One of the most notorious predator priests in northwest Ohio has just been given a stiff sentence for his sex crimes by a federal judge after this case came to the attention of the FB, in an unrelated investigation.`
Last Friday, Judge Jack Zouhary sent Fr. Michael J. Zacharias to a federal prison for a long time.
The priest, formerly the pastor of St. Michael’s parish in Findlay, was arrested by the FBI in 2020 on multiple charges of sexual crimes, including human trafficking.
He allegedly “manipulated and coerced drug-addicted boys and men into sex” and made a “confession video” in which he performed oral sex on a then-adult victim.
Zacharias admits to first meeting one of his victims when he was an aspiring Seminarian and the boy was a sixth-grader at St. Catherine’s in Toledo.
According to bishopaccountability.org, a second young man told the FBI he met Zacharias as a first-grader, and that the then-seminarian began sexually abusing him as a teen after being ordained a Deacon and then Catholic priest.
Does it get much uglier than this?
Be very disturbed
Here are several takeaways from this disturbing case:
• For decades, the Catholic hierarchy has claimed “these predator priests all hurt kids a long time ago. We’ve since gotten better at selecting and training more healthy seminarians and priests.”
• Their intent is clear: promote complacency, mollify the flock and pretend these crimes are all in the past. But Zacharias’ crime spree started when he was a seminary student studying to become a priest. It continued through his ordination as a Catholic deacon and then a Catholic priest and, worse still, after the Toledo Catholic Diocese revamped its own policies on childhood sexual abuse.
• The Catholic Church hierarchy’s claim is at best premature and at worst intentionally misleading.
There’s some truth here of course. For instance, Fr. Stanislaus Wojciechowski was ordained in 1937, Fr. Alexander Pinter was ordained in 1943, Fr. Joseph J. Pucci was ordained in 1941, and Fr. George Schmit was ordained in 1935. All of these clerics worked in the Toledo diocese and are “credibly accused” child molesters, according to official church websites.
But plenty of other sexually troubled clerics joined the ranks of the ordained more recently. Among them are:
• Former Central Catholic High School religion teacher Fr. Stephen Rogers — ordained in 1995, later convicted of child pornography in 2003
• Deacon J. Michael Tynan was days away from being ordained when he was arrested and ultimately convicted of child pornography in 2004.
• Fr. Samuel Punnoor — ordained in 1996, deemed “credibly accused” in 2020
• Fr. James H. Roth — ordained in 1995, later deemed “credibly accused” by church officials in 2015
How about Zacharias? He was ordained in 2002.
Clearly, bad men are still joining the priesthood. Doesn’t this mean continued vigilance, not foolish complacency, is required by parents, parishioners, police, prosecutors and the public?
Ohio lawmakers should take note of where Zacharias was held accountable for his crimes — in a federal courtroom.
This was the third Diocese of Toledo Catholic cleric to face sentencing in federal court since 2002 when the Diocesan officials joined U.S. bishops nationwide pledging “openness, honesty and transparency.”
Why wasn’t Zacharias tried in state court?
Largely because Ohio legislators continue to cave to lobbyists for the bishops and the insurance industry by refusing to eliminate or extend Ohio’s archaic, predator-friendly statute of limitations.
Most states are lifting these arbitrary deadlines so more victims can use the courts to warn the public about child molesters.
But, tragically, Ohio continues to protect those who commit and conceal horrific crimes against kids, instead of protecting the kids themselves.
Worse still? When child advocates publicly asked Ohio Attorney General Yost to follow the steps of other surrounding states and convene a formal investigation into the cover-up of sexual crimes against minors by the Roman Catholic church, he publicly said ‘his hands are tied,’ and deferred activists to lawmakers.
This must change in the next legislative session.
One might think that Zacharias’ particularly heinous crimes and harsh sentence might light a fire under Toledo Bishop Daniel Thomas and prod him to take decisive action towards prevention and disclosure of clergy sex crimes. Afterall Zacharias served in Toledo, Findlay, Van Wert, Mansfield and Sandusky.
Is it possible there are other victims?
His crimes that are known spanned over two decades. What is Thomas doing to actively reach out to every parishioner, alumni and the communities at large where this now-convicted sex offender worked and lived?
Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be happening.
Within hours of the judge’s decision, Thomas issued a short, tepid statement to the media essentially “passing the buck” to the Vatican, which makes the ultimate decision on whether a convicted sex offender will be formally defrocked or remain in the priesthood.
