Several Catholic priests held a ceremony blessing same-sex couples outside Cologne Cathedral on Wednesday night in a protest against the city’s conservative archbishop, Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki.
Their protest was triggered by Cologne church officials’ criticism of a priest from Mettmann, a town near Duesseldorf, who in March had held a “blessing ceremony for lovers” — including same-sex couples.
Officials from the Cologne archdiocese, which Mettmann belongs to, had reprimanded the priest afterward and stressed that the Vatican doesn’t allow blessings of same-sex couples, German news agency dpa reported.
The blessing of same-sex couples on Wednesday was the latest sign of rebellion of progressive believers in Germany’s most populous diocese with about 1.8 million members.
Several hundred people showed up for the outdoor blessing service for same-sex and also heterosexual couples. Waving rainbow flags, they sang the Beatles hit “All You Need Is Love,” dpa reported. A total of about 30 couples were blessed.
The German government’s LGBTQ+ commissioner called the service an important symbol for the demand to recognize and accept same-sex couples in the Roman Catholic Church.
“It is mainly thanks to the church’s grassroots that the church is opening up more and more,” Sven Lehmann said, according to dpa. “Archbishop Woelki and the Vatican, on the other hand, are light years behind social reality.”
Catholic believers in the Cologne archdiocese have long protested their deeply divisive archbishop and have been leaving in droves over allegations that he may have covered up clergy sexual abuse reports.
The report absolved Woelki of any neglect of his legal duty with respect to abuse victims. He subsequently said he made mistakes in past cases involving sexual abuse allegations, but insisted he had no intention of resigning.
Two papal envoys were dispatched to Cologne a few months later to investigate possible mistakes by senior officials in handling cases. Their report led Pope Francis to give Woelki a “ spiritual timeout ” of several months for making major communication errors.
In March 2022, after his return from the timeout, the cardinal submitted an offer to resign, but so far Francis hasn’t acted on it.
Germany’s many progressive Catholics have also been at odds with the Vatican for a long time.
Several years ago, Germany’s Catholic Church launched a reform process with the country’s influential lay group to respond to the clergy sexual abuse scandals, after a report in 2018 found at least 3,677 people were abused by clergy between 1946 and 2014. The report found that the crimes were systematically covered up by church leaders and that there were structural problems in the way power was exercised that “favored sexual abuse of minors or made preventing it more difficult.”
The Vatican, however, has tried to put the brakes on the German church’s controversial reform process, fearing proposals concerning gay people, women and sexual morals will split the church.
On Wednesday night, just across from the hundreds of believers celebrating the blessings of same-sex couples, there were also about a dozen Catholics who demonstrated against the outdoor service, dpa reported. They held up a banner that said “Let’s stay Catholic.”
— Its cover-up is causing many good people to lose faith and trust in the institutional Church
By Father Shay Cullen
The shocking truth about clerical sexual abuse of minors and women religious was revealed in research by Missio Aachen released in 2020. The pressures on women religious never to complain are immense. They are told by priests that suffering in silence is a great virtue.
Complaining of abuse invites retaliation and even expulsion from their congregation, the research reveals. These are secret crimes now being exposed around the world to the shame and embarrassment of the members of the institutional Church.
The abuse will end and the victims and survivors shall be free only when the truth is revealed, accountability is fixed and justice is done by convicting and punishing the abusers.
It seems that priests, called representatives of God once ordained, have a special entitlement to abuse minors and women religious, and enjoy impunity from accountability. That concept is now changing and a few abusive priests are being held accountable. However, putting them on trial is meeting strong resistance from some bishops and priests who protect clerical abusers.
Some Church authorities believe they and their priests are above the law of the state and some even flout the instructions of Pope Francis to report abuse. Denial and the covering-up of crimes by protecting the abusers is common practice, according to women religious who responded to the research questionnaire.
The research by Missio, a reliable, renowned, trustworthy international German Church-based organization, has gathered much evidence from women religious in Asia and Africa. Based on a professionally designed questionnaire that was circulated to women’s and men’s religious congregations and institutions, the results are disturbing and enlightening.
“It is not possible to speak openly about exploitation, oppression, sexual assault, etc. without having to fear acts of reprisal”
The short questionnaire had six core questions and a cover letter. It was designed “to give the respondents the maximum space to describe their experiences as well as their personal view in their own words.”
Missio received 101 completed questionnaires. “From the 101 completed questionnaires, 91 percent were completed by women, mostly by sisters belonging to a religious order and nine percent by men, all diocesan priests or priests belonging to a religious order.”
The majority of the respondents gave the issue of abuse of women religious a very high level of importance. When asked what the Church was doing to address the issue the overall answer was: “Not much was being done.”
In summary, the respondents reported the reasons for this inaction by Church authorities because of a culture of denial, a sense of entitlement and a policy to conceal crimes and cover-up.
Some respondents said speaking out against abuse is taboo. One respondent said, “it is not possible to speak openly about exploitation, oppression, sexual assault, etc. without having to fear acts of reprisal or reputational damage.”
Others said the “efforts to consider cases of abuse within the Church [e.g. to carry out a study on the subject], are thwarted.”
Another group said “priests [that abuse women religious] are not sanctioned but assigned to another parish.”
Another convent of nuns said that “after the abuse in a religious convent, we sent a letter to all the authorities concerned, no authority signaled or sent an acknowledgment of receipt.”
Others said “the local Church is not ready to speak up openly as it would be a scandal; rather they even try to dissuade those who have the courage to do so.”
Yet another said “experiences of violation and exploitation that women religious encounter in their lives is not acknowledged as abuse.”
“How can the abuse of children and women religious be ignored, covered up and tolerated on a massive scale?”
Besides, it works to the advantage of local Church authorities to keep women religious where they are because they remain “a silent and silenced lot.”
The vast majority of clergy are upright, good, spiritual and dedicated priests and brothers helping the unfortunate members of society especially where government fails the people. However, they mostly remain silent perhaps because they fear retaliation by their superior or bishop if they report clerical abuse.
How can the abuse of children and women religious be ignored, covered up and tolerated on a massive scale in the Church? How can it not be branded as a hypnotic institution failing to protect the most vulnerable of all?
This is changing with civil authorities bringing abusive clergy to trial and convicting them. In Cagayan in the northern Philippines, a Catholic priest put behind bars for child rape and sexual assault, and allegedly using video voyeurism to blackmail a 15-year-old child victim is a first. He admits the acts but says it was consensual, despite the alleged blackmail.
This criminal abuse and its cover-up are causing many good people to lose faith and trust in the institutional hierarchical Church and thousands have abandoned attending Mass and the sacraments.
When the sexual abuse of children and women religious causes people, especially children, to lose faith in Jesus himself, that is a grave and abominable sin.
Revelations and investigations into clerical abuse by civil authorities in dioceses in several countries showed that thousands of children have been abused by priests.
The Gospel teaching of Jesus of Nazareth is clear — that anyone who abuses a child and turns them away from trusting in him must be held accountable by tying a millstone around his neck and that person be thrown into the deep sea.
Make no mistake, Jesus saw child abuse as a heinous crime. (Matthew 18: 6-7, Mark 9:42, Luke17:2)
The bishops seem to ignore these strong Gospel teachings of Jesus. Doing so is a denial of Jesus himself. He said to accept one of these little ones is to accept him. The opposite can also be true. Abusing one child is to abuse Jesus.
— Roman Catholic bishops strongly disagree: Should the Church bless homosexual couples on their wedding or not? The official doctrine says no, but some bishops seem to ignore this altogether.
Now, they organise a mass blessing in protest against Cardinal Rainer Maria Woelki, who had criticised the blessing of same-sex couples. In protest, the diocese of Cologne organised a blessing service for heterosexual as well as homosexual couples last Sunday. In total, 130 people participated, Die Tagespost writes. In total, 25 couples received the blessing, among whom were two homosexual couples and several remarried divorcees. Remarriage after a divorce is also forbidden in the Roman Catholic Church.
The dispute started in March when pastor Herbert Ullmann of the parishes of Mettman and Wülfrath celebrated a blessing service “for all loving couples.” In response, he was reprimanded by Cardinal Woelki. Woelki pointed out that such celebrations were not to take place until the stance of the universal Church would be clarified on the matter. This is not yet the case. Ullmann was forbidden to organise such a celebration again.
However, Woelki’s statements led to much critique in Germany. The organisation behind the Cologne Carnaval responded that it found it strange that the Roman Catholic clergy are allowed to bless “barrels Kölsch (beer, ed.) and floats, but not people who love each other.”
The German Synodal Way decided in March to develop liturgies for blessing ceremonies for homosexual couples, remarried couples and divorcees. In total, 81 per cent of the bishops were in favour of this motion.
Ullmann did not partake in the protest blessing service last Sunday, Die Tagespost reports. Instead, he was present at the reception that took place afterwards.
On September 20, another protest blessing is planned, the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad writes. This is the same day as the day on which Woelki was installed as Archbishop in 2014.
Since that time, Woelki has been the centre of controversy for the way he dealt with sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. In 2022, he offered his resignation to the Pope, but Francis has not yet ratified it.
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.”
It’s been quite some time since a story involving a major figure or incident in the Catholic Church was covered by both the mainstream and religious press.
Stop and think about that for a moment.
The story in question at the moment involves disgraced ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, one of the most influential Catholic prelates of the past half century on both sides of the Atlantic.
Pope Francis, readers will recall, defrocked McCarrick — the press-friendly former cardinal of Washington, D.C. — in 2019 following a Vatican tribunal into allegations that he had molested a 16-year-old boy decades ago. McCarrick resigned from the College of Cardinals the prior year, but only after an accusation that he had molested the teenage altar boy while serving at the Archdiocese of New York was found to be credible. At that point, some newsrooms finally began covering years of off-the-record reports about McCarrick’s behavior with seminarians.
McCarrick, now 93, has gone into seclusion the past few years. He’s been largely forgotten by the mainstream press (with a few notable exceptions).
That all changed on Aug. 30, when the latest chapter in the McCarrick saga emerged in the form of a court hearing. A Massachusetts judge ruled that the former cardinal was not competent to stand trial in another sex abuse case. The 2021 case stems from a charge that “Uncle Ted” — as he was often called by seminarians — had sexually assaulted a teenage boy in Massachusetts.
The Associated Press covered the story this way, replete with a dateline. Here’s how the article opens:
DEDHAM, Mass. (AP) — The once-powerful Roman Catholic Cardinal Theodore McCarrick will not stand trial on charges he sexually assaulted a teenage boy decades ago, as a Massachusetts judge dismissed the case against the 93-year-old on Wednesday because both prosecutors and defense attorneys agree he is experiencing dementia.
McCarrick, the ex-archbishop of Washington, D.C., was defrocked by Pope Francis in 2019 after an internal Vatican investigation determined he sexually molested adults as well as children. The McCarrick scandal created a crisis of credibility for the church, primarily because there was evidence Vatican and U.S. church leaders knew he slept with seminarians but turned a blind eye as McCarrick rose to the top of the U.S. church as an adept fundraiser who advised three popes.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Dr. Kerry Nelligan, a psychologist hired by the prosecution, said she found significant deficits in McCarrick’s memory during two interviews in June, and he was often unable to recall what they had discussed from one hour to the next. As with any form of dementia, she said there are no medications that could improve the symptoms.
The biggest takeaway from the coverage wasn’t the news of the day. That was straightforward, as you can see from the AP dispatch.
In fact, all the coverage was similar when it came to the facts of what happened in the courtroom and in this particular case. Where the coverage differed was the lack of proper background information regarding McCarrick’s past and his powerful influence on the church in this country and Rome, which he had discussed (included claims to have helped elect Pope Francis) in public remarks. The coverage also needed additional background information about the clergy sex-abuse scandal as a whole.
This is how CNN explained McCarrick’s past standing in two throwaway paragraphs at the end of its web story:
Raised to cardinal in 2001 by Pope John Paul II, a year after he became Archbishop of Washington, McCarrick went on to become a power player both in the Church and in Washington, DC, and was known for his fundraising and influence overseas.
He resigned from the College of Cardinals in 2018 and was defrocked by the Vatican in 2019 after a Church trial found him guilty of sexually abusing minors.
CNN wasn’t alone. NPR, also at the end of its story, did it this way:
Many victims of clergy sex abuse that took place during their childhoods have only been able to seek legal recourse through civil cases rather than criminal charges.
A number of states in recent years have opened special “look back” windows in their statutes of limitation for sexual assault and harassment. That move was prompted by the #MeToo movement, but it also benefited survivors of clergy sex abuse.
Not much there. No discussion of “Team Ted,” the circle of loyal mainstream news reporters who looked to McCarrick for inside information about Catholic life?
Let’s compare those two approaches with the offerings of some reporters in the Catholic press. Catholic News Agency, for example, published three stories about McCarrick last week. One of those stories — under the headline, “Theodore McCarrick: ‘I have trouble with words’” — delved into Uncle Ted’s current mental state.
In focusing a piece on McCarrick’s health now, CNA said this about who he used to be:
In 2000, when McCarrick was archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, and under investigation by the Vatican for occasionally sharing a bed with seminarians at a vacation home on the Jersey Shore owned by the archdiocese, McCarrick issued a comprehensive and apparently heartfelt denial of sexual misconduct with others.
“Your Excellency, sure I have made mistakes and may have sometimes lacked in prudence, but in the 70 years of my life, I have never had sexual relations with any person, male or female, young or old, cleric or lay, nor have I ever abused another person or treated them with disrespect,” McCarrick wrote to Pope John Paul II’s secretary, then-Bishop Stanislaw Dziwicz.
McCarrick’s letter seems to have gone right to John Paul’s heart.
“Tell McCarrick that I believe what he said and I am still a friend,” John Paul told Cardinal Angelo Sodano, his secretary of state, shortly before Sodano was to visit the United States, according to a 2020 report by the Vatican commissioned by Pope Francis.
“McCarrick’s denial was believed,” the Vatican report states, “and the view was held that, if allegations against McCarrick were made public, McCarrick would be able to refute them easily.”
Three months after McCarrick sent the letter, John Paul promoted McCarrick, appointing him archbishop of Washington. In February 2001, the pope made him a cardinal.
McCarrick served as archbishop of Washington until 2006, when he resigned at the canon-law retirement age for bishops, 75.
Notice a difference between the mainstream press’ background information versus what Catholic media provided to readers?
McCarrick’s past, in terms of mainstream press coverage, was much less detailed and gave little to no context to the ex-cardinal’s role and associations. CNA did the best work here.
It’s not a surprise. CNA, owned and operated by EWTN, is on the doctrinal right. McCarrick is automatically seen as an adversarial figure — and not just because he molested teenage boys. McCarrick was a powerbroker and hobnobbed with D.C. politicians as well Vatican cardinals. He was, he said, a kingmaker in terms of Americans given red hats as cardinals.
Also, he was the man behind the strategic “McCarrick Doctrine.” It was in June 2004 when then-Cardinal Benedict XVI sent a letter to then-Cardinal McCarrick and then-Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The instruction was in the context of dealing with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, a Catholic whose public positions on abortion contradicted church teachings.
The key: The Ratzinger letter affirmed that denial of Communion is obligatory “regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia.”
But McCarrick misrepresented the Ratzinger letter, thus shaping mainstream press coverage for years to come: “The question for us is not simply whether denial of Communion is possible, but whether it is pastorally wise and prudent,” he said. As a result, during the meeting of the USCCB that year, the bishops voted 183-6 to approve a compromise statement allowing each bishop to decide whether to give Communion to “pro-choice” politicians.
Why does this lack of information about McCarrick matter? Does it matter that men McCarrick claimed to have promoted remain powerful leaders in the Catholic Church, especially here in America?
It matters because background and context help readers understand stories better. In McCarrick’s case, context matters because the ex-cardinal hasn’t been in the news for some time. It also matters because McCarrick is a complicated figure who needs explaining.
Lost in all the news barrage sometimes are pieces that make you sit up and ponder the ramifications of all these sordid revelations regarding the clerical sex abuse crisis. More importantly, what are the ramifications are for the church’s hierarchy.
The big story remains who knew what and when. Who’s implicated in potentially covering up the misdeeds of now-former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick over the years? The implication here is that the cover-up — if that’s the word you want to use — goes beyond Pope Francis, but back in time years to when Saint Pope John Paul II was the head of the Roman Catholic church.
Last August, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano released an 11-page letter describing a series of events in which the Vatican — and specifically Francis — had been made aware of McCarrick’s immoral behavior years ago. Vigano claimed Pope Benedict XVI had placed restrictions on McCarrick, including not allowing him to say Mass in public. Vigano alleged that Francis reversed those sanctions. In the letter, Vigano, a former papal ambassador to the United States, said Francis “knew from at least June 23, 2013, that McCarrick was a serial predator who attacked young men. He knew that he was a corrupt man, he covered for him to the bitter end.”
Over the past seven months, the allegations have yielded few answers. McCarrick was recently defrocked — the church’s version of the death penalty — but little else has been made public about the timeline. A news analysis piece by veteran Vatican journalist John Allen, writing in Crux, makes some wonderful points. His piece, under the headline “Vigano may have made it harder to get to the truth on McCarrick,” has a series of wonderful strands worth the time to read. It also gives a roadmap for reporters on the beat and editors to look at and track down.
A 449-page Vatican report issued a year after that post detailed McCarrick’s decades of sexual misconduct. The report largely exonerated Pope Francis when it came to McCarrick’s depravity. Instead, it placed much of the blame on Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. In other words, who knew what and when they knew it was something this report left open to interpretation.
Of course, it’s much more complicated than that. Nonetheless, some in the Catholic press managed to give context, while many in the mainstream press did not.
CNN and NPR weren’t alone. The AP story referenced at the start of this post makes no mention at all of McCarrick’s past or standing as the most influential, most media-friendly Catholic prelate in the United States. It also fails to distinguish between children who were molested and teenagers. It doesn’t appear that any of McCarrick’s victims were prepubescent, which is another topic the mainstream press has shied away from when covering any cases involving clerics and the sex abuse of seminarians.
It’s no surprise that, when it comes to most stories, the some in the Catholic press had an edge here. But when it comes to context and background (especially when it comes to doctrine), no one should have an edge.
In fact, asking the right questions and knowing where to look can provide all that. Like with everything involving McCarrick, it’s complicated. But making this less complicated and explaining it to readers is what journalism is all about.