A video expressing support for same-sex parents and other non-traditional families by Bishop David O’Connell (69), who was shot dead in a Los Angeles suburb last Saturday, was cut from the World Meeting of Families promotional material.
In March 2018, six months before the World Meeting of Families took place in Dublin, it emerged words of his were cut from a video prepared to promote that event.
These words included: “Pope Francis, he gets it. He gets it that our society has changed so much in the last couple of generations. We have all sorts of configurations of families now, whether it’s just the traditional family of mum and dad together, or it’s now mum on her own or dad on his own, or a gay couple raising children, or people in second marriages. No matter what the configuration of the family is, the call is still to adults to think about how to provide the best, most loving, faithful environment for children possible.”
At the time a spokeswoman for the World Meeting of Families said: “The wrong version of the video for Parish Session 1 was inadvertently uploaded for a short time but the correct version is now in place.”
From Glanmire in Cork, Bishop O’Connell served in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles after his ordination in 1979 at Dublin’s All Hallows College. After many years ministry in some of the more disadvantaged parishes of south Los Angeles, he was named an Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese in 2015.
The original Bishop O’Connell video attracted the attention of the US-based fundamentalist Catholic Church Militant website which said it “promotes the sin of homosexuality” in an article headed `Sodomy Supporters Hijack World Meeting of Families’.
Bishop O’Connell did not attend the World Meeting of Families in Dublin in 2018, although he and a group of 45 people from the Los Angeles Archdiocese had been on pilgrimage in Ireland days before the event began in Dublin on August 25th that year.
Interviewed at the time, he did not comment on the censoring of his video, but did say Pope Francis faced “an impossible task” on his visit to Ireland for the World Meeting of Families because of the shadow cast by clerical child sex abuse scandals.
Reflecting on the visit to Ireland of Pope John Paul II in 1979, Bishop O’Connell said “we thought this would be a revival of the Catholic Church in Ireland, which even at that time we needed.
“Even though the faith and practice were very strong, among many of my peers, my generation was already turning away from the Catholic faith even in the 1970s. We were hoping for a revival, and we thought that there would be.”
He continued: “But then of course, there was scandal and the trust broke, and now we’ve had stories coming out for a whole generation. It’s given everybody who didn’t want to go to church anymore a reason to say, ‘I’m over with all that. It’s all hypocrisy, there’s too much child abuse, abuse of people’.”
For Pope Francis “to be able to deal with all these issues in 32 hours? Obviously, he can’t,” he said.
Fluent in Spanish, prior to becoming an auxiliary bishop he attracted much positive attention for his work with African Americans and Hispanic communities in addressing immigration, unemployment, and south Los Angeles’s history of gang violence.
At a At a press conference following his announcement as auxiliary bishop he said: “I can walk around the streets of South LA and have done so for many years, where there’s violence and shootings, and I don’t feel the slightest bit of anxiety. But I come in here today and I’m shaking in my boots.”
He was also a liberal in Catholic Church terms as far back as 2002 when in a Los Angles Times profile he said “women should be ordained and clergy should be able to marry.” On the issue of clerical abuse and its cover-up he said that “if there had been some parents in there running things, none of this would have ever happened”.
At the time of the 1992 Los Angeles riots in which over 60 people died following the brutal beating of Rodney King by police, then Fr O’Connell was in Washington DC giving evidence about violence in urban America to a committee of Congress. He returned to Los Angles to find widespread destruction in his parish. He and other local faith leaders held meetings with sheriffs and members of the LAPD in people’s homes to build trust. Violent deaths began to decrease.
In recent years he had been chairman of the Church’s Southern Californian Immigration Task Force which helped coordinate a response to the influx of migrants from Central America. He was also chair of chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee on the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.
— What if someone told you that you were unworthy of romantic love, but instead, God and the Church could provide all the love you need? You’d probably say that was ridiculous. Yet, there are at least four groups of people to whom the church is saying exactly that. For Singles Awareness Day, I want to focus on these groups, upon whom many in the Church want to impose singleness.
The first group are LGBTQ folks. Recently, the pope said that it’s not a crime to be gay, but gay sex is still a sin. Many Catholic and Protestant conservatives share this view. Some have finally come around to understanding that it’s not a choice to be gay. They have quit condemning people for having gay thoughts. But “doing the gay thing,” they say, is something else. So, they say you can be a Christian and be gay, but you can’t be a Christian and do gay.
A couple of years ago, a local church offered a discussion about how to love LGBTQ people. I was encouraged that they were even having the conversation, so I attended. Unfortunately, they came to the conclusion that I described above. Still, they wanted to be compassionate. They recognized the fact that human beings are made for love. So, since they believed that LGBTQ folks were created for celibacy, they said that God and the Church could provide all the love that they needed.
