Archbishop Charles Scicluna has pledged to take action against a priest who drew widespread condemnation after comparing being possessed by demons or having schizophrenia to being gay.
“To all those who felt offended by those words, to the mothers, fathers and siblings of gay people who felt hurt and betrayed by the Church they love so much, I hereby ask for your forgiveness,” Scicluna said when delivering mass this morning.
“I’ll take action to ensure these things don’t repeat themselves.”
Scicluna didn’t specify what kind of action he will be taking.
Father David Muscat, a priest known for his often anger-filled rhetoric aimed at minorities like the LGBT+ community, said yesterday on Facebook that being gay was worse than being possessed.
His comment was widely criticised, with Inclusion Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli personally reporting Muscat to police commissioner Angelo Gafa’ for hate speech and Equality Minister Owen Bonnici warning the priest “had crossed a line”.
The Malta Gay Rights Movement also called on the Archbishop to wake up and pay attention to what members of his own church are preaching.
Most Catholics usually spend the weeks before Christmas preparing to open church doors to anyone looking to mark the birth of Jesus. But this year, with news that a Catholic diocese in Michigan may bar gay and transgender people from participating in sacraments, LGBTQ Catholics everywhere are wondering, yet again, whether we are welcome.
The Diocese of Marquette says that the policy, which could deny parishioners rites such as baptism and Communion, is simply meant to reinforce existing church teaching, and that queer people should still be treated with “dignity and respect.” But what it risks reinforcing is the decision of LGBTQ people, and their families, who choose to leave. As a gay Catholic, it’s heartbreaking to think of what both the church, and all who benefit from Catholic ministries, will lose.
When I read the diocese’s policy, my mind raced to one of the accounts in my book, which profiles dozens of Catholics who took on stigma and shame to fight for people living with HIV at the height of the crisis. The transformation of Most Holy Redeemer Church, situated in the heart of San Francisco’s gay village, from a mausoleum into a partner in the fight against AIDS was due to the tenacity of LGBTQ Catholics and allies who saw in Scripture a commandment to extend mercy to all.
In the 1950s and ’60s, the parish was full of young families. But by the 1980s, the neighborhood had become a vibrant destination for young gay men — a remaking that had hollowed out Most Holy Redeemer.
Cliff Morrison, a gay parishioner and nurse who would eventually help establish 5B, the famed AIDS ward at San Francisco General Hospital, met with the pastor, Father Tony McGuire. He laid out a proposal: The neighborhood was bursting with the new arrivals, the majority of whom weren’t affiliated with any house of worship. “Most of these guys, they moved here from the Midwest and the South, and a lot of them are Catholic,” he said. “Why don’t we invite them back?”
So a team of parishioners created the “Come Home for Christmas” campaign. Young gay men who sought to add a dose of spirituality to the Christmas season worshiped alongside the remaining older parishioners — the “gays and the grays,” as Father Tony put it.
Thomas Ellerby, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1989, was part of Most Holy Redeemer’s holiday crew. He signed up for the parish’s “buddy program” when he became too sick to cook or do laundry. He attended the parish’s Christmas parties — elaborate affairs with ice sculptures, piles of decadent canapes and, given neighborhood demographics, a fair share of drag queens.
“That was the most fantastic escape from what was going on around us,” Ellerby said in an interview. For him, a gay Black man living with HIV in the Castro, the Catholic Church was a break from the barrage of discrimination, prejudice and heartbreak he faced each day.
The Vaticanpromulgated policies hostile toward LGBTQ people in the 1980s — ones similar to the Marquette proposal. But local church leaders in San Francisco tried to soften those messages so all Catholics would feel welcome. Had they not, ministries that touched countless lives in San Francisco would never have borne fruit.
And it wasn’t a one-way street, with only the LGBTQ community benefiting. Most Holy Redeemer itself was reinvigorated by LGBTQ Catholics, and its longtime parishioners — mostly older and straight — understood in new ways what it meant to follow Jesus’ command to love one another.
Today’s church, with LGBTQ people routinely fired from affiliated institutions and the Vatican still employing harsh language toward same-sex relationships, can feel far from Most Holy Redeemer’s uncommon example. It’s true that Pope Francis has reached out to LGBTQ Catholics and those who minister to them, but sadly he’s the exception, not the rule. Overemphasizing parts of church teaching that condemn homosexuality at the expense of parts that call for love and respect is too common.
That’s why such small, unexpected kindnesses from the church can go such a long way — and why actions such as the Marquette diocese’sfeel extra alienating. And each decision affects not only the relatively small percentage of LGBTQ Catholics but also their families and friends, coworkers and neighbors — anyone who loves them.
To Ellerby, Most Holy Redeemer was simply living out the Gospel. “They served the community,” he said. “It just so happened to be a gay community that was ground zero for HIV and AIDS. The parish was in the business of saving souls and saving lives.”
The following letter was sent to Bishop Christopher Coyne on Dec. 8:
Why are you waiting for me and other clergy abuse victims to die?
As children at St. Joseph’s Orphanage, we were physically, mentally and sexually abused. In December 2020 you said the following during an interview on the WCAX program You Can Quote Me: “I absolutely believe that children were abused at the orphanage. No one is contesting that at all.” You know that there was abuse, yet you do everything you can to avoid helping the abused.
In 2019, you said the following on Vermont Public Radio: “We don’t have any money, there’s no more insurance, we have very limited unrestricted funds.” If the church doesn’t have funds, it’s because of its own actions to hide the money. You know very well that your predecessor, Bishop Salvatore Matano, worked with the church’s attorneys to put $500 million in diocese assets into individual trusts to protect those assets from lawsuits. At the time, Bishop Matano said his actions were to protect the parishes from “unbridled, unjust and unreasonable assault.” We would argue that the unbridled, unjust and unreasonable assaults were made by clergy against children.
