News: Fr. Bryan Massingale, a Black, gay priest and theologian at @FordhamNYC dreams of a church that celebrates and embraces LGBTQ people. An incredible talk given to LGBTQ students from Jesuit colleges and universities…. https://t.co/oa1ec2feFQ
As a child in inner-city Milwaukee, Father Bryan Massingale’s grandmother gave him a leather-bound copy of The New Webster Encyclopedic Dictionary of the English Language, along with a dream that he might need it someday.
“My grandmother was not delusional. She did not live in denial of reality,” said Massingale, a Jesuit priest who holds an endowed chair in ethics at Fordham University, in New York City. “Her gift was a vision, an act of hope. It was a dream, a hope, a reminder that the neighborhood, with its drugs, violence and rodent-infested corner store with overpriced goods, did not define or limit who I could be.”
That’s important to know, he declared, since he was speaking as “a Black, gay priest and theologian” at Fordham’s recent Ignatian Q Conference for LGBTQ students from Jesuit campuses. This event was a “space for our dreaming, for queer dreams” of hope for “despised and disdained and stigmatized peoples,” he added.
“I dream of a church where gay priests and lesbian sisters are acknowledged as the holy and faithful leaders they already are,” he said, in a published version of his address. “I dream of a church where LGBTQ employees and schoolteachers can teach our children, serve God’s people and have their vocations, sexuality and committed loves affirmed. …
“I dream of a church that enthusiastically celebrates same-sex loves as incarnations of God’s love among us.”
Theological visions of this kind inspire hope for some Catholics and concern for others.
Thus, the North American phase of the Vatican’s global Synod on Synodality found “strong tensions within the Church,” while participants in the virtual assemblies also “felt hope and encouragement and a desire for the synodal process to continue,” according to the 36-page report (.pdf here) released on April 12 by U.S. and Canadian Catholic leaders.
Catholics are “called to act co-responsibly in a synodal fashion, not to wait until we know how to do everything perfectly, but to walk together as imperfect people,” said one group, in its summary of the process. Another group added: “When Church structures and practices are dynamic and able to move with the Holy Spirit, everyone is able to ‘use their gifts in service of the Church and of each other.'”
Calling for “greater inclusivity and welcome” within the church, the final report said this was especially true with “women, young people, immigrants, racial or linguistic minorities, LGBTQ+ persons” and “people who are divorced and remarried without an annulment.”
But the report also warned about the “danger of false or unrealistic expectations regarding what the synodal process is meant to be and to ‘produce,’ since people living in “North American culture” tend to focus on “measurable results and … winners and losers.” Some participants, for example, questioned calls for “radical inclusion,” while asking about the “pastoral and even doctrinal implications” of that term.
The explosive nature of these debates jumped into the news weeks later when the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in New York hosted, next to a side altar, a “God is Trans” exhibit.
In his written explanation of his art, Adah Unachukwu said this display “maps the queer spiritual journey” through “Sacrifice, Identity and Communion.” There is, he added, “no devil; just past selves” and “Communion rounds out the spiritual journey, by placing God and the mortal on the same plane.”
After seeing headlines, Archdiocese of New York officials promised to investigate the exhibit at the Paulist Fathers parish. The congregation also offers, on its website, an “Out at St. Paul” ministry to the “Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans and Queer community.”
Media reports early this week noted that parish leaders changed the name of this art exhibit, but that it remained in place.
Massingale delivered his Fordham address before that controversy. However, he did stress that Catholics must dare to share dreams of change – even those with “an inherently subversive quality” – while seeking a “new and more just social order.”
Referring to the “wedding banquet at Cana,” when Jesus turned water into wine, the Jesuit theologian called for a changed church in which “people of all races, genders and sexualities rejoice at the presence of love” and a world in which “spiritual wounds will be healed, where faith-based violence will be no more, where fear and intolerance are relics of history.”
The number of victims of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Poland between 1944 and 1990 may be close to 1,100, with the number of abusers close to 300.
Those are, however, not the official findings of the church in Poland. On March 15, the bishops announced they will create a commission of experts to investigate past cases of abuse of minors by clergy in the country.
The numbers come from two journalists with Poland’s Rzeczpospolita journal, Tomasz Krzyzak and Piotr Litka, that published an investigation May 18 on the scale of sexual abuse in the church in Poland between 1944 and 1989.
“We did a very simple thing that is easily accessible to any public institution in the country — we looked at the state archives of communist-ruled Poland that are stored today in the Institute of National Remembrance and the so-called ‘New’ National Archives,” Tomasz Krzyzak, national editor of Rzeczpospolita and co-author of the investigation, told OSV News.
Krzyzak and Litka found 121 cases of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church that were investigated by state courts, and 72 of these cases ended with a state conviction. Other clergy, including priests and clerics, escaped punishment by signing an agreement to cooperate with the regime’s security service.
“There were ‘ordinary priests,’ of course, among the abusers, but also highly respected names of university professors, authors and translators of books, builders of sanctuaries, social activists, famous researchers of the Bible or Catholic editors,” Krzyzak told OSV News. “I saw their case’s archives, and it’s not a pleasant read, especially the testimonies of the victims.”
Abusers identified by Krzyzak and Litka abused as many as 520 people, as one person abused four to five people, based on statistics. Why 1,100 victims then? The authors added to the cases investigated by the state that they researched — the number of cases listed in the initial survey published by the bishops’ conference in 2019 and supplemented in 2021. The church investigation listed 177 cases, which multiplied by a statistical number of victims of every priest gave a total number of close to 1,100 people abused between 1944 and 1989 in an investigation published May 18.
“We assumed that some of these cases — investigated by the state and reported to the church — might overlap and included that in our statistics,” Krzyzak said.
“Reading those findings raises a question whether a serious correction of the image of the church in communist times will be necessary,” Jesuit Father Adam Zak, coordinator of child protection issues in the Polish bishops’ conference, told Rzeczpospolita, highlighting the fact that by covering up abuse “the church has failed in matters that strictly belong to the mission entrusted to it by Jesus.”
Only one religious out of the 72 priests convicted by the state was removed from the clerical state and one seminarian convicted was removed from the seminary.
“Others were not punished in any way by their church institutions,” Krzyzak told OSV News.
A few were even listed in historical publications released after the fall of communism as those “repressed by the regime.” “Some of them have plaques praising them around the country,” Krzyzak said.
“For decades we have been blind to the suffering of those harmed. Once again, I want to apologize for that. I hope that the research of independent experts will help the church in Poland to deal honestly with the past,” Archbishop Wojciech Polak of Gniezno, delegate to the Polish bishops’ conference’s Office of Child Protection, said in a statement May 18.
It took two journalists nine months to do an investigation that experts and survivors of sexual abuse in Poland were urging the church to commission in the last four years. In 2019, the “Tell No One” documentary was released, representing a “Spotlight” moment for the church in Poland. “Spotlight” was the name of the investigative team that, in 2002, uncovered the abuse scandal in the U.S. Catholic Church and became a reference point for journalists across the globe.
“The investigation published today is maybe for some only the statistics, but for me as a survivor it is like circles of hell,” Robert Fidura, a survivor of clerical sexual abuse in Poland, told OSV News.
“I want to thank the journalists for their work and determination,” he said, adding that what struck him most was the indifference of the church. “Criminals were protected and presented as heroes to society. Protecting them by the church looks like copying the methods of the communist regime.”
The regime at the beginning, in the 1950s and 1960s, was eager to punish sexual abusers. But in the 1970s and 1980s, “the regime wanted to let the priests go back to their parishes, because the communists had a goal of destroying the church, not protecting the children,” Krzyzak said.
On the other hand, there were priests who cooperated with the regime, and some of them became bishops. Historians indicate that, throughout the years, they slowed down the process of investigating the difficult past and were reluctant to open archives. “We can see today that the lack of lustration (inspection of the past) in the church has frozen the process of purification from crimes of exploiting minors,” Michal Szuldrzynski, the editor of Rzeczpospolita, wrote in his editorial May 18.
Krzyzak admitted the cases he saw were painful to read about. “One 13-year-old girl died delivering a baby conceived by rape of a priest in 1950s. I must say this case was the most horrific of all those we researched.”
“It is necessary to combine the knowledge revealed by the journalists with the knowledge from the church archives, which will give a more complete picture of how the church was reacting,” Father Piotr Studnicki, head of the Office of Child Protection of the Polish bishops’ conference, told OSV News.
“In all this horrific data, one thing is hopeful — that now we know that our most important perspective should be the victim’s perspective,” Father Studnicki told OSV News.
Father Studnicki said that the fact that journalists revealed data that could have been revealed easily by the church reminds him of what Pope Francis said in his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”). “Sometimes the bishop as a shepherd will go in front of his people, to show the way, but sometimes as the Holy Father writes, he will have to follow the flock, allowing the flock to strike out on new paths,” Father Studnicki said. “This is exactly what happened.”
“Giving a statistical number and showing the scale of abuse is important,” Krzyzak said, stressing that it closes a certain chapter “and allows the church to move forward and invest in safeguarding.”
On April 14, Rzeczpospolita issued the results of a survey showing that more than 50% of Poles want the church to inform the public about what they have to offer to survivors and how they can be helped. Fifty-five percent said the church should look for survivors and set informational campaigns to help them report. At the same time, 58.6% thought the church in Poland is not doing enough to help victims of clerical sexual abuse.
“We took the survey seriously and started a countrywide information campaign on how to report abuse. We asked every bishop to inform every parish to make sure the parishioners know how and when to report and that we’re willing to listen,” Father Studnicki told OSV News.
The church in Poland has come a long way since 2019, setting up reporting and safeguarding policies, creating an Office of Child Protection with the primate of Poland, Archbishop Polak, as its leader. It also runs St. Joseph Foundation, which finances therapy for clergy sex abuse victims and offers grants both for survivors — helping them to pick up the pieces of their lives — and academics for research. The foundation was created in October 2019, five months after the premiere of “Tell No One” and is financed by obligatory contributions of all Polish Catholic priests.
Father Studnicki said that all those initiatives have accelerated addressing the issue since 2019. But something that is still missing is taking a look at the difficult past.
“The church, as every community, is a community of pride and shame,” he said. “We are proud of many of our heroic pastors. But in the case of many, we are ashamed, and we bear responsibility for the future. If we don’t embrace it — it will only mean we escape the truth.”
Following the publication of a report by the Spanish newspaper El País that documented the serial sexual abuse of 89 victims committed in Bolivia by a Jesuit priest, new accusations have been made against other priests.
The scandal came to light when the nephew of the deceased Spanish Jesuit priest, Alfonso Pedrajas Moreno, found a diary among his personal effects that reveals the acts of abuse. The diary also showed that the Jesuit authorities were aware of the abuse and covered it up.
Both the Society of Jesus and the Bolivian government are pursuing the new cases.
In the last week, a complaint of abuse and rape was filed with the Bolivian public prosecutor’s office against Jesuit Father Luis María Roma Padrosa while Archbishop Alejandro Mestre, also a Jesuit, was accused of sexual abuse in a second complaint.
Both complaints were filed by former Jesuit provincial Osvaldo Chirveches.
“There are two cases that we had already investigated, we have already received the response from the General Curia and we have already published the results,” Chirveches explained. The next step is for the prosecutor’s office to work with the material from these investigations.
Mestre, who died in 1988, was secretary general of the Bolivian Bishops’ Conference in the 1980s, auxiliary bishop of Sucre (1976–1982), and later coadjutor archbishop of the capital La Paz (1986–1987).
The case against Roma came to light in 2019 through an investigation by the Spanish EFE news agency.
Although the number of victims is not known, Roma was accused of abusing minors between the ages of 7 and 12 in the town of Charagua, in eastern Bolivia. The complaint was supported by photographic records that were owned by the priest.
According to the Bolivian newspaper Página Siete (Page Seven), the case wasn’t reported to the public prosecutor’s office for four years: ”Neither the Church nor the State launched a public investigation or judicial proceedings.”
The Jesuits in Bolivia issued a statement May 14 detailing the steps taken in Roma’s case following the allegations presented to them in February 2019 by an EFE agency journalist.
The Society of Jesus stated that after receiving the photographic material now in the hands of the public prosecutor’s office — a preliminary investigation was initiated and an investigative commission was formed that decided to suspend the accused from the public exercise of the priestly ministry and remove him from all contact with minors.
The investigative commission conducted interviews, inspections, reviewed documents, and had a psychiatric evaluation performed. It also provided a format to hear possible complaints from victims, but none were received.
Once the investigation was completed, the final report was sent along with all the documentation to the General Curia of the Society of Jesus in Rome for study and consultation with the Congregation (now the Dicastery) for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In September 2022, the plausibility of the allegations was determined.
To date, the Jesuits explained, no complaints or testimonies from victims in the Roma case have been received, and so they reiterated the request to those who may have information about the case to file the complaint with the public prosecutor’s office.
The Jesuits also expressed their availability to care for the victims and provide the necessary accompaniment.
Role of the Bolivian government
In a press conference, the attorney general of the State of Bolivia, Juan Lanchipa, acknowledged that eight complaints have been received. Besides Pedrajas, Roma, and Mestre, the Jesuits Luis Tó and Antonio Gausset were named.
The attorney general reported that all cases deal with accusations of sexual abuse and expressed his concern about the “negligence that this Catholic organization has had by not reporting these incidents in a timely manner” and not providing protection to the accused.
