The changes came from new guidelines on sexuality and gender issued by the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland at the close of last month. In a press release, the diocese clarified that the guidelines were a formal policy version of existing church teachings on the subject.
“Since questions of sex, sexuality, and gender identity have become increasingly prevalent in our society, it is our hope that the policy will help to ensure these matters are addressed in a consistent and authentically Catholic manner across our diocesan institutions and diocesan Catholic schools, and that those we serve will have a clear understanding about expectations and accommodations related to those matters,” stated the diocese.
The policy requires parental notification in the case of minors experiencing gender dysphoria or confusion; declares that parental rejection of a child’s preferred pronouns don’t constitute grounds for nondisclosure; bans use of preferred pronouns; restricts bathroom and facility usage to biological sex; prohibits admission of students to institutions, programs, and activities like sports designated for the opposite sex; bans same-sex dates to school dances and mixers; requires students to comply with dress codes aligning with their biological sex; bans any celebration or advocacy of LGBTQ+ ideologies or behaviors, such as Pride flags; and bans gender transitions of any degree, whether social or medical.
The policy acknowledged the existence of gender dysphoria, but rejected the modern belief that feelings determine truth.
“This understanding erases those intentional, embodied distinctions between men and women. As such, this view is contrary to the divinely revealed reality of our true, God-given human nature,” stated the policy.
Under the policy, individuals experiencing gender dysphoria or same-sex attraction would be admitted into their schools and allowed to participate in activities, with the contingency that they don’t openly express their disagreement with Catholic teachings on sex, sexuality, and gender.
Reverend Edward Malesic, the Bishop of Cleveland, stated in an accompanying letter that biological sex coincides with God’s divine plan.
“The human person is a unity of body and soul; we experience the world through our bodies, and it is through the virtuous expression of our bodies that we reveal God,” said Malesic. “Through times of questioning and confusion, we must accompany our brothers and sisters in Christ with compassion, mercy, and dignity so that we might lovingly help them navigate the confusion and arrive at truth.”
Malesic directed those with further questions or concerns to contact the diocese’s Marriage and Family Office. He also noted that the guidance page would be updated regularly with additional information and resources on the subject.
Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb posted on X (formerly Twitter) that he believed the policy represented a “shocking betrayal” of church teachings. Bibb offered his own definition of Christian faith, sans Scripture.
“For me, faith is about universal love and acceptance,” said Bibb. “Instead, the new policy forces LGBTQ+ kids to hide their authentic selves and attend schools in fear of persecution for who they are.”
Ohio’s Democratic minority leader for the Senate, Nickie Antonio, said the diocese should not be given school choice funds over the policy.
“I am extremely disappointed that the diocese has chosen to focus on policies of exclusion over acceptance,” said Antonio. “State taxpayer dollars should not subsidize exclusionary education, and if these policies stand, then the diocese should not accept state-funded vouchers.”
The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland has issued a sweeping policy statement on sexuality and gender identity in parishes and schools which LGBTQ advocates have called “chilling” and “draconian.”
Among the items, it requires faculty and staff to out students to parents should they witness any signs of “gender dysphoria,” bans gender transitions and the display of pride flags, and will outlaw same-sex couples from attending school dances. It does not recognize sexual orientations or identities like lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender and instead refers to people “experiencing gender dysphoria or gender confusion”.
“The standards really take to a new low some of the policies we’ve seen coming out of state houses around the country, as well as coming out in proposed bills out of the Ohio legislature.” said Dr. Ben Huelskamp, executive director of LOVEboldly, a nonprofit dedicated to developing spaces where LGBTQ+ people can thrive in Christianity.
Across the United States, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures in 2023, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. In Ohio alone, 10 bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community have been introduced through bans on trans women in sports, gender-affirming care, drag performances and more.
“These acts, whether we’re talking about public schools or private schools, or in this case, again, the Diocese of Cleveland, really are aiming to erase LGBTQIA+ students and staff and faculty members, both from their schools and, frankly, just out of existence,” Huelskamp told Scene.
It comes as Pope Francis made headlines after criticizing the “very strong, organized, reactionary attitude,” of some American Catholics who have replaced faith with ideology at a meeting in Portugal on August 28.
According to the policy statement: “A person experiencing gender dysphoria or confusion will not be denied admission to an institution or be excluded from an institution’s life and activities…However, those persons who choose to openly express disagreement with Church teaching on matters of sex, sexuality, and /or gender in an inappropriate or scandalous way, or who act in ways contrary to the teachings of the Church, may be subject to restrictions on his or her participation in the life of the institution or, in appropriate cases, to disciplinary action.”