In November of this year, you wrote to Vermont Catholics, asking them to give more to your statewide fundraising campaign called “Christ Our Hope: Building a Vibrant Church,” saying that you had already, in just three months last year, raised $4.4 million of your $10 million goal, with most of that money going to individual parishes rather than abuse victims. Of course, that distribution would also protect those funds from abuse lawsuits against the diocese.
Many individual parishes have closed, yet there is no discussion of using funds from those properties to make atonement or restitution with victims of abuse at the hands of clergy. The property which was home to the former Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Burlington is worth millions. Proceeds from its sale should be used to assist former orphanage residents, to make their lives better, as so many of us were unable to meet our potential due to the way we were abused by clergy during our childhoods.
It is also clear to us that the diocese likely paid millions of dollars to attorneys in its effort to avoid atonement for its sins against victims such as the children of St. Joseph’s Orphanage. I call on you to immediately disclose the amount of money the diocese used to line the pocket of its legal teams, as it should have gone to victims instead.
In the 1990s, Bishop Kenneth Angell settled with many orphanage survivors for the paltry sum of $5,000, and forced them to sign non-disclosure agreements in order to get the funds. Ironically, Bishop Angell was forcing the diocese’s own victims to become part of its cover-up. Many of us were not financially stable at the time and agreed under duress to Bishop Angell’s dictates. Bishop Coyne, you have waived the non-disclosure agreement. Now you need to acknowledge that the abuse suffered by children at the orphanage was worth far more than the $5,000 you paid victims, and re-open that part of the agreements.
I believe that your false statements regarding available funds and your inability to make restitution to abuse victims at the orphanage defy the eighth commandment, which calls for God’s people to be truthful. Clearly, the diocese is more concerned about the almighty dollar than it is about following the will of Almighty God. The only reason that funds are restricted is because the diocese itself restricted them to avoid accountability for abuse by clergy, caused by negligence by the diocese.
Clearly, you and other Catholic leaders are waiting this out, so that your responsibility to victims will disappear when we die. It’s time for the diocese to be accountable for its sins, as it requires the Catholic faithful to do. Please help us while we are still alive.
In 2019 you released a report finally identifying abusive priests from Vermont. You called their sins the “sins of the past.” But, Catholic Bishops nationwide recently released a report saying that there had been 4220 reports of abuse by clergy in the United States during the year ending June 30, 2021. And God only knows how many abuses went unreported. Please stop misleading Vermonters with slogans from lawyers and public relations people. These are not the sins of the past. Your experience as a spokesman for former Cardinal Bernard Law, the mastermind of the Boston clergy sex abuse cover-up, makes you especially adept at public relations. I wish you cared as much about doing the right thing.
All of us will be accountable to God for our actions on Earth. Remember Bishop Coyne, whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, that you do unto me. I hope that during the Christmas season you can find it in your heart to do right by victims of clergy abuse.
LGBTQ Catholics are more than welcome to participate in the prayer, discernment and discussion process leading up to the celebration of the assembly of the world Synod of Bishops in 2023, a synod official said.
Thierry Bonaventura, communication manager of the synod’s general secretariat, formally apologized for his decision in early December to remove from a website of synod resources a video of an October seminar on the synod prepared by New Ways Ministry, an unofficial Catholic group that advocates for LGBTQ Catholics.
In an article in the December newsletter of the Synod of Bishops, Bonaventura published his apology under the title, “Children of a Lesser God?”
“Walking together also means knowing how to apologize,” he wrote.
“In recent days, I have personally taken the initiative to de-publish a post” by New Ways Ministry “for internal procedural reasons,” he said, without further explanation. “This brought pain to the entire LGBTQ community, who once again felt left out.”
The link to the New Ways video was restored to the synod resources page Dec. 12 and a letter from an Italian LGBTQ group encouraging participation in the synod process was added.
In posting the materials, Bonaventura said, “I feel that I must apologize to all LGBTQ people and to the members of New Ways Ministry for the pain caused.”
The restoration of the video and the posting of the Italian letter, he said, shows “the firm will — not only mine but of the entire general secretariat of the synod — not to exclude those who wish to carry out this synodal process with a sincere heart and a spirit of dialogue and real discernment.”
“LGBTQ groups and those groups who feel they live on the ‘margins’ of the church can direct their contributions, resources or what they want to share with the whole people of God to email@example.com,” he said.
The EWTN-owned Catholic News Agency had reported Dec. 7 that Bonaventura had removed the video link.
“Even if we are open to receiving any useful resources without a particular censoring of the material, it is our desire to welcome inputs from officially recognized organizations by the Catholic Church,” Bonaventura had told CNA. “In this case, my team was not aware of the situation of the New Ways organization and of the clarification given by the USCCB president in 2010.”
Bonaventura was referring to a statement by the late Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago, then president of the U.S. bishops conference, saying that, “like other groups that claim to be Catholic but deny central aspects of church teaching, New Ways Ministry has no approval or recognition from the Catholic Church and that they cannot speak on behalf of the Catholic faithful in the United States.”
The occasion of the statement, the cardinal had said, was that “New Ways Ministry has recently criticized efforts by the church to defend the traditional definition of marriage as between one man and one woman and has urged Catholics to support electoral initiatives to establish same-sex ‘marriage.’”
The National Catholic Reporter reported Dec. 8 that in May and again in June, New Ways Ministry received letters from Pope Francis thanking them for their outreach.