to harassment and blackmail of LGBT people because seeking help from the police could expose them to further danger.
A ruling that came a few months after Koushal suggested sharp divisions between Supreme Court judges on the question of LGBT rights, and may have been a factor in Tuesday’s decision. In April 2014, a different panel of judges issued a broad ruling establishing protections for transgender people in which they appeared to directly rebuke the Koushal judgment.
“Discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation or gender identity, therefore, impairs equality before law and equal protection of law,” they wrote.
A former student priest has been arrested on suspicion of trying to pay to rape a baby and a young girl, following an undercover sting operation by American authorities.
Joel Wright, 23, was carrying baby clothes and a bottle in his luggage, and $2,000 (£1,400) in cash when he was detained as he got off a plane in San Diego, California on Friday.
The US Department of Immigration said Mr Wright had previously travelled to Tijuana, Mexico, in an unsuccessful attempt to adopt a child, and reportedly spelled out in explicit online messages that he hoped to have sex with an infant and a four-year-old girl.
According to the criminal complaint, Mr Wright, who was expelled from Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, tried to adopt a child in Mexico in 2014.
After receiving a tip-off, an undercover agent posed as a tour guide based in Mexico and started chatting with Wright.
Asked in an email if he had previously had sex with infants, Wright allegedly responded: “I have not gone all the way before but I have made it very close in the past so I do have experance [sic].”
Wright is charged with travel with intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct and aggravated sexual abuse of a child. He will appear in court on Monday.
His mother, Teresa Wright Poquette, who lives in Vermont where Wright grew up, said she did not believe the allegations.
The Rev John Allen, vice president at Pontifical College Josephinum, said Wright began attending the seminary last autumn and had undergone a battery of psychological tests, interviews and a background check before being accepted.