The formal policy, which affects all diocesan institutions, including offices, parishes, parish schools, and diocesan schools, was developed by a team of experts chosen by Bishop Edward Malesic and released on August 30.
As of September 1, the policy:
Requires faculty and staff to notify the parents of minors “experiencing gender dysphoria or gender confusion”. In cases where notifying a parent could result in physical abuse of the minor, faculty and staff are to instead consult the Diocese Legal Office. The release does not address other forms of abuse but specifies that refusal to “to treat their child in any manner inconsistent with their God-given biological sex is not abuse and is not a compelling reason to not disclose”.
Bans the designation of preferred pronouns that do not “accurately reflect a person’s God-given biological sex”. Nicknames other than abbreviated versions of one’s legal name can be used to address “a person experiencing gender dysphoria or gender confusion” only if they do not “obscure or contradict the person’s God-given biological sex, promote the idea that one’s gender is different than one’s God-given biological sex,” or cause scandal.
Requires people to use bathrooms and facilities that “correspond to their God-given biological sex”. Individual institutional leadership has the discretionary power to accommodate the use of single-user bathrooms upon request.
Restricts admittance to single-sex institutions and institutional programs–like extracurriculars, athletics or ministries–consistent with his or her God-given biological sex. Institutional leadership has discretionary power to allow “biological females competing on athletic teams designated for biological males when deemed appropriate”. Other exceptions have to get approval from the bishop.
Bans attendance to institutional events with a “date of the same God-given biological sex or publicly express and/or display sexual attraction to or romantic interest in members of the same-sex at such event.” The institution has the discretion to allow attendees to attend alone, with a platonic friend or with a group of platonic friends.
Requires people to “present and conduct themselves in a manner consistent with their God-given biological sex” and bans “acting in a manner the purpose of which is to hold themselves out as being a sex or gender that is inconsistent with the person’s God-given biological sex” or would cause confusion or scandal about the “person’s sex or gender relative to the person’s God-given biological sex.” Examples given include dressing “consistent with their God-given biological sex” and complying with sex-specific dress codes.
Bans “publicly advocate or celebrate sexual orientation or identity” in ways that are contrary to the Catholic Church’s teaching and that could cause disruption, confusion, or scandal regarding the Catholic Church’s teachings.
Bans symbols like, “‘LGBTQ pride’ rainbows or ‘LGBTQ pride’ flags or other symbols that can be construed as being opposed to Church teaching” on institution property or at events the institution is participating in or sponsoring.
Bans gender affirming medical care and social transitioning, which it defines as “the adoption of pronouns, clothing, haircuts, and other social expressions of gender or sex for the purpose of holding out oneself as being a sex or gender different than one’s God-given biological sex.” It allows for medical treatment of “true genetic or physical anomalies, disorders, or medical conditions” but does not detail what would qualify.
Requires institutional records and documents to use “person’s God-given biological sex and legal name” and bans the alteration of existing records following a legal name change.
“First, it’s going to have a chilling effect on what students, staff, faculty and others, how those groups can express themselves, how they can dress, how they can just simply act in ways that are authentic to them based on their own gender identity, or their own gender expression” Huelskamp said. “Further, it really takes another chilling effect for people who want to be allies to those folks.”
The full policy statement and a corresponding cover letter by Bishop Malesic is available on the diocesan website.
The Diocese did not respond to questions from Scene but issued the following statement:
“In response to societal trends and at the request of church and school leadership, the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland has taken existing guidance and practice in matters of sex, sexuality, and gender identity and developed them into a formal policy, rooted in scripture and Church teaching, to help ensure that these matters are addressed in a consistent, pastorally sound, and authentically Catholic manner across our diocesan and parish institutions and schools.
“Each and every person is welcome and invited to be a part of the Church. Each one of us brings our own struggles and questions, and the Church, like Christ, meets each one of us where we are. It is our hope that this policy, in tandem with the pastoral and theological resources found on the diocese’s website, helps each person to live more fully in the truth of their identity as a son or daughter of God who is made, body and soul, in His image.”
“There’s still hope available. There are still people in their parishes in their schools who will support them…We know that there are good and well meaning Catholics out there who either are themselves queer, or who totally support the queer community,” said Huelskamp. “That support does not go away because one bishop or one diocese says that they’re going to embrace these, frankly, draconian policies.”
A comprehensive, yearlong investigation into sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in Switzerland released on Tuesday has documented more than 1,000 instances of abuse dating back to the mid-20th century.