For his part, the general prosecutor of Bolivia, Wilfredo Chávez, said that “there is a duty to history and to the victims” to investigate sexual abuse committed by clergymen and the “systematic cover-up.”
The Bolivian attorney general’s office has recently requested the collaboration of the Spanish state attorney general’s office to dig deeper into the investigation. This is because in Bolivia the statute of limitations for crimes has not expired, and “the Inter-American Court has determined that, in these cases, rape is equivalent to crimes against humanity.”
What is sought with this collaboration is to be able to have access to the investigative material obtained by El País through the nephew of Pedrajas and even to the diary itself, where the priest acknowledged the abuse.
The president of Bolivia, Luis Arce, condemned what has taken place, called for “severely punishing” cases of pedophilia in the Jesuit order and urged “all agencies required by law to investigate.”
With under six months to go before a parliamentary election that is expected to be closely fought, a surprise figure has entered the Polish political field, despite the fact he died in 2005: Pope John Paul II.
Poland, historically staunchly Catholic, has slowly been coming to terms with the scale of historical sexual abuse in the church, but until recently the figure of John Paul II, whom many Poles revere for his role in the ending of communist rule in the country, has remained untouchable.
That convention has been upturned by allegations in a documentary aired on Polish television station TVN earlier this year, and a concurrent book by the Dutch journalist Ekke Overbeek, who has lived in Poland for more than two decades and written extensively on child abuse in the Polish church.
Overbeek said he found documents in the archives of the communist-era security services that prove beyond doubt that the sexual abuse of children by priests was an issue during Wojtyła’s tenure as archbishop of Kraków, and that the future pope helped to cover it up.
“It’s obvious from the documents that he knew about the abuse. He reacted to it by allowing the priests to continue their ministry. He was very forgiving towards the priests, whereas no evidence shows that he ever gave attention to the victims,” said Overbeek, in an interview at a Warsaw cafe.
The response to the allegations has been one of denial and fury. Two public events to promote the book were cancelled by the publishers, citing security fears after a sustained campaign against Overbeek in government media.
In the Polish parliament, the Sejm, MPs from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party arrived for a session in March holding photographs of the late pope, and passed a resolution to defend his name.
“The Sejm … strongly condemns the shameful media campaign, based largely on the materials of the communist apparatus of violence, whose object is the Great Pope – Saint John Paul II, the greatest Pole in history,” the resolution read.
Wojtyła was born in the town of Wadowice in 1920; he was ordained in 1946 and made archbishop of Kraków in the early 1960s. He would become the first non-Italian pope for more than four centuries, and made several visits back to Poland as pontiff. He was widely credited with galvanising opposition to communist rule and continued as pope until his death in 2005.
“I was very upset when I watched the documentary,” said Sławomir Abramowski, the 58-year-old priest in charge of a parish named after John Paul II in Bemowo, a neighbourhood of Warsaw. The church was built shortly after the church canonised John Paul II in 2014, and has a portrait of the late pope close to the altar no smaller than the images of Jesus.
The documentary used a “crude manipulation of the facts” to smear John Paul II, said Abramowski, who credited the late pope with inspiring him to join the church in the early 1990s, after he had trained as a doctor.
Among his congregation on a recent Sunday, when the church was full for mass and worshippers listened via speakers in an overflow area outside, there was a mood of defiance.
Kamila, a 38-year-old woman carrying a baby, claimed John Paul II was a “huge opponent of paedophilia” and said the accusations were political. “The aim of this game is to discourage people from going to church, to destroy Polish identity and to repel people from family values.”
Barbara, a 70-year-old worshipper, said it was unfair to make accusations against someone who was dead and thus could not defend himself. “The ones who accused him should think about their conscience. I think they might have had problems in their childhood and have been doing this to boost their deficient self-worth,” she said.
This strength of feeling helps explain why PiS have seized on the topic, before parliamentary elections in October that are delicately poised. A PiS-led coalition has ruled Poland since 2015, and draws much of its support from a rural, staunchly Catholic electorate.
Mateusz Klinowski, the former mayor of Wojtyła’s hometown, Wadowice, and an outspoken critic of the church, said he had no doubt the allegations against John Paul II were true.
“Among educated people, it’s been obvious for a long time that he was covering it up, but of course for politicians it’s a sweet piece of cake for preparing their campaigns,” he said.
Jacek Karnowski, the editor-in-chief of the pro-government Sieci magazine, said he expected the pope’s legacy to be one of three key issues the government would focus on in the upcoming election campaign, along with cost of living and the war in Ukraine.