“Today’s sentencing of Michael Zacharias in federal court marks another step towards justice for all of those harmed by his actions. As I expressed in my May 12, 2023, statement following his conviction, “The acts of which Rev. Michael Zacharias has been found guilty are reprehensible, morally deplorable, and manifestly contrary to the dignity due to each human person and the dignity of the priesthood.”
Why does the bishop do active roll-out campaigns when he is fundraising or lobbying for votes in state elections, and only issue a small statement electronically in what the federal judge called, “one of the most disturbing cases” he’s presided over?
The bishop made no pledges to try harder or do better regarding kids’ safety. Somewhat shockingly, he made no mention of Zacharias victims. He didn’t praise them for their courage or even offer an apology to them.
The bare minimum
And, predictably, Thomas failed to acknowledge the unrefuted testimony of an eighth-grade victim who testified under oath that he reported to the pastor at St. Catherine’s shortly after then-seminarian Zacharias first sexually abused him only to be told, ‘It’s all in your head.”
Even the federal judge acknowledged during Zacharias’ sentencing the credibility of the victims and the efforts the eighth-grade victim made to report timely that were not followed up on by church officials.
How many crimes and lives could have been spared falling prey to Zacharias if the pastor who this information was reported to had simply called the police? Notified the victims’ parents?
Worst of all, perhaps, Thomas refused to appeal to other victims, witnesses or whistleblowers — with information about Zacharias’ crimes or other wrongdoing by other church staff — to step forward and call law enforcement.
That’s precisely what a true leader would do: take affirmative steps to root out corruption in his institution. That’s what must happen if abuse is to be exposed, cover-ups are to be deterred, and children are to be safer.
Instead, however, Thomas does what so many in the Catholic hierarchy have done for so long and still do: the absolute bare minimum.
But thankfully, Toledo-area Catholics are increasingly taking a different tack.
More and more, we have noticed that churchgoers are slowly becoming better able to detect grooming and abuse, and they are more inclined to report it to police and prosecutors.
Still, more must be done, especially by those at the highest ranks of the church, to safeguard the vulnerable and heal the wounded.
As the government’s case against Fr. Michael Zacharias, whose crimes span at least two decades illustrates, the stakes are just too high to ignore. These clergy child predators do not spontaneously stop.
A Roman Catholic priest in Alabama who was investigated by law enforcement after fleeing to Europe with a recent high school graduate he met through his ministry legally married her after he returned to the US with her, a document provided to the Guardian showed.
According to a marriage license filed in Mobile county, Alabama, Alexander Crow, 30, married the 18-year-old former McGill-Toolen Catholic high school student on Friday.
In late July, Crow – an expert in the theological study of demons and exorcism – had his clerical duties removed by the Catholic archdiocese of Mobile, after going to Italy with the teen and indicating he would never return to the US.
The archdiocese told him he “abandoned his assignment” and was accused of behavior “totally unbecoming of a priest”.
Though the archdiocese did not elaborate, priests take a vow of celibacy and amid a worldwide, decades-old clerical molestation scandal, Catholic officials have implemented guidelines meant to establish boundaries between clergymen and vulnerable adults.
The parents of the teen – who attended McGill-Toolen while Crow volunteered there – were not aware she was going to Italy with him.
The Mobile county sheriff’s office reviewed allegations that Crow engaged in sexual misconduct and groomed multiple girls at McGill-Toolen. However, on 7 November a Mobile TV station, WKRG, published a statement from the local district attorney saying prosecutors would not pursue charges.
The statement said that after being summoned to meet with investigators through a subpoena, the teen “declined to answer any questions” about her trip with Crow.
“She appeared in seemingly good health and said that she is safe,” the statement said. “Without being able to speak with the young lady about these events, we do not have sufficient admissible evidence to charge a crime at this point. Therefore, this investigation is currently closed.”
Investigators found a letter Crow sent to the girl on Valentine’s Day, when she was still 17. The missive expressed strong love and declared they were already married. But the marriage license filed jointly in their names in Mobile listed the wedding date as Friday.
The document, which prominently lists Alabama’s minimum age of marriage as 16, affirms: “Each of us is entering into the marriage voluntarily and of our own free will and not under duress or undue influence.”
Attempts to contact Crow, the girl or their families were not immediately successful.
The Mobile archbishop, Thomas Rodi, has said he intends to seek Crow’s permanent removal from the clergy, an extremely rare measure not often used against clergymen criminally charged with – or even convicted of – sexual abuse.
The process, controlled by church law, would not start until the beginning of next year, WKRG has reported.
Rodi was a high-ranking official in nearby New Orleans in 2000, when that city’s archdiocese included him on a letter reinstating a priest who had gone on sabbatical after having admitted sexually molesting or harassing multiple children.
That priest, Lawrence Hecker, has not faced expulsion from the clergy. He retired quietly in 2002 but was recently indicted on charges of child rape, kidnapping and other crimes.
Rodi has repeatedly rebuffed insinuations that the Mobile archdiocese was slow or reluctant to cooperate in the investigation of Crow.
A San Mateo priest accused of molestation in a lawsuit is one of two accused clergy who remain in active ministry with the Archdiocese of San Francisco as the church faces renewed questions over how it responds to sexual abuse allegations.
The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County in November 2022, alleges Father Linh Tien Nguyen sexually abused a former altar boy and student of St. Pius Catholic Church and School in Redwood City between approximately 2005 and 2008.
The plaintiff in the case, identified as “M.S.,” alleges he was between 10 and 13 years old. He is now in his late 20s.
“This young person has got a lot of courage,” said Dan McNevin, Oakland leader of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. “If there’s any good news in this, it’s that this survivor had the courage at a very young age to come forward and has probably expedited the healing of a lot more kids.”
Official Catholic Church records show Nguyen worked as a pastor at St. Pius from 2005 through 2009. He is currently an associate pastor at St. Bartholomew Parish in San Mateo.
Nguyen and other staff members of St. Bartholomew did not respond to KQED’s requests for comment on the allegation.
A second priest, Father David Ghiorso, faces multiple allegations of sexual abuse of young boys at St. Vincent’s School for Boys in San Rafael and a Sonoma County summer camp in the 1980s and ’90s, according to court records and a source familiar with one of the cases.
The details of the accusations are laid out in documents from two lawsuits filed in Alameda County — one in 2020 and another in 2022. Today, Ghiorso is the pastor of St. Charles Parish in San Carlos and St. Matthias Church in Redwood City.
The allegations in the lawsuits have not been proven. The plaintiffs either declined or did not respond to interview requests.
“I can tell you that the Archdiocese followed its procedures in the instances you raised and that Fr. Ghiorso and Fr. Nguyen are priests in good standing and have faculties to minister in the Archdiocese,” Peter Marlow, the Archdiocese of San Francisco’s executive director of communications and media relations, told KQED in an email.
The Archdiocese also denies the allegations in legal filings.
News of the allegation against Nguyen comes as the Archdiocese is pressed for details in bankruptcy proceedings about how it handles sexual abuse allegations, and which priests it has deemed credibly accused.
On Nov. 8, the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors, which represents survivors, requested the court’s authorization to subpoena the Archdiocese for documents on the church’s finances and allegations of abuse dating back multiple decades. The Archdiocese objected, calling the request “excessively overbroad, vague and harassing.” A hearing is scheduled for Nov. 30.
The Archdiocese sought Chapter 11 protection in federal bankruptcy court in August as it faced more than 530 lawsuits filed by individuals alleging sexual abuse by clergy or others associated with the Archdiocese under a 2019 state law, Assembly Bill 218, or the California Child Victims Act. The law waived all time limits for abuse claims from 2020 through the end of last year, and it permanently extended age limits to sue for childhood molestation — from age 26 to 40 years old or within five years after the discovery of the abuse.
The bankruptcy proceedings effectively froze all the state court cases filed against the San Francisco Archdiocese, its institutions and clergy.
In recent back-to-back legal calls in the bankruptcy case, representatives of the Archdiocese answered questions under oath from the Office of the U.S. Trustee and the committee about the church’s financial situation and knowledge of abuse allegations. Officials said the church had found no accusations against clergy to be credible in the past decade, but has become aware of multiple allegations in that time.
In a Sept. 28 meeting of creditors, the Archdiocese’s Vicar General, Father Patrick Summerhays, disclosed that two active priests and two retired priests had been accused of abuse. Each has been exonerated by the church’s internal process, according to the Archdiocese.
“I have not yet received a credible allegation against a priest, although I have received allegations,” Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone said two weeks later in a continuation of the hearing, referring to his 11 years as Archbishop.
When asked how many cases the Archdiocese has received in that time, Cordileone said there have been seven or eight accusations the church has had to investigate.
The Archdiocese’s process for responding to an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor involves reporting the allegation to civil authorities and removing the accused priest from active ministry while an investigation is conducted by a qualified investigator. A report on the findings of that investigation are handed over to the Archdiocese’s Independent Review Board, a panel of lay people who issues a recommendation to the Archbishop as to whether the allegation is ‘sustained’ or ‘not sustained,’ according to the Archdiocese’s website and church representatives.
“I’ve heard different theories as to what credibly accused means,” Cordileone said. “I try not to use that term and rather use [the] term ‘sustained’ or ‘not sustained.’”
What standard the Independent Review Board, or IRB, uses to determine if an allegation is sustained is unclear, James Stang, an attorney for the Unsecured Creditors’ Committee, later told KQED in a phone interview.
“I can’t find anything that defines it in what the public can see on the website,” Stang said. “In other words, if I go to the website, and they discuss the review board process, I don’t see a definition of what constitutes a sustained claim.”
He continued: “I think the public should know what it means to have a sustained accusation. There has to be a definition somewhere. It can’t just be a gut check. There must be some standard that these review board people are using.”
While there isn’t a single, uniform definition of what constitutes a “credible accusation” against a priest that is shared across all Catholic dioceses, many have publicly shared their interpretations alongside published lists of credibly accused priests in their jurisdiction.
In its Nov. 8 filing, the creditors’ committee asked for records related to abuse claims dating back to as early as 1941. Among them: personnel files of accused priests, communication between the Archdiocese and law enforcement agencies over the years, and documents explaining the church’s interpretation of “credibly accused.” It also requests documents from the paper trail of the church’s evaluation of sexual abuse allegations, including IRB meeting minutes, interview notes and recommendations.
When asked what standard of proof the IRB uses to determine if an allegation is “sustained” or not, Marlow said, “The process is for the Independent Review Board to review a claim and the investigator’s report and any other relevant information that can support a recommendation.”
When pressed for more details, he declined to clarify that aspect of the process further. In a subsequent email, Marlow elaborated on what happens when the IRB determines that an allegation is sustained. If the IRB finds that there is sufficient evidence to warrant a canonical trial and the trial results in a conviction, then the accused priest would be permanently removed from ministry. If the IRB finds that an accusation is not sustained, then the priest is reinstated to active ministry and damage to his reputation is remediated.
The IRB was established in 2002, the same year that the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops established the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, a set of procedures for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy often referred to as the Dallas Charter.
“Review boards were strangled in the crib before they could do something,” said Jim Jenkins, a retired East Bay psychologist who was the IRB’s first chairman at its inception.
Jenkins resigned in 2004 over concerns about the board’s integrity and ability to investigate independently. During his time on the panel, it was the Archbishop who decided what to do with an allegation, not the IRB, Jenkins told KQED.
“When they say the review board reviewed this and did not find anything sustained, that may be true,” Jenkins said. “But the fact that father so and so is recommended to be suspended — that is completely up to the Archbishop. They would never allow anyone else to make that decision. Certainly not lay people.”
Jenkins acknowledged that nearly 20 years have passed since he served on the board, which may have different processes today.
Attorneys for the Archdiocese stated that Cordileone has always followed the IRB’s guidance. Three IRB members contacted by KQED did not respond to interview requests.
Nguyen was placed on administrative leave in October 2022 and returned to ministry two months later, according to the Archdiocese. Ghiorso went on leave for around two months in late 2021.
Marlow declined to say what information the Archdiocese found in its investigations that resulted in Nguyen and Ghiorso both returning to ministry.
“While IRB investigations and recommendations are not shared with the media, I can tell you that the Archdiocese followed its procedures in the instances you raised and that Fr. Ghiorso and Fr. Nguyen are priests in good standing and have faculties to minister in the Archdiocese,” Marlow told KQED in an email.
Spencer Lucas, the attorney representing the complainant identified as M.S. in the lawsuit accusing Nguyen, expressed skepticism about the church’s processes.
“We do know that the Catholic Church, on a very broad scale, has done an inadequate investigation into many, many of these claims,” he said. “We should all be concerned that the church has not taken adequate steps to properly investigate claims and to institute appropriate training to raise awareness about this ongoing problem.”
‘We have our own list’
Survivors and advocates have been calling on the Archdiocese of San Francisco to release a list of priests who have been credibly accused under its watch for years.
In the Oct. 12 meeting of creditors, Cordileone disclosed that while the list hasn’t been released to the public, it does exist.
“Does the Archdiocese have a list of clergy where the [Independent] Review Board has made a determination that the accusation is sustained?” Stang asked the Archbishop.
“We know which ones those are, yeah,” Cordinelone replied. “We have our own list.”
Asked why the Archdiocese has not published the list, Cordileone said that no one has given him a reason for doing so.
“The most important thing is that our young people are being protected and that those who abuse are kept out of ministry for doing that,” he added.
Jennifer Stein, an attorney with Jeff Anderson & Associates, which represents over 400 alleged survivors with claims in Northern California, the majority of whom are in the Bay Area, was listening.
“This is an ongoing and recurring theme that is self-serving to the Archdiocese,” Stein said. “It puts children and the public in great peril by keeping that information secret.”
In September 2022, SNAP published its own list of 312 priests who have been publicly accused of abuse and were associated at one point or another with the Archdiocese of San Francisco. Nguyen’s name is not included on the list as the M.S. lawsuit was filed two months after publication. Ghiorso’s name, however, is.
In October 2021, parishioners of both churches where Ghiorso currently works were notified via a letter that he had been named in filed claims and would be temporarily restricted from exercising public ministry while an investigation was conducted.
The announcement came nearly a year after a lawsuit was filed in Alameda Superior Court by two men alleging they had been sexually abused while they were living at St. Vincent’s School for Boys, a residential program for disadvantaged boys in San Rafael.
In court records from the lawsuit, plaintiff Gary Johnson alleges that he and other boys from St. Vincent’s were molested by priests at a summer camp in Sonoma County for several years in the early 1980s.
The lawsuit alleges several priests began showing up at St. Vincent’s weekly to take the boys off-campus to Camp Armstrong, where they were given alcohol and molested or forced to engage in sex acts with one another, according to court records.
“When not participating, perpetrator defendants would also watch the boys abuse one another and would masturbate as they watched,” the complaint reads.
After reporting the abuse to an athletic coach at the school, who notified the school’s front office, Johnson was removed from St. Vincent’s and placed in a foster home, according to the complaint.
A second plaintiff in the same lawsuit alleges a priest abused him for a year, shortly after he arrived at St. Vincent’s in 1989 at the age of 9 and became an altar boy. Marcus Raymond Hill alleges that on one occasion, when he and other boys were invited to the rectory for doughnuts after mass, he was asked to stay longer, given wine and forced to masturbate the priest.
On three other occasions, the complaint states the priest allegedly plied Hill with wine and anally penetrated and raped him.
Ghiorso, who is not named in the lawsuit, is identified as the alleged perpetrator in the case on a matrix filed in Alameda Superior Court. The matrix is a chart that displays data from hundreds of Northern California clergy sex abuse cases filed under AB 218, including case numbers, attorney names, alleged perpetrator names, dates of alleged abuse and other information.
A person familiar with the case confirmed to KQED that Ghiorso is an alleged perpetrator in the lawsuit. NBC Bay Area previously reported the allegations.
Ghiorso was ordained in 1981 and worked as a pastor at Our Lady of Loretto Church in Novato through 1985, according to the Official Catholic Directory. From 1986-1990, he was the associate director of St. Vincent’s. Ghiorso went on to fill leadership roles with the Catholic Youth Organization and CYO Archbishop McGucken Youth Retreat and Conference Center, the location of Camp Armstrong, records show.
Ghiorso returned to the ministry in December 2021 following his temporary leave, according to Marlow. Four months later, court records show, he was accused in a new lawsuit of ongoing abuse of another altar boy at St. Vincent’s.
From around 1988 through 1991, an unnamed plaintiff alleges, he was “continuously anally raped and sexually assaulted” by Ghiorso when he was 10-13 years old. The plaintiff alleges Ghiorso began sexually abusing him in an area of the church that altar boys used to change. The abuse escalated to mutual oral sex and penetration in the church and at Ghiorso’s office, according to court records.
Several times, the plaintiff attempted to run away from St. Vincent’s and was heavily medicated by staff at the facility in an attempt to control his behavioral outbursts, the complaint reads.