The Swiss Bishops’ Conference commissioned the groundbreaking study by the University of Zurich’s Historical Seminar, reported CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner.
“The findings expose deep-rooted issues that go beyond the actions of individual perpetrators to systemic causes that Church leaders must answer for,” said Bishop Felix Gmür of Basel, president of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference, in an immediate response to the study.
The 136-page report documents 1,002 cases of abuse since the mid-20th century involving 510 accused and 921 victims. The research team cautioned that these figures represent “only the tip of the iceberg,” as numerous archives remain unevaluated.
The study also highlighted a systematic cover-up within the church. “Church criminal law was scarcely enforced for much of the study period. Instead, many cases were deliberately concealed or minimized,” the report stated. It further revealed that Church leaders often transferred accused clerics, sometimes internationally, to evade secular prosecution.
The report summary indicated that 39% of the victims were female, while just under 56% were male. “In almost all cases, the accused were men, and 74% of the evaluated files evidenced sexual abuse of minors,” the report added.
Gmür emphasized the need for future studies to explore “Catholic specifics” that may have contributed to the abuse, such as sexual morality and celibacy. “This guilt cannot simply be erased. It must be confronted, focusing on the Church’s power dynamics and sexual ethics,” he said.
The Swiss Bishops’ Conference pledged to take action. “We will establish and fund independent reporting offices to facilitate the reporting of abuses,” Gmür said, according to CNA Deutsch.
Gmür also stated that all related documents would be preserved indefinitely to prevent further cover-ups.
On Sunday, the Swiss Bishops’ Conference disclosed an ongoing Vatican-led investigation into handling abuse allegations, expected to conclude by the end of the year.
Allegations against several members of the Swiss Bishops’ Conference were forwarded to the Dicastery for Bishops in Rome, which has appointed Bishop Joseph Bonnemain of the Swiss Diocese of Chur to lead the inquiry.
At a meeting Saturday, Pope Francis discussed with Vatican officials the prospect of requesting the resignation of Bishop Joseph Strickland of the Diocese of Tyler, Texas, The Pillar has learned.
The pope met Sept. 9 with Archbishop Robert Prevost, OSA, head of the Dicastery for Bishops, and Archbishop Christophe Pierre, apostolic nuncio to the United States – both cardinals-elect.
Several sources close to the dicastery told The Pillar ahead of the meeting that the prelates would present the pope with the results of an apostolic visitation of Stickland’s diocese, conducted earlier this year, as well as subsequent public actions by the bishop, who has emerged as an outspoken critic of the Holy Father.
“The situation of Bishop Strickland is the agenda,” one senior official close to the dicastery told The Pillar, “and the expectation is that the Holy Father will be requesting his resignation — that will certainly be the recommendation put to him.”
While noting that the papal audience did not exclusively concern the Bishop of Tyler, who has previously accused the pope of having a “program [for] undermining the Deposit of Faith,” the official said that Strickland’s case was set to be the “primary point of discussion.”
“There are two aspects,” the official said, “there is the matter of the public scandal from all these comments about the pope and the synod, but there are also real problems in the diocese. Those were the focus of the visitation; there are concerns in the diocese about governance, about financial matters, about basic prudence.”
The official predicted that the pope was unlikely to decide to depose Strickland as bishop of his diocese, a canonically rare act, but told The Pillar that Pope Francis would be advised to encourage the bishop to resign.
“The consensus in the dicastery is that he will be asked to consider resigning,” the official said. “That has been the substance of discussion among the members.”
Prevost, who has been prefect of the Vatican dicastery since April, leads the department responsible for recommending candidates for episcopal appointments to the pope.
The department also oversees disciplinary investigations and processes concerning bishops’ acts of governance under the norms of Vos estis lux mundi and Come una madre amorevole, laws brought in by Pope Francis to enhance accountability among the episcopate.
Prevost, a member of the Augustinian order and a Chicago native, is one of three American members of the dicastery, the others being Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago and Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark.
If Strickland is encouraged to resign, it is not clear how he would respond to such an invitation.
“I think that I went through this because I’ve been bold enough, and loved the Lord enough and his Church, simply preaching the truth,” Strickland said in July.
The Vatican probe was confirmed by The PillarJune 24, after rumors surfaced on social media, and the visitation was reported on the Church Militant website. The apostolic visitation, an official review of diocesan leadership and governance, was conducted by Bishop Gerald Kicanas, emeritus of Tucson, and Bishop Dennis Sullivan of Camden, who filed a report with the Dicastery for Bishops.
