In Pope’s homeland, ex-priest leaves church over gay unions

Former Catholic Priest Andres Gioeni, right, sits with his husband Luis Iarocci and their dog Boris after they got home from the bishopric where he started the process of apostasy in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Wednesday, March 17, 2021. Gioeni, who left the priesthood 20 years ago and married in 2014, said he has decided to formally leave the church after the Vatican decreed that the Catholic Church cannot bless same-sex unions since God ‘cannot bless sin.’

By DÉBORA REY

A former priest and LGBTQ activist who has blessed same-sex unions in Pope Francis’ home country, Argentina, is leaving the Roman Catholic Church after the Vatican issued a pronouncement this week that priests may not perform such blessings.

Andrés Gioeni delivered a letter disavowing his faith to the bishopric in a Buenos Aires suburb on Wednesday, the anniversary of his ordination as a priest in 2000 and two days after the declaration from the Holy See.

“I do not want to continue being an accomplice to this institution, because I realize the harm they are doing to people. I am not renouncing my faith in God but rather I am renouncing a role and a rite,” said Gioeni, 49.

He spoke in an interview with The Associated Press at the home he shares with his husband, 50-year-old Luis Iarocci, and their three dogs, a few blocks from the cathedral in San Isidro north of the capital.

Like other LGBTQ Catholics, Gioeni was shocked by Monday’s proclamation, which argued that clergy members cannot bless same-sex unions on the grounds that they are not part of the divine plan and God “cannot bless sin.”

The Vatican says LGBTQ people should be treated with dignity and respect, but that gay sex is “intrinsically disordered” and same-sex unions are sinful.

The declaration from the Holy See’s orthodoxy office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was authorized by Francis, who prior to assuming the papacy supported legal protection for gay people in civil unions in the country as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires.

“There is no mention in any book (of the Bible) of consensual love between two people of the same sex and God telling them no,” said Gioeni, who has blessed at least four such unions.

Born in Mendoza province some 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) west of Buenos Aires, Gioeni pursued a religious vocation as a young man despite being tormented by doubts about his sexuality. He even “outed” to his superiors three fellow seminarians who had confessed attraction to him.

“All throughout seminary I was terribly homophobic,” Gioeni said. “It was a defense.”

After ordination he rose quickly in the provincial church, while secretly exploring chatrooms for the local gay community. He had his first sexual encounter with another man, broke it off to continue the priesthood, but then saw the man again. Gioeni told the bishop he needed to leave.

The church did not offer him psychological help, just a room next to the organ of the Buenos Aires cathedral where he was to confront his supposed crisis of faith.

“That was my descent into hell. … There I realized that I was considered like the Hunchback of Notre Dame — a defective being who could not go out into the world because he would be criticized and singled out,” Gioeni recalled.

Gioeni’s superiors became aware of his sexual identity in 2003, when he appeared nude on the cover of a gay magazine, and barred him from exercising priestly ministry.

He studied acting and worked as a waiter in a disco, where he met Iarocci. Together for 17 years now, they wed after Argentina became the first Latin American nation to legalize same-sex marriage in 2010.

In recent years Gioeni has become an LGBTQ activist lobbying for a more open Catholic Church.

Severing formal ties with the institution doesn’t change his faith in God, he said.

“I continue believing in God and He will be my God. In that, my spirituality is unchanged,” Gioeni said. “I no longer have a label. ‘What religion are you?’ I believe in God.”

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McAleese criticises pope as populist who raises then dashes hopes

Document on same-sex blessings shows that Pope Francis ‘toes the old hard line’

Mary McAleese spoke of the document’s ‘unbearably vicious language which can only have brought more heartache to our gay children and to us their families.

BY Patsy McGarry

Former president Mary McAleese has criticised Pope Francis as a populist who raises expectations only to dash them, following a Vatican document published on Monday which sustained a ban on same-sex blessings.

She described the document, approved by the pope, as “withering”.

About Francis himself, Ms McAleese said his “chummy words to the press often quite reasonably raise hopes of church reform which are subsequently almost invariably dashed by firm restatements of unchanged church teaching”.

While raising hopes, “he is the pope who toes the old hard line”, she said.

She has also written to Ireland’s Catholic bishops asking that they challenge language used about gay people in the document, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF). She asked “if there is even one among you willing to acknowledge publicly that the language used in this most recent document from CDF is gratuitously cruel in the extreme”.

‘Vicious language’

In the letter to Catholic Primate Archbishop Eamon Martin, she spoke of the document’s “unbearably vicious language which can only have brought more heartache to our gay children and to us their families. Heartache and hurt fired like a missile from the centre of governance of the Church.”

