How much do you really want to know about your parish priest?
Well, that depends on a number of factors. It might depend on who you voted for in the 2020 election.
It also might depend on whether or not you can get your hands on his cell phone. Or his cell phone records.
Such is the debate scorching up religious and tech circles these days. It was initiated by two Irish American lawyers-turned-crusaders (if you will), which sounds like nice work if you can get it.
Unless that work prompts one of the most respected voices in Catholic American circles to say, “What comes next? Spying on Catholic school teachers? Spying on parishioners? And where does it end — when we have a church where no one has ever sinned? The church will be empty.”
That’s James Martin, the best-selling Irish American author and commentator, and regular guest on Stephen Colbert’s show.
Martin, quoted in The Washington Post, was responding to the work of Ed Condon and JD Flynn, the ex-lawyers who now run The Pillar, which is billed as a Catholic “newsletter.”
Well, boys, you wanted attention. You got attention!
This all began earlier this month with a special “Pillar Investigation.” For the sake of fairness — or decency, or karma — we’re going to explain this story but leave out the name of the priest at its center, even though it is very much out there.
“According to commercially available records of app signal data obtained by The Pillar, a mobile device correlated to (the priest) emitted app data signals from the location-based hookup app Grindr on a near-daily basis during parts of 2018, 2019, and 2020,” the investigation notes.
It adds: “An analysis of app data signals correlated to (the priest’s) mobile device shows the priest also visited gay bars and private residences while using (the) location-based hookup app in numerous cities from 2018 to 2020, even while traveling on assignment…”
Where to begin?
As you can imagine, this has elicited a broad range of angry responses, and not only because of the personal behavior of this priest who is not a mere parish priest, but also a rather big big-wig.
There is also the issue of these two Irish Catholics, who both attended very respectable schools and have held lucrative jobs, essentially crawling through the 21st century equivalent of a stinky trash can to dig up secrets about a prominent American religion official.
Who, by the way, resigned his various positions in recent days.
“The case of the high-ranking Catholic cleric who resigned after allegedly being tracked on the gay dating app Grindr quickly became a Rorschach test Wednesday for Catholics already mired in tension over politics, theology and culture,” The Washington Post noted.
Since Flynn and Condon are loud and proud church “traditionalists,” their cheering section has pointed to these findings and declared that gay priests and other post-1960s dogma-ignorers are ruining the U.S. Catholic Church.
But those on another side see little more than “a witch hunt aimed at gay Catholic priests,” in the words of America Magazine national correspondent Michael O’Loughlin.
If it smells like and looks like a burning-stake, well, that’s probably what it is.
It seems appropriate, though, that I confess something else here.
It took me a few minutes to make heads or tails of this story. For a moment I thought perhaps that the priest was actually being pressured, in the name of social justice, to proudly proclaim and embrace the private details of his romantic life.
There have, after all, been many times so-called progressives felt it was entirely appropriate to expose the private lives of culture-war opponents. Or divulge personal details to turn enemies into “allies.”
We are approaching the end game of the oft-chanted belief that the “personal is political.” That what you wear and drink, share and think, either saves or ruins the planet.
What you do when you take off your clothes is the inevitable next skirmish.
The high cost of the Vatican’s ruling against same-sex blessings has been laid out in stark terms by the Bishop of Antwerp. During a discussion with The Tablet, Bishop Johan Bonny explained that in his diocese large numbers of young people had cancelled their baptismal registrations because of the ruling. Across the traditionally Catholic heartlands of Belgium’s Flemish dioceses, he believed the number who have disaffiliated from the Church stands at around 2,000. Similar findings are likely to be found in other places.
So what might be done to retrieve the flock who are leaving? During the 28 April webinar hosted by The Tablet, Bishop Bonny and a panel of theologians explored how the Church could include and recognise same-sex couples and LGBT Catholics. Yet this question goes deeper than whether or not it is possible to bless gay unions. Instead, it raises profoundly important ecclesiological issues including how to live the “Catholicity” of the Church differently.
Three areas of discussion are emerging as crucial to the debate.
First, is the process the church adopts when making decisions on contentious topics. It is now crucial for time and space to be given for discernment rather than Rome panicking and issuing premature judgements. This is where synodality, which Pope Francis wants to see at every level of the Church, comes in.
Some voices argue that synodal processes such as the one in Germany will result in “schism” because it will lead local churches into divergent stances on questions of sexuality or that challenge official teaching. But Bishop Bonny, who once worked at the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, pointed out the threat to unity is in the other direction.
“You cannot have real unity or communion unless local churches can find the best solutions for their problems,” he said during the webinar. “There are basic lines, that’s clear, but for so many questions like ministry in the Church or moral theology, we need more differentiated solutions since the questions are not the same.”
On same-sex blessings, Bonny said there would have been “a different outcome” if Rome had invited bishops from a group of countries where gay marriage is the law to “sit together and make a common proposal”.
He went on: “We could have gone to Rome to discuss [the matter] with the Pope, not with all the cardinals, but the Pope himself, to find the best way possible, according to the Gospel, and what Jesus is teaching us, in the general interests of the Church and the Salus Animarum [good of souls]…That would be real collegiality.”
This requires a different role for Rome and a reimagined relationship between the papacy and local churches. Just issuing a repetition of old formulas to complex pastoral questions is inadequate. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s document, which said same-sex blessings are impossible because “God cannot bless sin”, was issued without consultation with bishops or the relevant Vatican departments.
By contrast, Amoris Laetitia, the Pope’s family life teaching, emerged after two synod gatherings on the family. Synodality offers ways for a discerned judgment to be reached.Rather than issuing condemnations, Amoris Laetitia focussed on accompaniment, integration and discernment and the positive elements in so-called “irregular” relationships. Fr James Alison, another of the webinar panellists, sees this as the magisterium of the Church walking alongside people. The learning process, he said, happens “sideways” and through “dialogue”. He explained: “It is sideways that we learn who we are. It is from and who each other.”
The second area is how Catholic teaching on homosexuality could be updated. Fr Alison, who is openly gay, argued that the stumbling block on the Church’s ministry to LGBT Catholics remains the definition in the Catechism that same-sex orientation “is objectively disordered” and that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered”.
He added: “Until someone lets them off having to treat us as a negative definition from the heterosexual act, we are never going to move on. That is at the root of this.” A proposed amendment to the catechism could be to change the phrase “objectively disordered” to “differently ordered”, something which Jesuit priest Fr James Martin has called for.
Bishop Bonny pointed out that the catechism can be updated, adding: “I think there are paragraphs that in a very reasonable, collegial way could be changed for the good of the Church and for the pastoral work we have to do.”
Moral theologian Professor Lisa Sowle Cahill, another panellist, argued that change is more likely to come from the “bottom-up” in the Church, and less from top-down changes.
“I think it’s a mistake to keep trying to work out the reality of same-sex couples or gay and lesbian people within this older terminology which is so concerned with tying everyone down into very careful definitions so that we know exactly where to put everyone and how to set boundaries around them,” she said.
“The Catholic Church never changes its teaching by rejecting or revising what is from the past. Instead, we allow it to die a decent death.”
Professor Cahill, who teaches at Boston College, Massachusetts, said the Pope was offering a Gospel-based morality of “care, compassion and closeness” which should be at the centre of decision making. Amoris Laetitia, she points out, draws from theteaching of St Thomas Aquinas on the application of the natural law and the way it takes into account different factors even in “what is objectively true and right.” Professor Cahill pointed out that Amoris Laetitia states that even couples in “irregular” situations are not deprived of “sanctifying grace”.
The third area is which model of the Church people are using. Bishop Bonny says he likes to see the Church as a family seeing his role as a father or grandfather. It is his responsibility, he said, to make LGBT Catholics “feel part of the family that is the church, not only by welcoming them, but also by giving them a responsibility.” He also recommended that bishops take the time to meet with same-sex couples in their homes.
“Invite your bishop for an evening meal at home and talk with him. It will be a conversion for him”, he advised gay Catholics.
“Once I was invited by two women in a civil marriage with two children, that evening changed my ideas about what it means to live together as a homosexual couple, even having children. I can have many questions, but it changed my ideas.”
If the Church is a family, then it cannot adopt the characteristics of a sect. Sects tend to see themselves as a club and are willing to exclude or throw out people who don’t conform. If the Church is a family then it will always be distressing to hear of people leaving.
Sr Gemma Simmonds of the Margaret Beaufort Institute in Cambridge said the Church cannot operate a system of “you don’t have a ticket” so you are not welcome.
“We are losing people, we are bleeding people…who find that the reality in which they live no longer finds a response within the church of acceptance and blessing,” she said. She offered 1 John 4:16 as encouragement for same-sex couples: “God is love, and anyone who lives in love lives in God, and God lives in them.”
The Vatican’s doctrine office may have thought that issuing a ruling against same-sex blessings would be enough to close down further discussion about the topic. In fact, it has had the opposite effect, only sparking more debate which go to the heart of what it means to be the Church.
The Vatican’s orthodoxy office has issued a formal response to a question about whether Catholic clergy have the authority to bless same-sex unions, saying the Catholic Church won’t bless same-sex unions since God “cannot bless sin.”
Landon Schnabel, assistant professor of sociology at Cornell University, says while the Vatican’s announcement is in keeping with the views of the church, it does not reflect the opinions of many everyday Catholics.
“The Pope’s pronouncement against same-sex marriage is consistent with Catholic tradition, but inconsistent with Catholic public opinion, especially in countries like the United States where about three in four Catholics support same-sex marriage.
“This distinction highlights the ongoing tension between elite pronouncements from institutional religious leaders and what everyday adherents believe, which is present across religions but is particularly pronounced in Catholicism as a diverse and global religion with one set of official rules from on high and yet a wide range of beliefs and practices on the ground. Especially on issues of gender and sexuality, there is often a cavernous divide between what the Vatican says and what everyday Catholics think and do.”
Kim Haines-Eitzen, professor of religious studies at Cornell University, says the announcement continues a legacy of conflicts over human sexuality.
“Christianity has been interwoven with debates about gender, sexuality, and the human body from the very beginning. The latest news from the Vatican against blessing same-sex unions continues a historical legacy fraught with conflicts over, in particular, human sexuality.
“From its inception, Christians argued about whether it was better to be married or celibate, whether women could hold positions of ecclesiastical authority, and about rules for sexual relations.
“At stake in this long and troubled history is the paradox of tradition, which is at once conservative and dynamic. Church traditions developed in part through the interpretation of biblical texts, the need for church unity in the face of diversity, and increasingly through the establishment of ecclesiastical law. The decree issued today stands in marked tension with recent efforts toward a more inclusive and expansive Catholicism.”
A few hours after agitators incited by President Donald Trump breached the Capitol, Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, addressed the reconvened representatives, along with a vast television audience. She denounced the “shameful attack on our democracy” and resolved that the House would complete its certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College. Pelosi, a Catholic, then took a religious turn. “Today, January 6th, is the Feast of the Epiphany,” she said. “On this day of revelation, let us pray that this instigation to violence will provide an epiphany for our country to heal.” She also quoted a prayer often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Lord, make me a channel of thy peace; where there is hatred, let us bring love; where there is despair, let us bring hope.” Biden has quoted this prayer often. Three weeks earlier, when the electoral votes were first certified, he had offered the saint’s words—“where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is darkness, light”—as something like a mission statement for his Presidency.
Those invocations represent a striking turnabout. In the past four years, several million traditionalist American Catholics have made the impious, twice-divorced, religiously tone-deaf celebrity mogul Donald Trump their standard-bearer. Now progressive Catholics are placing their hopes in Biden, who is only the second Catholic President, after John F. Kennedy. Biden’s unfailing attendance at Sunday Mass, his visits to the churchyard graves of his first wife and daughter (who were killed in a car crash, in 1972), and his practice of carrying a rosary are taken as emblems of that public servant’s deep faith. His late-in-life election, moderate temperament, and just-folks manner prompt comparisons with Pope Francis—even as the new President’s support for abortion rights and gay marriage has prompted the head of the U.S. bishops to form a “working group” to examine his positions, and several bishops to declare that he should be denied Communion. (During the campaign, Biden turned against the Hyde Amendment, which proscribes the use of federal funds to support abortion services, after decades of tacit support for it.) Set the rosary aside, and old-school Joe Biden is the kind of flexible, independent-minded Catholic whom many bishops have spent their careers taking to task—and many progressive Catholics see as akin to themselves. In a new book, Massimo Faggioli, an Italian who is a professor of theology at Villanova University, near Philadelphia, observes that “Biden’s presidency arouses not only political expectations but also religious, even salvific ones. This Catholic president is now called upon to heal the moral damage inflicted upon the nation by Trump, the pandemic, and globalization.”
The events of January 6th upped the salvific ante and the brief for Biden to be a “Reconciler-in-Chief.” With the election to the Senate of the Reverend Raphael Warnock, a Baptist pastor from Georgia, some envision a resurgence of the religious progressivism that shaped the civil-rights movement. Catholics hope that the Church, with its moral authority diminished owing to its bishops’ failings on clerical sexual abuse, can be a trusted actor in national affairs again—that it can counter the “ ‘zombie’ ideas” (as Faggioli calls them) of Christian nationalism. The hope is that the Biden Administration will invigorate American Catholicism, and vice versa.
Catholics have sought convergence between Rome and U.S. politics before, and the present political culture is partly shaped by such aspirations. In 1987, Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran pastor (soon to convert to Catholicism), declared that a “Catholic moment” in American public life was at hand. The Reagan Administration had conjoined the President’s anti-Communist conservatism to that of Pope John Paul II, who, after conducting a nine-city U.S. tour, was at the apogee of his influence in this country. The Archbishop of New York, Cardinal John O’Connor, was as prominent as any senator or governor. Antonin Scalia had been seated on the Supreme Court. Through John Paul’s efforts, Catholicism was strongly identified with the struggle for political freedom and human rights in Soviet-controlled Poland. Neuhaus saw the moment as one in which the Roman Catholic Church in the United States would assume “its rightful role” in providing “a religiously informed public philosophy” to what he saw as an incoherent, decadent, post-sixties civil society.
Catholic theoconservatism has shaped Republican politics ever since, through an extensive network of political operatives, opinion-makers, academics, and philanthropists. It has set itself against the presentation of religious belief as merely a private matter, seen in a speech that Mario Cuomo gave in 1984, when he was governor of New York, in which he explained that, although as a Catholic he believed abortion to be wrong, he could not impose his beliefs on his constituents. Theocons disdain that position. In their view, a Catholic in public life should affirm his or her faith openly, strive to conform public policy to Church teachings, and reject the notion that the separation of church and state forces officials to check their faith at the door.
Today, outward measures suggest that a different Catholic moment is at hand. Six of the nine Supreme Court Justices are Catholics. So is Speaker Pelosi. So are at least eight of Biden’s Cabinet nominees. So is Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Yet the terms of engagement have changed dramatically. The Church to which these people all belong is nearly as divided as the country, and American politics is now suffused with religion-as-public-philosophy, even as theocons decry, as the former Attorney General William Barr, a Catholic, did in 2019, the left’s “organized destruction” of traditional religion.
The appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court made the change manifest. Barrett, raised a Catholic in Louisiana, is a graduate of an all-girls Catholic high school and of Notre Dame Law School, whose faculty she later joined. Since childhood, she has belonged to the People of Praise, a Catholic movement with a structure that places female members under the authority of men. A traditionalist—mentored by Scalia and publicly opposed to legal abortion—Barrett was a theocon’s dream high-court nominee. Yet, at her confirmation hearings for both the U.S. Court of Appeals, in 2017, and the Supreme Court, this past October, she took the Cuomo-esque position that theoconservatives have long derided: she insisted that her “personal convictions” and “policy preferences” should have no bearing on her rulings from the bench. (Nevertheless, last Tuesday, she joined the five other conservative Justices—three of them Catholics—in rejecting the argument that a Food and Drug Administration rule that women seeking to obtain the so-called abortion pills must do so in person from a health-care provider rather than by mail places an undue burden on those women during the pandemic, which has made doctors’ offices and clinics less accessible.)
Biden’s stance is something like the inverse of Barrett’s: as his public prominence has increased, he has grown more effusive about his Catholicism. In his memoir from 2007, “Promises to Keep,” he recalled that, fifteen years earlier, when asked to speak about faith and public service, at Georgetown University, where his son Hunter was a student, he hesitated: “It was a topic I had always shied away from because it makes me a little uncomfortable to carry religion into politics.” But the experience, he went on, made clear that Catholicism’s message about the perils of the abuse of power by the powerful had “always been the governing force in my political career.” His faith was prominent in the memoir itself, and in 2016, when he received Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal, awarded to Catholics who have “enriched the heritage of humanity” through their work, he called it “the most meaningful award I’ve ever received in my life.” During the 2020 campaign, he traced his view on immigration to the Church’s “preferential option for the poor”—a favored expression of the Catholic left. Last June, in a eulogy for George Floyd, he cited “Catholic social doctrine, which taught me that faith without works is dead,” and quoted from the Catholic hymn “On Eagle’s Wings.”
Biden’s nondoctrinaire Catholicism is driving comparisons to Pope Francis, who has vexed traditionalist U.S. bishops much the way Biden has. Shortly after his election, in 2013, Francis said that “we cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage, and the use of contraceptive methods,” suggesting that the Church had become “obsessed” with those topics. In 2019, he expressed support for gay civil unions. Last week, he announced that women are now expressly permitted to serve on the altar during Mass, thereby rejecting the traditionalist view that sacramental authority belongs to priests, who, according to Church teaching, must be male.
Shortly after Election Day, Francis sent Biden an inscribed copy of his new book, “Let Us Dream.” The progressive Catholic commentariat had already lit up with exhortations about the ways the new President might draw on the Pope’s key themes—mercy, concern for the poor, attention to the common good—to undo the Trump Administration’s inhumane policies. But it’s worth noting that, on many issues, Francis is much more progressive than Biden. In his 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” the Pope traced the destruction of the planet to globalized liberal capitalism, in which strong countries put “selfishness” in place of the common good. In October, in “Fratelli Tutti,” he spelled out a view of universal human solidarity to extend his vision of a society in need of dramatic reordering. His positions bring to mind those of the self-described democratic socialists who are the architects of the Green New Deal—which Biden distanced himself from in a debate with Trump, saying, “The Green New Deal is not my plan.”
How, then, might President Biden draw on his faith as he takes office and leads the country? There are two obvious options. The first is that he could move to the center, through an appeal to his Catholic roots. On the Sunday after the riot at the Capitol, Pope Francis encouraged public figures to “calm souls” and “promote national reconciliation.” Biden could use the language of faith—the human family, my brother’s keeper, a common destiny—to reach out to Republicans disaffected by the Trump-incited hard right, and gain their coöperation in containing the spread of COVID-19, doing the work of reconciliation in the process.
Alternatively, Biden could draw on Francis’s critique of globalized society to move the emboldened Democratic majorities in Congress emphatically leftward. He could cite the vastly popular Pope to help make the case for regular payments to pandemic-stricken families (a form of basic income), tax and banking reform, a national minimum-wage increase, debt forgiveness, and aggressive action on climate change. An obvious precedent is President Kennedy, who shifted left after his election, bolstered, in part, by the progressive teachings of Pope John XXIII.
Or he could combine the two options, taking an approach rooted in both Francis’s pontificate and his own career. Paradoxically, the Pope’s moderate temperament and reputation have served to advance his progressive positions. In the same way, Biden’s record as a centrist and his profile as a hymn-quoting churchgoer could give him cover as he tacks left, much as Francis has, using the language of the common good to advance policies—refreshed infrastructure, a green jobs program, health care for all—that would actually benefit the disaffected whites in the heartland who are presently hooked on Trump. Strong employment, social stability, and a government seen acting concretely for the common good would help bring about national reconciliation with a Franciscan accent. As a side effect, joint efforts between the Biden Administration and the Vatican—on the climate, immigration, and human rights—might prompt the Vatican to be more progressive in its approach to laypeople, women and gay people among them, in leadership positions.
Of course, Biden faces harsh opposition, not least from other Catholics. The morning of the Inauguration, as Biden went to St. Matthew the Apostle, the Catholic cathedral in the capital, for a Mass attended by Speaker Pelosi and other government figures, the Catholic bishops released a long missive by their conference president, Archbishop Jose Gomez, of Los Angeles, expressing an eagerness to work with the new President, but upbraiding him for holding positions “in the areas of abortion, contraception, marriage, and gender” that “would advance moral evils and threaten human life and dignity,” and implying that Biden’s approach to Catholicism posed a threat to religious freedom. The same Catholic traditionalists who detest Pope Francis detest the new President, and spiteful right-wing resistance may block any progressive initiative from Biden, as it has blocked those of Francis in Rome.
In this moment, it’s strange to think of Joe Biden, for so long a workhorse legislator in a blue blazer, as a redemptive figure. It’s strange that progressives, who are generally leery of Vatican authority, are frankly hoping that American politics will be inspired by the Pope—and hoping that a Pope might move a Democratic President further to the left. It’s strange that a Church whose followers have been harmed and angered by decades of negligence on clerical sexual abuse can still be seen as a source of civic healing. And yet the second Catholic President can hardly afford not to draw on his religion; with the country wracked by a pandemic, a recession, and political violence, he is going to need every source of reconciliation and moral authority available to him.
When the first meeting in the Vatican of cardinals from around the world to discuss clerical sexual abuse was announced, hopes were high among Catholics. Finally, it seemed, the courageous, mould-breaking Pope Francis was going to force through root-and-branch reforms to tackle the scandal that has done such damage to the reputation of the institution he leads.
Yet even before 180 cardinals assemble on Thursday in Rome for this unprecedented four-day summit, the chance of such prayers being answered is looking increasingly remote. The Vatican press office has been downplaying the event as simply an opportunity to remind senior clerics of the patchy efforts that global Catholicism has made this past quarter of a century to address the thousands upon thousands of cases of priests molesting, abusing and traumatising children in their care.
To be fair, a reminder is no bad thing, since there is a long list of bishops around the globe who still make negative headlines because they refuse to take this crisis seriously, and put protecting the institution before the victims of predator priests.
Even in the Vatican itself, the powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith has refused a very basic request from the Commission for the Protection of Minors, set up by Francis in 2014, to send a letter acknowledging receipt of every new report of abuse that reaches it.
There is so much that the summit could insist be done better, but it will require the pope to come out fighting. And on that score, the omens are not good. On his return flight from his latest overseas trip – to a World Youth Day gathering in Panama at the end of last month – Francis offered scant encouragement. “The problem of abuse will continue,” he told reporters, as if it were as inevitable as the sunrise. “It is a human problem.”
He sounds as much in denial as his predecessors. When the first shocking disclosures of clerical abuse emerged in the 1990s, Pope John Paul II referred to those clerics who abused children as a “few bad apples”. His successor, Benedict XVI, pointed an accusing finger instead at the high number of closeted gay men in the clergy. Though it flies in the face of all secular, scientific and psychosexual orthodoxy, the leaders of Catholicism (as many as 80% of them gay themselves, according to a new book by sociologist Frederic Martel) persist in equating same-sex adult sexual attraction with the violent rape of children by grown men.
Francis resorted to an even more outdated explanation in September last year. In language that owed much to medieval theology, he blamed it all on the devil, a malign force tempting otherwise good priests to sexually abuse children.
So is there really any possibility that this gathering in Rome might just be a road-to-Damascus moment for Catholicism in a crisis that has shaken it to its core? Naively, perhaps, I continue to hope so. Back in June 2011 I wrote in these pages of the profound blow to my own faith of learning that our beloved priest and family friend, Father Kit Cunningham – who had married us and baptised our children, one of whom was named after him – was not the eccentric but essentially good man of God that I had always believed him to be, but a child abuser whose past crimes had been known to his religious superiors, who didn’t breathe a word of it.
The logical thing would have been to walk out then, but I clung to the notion that the failings of individuals didn’t make redundant the Catholicism that is so much a part of me. And so I have persisted, but it has not helped when church leaders trot out the same discredited excuses in place of mature reflection on how things need to change.
Perhaps the most misleading excuse given is that Catholicism is just the same as others, including the BBC, that have faced charges over harbouring those who abuse children. However, a range of studies suggests that Catholicism is different. The number of paedophiles found in the male population at large is usually put at anywhere up to 4%. Yet the recent Australian Royal Commission on child sex abuse by Catholic priests suggests the figure in clerical ranks is as high as 7%. That’s almost double, and should be ringing alarm bells.
Even the Vatican’s own newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, has suggested that the absence of women in leadership roles plays a part. Statistically, women are far less likely to sexually abuse children. Yet Catholicism clings to the almost laughable explanation that, because there were only men at the Last Supper, only men can be priests.
The product of this stubbornness is a secretive, male culture at the top of Catholicism where large numbers of priests routinely break their vows of celibacy. It is an appalling moral failure and needs to end now, but that will involve rethinking an entire approach to sexuality in Catholicism that is peculiar, punitive and often plain perverse. The Jesus of the gospels had almost no interest in such matters. Why does the Church leadership? It is a question that would take more than four days to answer, were it even to make it on to the agenda in Rome this week.
Instead, expect more make-do-and-mend, fine words, dramatic gestures, and then crossing of fingers and hoping it will all go away.
It won’t. And faithful but despairing Catholics will continue quietly to depart the pews.