The visitation included questions about the governance of a diocesan high school, considerable staff turnover in the diocesan curia, the bishop’s welcome of a controversial former religious sister as a high school employee, and the bishop’s support for “Veritatis Splendor” — a planned Catholic residential community in the diocese, which has struggled with controversy involving its leadership’s financial administration and personal conduct.
Sources familiar with the investigation have previously told The Pillar that diocesan officials and clergy interviewed as part of the process were asked about the possibility of Bishop Strickland stepping down and canvassed for their views about suitable possible successors.
Strickland, 64, has been Bishop of Tyler since 2012; he was before that a priest of the same diocese.
The bishop has long been celebrated by many leaders in the pro-life movement, for his outspoken defense of human life, and opposition to abortion. The bishop is a frequent user of Twitter, with more than 135,000 followers.
In recent years, Strickland has been critical of Pope Francis, and was outspoken in his criticism of the Holy See’s approach to vaccines during the coronavirus pandemic, urging a more stringent position than the Vatican’s on ethical questions surrounding vaccine testing and embryonic cell lines.
In May, Strickland tweeted that he “rejects” Pope Francis’ “program undermining the Deposit of Faith” and he has built an increasingly national profile and following on a number of issues.
In June, Strickland left the U.S. bishops’ conference meeting in Orlando, FL., to lead a rally outside the stadium of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball club, part of a wider public pushback against the team’s decision to honor the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an LGBT activist group specializing in Catholic-themed drag acts.
In July, following the apostolic visitation, Strickland released a pastoral letter to his diocese in August in which he warned Catholics about “the evil and false message that has invaded the Church, Christ’s Bride.”
“In this time of great turmoil in the Church and in the world, I must speak to you from a father’s heart in order to warn you of the evils that threaten us, and to assure you of the joy and hope that we have always in our Lord Jesus Christ,” Strickland wrote, before enumerating several points of Church teaching which he said would be debated at the upcoming session of the Synod of Bishops in Rome.
Senior sources close to the Tyler diocese told The Pillar that the tone of the letter had surprised many senior clergy of the diocese. Several figures in the diocese confronted Strickland over the tone of the letter, The Pillar was told, and warned the bishop his position was becoming untenable.
“People were deeply alarmed” by the letter, one senior source close to the diocese told The Pillar, “but the bishop was having none of it. He was absolutely firm that he was saying what needs to be said and that he wouldn’t be silenced by anyone.”
Some sources in the diocese have told The Pillar that Strickland claims he has been directed by the Blessed Virgin Mary to continue his outspoken engagement on global Church affairs.
However, despite Strickland’s reportedly bullish response to concerns within the diocese, he released on Sept. 5 a second letter, which he called “a more in depth consideration of point number one as expressed in the Pastoral Letter I issued on August 22,” and in which he treated several of the same points but in less emphatic terms.
Since the apostolic visitation in Tyler, there has been considerable debate and commentary on the subject among U.S. Catholics.
Some Catholics — among them both Strickland’s supporters and detractors — have said the bishop’s outspoken commentary on Church issues has likely put him in the spotlight of Vatican officials. Some of Strickland’s supporters have said the visitation in Tyler seems to them like a political move.
Addressing the possibility that the visitation could lead to his being asked to resign, Strickland vowed in July that no matter the outcome, he expects to continue his public role in the Church’s life.
“They won’t stop me,” Strickland said. “When we’re speaking the truth of Jesus Christ, there is no politically correct. And the world can try to shut us down, but it won’t work.”
The Catholic Church is not new to controversy. The institution’s actions prompted The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer-winning spotlight investigation detailing the pedophilic transgressions of Catholic priests and enabling evasive maneuvers of their bishops. However, there are many other scandals involving the church, including more instances of sexual abuse, privacy violations and discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community.
1 Child sex abuse in Pennsylvania
In 2018, a Pennsylvania grand jury issued a 900-page report detailing 70 years of child sex abuse by the Catholic Church in the state. The report found 300 priests involved in the sexual abuse of more than 1,000 identifiable victims and likely many more that went unreported. The grand jury said the church followed a “playbook for concealing the truth,” The New York Times reported.
“Despite some institutional reform, individual leaders of the church have largely escaped public accountability,” the grand jury wrote. “Priests were raping little boys and girls, and the men of God who were responsible for them not only did nothing; they hid it all. For decades.” The investigation was led by then-Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is now Pennsylvania’s governor. He said the cover-up “stretched in some cases all the way up to the Vatican,” adding that the church “protected their institution at all costs” and “showed a complete disdain for victims.” The report also prompted investigations in other states, many of which uncovered similar findings.
2 Sex, drugs and nun control
The Bishop of Fort Worth and 10 cloistered nuns in Arlington, Texas, have been at odds in a convoluted scandal, Slate reported. The head of a local convent, Mother Teresa Agnes Gerlach, had a seizure in 2022 requiring medical intervention. While medicated, Gerlach admitted to committing online “sexual sin” with a priest, a violation of her vow of chastity. The information was reported to Bishop Michael Olson, who began a crusade against the nuns, interrogating them and confiscating their devices. Soon, the nuns refused to cooperate, claiming Olson was “traumatizing” them.
Things escalated further, with Olson threatening to dismiss the nuns from their Carmelite order, and the nuns then suing Olson for violating their privacy and defamation. The nuns’ lawyer also called in the police to investigate Olson, prompting Olson’s office to release photos by a “confidential informant” taken in the nuns’ monastery showing “marijuana edibles, a bong and other drug paraphernalia.” The nuns claimed that the photo was staged and that Olson was trying to shut the monastery down to seize their property.
The conflict is still ongoing and the nuns have rejected Olson’s authority over them, despite Vatican intervention. “Every action he has taken with regard to us has proven to be devious and deceptive, marked by falsehood and an intent to persecute us,” the nuns wrote.
3 Art, abuse and Marko Rupnik
Slovenian priest Marko Rupnik was expelled from the Jesuits in June 2023 for “sexually, spiritually and psychologically abusing women” for decades, The Associated Press reported. However, Rupnik is also a famous Catholic mosaic artist whose work is in chapels all over the world, including the U.S. This has sparked debate as to whether his art should be removed or whether people should separate the art from the artist.
“The good of art is in the work of art itself,” argued the Rev. Patrick Briscoe in Our Sunday Visitor. “If we say anything else, we concede that art is, of itself and in fact, ideological.” On the other side, the victims of Rupnik’s abuse and other abuse survivors are calling for the art to be removed. “His artwork should be removed, as a testimony to the entire church, and as a witness, that there are consequences to perpetrating abuse,” clerical abuse victim Gina Barthel told The Pillar.
4 Child sex abuse in Baltimore
In April 2023, Maryland’s attorney general released a report outlining the sexual abuse of children and teenagers over six decades by clergy in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, The New York Times reported. The 463-page report identifies 156 abusers (10 of whose names are redacted) connected to the church, mostly men who served as priests, who abused more than 600 children dating back to the 1940s.
The report “illustrates the depraved, systemic failure of the archdiocese to protect the most vulnerable — the children it was charged to keep safe,” Attorney General Anthony Brown said. Archbishop William Lori, head of the Baltimore archdiocese — the oldest diocese in the U.S. — said in a statement he sees “the pain and destruction that was perpetrated by representatives of the church and perpetuated by the failures that allowed this evil to fester, and I am deeply sorry.”
5 The outing of a top priest
Monsignor Jeffrey Burrill, secretary-general of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was forced to resign from his position in 2021 because he was found to have downloaded the gay dating app Grindr and frequently visited gay bars. However, there was controversy in the the way this information was discovered. Catholic news site The Pillar outed Burrill using “commercially available data to trace his calls, movements and behavior since 2018,” The Atlantic reported.
The manner in which The Pillar outed Burrill bothered many people more than his evident breaking of his vow of celibacy. “The use of app-based location tracking data to make public that which someone assumed would remain private should be chilling to any American with a smartphone,” remarked Catholic journal America Magazine. In addition, The Pillar “missed no opportunity to mention … charges that Grindr and other ‘hookup apps’ are used to facilitate sex with minors,” The Atlantic added, essentially conflating homosexuality with pedophilia, despite an acknowledged lack of any evidence that Burrill was in contact with any minors.
6 The prosecution of McCarrick
The Vatican expelled former U.S. cardinal Theodore McCarrick from the priesthood in 2019 for sexually abusing minors. In 2021, he was officially charged in Massachusetts with sexually assaulting a 16-year-old boy in the 1970s, making him “the highest-ranking Roman Catholic official in the United States to face criminal charges in the clergy sexual abuse scandal,” The Boston Globe reported. McCarrick pleaded not guilty.
However, McCarrick, now 93, had the charges dismissed in August 2023 due to “age-related incompetence,” with the judge determining he was not mentally fit to stand trial, CNN reported. “In spite of the criminal court’s decision today, many clergy sexual abuse victims feel as though former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick is and will always be the permanent personification of evil within the Catholic Church,” said the victim’s lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian.