A Florida priest has resigned as the pastor of a Miami church after a small group of parishioners made claims against him, including allegations of inappropriate relationships with adult men.
Fr. Pedro Corces was castigated by right-wing parishioners at St. Rose of Lima parish, Miami Shores, who had organized under the name “Christifidelis.” In a 129-page report, they claimed that, among other improprieties, the priest had relationships with four male individuals, including a deacon and a maintenance worker at the church and school.
A private investigator hired by this small group compiled the report after stalking Corces for weeks, “photographing him, tracking the social media account of the maintenance worker and others, and going through the church rectory trash” according to the Miami Herald. Based on this ‘evidence,’ the report attacked the maintenance employees, too, calling them”promiscuous gay practitioners” among other derogatory phrases.
Archbishop Thomas Wenski defended the pastor in a late May letter to the parish and school communities, though he still asked Corces to resign. Wenski, describing much of the report’s ‘evidence’ as “old, long since discredited gossip” and “false” said the archdiocese would investigate claims the priest hired friends or improperly socialized with employees. But he hit hard against those parishioners who had instigated the incident, writing of them:
“Slanderous gossip, calumny, detraction – all sinful behaviors – have fomented division in the parish and school communities. . .Pray also for the children who have been dis-edified by the spectacle of adults behaving badly.”
Fr. Corces has received support from friends, parishioners, and other Catholics too. Silvia Muñoz, who has known the priest since 1987, wrote in the Miami Herald that Corces “embodies mercy” and those persons attacking him simply seek to “destroy anyone who puts into practice the changes instituted after the Vatican II Council.” Olga del Valle, a former teacher at St. Rose of Lima School who also wrote in the Miami Herald, called Corces “one of the most enlightened and spiritual priests” in the archdiocese. She asked:
“Jesus surrounded himself with prostitutes and tax collectors in order to save them. Could not Father Corces, a compassionate man, have hired such people, considered undesirable by some, for janitorial posts to give them a chance for decent jobs? Is it sinful to have a meal with them as Jesus did?”
These questions expose the harmful prejudices undergirding Christifidelis’ attacks against Fr. Corces. A man having meals or even a close friendship with another man does not signify that either are “promiscuous gay practitioners.” Indeed, charity mandates that it should signify nothing but friendship to the outside observer.
Divisions already existed in the parish after it was announced in January that the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters presently assigned to the school would be reassigned to their motherhouse. Some parents who opposed the decision organized a petition against the Sisters’ departure. The Christifidelis report about Fr. Corces, then, is just the latest sign of division in the parish..
What this case reveals is that as long as sexuality remains a charged, even taboo matter in the church, it can and will become a weapon wielded by those persons seeking to cause harm. More than 60 church workers have lost their jobs since 2008, and in too many of those cases it was inappropriately invasive practices, often coupled with anti-gay animus, that lead to unnecessary and deeply painful incidents like this one. As Bondings 2.0 noted earlier this week, the threat of invasive “snitching” is just one way harm is caused around homosexuality in the priesthood.
Holding church officials accountable is a good and necessary cause, especially by lay people assuming responsibility for our church, but this is not what happened at St. Rose of Lima. Instead, evidence obtained through questionable means has been cobbled together to back homophobic assertions. Reconciliation is needed here, so that the parish can become a place of unity and charity, instead of divisions which cause suspicions.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry