Munich report on sex abuse heightens Catholic Church divide over sexuality

Benedict XVI’s supporters believe attacks on the emeritus pope’s handling of sexual abuse while archbishop of Munich are aimed at reinforcing progressive views on sexuality and priestly celibacy.

With the towers of the cathedral in the background, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, bids farewell to the Bavarian believers in downtown Munich, Germany, Feb. 28, 1982. The Vatican on Jan. 26, 2022, strongly defended Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s record in fighting clergy sexual abuse and cautioned against looking for “easy scapegoats and summary judgments,” after an independent report faulted his handling of four cases of abuse when he was archbishop of Munich.


Supporters of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI rose to his defense in the past week after a report on decades of sexual abuse in his former archdiocese in Munich accused the retired pontiff of covering up and ignoring abuse by Catholic priests there.

But some believe the defense of Benedict is less about his legacy and more about the deepening polarization in the Catholic Church and its approach to homosexuality and priestly celibacy, issues that are both now center stage in Germany.

“I don’t think the report is going to change the mind of people either way” when it comes to Benedict, said Bill Donohue, longtime president of the Catholic League, a conservative watchdog and promoter of the church.

Benedict “is hated by the Catholic left because he is the one who really enforced the Scriptures of the Catholic Church as the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith,” said Donahue, referring to the prelate’s tenure during the papacy of St. John Paul II as an enforcer of Catholic dogma, when then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger earned the title “God’s Rottweiler.”

“The impending schism in Germany is far more serious than this,” said Donahue, who called himself proud to be called “the Rottweiler’s Rottweiler.”

A report from the Archdiocese of Munich and Freising, published Jan. 10, found that bishops who oversaw the diocese between 1945 and 2019, including Ratzinger, failed to punish clergy and laypeople who committed sexual abuse.

More importantly for many Catholics, however, is the movement in the wider German church that has involved the country’s Catholics in wide-ranging discussions of the most pressing issues facing the institution, including sexual abuse, for nearly three years. The “Synodal Path,” as the discussions are known, followed a 2018 report that scandalized Catholics in the country when it found more than 37,000 cases of clerical abuse in Germany over the span of 68 years, leading to a massive exodus of faithful.

The Synodal Path discussions ended in early February under the shadow of the revelations from Munich. Even after Benedict responded contritely to the accusations, German Catholics felt “disappointed,” said Claudia Lücking-Michel, vice president of the Central Committee for German Catholics and a delegate to the Synodal Path.

While the Synodal Path addresses a wide array of topics facing the local church, including female ordination and power structures, the question of homosexuality “is currently at the very center of public discussion,” Lücking said.

The report, she said, “was the last drop that made the cup overflow.”

While many Germans identify clericalism — the abuse of power by Catholic clergy — as the main culprit for the church’s systemic failure to respond to sexual abuse, some Catholic conservatives blame the presence of homosexuals in the church.

“We have a homosexual scandal here, not a pedophilia scandal,” Donohue said. “Clericalism may have something to do with why some bishops were enabled, but it has nothing to do with why a man would put his hands on a minor.”

Equating homosexuality with pedophilia is strongly contested in the Synodal Path discussions, according to Lücking. “Homosexuality has nothing to do with pedophilia,” she said.

While the majority of Catholics in Western countries agree that homosexuality should be accepted in society, the question of homosexuality and priestly celibacy is more controversial in Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. As the Vatican struggles to adapt church teaching with modern understanding of sex and sexuality, the issue has the power to tear the global church apart.

“This report and the entire sexual abuse scandal, a sad page for the church in Germany, is being exploited to bring about a new church,” said the Rev. Maurice Ashley Agbaw-Ebai, a Catholic priest from Cameroon who teaches theology and philosophy at Boston College.

According to Agbaw-Ebai, who wrote his dissertation on Benedict, the Munich report offered Benedict’s detractors “their pound of flesh” and strengthened the position of those who want to push Catholic doctrine toward the demands of modernity.

Germany’s Synodal Path is the surest sign of that push. On Feb. 5, its plenary assembly approved four documents proposing a “reevaluation of homosexuality” and challenging Catholic doctrine forbidding female ordination and requiring priestly celibacy.

“The synod has changed,” Lücking said, “you can feel the difference at the plenary. There are more and more bishops saying we have to act, we have to change, there is no other way out of the crisis.”

On Feb. 3, the current archbishop of Munich and Freising, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, supported a renewed study on priestly celibacy and told the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung, “For some priests, it would be better if they were married.”

Cardinal Jean Claude Hollerich, archbishop of Luxembourg, meanwhile, has proposed that the church’s teaching on homosexuality “is no longer correct.” Hollerich has been named by Pope Francis to oversee the Synod on Synodality, a self-examination of church practices underway in dioceses around the world that will conclude with a summit at the Vatican in 2023.

The concern for Catholic conservatives is that the progressive stance of German prelates will influence Francis’ ambitious reform efforts for the church as a whole.

In Germany “you have a rebellion going on,” Donohue said. “This synod process that is going to go forward is an open invitation for people to exploit any friction in the Catholic Church,” he said, adding that progressive Catholics “will use Benedict as another weapon in their arsenal.”

But Agbaw-Ebai contends that “what is happening in Germany is clearly a result of the actions and statements of today’s Vatican,” pointing to Francis’ willingness to engage with the Catholic LGBTQ community early in his pontificate.

The pope’s position on this issue, however, has been ambiguous. During a closed-door meeting with Italian prelates in May 2018, Francis suggested that bishops should “keep an eye” on homosexual tendencies in people entering the seminary, stating that “if in doubt, better not let them enter.”

Francis’ words seemed to echo a 2005 document published by Benedict stating that people with “deep-seated” homosexual tendencies should be barred from entering the priesthood.

Donohue agrees that the pope, despite his outreach to LGBTQ Catholics, has done little to change the official Catholic position and has put a firm halt to requests for female ordination and the blessing of same-sex couples. “It’s one thing to be pastoral, it’s another to change the doctrine,” Donohue said.

He said he buys Benedict’s prediction that the church is destined to shrink to a small group of true believers. It’s unlikely that conservative Catholics will be the ones to leave, he said, unless the Vatican embraces “radical teachings” like those discussed in Germany. He blames the Vatican for allowing the German Synodal Path to “raise people’s expectations in a regrettable way.”

For Lücking, if the Vatican doesn’t take the proposals of the Synodal Path, then “the Catholic Church in Germany will become a minority, a sect,” but she said she still harbors “the illusion” that what is happening in Germany may still clear the path for progress.

“It might not be tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, but it will happen one day,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!

‘Now or never’: Victims of Italy’s predator priests urge inquiry

Inquiries across the United States, Europe and Australia have exposed the scale of the sex abuse problem within the Church — and also a decades-long cover-up

Victims of pedophile priests in Italy will unveil Tuesday a campaign dubbed “Beyond the Great Silence”, pushing for an independent investigation into clerical abuse carried out on the Vatican’s doorstop.

As inquiries across the United States, Europe and Australia have exposed the scale of the sex abuse problem within the Church — and also a decades-long cover-up — many groups say Italy can no longer avoid scrutiny.

“The government must act, must take advantage of the momentum created by impartial investigations elsewhere,” Francesco Zanardi, founder of Rete l’Abuso (Abuse Network), told AFP.

“If Italy doesn’t do it now, I fear it never will,” said Zanardi, who was abused by a priest as a young teen.

Nine groups are now forming a consortium aimed at putting pressure on the country to launch a probe, like the ones seen recently in France and Germany.

Cristina Balestrini, who set up a support group for families after her son was abused by a priest, told AFP that the most important thing for survivors was “to make sure it never happens again”.

Not all those molested will survive, “there are many victims who commit suicide, and no one knows about it,” Balestrini said.

‘Total silence’

Rete L’Abuso has recorded more than 300 cases of priests accused or convicted of child sexual abuse in the past 15 years in Italy, out of a total of 50,000 priests across the country.

Giada Vitale is just one example the group cites. She was a shy 13-year old organ player when her parish priest, Marino Genova, abused her in the vestry. She would be molested for three years.

Vitale’s tormentor was convicted in 2020, but victim groups say such a conviction is rare because Italy lags behind other countries in tackling predators.

Precise figures on the scale of the problem are impossible to come by.

The Vatican’s top clerical abuse advisor told AFP this month it was time for the Catholic-majority country to hold its own reckoning.

The church is not as powerful as it once was in Italy, the historic home of popes. But it retains a huge influence and two-thirds of the population are believers, according to a 2019 survey.

Pope Francis, who has toughened the punishments meted out to abusing priests under Vatican law, on Monday streamlined the Vatican office that processes abuse complaints, in an attempt to expedite cases.

But Zanardi of Rete l’Abuso said he “would have little faith” in an in-house investigation.

‘Victims twice over’

Balestrini, 56, is also distrustful of the church since “they acted as if we were the enemy, making us victims twice over” after her teenage son was abused in 2011.

The cleric in question, Mauro Galli, as initially quietly moved to another parish. He would later be convicted.

She hopes the consortium will be able to pressure the church to open its archives, because the scandal, she said, “is much bigger than you can imagine”.

Balestrini said unearthing the truth would not be easy for Italy, but the church would be wise to take an active role in cleaning itself up.

“At the moment, they are trying to keep a lid on it, but it’s better to choose to take the lid off yourself, than have it blown off.”

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic League chief says he’s retiring in ‘next few years’ after receiving massive raise

William Donohue said that the nearly $500,000 raise he received in 2019 was actually part of an exit package approved by the board.

William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, speaks at a forum in New York on Feb. 20, 2001. He announced his retirement after receiving a more than $480,000 raise over two years.

By Corky Siemaszko

William Donohue, the outspoken president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, said Friday he would be “retiring in the next few years.”

Donohue made the announcement after NBC News asked him about the $480,000-plus raise over two years that boosted his salary to more than a million dollars a year — and which appeared on the most recent 990 form from 2019 that nonprofits are required to file with the IRS.

“Your information on my salary is incorrect,” Donohue said in an emailed response to a request for documentation that the Catholic League’s board of directors had approved the massive pay hike. “The board decided to grant me an exit compensation — I will be retiring probably in the next few years — and that is why the figure appears to double my salary.”

Donohue, 74, said that under his leadership the Catholic League, which claims to be the nation’s “largest Catholic civil rights organization,” built up its reserves to more than $60 million, “which explains why the board was generous with my exit compensation benefit.”

“We get zero money from the Catholic Church or foundations, and I don’t employ a director of development — I do that job,” Donohue added. “We also have no sugar daddies.”

But experts were skeptical that a board would pay out a retirement package years before a person actually steps down from the position.

Sarah Webber, a professor of accounting at the University of Dayton and an expert on nonprofit fraud who reviewed the organization’s 990 form at NBC News’ request, confirmed that Donohue’s pay increases required the approval of the Catholic League’s board of directors but questioned the explanation that the raise was part of an exit package.

“‘I will be retiring probably’ certainly would not be enough for me to vote as a board member to pay out exit compensation — this sounds like it is more of a possibility than a certainty. Why would the board agree to exit compensation before the exit is planned?” said Webber.

Neither Donohue nor his “watchdog agency” have publicly announced his plans for retirement.

Webber added that 990 forms do not have a separate disclosure for exit compensation. The 990 form does state that the board of directors approves any salary increases after first comparing them to “the salaries of other top management officials at other nonprofit organizations.”

While the heads of big nonprofits that employ thousands of people make million-plus salaries, Donohue runs an operation that has 12 employees, according to the 990 from 2019.

NBC News called or emailed most of the members of the board, including chairman Walter Knysz Jr. and secretary Alan Cheskey, but received no response.

More than 80 percent of the Catholic League’s money comes from public donations, but Donohue’s salary accounted for more than 30 percent of the organization’s expenses, said Webber.

“That seems like a pretty dramatic rise in compensation,” said Brian Marks, who leads the entrepreneurship and innovation program at the University of New Haven. “It raises questions as to the basis for the raise and how it compares to similarly situated nonprofits.”

Marks also noted that the Catholic League claimed on its latest 990 report to have about $50 million in assets. “So the question is what are they doing with all that money,” he said.

A sociologist by training and former teacher, Donohue in 1993 took over leadership of the organization that was founded 20 years earlier by a Jesuit priest in Milwaukee to counter discrimination against Catholics in government and culture.

Quickly, Donohue transformed the sleepy organization into a culture warrior, using his perch to issue fiery denunciations of perceived anti-Catholicism by public figures, ranging from Madonna and Joan Osborne to Sinead O’Connor, as well as mostly Democratic Catholic politicians such as John Kerry, whom Donohue accused of straying from the righteous path.

In years past, Donohue would spend thousands of dollars on ads in the New York City newspapers to attack perceived foes of Catholicism. For example, in 1999 Donohue spent $34,500 for a full-page ad in The New York Times blasting Vanity Fair and its publisher, Condé  Nast, for stories that he said unfairly targeted a trio of now dead Catholic icons — Cardinal John O’Connor, Mother Teresa and Pope Pius XII. The headline read: “Condé Nast has a Problem with Catholicism.”

Donohue defended the church when it was accused of protecting pedophile priests, wrongly insisted the sexual abuse of children was a “homosexual” problem and drew nationwide condemnation by insisting that “Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity.”

With his gruff New York City accent, Donohue quickly became a fixture on cable TV programs, including MSNBC’s “Hardball With Chris Matthews,” and the public face of a conservative brand of Catholicism. But while Donohue has often been branded a political conservative, he did not hesitate to go after Republican televangelists who criticized his church.

MSNBC is owned by NBCUniversal, the parent company of NBC News.

Donohue’s high salary, along with his high-profile attacks on public figures for alleged anti-Catholicism, have long made him a lightning rod for critics who said he does little to justify being paid that kind of salary.

“The Catholic League’s main activities these days seem to be placing shrill op-eds by William Donohue in right-wing clickbait sites, publishing a poorly designed newsletter and issuing hysterical and utterly predictable press releases screaming about anti-Catholicism whenever anyone dares to disagree with a political position held by the Catholic bishops,” said Rob Boston, senior adviser to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Boston said the Catholic League “has no discernable presence on Capitol Hill” and does not appear to be involved in any grassroots activity besides fundraising.

In fact, the 990 reports from 2017 and 2019 submitted by the Catholic League to the IRS list zero expenditures for lobbying or grassroots activity.

“Donohue may enjoy portraying himself as a honed culture warrior, but his main product is bluster and bile,” said Boston. “While Americans United disagrees with the Catholic League’s position on religious freedom as a sword that can be used to harm others, we are focused on opposing more relevant foes to ensure religious freedom remains a shield that protects everyone’s rights.”

Donohue explained that he handles most of the work that the organization does and has shored up its financial reserves during his tenure at the helm.

“When I took over as president and CEO, we had approximately $400,000 and we were losing about $10,000 to $20,000 a month,” he wrote. “Unlike virtually every CEO, I write 100 percent of the voluminous news releases. I write our monthly journal. I write our direct mail packages — I don’t farm it out to some other party. I write all of our appeals for contributions. I write one book after another. I work 6 days a week.”

Back in May 2010, Joe Feuerherd, who was then the publisher of the National Catholic Reporter, dubbed Donohue “Billy the Bully” and accused him of failing to do any “serious research on the impact of antichurch prejudice on the lives of the nation’s 70 million Catholics” while making headlines by railing against the supposed “war on Christmas” and Hollywood Jews.

“It’s good to be William Donohue,” Feuerherd wrote. “For one, there’s money in fighting bigotry.”

At the time, records show, Donohue was making $372,501 in salary and compensation.

Donohue quickly fired back with a rebuttal published that same month by the NCR.

“Like so many other left-wing Catholics, Feuerherd thinks I made too much money,” Donohue wrote. “My goal in life, actually, is to make as much money as Sr. Carol Keehan, who cleared $963,436 last year as president of the Catholic Health Association.”

What Donohue neglected to mention about Sister Keehan, who was already being targeted by conservative Catholics for supporting Obamacare, was that she took a vow of poverty when she became a nun and her paychecks went directly to her order.

Donohue, who lives on New York’s Long Island, gets to keep his salary, which eclipsed Keehan’s sometime around 2019 when the Catholic League reported he was paid $1,053,127 in salary and compensation.

That same year, the Catholic League also reported $3.5 million in total revenue, with Donohue’s wages accounting for nearly half of the $2.2 million the nonprofit reported paying in salaries.

The only other salaried person listed on the 990 from 2019 was the organization’s vice president, Bernadette Brady-Egan, who was paid a little less than $340,000 in salary and compensation, according to the form.

That was only slightly more than the $321,900 that Brady-Egan took home two years earlier, according to the 990 form the Catholic League filed in 2017.

In years past, Donohue wrote “Year in Review” reports where he summed up the Catholic League’s activities to combat what he deemed anti-Catholic bias in politics, the media and elsewhere. But there do not appear to be any such reports on the website for 2021 or 2020.

Donohue’s most recent “Special Report” is a defense of Christopher Columbus that’s dated Oct. 11, 2021, and titled “Columbus Bashing Is Unwarranted.” His most recent “news release” appeared on the site Wednesday with the headline “BIDEN IS NOT RUNNING THE WHITE HOUSE.”

Complete Article HERE!

Pope Francis promotes extremist homophobe Shelton Fabre to Archbishop

Progressive Catholics laud Fabre as anti-racist but ignore his extremist anti-LGBTQ track record

Bishop Shelton Fabre

By James Finn

The Catholic Church is one of the most powerful forces in the U.S. pushing back against civil rights for LGBTQ people. Just in the past three years, the Church has spent millions to defeat state and national laws protecting queer people from discrimination.

They’ve won critical court cases to exclude queer people from the protection of civil rights laws. Bishops have fired administrative LGBTQ staff in increasing waves of witch hunts and lobbied Congress to remove LGBTQ outreach from a federal suicide hotline.

Bishops are embracing conversion therapy, rejecting pro-LGBTQ Catholic groups like DignityUSA they had tacitly tolerated for decades, and in some cases even ordering priests to deny almost all sacramental and communal Church life to LGBTQ Catholics.

Pope Francis was supposed to change that

Francis took over the reins of the Church in March of 2013, and he electrified the world with his “Who am I to judge” remark in response to a question about a gay priest. His remarks since have been confusing and often contradictory, but progressive Catholics (most lay Catholics in the U.S.) have clung to the notion that Francis will make the Church more welcoming and more healthy.

—Liberal Catholic news sources are keeping mum about Fabre’s staunch opposition to LGBTQ civil equality —

Despite the Pope’s contradictory words, U.S. Catholics say he’s making future change possible by appointing progressive bishops.

But is he?

When Francis appointed Bishop John Doerfler to run the Church in Michigan’s upper peninsula despite an anti-LGBTQ track record, liberal Catholics waved the appointment away as a bureaucratic “mistake.” The consequences became dire for queer Catholics after Doerfler ordered his priests to withhold sacraments from transgender and gay people, but since the diocese is very small, the Pope’s “oopsie” only hurt a small number of people.

Surely Pope Francis had not intended this harm, commented U.S. Catholics, and surely he would be cautious not to repeat such a mistake.

In a decision with far broader consequences.

Francis just appointed an extremist homophobe to one of the most powerful positions in the U.S. Church

Tuesday, the Catholic press announced that Pope Francis chose Bishop Shelton Fabre, currently of Houma-Thibodaux, Louisiana, to be the new archbishop of Louisville, Kentucky. He will serve as only the second Black archbishop in the U.S. Church. Catholic journalists praised Fabre’s work on an anti-racism Church panel as they celebrated his promotion. Some journalists wrote that his appointment would bolster Francis’s “kinder” more “pastoral” vision of Church leadership.

So far, nobody has reported Fabre’s extremist anti-LGBTQ track record, not even publications that had reported on it explicitly in the past. Wire services are running the same bland reports about an “anti-racist” Black archbishop, and even liberal Catholic news sources are keeping mum about Fabre’s staunch opposition to LGBTQ civil equality.

Fabre aligns with a hardcore group of extremist anti-LGBTQ clergy

Last January, nine U.S. Catholic bishops, two of them retired, issued a statement titled, “God Is on Your Side: A Statement from Catholic Bishops on Protecting LGBT Youth.”

This tiny group of bishops issued the statement shortly after the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) lobbied Congress to kill a federal suicide hotline because it offers services specifically to LGBTQ people. The statement appeared to offer support for the LGBTQ Equality Act, which the House of Representatives was about to take up. The statement read in part:

The Catholic Church values the God-given dignity of all human life and we take this opportunity to say to our LGBT friends, especially young people, that we stand with you and oppose any form of violence, bullying or harassment directed at you. Most of all, know that God created you, God loves you and God is on your side.

Marianne Duddy-Burke of the pro-LGBTQ DignityUSA said in a statement she hoped more bishops would sign the pro-LGBTQ statement: “Given that this statement asks for nothing more than human dignity, I would hope that more bishops would add their names.”

Fabre signed a dueling, mean-spirited endorsement of homophobia instead

In what became a battle of dueling statements, a much larger group of bishops issued a harsh statement opposing LGBTQ equality in the name of the USCCB, doubling down on opposition to the Equality Act, reaffirming the Church’s right to discriminate against LGBTQ people when delivering state-contracted services, reaffirming opposition to civil same-sex marriage, and support for health care workers to deny medical care to LGBTQ people on religious grounds.

Bishop Fabre signed the harsh homophobic statement in his capacity as chairman of of the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee Against Racism, sending an implicit message — Don’t be racist, don’t discriminate against Black people, who are fully deserving of human dignity. DO DISCRIMINATE against LGBTQ people, who are NOT fully deserving of human dignity.

When Fabre signed that statement, he joined a short list of some of the most notorious homophobes in the U.S. Church — like Cardinal Timothy Dolan, an outspoken enemy of LGBTQ Catholics. Another signatory, Archbishop Paul Coakley, bemoans the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage a “tragic error,” insisting that Catholic doctrine should play a role in denying equal marriage even to people of other faiths or no faith.

This hardcore faction is largely seen as fighting against Pope Francis’s perceived progressive spirit.

Fabre issued a hypocritical statement on Tuesday

In a press conference, Fabre told reporters his work in anti-racism is framed in “a call to respect the human life and human dignity of each and every person.” He did not explain how his opposition to equal human and civil rights for LGBTQ people fits into that framing. Apparently, “each and every person” actually means each and every cisgender, straight person.

So far the Catholic press is silent on the question of why Pope Francis promoted an extremist homophobe to one of the most powerful leadership positions in the U.S. Church. Is this just another “oopsie,” a bureaucratic blunder?

That’s what many progressive Catholics claimed when Francis promoted Doerfler and when he personally signed off on a document forbidding priests from blessing LGBTQ people in committed relationships or marriages, saying, “God can’t bless sin.” Some claim Francis didn’t pay close attention to the document and didn’t realize what it said, even though a Papal signature on such a document is an extraordinary breach of custom.

Maybe Doerfler’s appointment was really a mistake, maybe barring priests from blessing gay people, which the German Catholic clergy are rebelling over, was really a mistake.

But now Fabre, a notorious homophobic hardliner? The mistake hypothesis is wearing increasingly thin.

It’s commendable that the Pope promoted a Black man and an anti-racist to a powerful position, but I have a question. Is it not possible to identify a U.S. Catholic leader who is Black and anti-racist but is NOT a hardcore homophobic bigot?

Two LGBTQ Catholic advocacy leaders I contacted told me “on background” that such an appointment would indeed be possible, and that they are bitterly disappointed Pope Francis elevated Fabre instead.

So, here we go again with the Papal rollercoaster, with contradictory statements and actions from a man who can’t seem to decide where he wants to lead the Church, and can’t get real about treating queer people with dignity and equality.

Will the real Pope Francis please stand up?

Complete Article HERE!

Benedict woes come as German church reform pressure rises

The Sept. 22, 2011 file photo shows Pope Benedict XVI, left, who retired in 2013, speaking to Berlin’s Archbishop Rainer Maria Woelki, right, at a mass at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin, Germany. On Friday, Jan 6, 2012 A report on decades of sexual abuse that shone an unflattering spotlight on retired Pope Benedict XVI has come on top of already strong pressure in Germany to reconsider Catholic rules on issues including homosexuality and women’s roles, adding to a mounting sense of impatience in the country’s church.

By Geir Moulson

A report on decades of clergy sexual abuse in Germany that shone an unflattering spotlight on retired Pope Benedict XVI has added to already strong pressure there for the church to reconsider Catholic rules on issues including homosexuality and women’s roles, creating a mounting sense of impatience.

The latest flare-up of the sexual abuse scandal in the German church, one of the world’s richest, comes as a trailblazing reform process launched in 2019 in response to the abuse crisis begins to call for concrete changes.

The “Synodal Path,” which brings together Catholic bishops and lay representatives, approved at an assembly last week calls to allow blessings for same-sex couples, married priests and the ordination of women as deacons. It also called for church labor law to be revised so that gay employees don’t face the risk of being fired.

Many of those reform plans still need formal approval at future assemblies, but they put the German church on a potential collision course with the Vatican, whose approval would in most cases be needed to implement them.

The increasing pressures for reform coincides with a turbulent year in the German church. First came a furor over the conservative Cologne archbishop’s handling of reports on how church officials dealt with abuse cases, which led to Pope Francis granting him a “spiritual timeout.”

Then, last month, came a long-anticipated independent report commissioned by the Munich archdiocese into decades of abuse cases there. It faulted their handling by a string of church officials past and present, including Benedict, who as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was archbishop there from 1977 to 1982.

The German-born Benedict on Tuesday asked forgiveness for any “grievous faults” in his handling of clergy sex abuse cases, but denied any personal or specific wrongdoing.

Reform advocates and victim support groups criticized what they saw as a tone-deaf response that evaded responsibiity. The head of the German Bishops’ Conference, Limburg Bishop Georg Baetzing, put out a tight-lipped tweet saying Benedict “deserves respect” for having responded.

And the bishop of Essen, Franz-Josef Overbeck, told the Catholic newspaper Neues Ruhrwort that he fears Benedict’s statement won’t help abuse victims work through what happened to them.

Overbeck said he notes with concern that “people affected by sexual violence have reached with disappointment and in some cases also indignation to the former pope’s comments on his time as archbishop of Munich and Freising.”

The current Munich archbishop, Cardinal Reinhard Marx, welcomed Benedict’s response and again stressed that he himself takes the report “very seriously.”

Marx is a prominent reformist ally of Francis. A major thrust of his response to the report, in which he was faulted himself, has been to insist that the church needs “really deep renewal” to emerge from the abuse crisis.

Last week, Marx made his clearest call yet for loosening the celibacy requirement for priests, saying there is a “question mark” over “whether it should be taken as a basic precondition for every priest.” Another top European progressive, Jesuit Cardinal Jean Claude Hollerich, archbishop of Luxembourg and head of the commission of EU bishops conferences, called for changes in the Catholic Church’s position on homosexuality and priestly celibacy.

Meanwhile, the German Bishops’ Conference welcomed an initiative last month by 125 church employees who publicly outed themselves as queer, saying they want to “live openly without fear” in the church and pushing demands for reform.

At its weekend meeting, delegates to the “Synodal Path” strongly backed calls for a “change of culture” in church labor law, Baetzing said. They also called for the faithful to be given more of a say in choosing new bishops.

However, it’s unclear how many of the reforms proposed by the “Synodal Path,” whose next assembly is scheduled for Sept. 8-10, will become reality.

Sessions so far have pointed to a clear pro-reform majority, including among German bishops. But the process has sparked fierce resistance inside the church, primarily from conservatives opposed to opening any debate on hot-button issues.

It is being watched closely in Rome, where Francis has encouraged such “synodal” deliberations by national churches but has also sent out a strong warning to not go beyond established Catholic doctrine.

While progressives cheer calls for changes to church positions on celibacy and homosexuality, conservatives have voiced alarm that the German church is heading to schism, or a formal break from Rome. And while Francis has issued groundbreaking gestures of openness and welcome to gay Catholics, he has not altered the church’s teaching that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered.”

Francis also has dodged taking a stand on allowing married priests or on women deacons.

Phyllis Zagano of Hofstra University, who served on Francis’ first study commission on women deacons, cheered the German vote in favor of them and said the church as a whole needs them. The vote, she said, “comes at a time when the church continues to struggle against its history of abuse and its embedded clericalism, which combine to drive away women and their families.”

But the papal nuncio in Germany, Archbishop Nikola Eterovic, offered no encouragement to the synodal assembly in a statement that emphasized the importance of the broader global church, the German news agency dpa reported.

He noted that “the pope is, so to speak, the point of reference and the center of unity for over 1.3 billion Catholics worldwide, 22.6 million of whom live in Germany.”

Complete Article HERE!