The plaintiff first reported the alleged abuse to a private investigator hired by the Archdiocese, who contacted him in late 2021, according to the complaint. The investigator had “been previously told by one of the plaintiff’s classmates that the plaintiff may have been one of Father Ghiorso’s many victims,” the document reads.
“It was not until the plaintiff was contacted by the investigator that his memories of what Father Ghiorso did to him as a child resurfaced,” according to the document.
Ghiorso and his attorney did not respond to KQED’s multiple requests for comment.
When asked if Ghiorso was removed from ministry a second time pending an investigation into the new claim, Marlow declined to specify and instead restated that the Archdiocese’s procedures were followed in each case.
“There are good reasons why Fr. Ghiorso is a priest in good standing with faculties to serve in the Archdiocese of San Francisco,” he said.
Without doubt, the best line to emanate from the Synod on Synoldality is “Excuse me, Your Eminence, she has not finished speaking.”
That sums up the synod and the state of the Catholic Church’s attitude toward change.
In October, hundreds of bishops, joined by lay men and women, priests, deacons, religious sisters and brothers met for nearly a month in Rome for the Synod on Synodality. At its end, the synod released a synthesis report brimming with the hope and the promise that the church would be a more listening church.
Some 54 women voted at the synod. Back home, women are still ignored.
It is not because women quote the Second Vatican Council at parish council meetings. It is because too many bishops and pastors ignore parish councils.
It is not because women of the world do not write to their pastors and bishops. It is because without large checks, their letters are ignored.
The Synod on Synodality was groundbreaking in part because it was more about learning to listen. It was more about the process than about results. Its aim was to get the whole church on board with a new way of relating, of having “conversations in the Spirit,” where listening and prayer feed discernment and decision-making.
Even now, the project faces roadblocks. At their November meeting this week in Baltimore, U.S. bishops heard presentations by Brownsville, Texas, Bishop Daniel Flores, who has led the two-year national synod process so far. His brother bishops did not look interested.
To be fair, some bishops in some dioceses, in the U.S. and other parts of the world, are on board with Pope Francis’ attempt to encourage the church to accept the reforms of Vatican II, to listen to the people of God.
But too many bishops are having none of it.
The synod recognized the church’s global infection with narcissistic clericalism. It said fine things about women in leadership and the care of other marginalized people. Yet the synod remains a secret in many places. Its good words don’t reach the people in the pews.
Ask about synodality in any parish, and you might hear “Oh, we don’t do that here.” You are equally likely to hear “When I” sermons (“When I was in seminary,” “When I was in another parish”), and not about the Gospel.
Folks who were excited by Francis’ openness and pastoral message just shake their heads.
The women who want to contribute, who want to belong, are more than dispirited. They have had it. And they are no longer walking toward the door — they are running, bringing their husbands, children and checkbooks with them.
In the Diocese of Brooklyn, it was recently discovered that Mass attendance had dropped 40% since 2017. It is the same in too many places. The reason the church is wobbling is not a lack of piety. It is because women are ignored. Their complaints only reach as far as the storied circular file.
What do women complain about? Bad sermons, as discussed. Autocratic pastors. And the big one: pederasty. If truth be told, women do not trust unmarried men with their children. Worldwide, in diocese after diocese, new revelations continue. Still.
Many bishops and pastors understand this. Francis certainly does, but he is constrained by clerics who dig their heels into a past many of them never knew. More and more young (and older) priests pine for the 1950s, when priests wore lace and women knew their place. That imagining does not include synodality.
Will the synod effort work? Francis’ opening to women in church management is promising. Where women are in the chancery, there is more opportunity for women’s voices to be heard. No doubt, a few more women there could help.
Getting women into the sacristy is trickier.
While it seems most synod members agreed about restoring women to the ordained diaconate as a recognition of the baptismal equality of all, some stalwarts argued it was against Tradition. Still others saw the specter of a “Western gender ideology” seeking to confuse the roles of men and women.
So, they asked for a review of the research. Again.
Women know the obvious: Women were ordained as deacons. There will never be complete agreement on the facts of history, anthropology and theology. Women have said this over and over.
If there is absolute evidence that women cannot be restored to the ordained diaconate, it should be presented, and a decision made.
The first Catholic bishop in Germany has called on his priests and pastoral staff to hold blessing ceremonies for same-sex and remarried couples. The West German Diocese of Speyer announced on Friday that these were “blessing celebrations for people who love each other.” Against… pic.twitter.com/Ct40oJFlfc
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed, “Judge not, lest you be judged.”
Early in his papacy, Pope Francis told journalists: ” “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
Citing those words, while expressing hope for future Synod on Synodality developments, a German bishop has officially asked his clergy to start performing rites blessing Catholics in same-sex relationships. He also included couples with secular divorces, as opposed to church annulments, who are then married outside the church.
“Both with regard to believers whose marriages have broken down and who have remarried, and especially with regard to same-sex oriented people, it is urgently time – especially against the background of a long history of deep hurt – for a different perspective,” wrote Bishop Karl-Heinz Wiesemann of the Diocese of Speyer (.pdf here), in a translation from the German posted by the Catholic Conclave weblog.<
The goal, he added, is "a pastoral attitude … as many of you have been practicing for a long time. That's why I campaigned for a reassessment of homosexuality in church teaching in the Synodal Path and also voted for the possibility of blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples. I stand by that."
The bishop stressed that new rites will not be "celebrating a sacrament, but rather about a blessing." This change in diocesan policy means that "no one who carries out such blessings has to fear sanctions."
Performing these blessings will require "empathy and discretion," wrote Wiesemann.
"It may be that the domestic setting (possibly also with the blessing of the shared apartment) is more suitable. … A blessing ceremony can also take place in the church," noted the bishop. "The celebration must differ in words and symbols from a church wedding and, as an act of blessing, should expressly reinforce the love, commitment and mutual responsibility that exists in the couple's relationship."
At the end of recent Vatican meetings, Synod on Synodality participants released a 40-page report that didn't mention changes on hot-button topics such as married priests, the ordination of women as deacons and a range of LGBTQ+ issues.
However, Bishop George Bätzing, president of the German bishops, noted signs of possible shifts in future synod sessions — even on "gender identity or sexual orientation" disputes that "raise new questions."
The head of Germany’s bishops, Bishop Georg Bätzing, said Sunday that the Synod on Synodality’s final text “is a big step for the universal Church” and that the wish of the synod to revise Catholic sexual ethics is an “enormous step forward.” He contended that an overwhelming… pic.twitter.com/kvCSJcOZUt
The global synod statement added: “Sometimes existing anthropological categories are not sufficient to grasp the complexity of what emerges from experience or from science, and therefore this calls for further investigation. We must take the necessary time for this reflection and devote the best of our energies to it, and not fall into simplistic judgments that hurt people or damage the body of the Church.”
Before this synod meeting, Pope Francis urged “pastoral charity” when considering same-sex blessings, adding that the “defense of objective truth” in ancient doctrines is not enough. “For this reason, pastoral prudence must adequately discern whether there are forms of blessing … that do not transmit a mistaken conception of marriage,” he wrote.
Now, Pope Francis has issued an apostolic letter – “Ad theologiam promovendam (to promote theology)” – seeking a “paradigm shift” to a “fundamentally contextual theology” that doesn’t settle for “abstractly re-proposing formulas and schemes from the past.”
This post-synod letter proclaimed: “Theology can only develop in a culture of dialogue and encounter between different traditions and different knowledge, between different Christian confessions and different religions, openly engaging with everyone, believers and nonbelievers.”
OCT 21 #Synod briefing: German Bishop Overbeck says: “We put Jesus Christ at the center of faith in a common quest without clinging to habits & traditionalisms which, if critically examined, have no priority in the hierarchy of truth, & this in the end is important to say.”👇1/4 pic.twitter.com/7HptSttJAU
Bishops in Germany and other rapidly shrinking European churches have, in recent years, openly pushed for the modernization of Catholic doctrines on sexuality. Last year, bishops in Belgium approved a text allowing rites blessing same-sex couples. And 93% of participants in German sessions preparing for the Vatican synod backed a document (.pdf here) approving “blessing celebrations for people who love each other.”
During a synod press conference, Bishop Franz-Josef Overbeck of Essen – a diocese with 321 parishes in 2002, but only 40 parishes in 2022 – said that if church “theology, the magisterium, or tradition” continues to ignore the “signs of the times,” modern Germans will stop listening, including young Catholics.
Asked to clarify, Overbeck added: “We put Jesus Christ at the center of faith in a common quest without clinging to habits and traditionalisms which, if critically examined, have no priority in the hierarchy of truth.”