They encouraged the Church to offer fellowship groups for LGBTQ individuals. Straight families should invite gay friends to their homes for supper. In other words, the Church should fill in the gap. Christians should make up for the loss that a gay Christian would feel without ever being able to have sex, or a spouse, or children of their own.
Of course, church leaders realized that inviting gay people to fellowship groups to cure their loneliness is like bandaging a wound that the Church gave them. So they justified their statement by saying the Church already has other groups of people who are expected to live a life of celibacy. They insisted that the Church wasn’t asking gay folks to do anything that they weren’t asking of other groups.
2. Unmarried People
The second group is unmarried people. The pastor said, “For me, the only legitimate sexual partner is my wife. Before I was married, God expected me to be celibate. So that’s pretty much the same thing as asking gay folks to be celibate.” Except it isn’t.
The difference is that the Church says that people can (some say “should”) choose to marry. Thus, they can have a blessed and sanctioned sexual partner in their spouse. But congregations and denominations that refuse LGBTQ folks the right to marry deny them romantic and sexual expression for a lifetime.
Perhaps the Church should rethink its ban on premarital sex. This argument has been made by some. It’s not my purpose in this article to weigh in on that. But forbidding premarital sex isn’t the same as denying LGBTQ folks the right to romantic and sexual fulfillment. The first position says, “Not now, not yet.” The second says, “Not ever.”
3. Catholic Clergy
The third group is the Catholic clergy. Roman Catholic priests, monks, and nuns are asked to take a vow to abstain from all acts of sexuality. If priests can do it, Church leaders said, then LGBTQ people can do it too. There are two problems with that.
The first problem is that the church should never ask clergy to take a vow of celibacy, either. God created human beings with a sex drive. It isn’t natural to deny that sex drive your whole life. Denying people the right to sexual expression and romantic love does not make them more holy. It usually turns them into greater sinners.
Since Catholic clergy members are denied the right to marry, they are only left with the alternative of finding illicit outlets for their sexuality. Sex is a biological function that was not meant to be repressed. We have seen the results of clergy who are denied legitimate sexual and romantic relationships. They don’t suddenly become asexual. Instead, they simply get good at hiding their behavior.
The second problem is that Catholic clergy take their vow of celibacy voluntarily. When they enter the priesthood, monastery, or convent, they know what they’re signing up for. Nobody tells them that they are unworthy of sexual love. Nobody tells them that they are a different breed of person who was not created for procreation. Those who take a vow of celibacy realize that they have a right to find love, to marry, to start a family of their own. They simply choose a different path from that of sexuality, romantic love, and family.
But, when the church tells LGBTQ folks that they have to take a vow of celibacy, it’s not the same thing. Conservative churches deny LGBTQ folks their right to romantic happiness. In the case of clergy who take a vow of celibacy, they do that of their own free will. But the church imposes celibacy on gay people. To say, “Roman Catholic clergy takes vows of celibacy, so gay folks should be celibate too” is a false equivalency. One is voluntary—the other is not.
Here’s the problem with a literal interpretation and enforcement of this: it makes divorce an unforgivable sin. Jesus talked about only one unforgivable sin—and this isn’t it. Yet, conservative churches stigmatize divorcees. They not only forbid divorcees from remarriage but sometimes from serving in ministry. Yet, if we believe that God is in the business of second chances, we should recognize that God can bless subsequent marriages. If we understand that God made us for romantic and sexual fulfillment, we should encourage people to find happiness and hope for their future.
We don’t tend to focus that much on divorce as a sin these days. If we did, we’d have to recognize our hypocrisy. If churches are going to be hard-nosed about forbidding gay marriage, then they should enforce this rule about divorcees. However, if they want to excuse divorcees and grant them the ability to remarry, then they need to recognize gay marriage as well. You can’t have it both ways. Instead of saying, “It’s okay for us to deny sex to gays because we deny it to divorcees as well,” we ought to relax about both.
A Cross to Bear?
So, we have four large groups of people to whom the church has denied the right to be sexual human beings: LGBTQ folks, unmarried people, Roman Catholic clergy, and divorcees. For unmarried people, this prohibition is temporary, as long as they marry eventually. For Catholic clergy, at least it’s a choice. For divorcees, churches are becoming more liberal. But for LGBTQ folks, the conservative Church denies them any choice. Conservative leaders insist that God gave LGBTQ people a sex drive just to make them deny it. “It’s their cross to bear,” these leaders say, grateful that they themselves don’t have to carry that load.
Celibacy isn’t what Jesus meant when he said that we should take up our cross, deny ourselves, and follow him. If this were so, then the church would ask everyone to be celibate. Sexuality and the need for romantic love are intrinsic to humanity. Certainly, there are some who identify as asexual—for these people, celibacy is consistent with who they are at their core. But for the majority of the planet—people with sex drives and a desire for romantic intimacy—the Church has no right to ban fulfillment to an entire group of people. What if the Church allowed us all to be faithful to who we are at our core?
Hey Church! Stop Denying People Romance!
Too often, the church tells people, “Don’t worry about love. Give yourself to faith, and love will find you.” As a trite saying, it sounds sweet. As a way of helping people not to perseverate on finding the right partner prematurely, it kind of makes sense. The right person will come at the right time, so to speak. But, in honor of Singleness Awareness Day (February 15), I have to say that if a person wants to stay single, that’s okay, too. While singleness may be a calling for some people, it isn’t something the Church has a right to impose on anyone. But as a way of denying people’s right to romance and sexuality, phrases like this are a crime against basic humanity. Only when the Church recognizes the rights to sexuality and romantic love for all types of people can we embrace the fullness of who God meant us to be.
“The Roman curia suffers from spiritual Alzheimer [and] existential schizophrenia; this is the disease of those who live a double life, the fruit of that hypocrisy typical of the mediocre and of a progressive spiritual emptiness which no doctorates or academic titles can fill. […] When appearances, the colour of our clothes and our titles of honour become the primary object in life, [it] leads us to be men and woman of deceit. […] Be careful around those who are rigid. Be careful around Christians – be they laity, priests, bishops – who present themselves as so ‘perfect’. Be careful. There’s no Spirit of God there. They lack the spirit of liberty [..] We are all sinners. But may the Lord not let us be hypocrites. Hypocrites don’t know the meaning of forgiveness, joy and the love of God.”
Pope Francis I
STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Feb 8 2023 (IPS) – When the Pope Emeritus Benedict XIV/Ratzinger died on the last day of 2022 it did not cause much of a stir in the global newsfeed. Maybe a sign that religion has ceased to play a decisive role in modern society Nevertheless, religious hierarchies are still highly influential, not least for the world’s 1, 4 billion baptized Catholics, and a pope’s policies have a bearing not only on morals, but also on political and economic issues. By contrast, there are more Muslims in the world, 1.9 billion, though adherents are not so centrally controlled and supervised as Catholics and hierarchies do not have a comparable influence on global affairs.
When Benedict abdicated in 2013 he retained his papal name, continued to wear the white, papal cassock, adopted the title Pope Emeritus and moved into a monastery in the Vatican Gardens. It must have been a somewhat cumbersome presence for a new, more radical pope, particularly since Benedict became a symbol of traditional values and served as an inspiration for critics of the current papacy.
By the end of his reign, John Paul II was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and Cardinal Ratzinger was in effect running the Vatican and when he was elected Pope in 2005, his closest runner-up was Cardinal Bergoglio from Buenos Aires. What would have happened if Borgoglio, who eventually became Francis I, had been elected? Would he have been able to more effectively deal with clerical sexual abuse and Vatican corruption?
When Joseph Ratzinger became pope, he had for 27 years served John Paul II by heading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), investigating and condemning birth control, acceptance of homosexuals, “gender theory” and Liberation Theology, a theological approach with a specific concern for the poor and political liberation for oppressed people.
Under Cardinal Ratzinger the CDF generally overlooked an often shady economic cooperation financing Pope John Paul II’s successful battle against Communism, while covering up clerical sexual abuse and marginalizing “progressive” priests. Several Latin American liberation theologians agreed that John Paul II in several ways was an asset to the Church, though he mistreated clerics who actually believed in Jesus’s declaration that he was chosen to “bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” John Paul II and his “watchdog” Joseph Ratzinger were considered to have “armoured fists hidden in silk gloves.”
Ratzinger censured and silenced a number of leading “liberal” priests, like the Latin American Liberation theologian Leonardo Boff and the American Charles Curran, who supported same sex marriages. Both were defrocked. Under Ratzinger’s CDF rule, several clerics were excommunicated for allowing abortions, like the American nun Margaret McBride, and the ordination of women priests, among them the Argentinian priest Rómulo Braschi and the French priest Roy Bourgeois.
Ratzinger/Benedict wrote 66 books, in which a common theme was Truth, which according to him was “self-sacrificing love”, guided by principles promulgated by the Pope and implemented by the Curia, the administrative body of the Vatican:
“Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labelled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting one be tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”
A strict adherence to Catholic Doctrine meant bringing the Church back to what Benedict XVI considered as its proper roots. If this alienated some believers, so be it. Numerous times he stated that the Church might well be healthier if it was smaller. A point of view opposed to the one expressed by Francis I:
“Changes need to be made […] Law cannot be kept in a refrigerator. Law accompanies life, and life goes on. Like morals, it is being perfected. Both the Church and society have made important changes over time on issues as slavery and the possession of atomic weapons, moral life is also progressing along the same line. Human thought and development grows and consolidates with the passage of time. Human understanding changes over time, and human consciousness deepens.”
Benedict XVI allowed the issue of human sexuality to overshadow support to environmentalism and human rights. He wanted to “purify the Church” in accordance with rules laid down in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1992 and written under direction of the then Cardinal Ratzinger. The Catechism might be considered as a counterweight to “relativistic theories seeking to justify religious pluralism, while supporting decline in general moral standards.”
Pope Benedict endeavoured to reintegrate hard-core traditionalists back into the fold, maintaining and strengthening traditional qualms related to sexual conduct and abortion. He declared that modern society had diminished “the morality of sexual love to a matter of personal sentiments, feelings, [and] customs. […], isolating it from its procreative purposes.” Accordingly, “homosexual acts” were in the Catechism described as “violating natural law” and could “under no circumstances be approved.”
Papal condemnation of homosexuality may seem somewhat strange considering that it is generally estimated that the percentage of gay Catholic priests might be 30 – 60, suggesting more homosexual men (active and non-active) within the Catholic priesthood than within society at large.
In 2019, Frédéric Martel’s In the Closet of the Vatican sent shock waves through the Catholic world. Based on years of interviews and collaboration with a vast array of researchers, priests and prostitutes, Martel described the double life of priests and the hypocrisy of homophobic cardinals and bishops living with their young “assistants”. He pinpointed members of the Catholic hierarchy as “closet gays”, revealed how “de-anonymised” data from homosexual dating apps (like Grindl) listed clergy users, described exclusive homosexual coteries within the Vatican, networks of prostitutes serving priests, as well as the anguish of homosexual priests trying to come to terms with their homosexual inclinations.
According to Martel, celibacy is a main reason for homosexuality among Catholic priesthood. For a homosexual youngster a respected male community might serve as a safe haven within a homophobic society.
By burdening homosexuality with guilt, covering up sexual abuse and opaque finances the Vatican has not supported what Benedict proclaimed, namely protect and preach the Truth. Behind the majority of cases of sexual abuse there are priests and bishops who protected aggressors because of their own homosexuality and out of fear that it might be revealed in the event of a scandal. The culture of secrecy needed to maintain silence about the prevalence of homosexuality in the Church, which allowed sexual abuse to be hidden and predators to act without punishment.
Cardinal Robert Sarah stated that “Western homosexual and abortion ideologies” are of “demonic origin” and compared them to “Nazism and Islamic terrorism.” Such opinions did in 2020 not hinder Pope Emeritus Benedict from writing a book together with Sarah – From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy and the Crisis of the Catholic Church. Among injunctions against abortion, safe sex, and women clergy, celibacy was fervently defended as not only “a mere precept of ecclesiastical law, but as a sharing in Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross and his identity as Bridegroom of the Church.” This in contrast to Francis I, who declared:
“It is time that the Church moves away from questions that divide believers and concentrate on the real issues: the poor, migrants, poverty. We can’t only insist on questions bound up with abortion, homosexual marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. It is not possible … It isn’t necessary to go on talking about it all the time.”
The current pope is not condoning abortion, though does not elevate it above the fight against poverty, climate change and the rights of migrants, which he proclaims to be “pro-life” issues in their own right. In 2021, Francis I stated that “same-sex civil unions are good and helpful to many.” He is of the opinion that Catholic priests ought to be celibate, but adds that this rule is not an unchangeable dogma and “the door is always open” to change. Francis propagates that women ought to be ordained as deacons; allowed to do priestly tasks, except giving absolution, anointing the sick, and celebrate mass and he has recruited women to several crucial administrative positions within the Vatican. Furthermore, he ordered all dioceses to report sexual abuse of minors to the Vatican, while notifying governmental law enforcement to allow for comprehensive investigations and perpetrators being judged by common – and not by canon law.
Just hours after Benedict’s funeral on 5 January Georg Gänswein’s memoir Nothing but the Truth — My Life Beside Benedict XVI, was distributed to the press. Gänswein, who was Benedict’s faithful companion and personal secretary, writes that for the Pope Emeritus the Doctrine of the Faith was the fundament of the Church, while Francis is more inclined to highlight “pastoral care”, i.e. guidance and support focusing on a person’s welfare, social and emotional needs, rather than purely educational ones.
In 2013, Gänswein entered in the service of Benedict XIV. He was professor in Canon Law, fluent in four languages, an able tennis player, excellent downhill skier and had a pilot’s licence. He was also an outspoken conservative and often critical of Francis I.
Shortly before his abdication, Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Gänswein archbishop and made him Prefect of the Papal Household, deciding who could have an audience with Pope Francis I, while he at the same time was responsible for Benedict’s daily schedule, communications, and private and personal audiences. The Italian edition of the magazine Vanity Fair presented Gänswein on its cover, declaring “being handsome is not a sin” and calling him “the Georg Clooney of the Vatican”. Six years before Donatella Versace used Gänswein as inspiration for her fashion show Priest Chic.
There was an air of vanity and conservatism surrounding the acolytes of Benedict. Gänswein writes that working with both popes, the active one and the ”Emeritus” was a great challenge, not only in terms of work but in terms of style. Benedict XIV was a pope of aesthetics recognising that in a debased world there remain things of beauty, embodied in a Mozart sonata, a Latin mass, an altarpiece, an embroidered cape, or the cut of a cassock. The male-oriented lifestyle magazine Esquire included Pope Benedict in a “best-dressed men list”. Gänswein states that when Pope Francis in 2022 restricted the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass “I believe it broke Pope Benedict’s heart”.
Pope Francis is now 86, not much time remains for him as sovereign of the Catholic Church. Hopefully he will be able to change the Curia by staffing it with people who share his ambition to reform the Church by navigating away from doctrinal rigidity, vanity and seclusion towards inclusion, tolerance, human rights, poverty eradication and environmentalism.
“To criminalise people with homosexual tendencies is an injustice,” said Francis.
“I am not talking about groups, but people. You can say ‘they make groups, etc’, but they are people. Lobbies are another thing, but they are people.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who was also on the papal flight, said that he would “quote the Holy Father” at the Church of England’s general synod this week during debates on the blessing of same-sex marriages.
In the US, following the interview, the priest Fr Jim Martin SJ, who leads an apostolate to the LGBT community, published a note from Francis clarifying those comments.
“When I said [homosexuality] is a sin, I was simply referring to Catholic moral teaching, which says that every sexual act outside of marriage is a sin,” the Pope wrote.
“Of course, one must also consider the circumstances, which may decrease or eliminate fault. As you can see, I was repeating something in general. I should have said ‘It is a sin, as is any sexual act outside of marriage.’
“This is to speak of ‘the matter’ of sin, but we know well that Catholic morality not only takes into consideration the matter, but also evaluates freedom and intention; and this, for every kind of sin.”
— Pope Francis and the leaders of Protestant churches in England and Scotland have denounced the criminalisation of homosexuality.
Speaking to reporters after visiting South Sudan, the Pope said such laws were a sin and “an injustice”.
He added people with “homosexual tendencies” are children of God and should be welcomed by their churches.
His comments were backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Moderator of the Church of Scotland.
Archbishop Justin Welby and Iain Greenshields, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, travelled with the Pope to South Sudan where they jointly called for peace in the war-torn country.
It is the first time the leaders of the three traditions have come together for such a journey in 500 years.
Archbishop Welby and Dr Greenshields praised the Pope’s comments during a news conference with reporters on board the papal plane as they travelled from Juba to Rome.
“I entirely agree with every word he said there,” said Archbishop Welby, noting that the Anglican church had its own internal divisions over gay rights.
Last month the Church of England said it would refuse to allow same-sex couples to be married in its churches.
Expressing his own support, Dr Greenshields referred to the Bible, saying: “There is nowhere in the four Gospels that I see anything other than Jesus expressing love to whoever he meets, and as Christians that is the only expression that we can give to any human being in any circumstance”.
During the news conference Pope Francis repeated his view that the Catholic Church cannot permit sacramental marriage of same-sex couples.
But he said he supported so-called civil union legislation, and stressed that laws banning homosexuality were “a problem that cannot be ignored”.
He suggested that 50 countries criminalise LGBT people “in one way or another”, and about 10 have laws carrying the death penalty.
Currently 66 UN member states criminalise consensual same-sex relations, according to ILGA World – the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.
“This is not right. Persons with homosexual tendencies are children of God,” said the Pope.
“God loves them. God accompanies them… condemning a person like this is a sin.”