“They know that on the abortion issue, the majority is against them so they stay silent. But 74% of Poles say John Paul II is an authority so this is very fertile ground for the government,” he said.
In early April, thousands of people joined marches in Warsaw and other cities to defend the pope’s name, including the defence minister and the head of the constitutional court.
Karnowski claimed the whole scandal had been part of a “political attack” on John Paul II coordinated by the liberal opposition to PiS, but others say that the opposition has been blindsided by the allegations and is trying to stay neutral, aware of how sensitive the issue is. A poll also showed that nearly half of Poles said they would not want to hear allegations against John Paul II even if they were true.
Even the editor-in-chief of Wyborcza, Poland’s leading liberal newspaper, has said it would be wrong to discredit the Pope’s historical role. “Wojtyła was a child of his time. And what is obvious to us today was not obvious 40 years ago,” said Adam Michnik, in an interview published in his own newspaper.
John Paul II’s papacy, which lasted more than a quarter of a century, coincided with the first public scandals about sexual abuse in the Catholic church, which have since broken in numerous countries. Often, culprits were simply moved to different parishes rather than banned from practicing or reported to police.
“Ever since these scandals broke, the question has always been ‘How much did the pope know?’” said Overbeek. “The answer was in Poland, and now we have the answer. He was aware of this issue from the very beginning.”
It is a conclusion that a lot of people in Poland don’t want to hear, fearing the accusations could undermine John Paul II’s role as part of Polish history and his reputation as one of the key figures in the defeat of communism.
“Poland doesn’t have many recent characters we can use as role models. That’s why people are so eager to defend him,” said Klinowski.
A South American bishop has called for “optional celibacy” for priests in the wake of revelations that a gay Jesuit missionary sexually abused about 85 boys.
Bishop Eugenio Cóter suggested the rule of priestly celibacy contributed to the abuse of scores of adolescents by Fr Alfonso Pedrajas, a Spanish priest who died in 2009, and said that “changes must be made” in the Church.
A sexual relationship allows for “an integration of the affective, sexual, bodily dimension”, the Bishop of Pando and head of the Communication Commission of the Bolivian Bishops’ Conference told Erbol radio.
He said an end to compulsory celibacy could be a “helpful element” in preventing sexual abuse by the clergy in cases where there were “no predispositions”.
His remarks will inevitably cause controversy because they implicitly endorse same-sex sexual relationships given that Fr Pedrajas was an actively gay man who spent the last four years of his life with his boyfriend.
In support of his argument, according to Catholic News Agency, Bishop Cóter alluded to debates that took place on celibacy within the framework of the 2019 Amazon Synod.
He also referred to the controversial German Synodal Way, which in March backed the ordination of women as deaconesses, the blessing of homosexual unions, and the normalisation of lay preaching at Mass, among other proposed innovations.
Bishop Cóter said: “So it is a subject that is there on the table for reflection that will arrive in Rome in October, with the bishops, the delegates of the bishops of the world in this synodal path that is taking place.”
The abuse crimes perpetrated over decades by Fr Pedrajas came to light after his lover sent a DVD of computer files to the missionary’s brother, who printed them out and kept them in a box.
The priest’s nephew found the diary in the attic and took them to El Pais, the Spanish national newspaper, which published them last month as the “Diary of a Paedophile Priest”.
Fr Pedrajas, who spent most of his life working at a secondary school for children of poor families, where he was known as “Padre Pica”, admits in his writings that “my biggest personal failure [was] without a doubt the pederasty”, which he said began in 1964, and that “I hurt so many people (85?). Too many.”
The revelations have prompted a national investigation in Bolivia and sanctions against eight Jesuits who allegedly knew of abuse but covered it up.
Father Pedrajas’s diary “recounts how the Jesuit order, including at least seven provincial superiors and a dozen Bolivian and Spanish clergymen, covered up his crimes, along with the complaints of several victims”, according to El Pais.
Father Bernardo Mercado, the Jesuit Bolivian provincial, has suspended his predecessors as the investigation gets under way.
El País also said that the late Father José Arroyo, SJ, a priest who assisted in the formation of the future Pope Francis, prepared Fr Pedrajas for his tertianship in 1978 and downplayed the gravity of his abuse when the priest confessed his sins to him.
In his notes on his conversations with his superior Fr Pedrajas makes such statements as: “I shouldn’t feel like a repentant sinner” … “nothing is going to happen to me” … “[these are] isolated cases”.
Priestly celibacy is a discipline of the Latin Church which has emerged from hundreds of years of tradition. It can be changed, though the popes, including Francis, have shown no inclination to do so.