She noted how the church “runs 90 per cent of our primary schools and 50 per cent of our second-level schools” and of “the right of our children not to be exposed to cruelly-worded teachings that conduce to homophobia”.

Referring to Catholic bishops elsewhere, some of whom have taken issue with the language in the CDF document, she asked: “Is there any vestige of such episcopal courage here?”

‘Breathtaking’

Meanwhile, the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP) has said the CDF document is “unfortunate and unwise”, and described as “breathtaking” the certainty with which the CDF assumed “what God can and cannot do” .

The “judgemental and discriminatory statement” left ACP leaders “saddened and disappointed”, and feeling “it is increasingly difficult to remain hopeful of an inclusive church”, they said.

The CDF document said it was “not licit” for Catholic priests to give blessings to same-sex couples as it was “necessary that what is blessed be objectively and positively ordered to receive and express grace , according to the designs of God inscribed in creation, and fully revealed by Christ the Lord”.

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Same-sex marriage exposes ‘cavernous divide’ between Vatican, Catholics

by Cornell University

The Vatican’s orthodoxy office has issued a formal response to a question about whether Catholic clergy have the authority to bless same-sex unions, saying the Catholic Church won’t bless same-sex unions since God “cannot bless sin.”

Landon Schnabel, assistant professor of sociology at Cornell University, says while the Vatican’s announcement is in keeping with the views of the church, it does not reflect the opinions of many everyday Catholics.

Schnabel says:

“The Pope’s pronouncement against same-sex marriage is consistent with Catholic tradition, but inconsistent with Catholic public opinion, especially in countries like the United States where about three in four Catholics support same-sex marriage.

“This distinction highlights the ongoing tension between elite pronouncements from institutional religious leaders and what everyday adherents believe, which is present across religions but is particularly pronounced in Catholicism as a diverse and global religion with one set of official rules from on high and yet a wide range of beliefs and practices on the ground. Especially on issues of gender and sexuality, there is often a cavernous divide between what the Vatican says and what everyday Catholics think and do.”

Kim Haines-Eitzen, professor of religious studies at Cornell University, says the announcement continues a legacy of conflicts over human sexuality.

Haines-Eitzen says:

“Christianity has been interwoven with debates about gender, sexuality, and the human body from the very beginning. The latest news from the Vatican against blessing same-sex unions continues a historical legacy fraught with conflicts over, in particular, human sexuality.

“From its inception, Christians argued about whether it was better to be married or celibate, whether women could hold positions of ecclesiastical authority, and about rules for sexual relations.

“At stake in this long and troubled history is the paradox of tradition, which is at once conservative and dynamic. Church traditions developed in part through the interpretation of biblical texts, the need for church unity in the face of diversity, and increasingly through the establishment of ecclesiastical law. The decree issued today stands in marked tension with recent efforts toward a more inclusive and expansive Catholicism.”

Catholic group opposes Colorado bill that would give child sex abuse survivors the ability to sue their abuser at any time

Lawmakers looking at two bills on topic, one dealing with statute of limitations and another to hold organizations more accountable

By 

For decades, survivors of childhood sexual abuse and their advocates have urged states to let them hold abusers accountable in civil court, no matter how long it’s been since the abuse. A bipartisan bill in the Colorado Legislature to do just that so far appears to have widespread approval, but it’s not without opposition from the Colorado Catholic Conference — a church embroiled in a sex abuse scandal in Colorado, the U.S. and around the world.

There is no expiration date in Colorado to bring criminal charges against a person accused of child sex abuse, but the statute of limitations to sue an individual is only six years after a victim turns 18. Last year’s effort to change the latter failed.

The renewed push to eliminate the statute of limitations for lawsuits against alleged child sex abusers saw an unanimous Senate vote this week — a vote Wheat Ridge Democratic Sen. Jessie Danielson called “historic.” But the bipartisan bill, which now heads to a House committee, doesn’t apply to civil claims that will have already expired by the time it takes effect, which was a sticking point over constitutionality concerns last year.

That’s why lawmakers have introduced a second (also bipartisan) bill to create a new cause of action to allow people abused as children to sue public and private institutions like churches, schools and the Boy Scouts for past abuse that occurred under their watch. Both the Colorado Catholic Conference and the Boy Scouts, which is also facing abuse allegations in the state, are opposed.

Republican Rep. Matt Soper of Delta is one of the sponsors on both bills, partly because one statistic about childhood sexual abuse sticks with him: Victims often don’t disclose the abuse until their 50s.

“And usually, it’s not a one-off instance. It’s usually over and over again by a family member, a close family friend, someone who’s in a position of trust like a teacher or a priest or a club leader, or a trainer,” Soper said. “And it takes years and years for that individual to be able just to share their story.”

That was James “Jeb” Barrett’s experience. The child sexual abuse survivor and leader of the Denver Survivors Network of Those Abused By Priests (or SNAP) chapter grew up in Montana, and said he was sexually abused as a child by multiple adults he trusted — a teacher, an uncle, a priest and Scout leader. His partner, who had also been abused as a child, died by suicide.

It took him until he was 63 to talk about his abuse, he said. He’s now 81, and understands firsthand the effects of childhood trauma, including dealing with addiction.

Other times, the adults in a child’s life don’t believe them, furthering that trauma. On the Senate floor Tuesday, Sen. Brittany Pettersen shared the story of her own mother, who was sexually abused at a young age for years by Pettersen’s grandfather. Pettersen’s mom eventually told her mother, who didn’t believe her daughter.

“This bill is about slightly giving back to ensure (adults abused as children) actually feel for the first time in their life they have the justice they’ve been seeking, the acknowledgement they’ve been seeking for their entire life,” the Lakewood Democrat said.

After years of advocating for policies like the two in front of lawmakers, Barrett said he’s hopeful this time.

“It’s incrementally moving toward the openness, accountability and transparency that we need across the board,” and “justice,” he said.

Support and constitutionality concerns

At least one of the new bills has the support of the Victim Policy Institute, which lobbied heavily against it last year. And, as expected, survivors who’ve advocated for legislation in prior years are back this year, “so their story shapes public policy, so what happened to them doesn’t happen to any other child victim in the future,” said Raana Simmons, director of policy for the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

If Colorado approves an elimination of the statute of limitations for civil claims, it will join 12 other states and the U.S. territory of Guam, according to Philadelphia-based Child USAdvocacy.

Kathryn Robb, executive director of the agency and a survivor herself, testifies in statehouses across the country. She said the country is starting to understand how long it takes to disclose abuse and the effects of this trauma on children’s brains and behavior.

“This is happening all over the country right now … because as a society, we are recognizing the enormous problem we have with child sexual abuse,” she said.

A prime example of the widespread nature of child sex abuse is the allegations against Catholic priests. A recent Colorado investigation revealed accusations against dozens of priests for allegedly sexually abusing at least 212 children over the past 70 years, and the church paid nearly $7 million to victims.

The Colorado Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s three dioceses — Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo — said it has supported unlimited time to seek criminal charges but not, as proposed in the bill, for civil statutes.

In a statement, the group said it supports “reasonable and fair extension of the civil statute of limitations; however, statutes of limitations must have a sensible time limit to ensure due process for all parties involved.”

The Boy Scouts of America also has been dealing with allegations of childhood sexual abuse across the country, with at least 16 Colorado men joining nearly 800 who signed onto a lawsuit in 2019, saying it happened to them when they were scouts. (A Boy Scouts internal investigation found abuse stretching from the 1940s to 2016.)

The Denver Area Council of Boy Scouts of America supports the bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations for civil claims, Scout Executive and CEO Chuck Brasfeild wrote in a statement. But the group is concerned about the other bill — creating a new cause of action against an organization that either knew or should have known about the risks and concealed abuse — which, Brasfeild said, appears to be an unconstitutional overreach.

The Colorado Catholic Conference also opposes that measure, saying: “Passing a bill with constitutional and due process problems does not put victims first. It will only delay opportunities for survivors to receive compensation and not promote true restorative justice. The Catholic Church in Colorado is eager to ensure survivors of abuse receive the support they need for true healing.”

But the bill sponsors say that’s the reason they created the measure — expected to have its first Senate committee hearing next week — so victims can sue abusers and the organizations that protected them regardless of when the abuse happened instead of using what’s referred to as a “lookback window” to revive old claims.

Legislative lawyers said a “lookback window” violates the state’s constitution, according to bill sponsors Commerce City Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet and Soper.

“We really wanted to respect our state’s constitution,” Soper said. “Otherwise, why are we here?”

Ted Trimpa, a Colorado lobbyist for the Victim Policy Institute based in Washington, D.C., had argued against the bill last year, saying it didn’t go far enough without the “lookback window.” He believed Colorado lawmakers should have taken the issue to court because other states have successfully won such challenges.

This year, his organization is reviewing whether it will support the civil cause of action bill and is supporting the statute of limitations bill, Trimpa said.

Danielsen said she is urging lawmakers to “think about the adults who endured this kind of abuse in their past because it was traumatic and caused lifelong damage and pain and suffering” — people who have had to seek treatment for years. It will shift the cost from the victims to the abusers as well as prevent young kids from having to face abusers in criminal court, she said. Instead, parents will be able to pursue civil action on their children’s behalf.

Approving this bill, she added, gives lawmakers the opportunity to “stand on the side of survivors and protect those who can’t protect themselves.”

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