A Catholic priest who was subjected to homophobic attacks has been cleared of accusations leveled against him by a handful of right-wing Catholics.
The Archdiocese of Miami’s two month investigation of Fr. Pedro Corces found that “no sexual impropriety had occurred,” according to the Miami Herald. Archbishop Thomas Wenski notified parishioners of the findings through a July 5 letter, in which he noted:
“During these past weeks and days, I have received many letters from many people telling what a positive influence Father Corces and his ministry have played in their lives. Father has many gifts to share with God’s people but running a parish does not seem to be one of them.”
However, the archbishop did criticize Corces’ management style, saying the priest created the “perception among some of inappropriate behavior.” Wenski said that Corces will be re-assigned to non-administrative ministry, which the archbishop said was the priest’s request.
The controversy around Corces arose when a small group of right-wing parishioners and school parents at St. Rose of Lima Church, Miami Shores, accused him of, among other improprieties, having relationships with four male individuals that included a deacon and a maintenance worker at the church and school.
Organized under the name “Christifidelis,” the accusing group made their attacks in a 129-page report, compiled after a private investigator stalked the priest for weeks. That report included repeated derogatory phrases against parish personnel, at one point calling maintenance workers at the parish “promiscuous gay practitioners.” Wenski called this report “false” and “old, long discredited gossip” in May, but still asked Corces to resign then, which the priest did, despite grassroots support from friends, parishioners, and other Catholics in the area.
Silvia Muñoz, a friend of Corces since 1987 and who previously said the priest “embodies mercy,” offered an important note in the Miami Herald about the priest’s attackers. Just ten families in a parish of 2,000 families constituted Christifidelis, or less than 0.5%, and the leader of the attacks against Corces was not a parishioner.
Muñoz’s point clarifies further that this attack was not about accountability in the church, but about the ability of some Catholics’ harmful prejudices to go unchecked in the church. Failure to address sexuality in healthy and honest ways means it remains a weapon that can be used against church workers and all Catholics whose sexual identity causes them to be marginalized. So-called evidence gathered through questionable and invasive means becomes the fodder from which self-appointed moralists launch their attacks.
The increasing assault on church workers has infected every level of the U.S. church, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops which fired a top official last spring for simply tweeting about LGBT issues. More than 60 church workers have lost their jobs since 2008, often because they were forcibly outed.
Wenski recently made news by denying that church teaching on gay issues played any role in the homophobia which motivated the Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub. Last month, in a homily tied to the U.S. bishops’ “Fortnight for Freedom,” the archbishop essentially denied homophobia in the church. He said nowhere in Catholic teaching “do we target and breed contempt for any group of people,” ignoring the harmful language church leaders and documents employ against LGBT people. Wenski even criticized his peer, Bishop Robert Lynch of St. Petersburg, for admitting the church’s complicity anti-LGBT prejudices which led to the Orlando mass shooting in which 49 people were killed at an LGBT nightclub.
Reconciliation is much needed in the parish, the school, and the archdiocese. Wenski prayed for such reconciliation in his letter to parishioners, but prayer must be complemented by action Wenski could use the painful incident involving Fr. Corces to bring about healing. Following Pope Francis’ recommendation, the archbishop could offer an apology to LGBT people and others the church has harmed, including its own ministers. He could affirm the church’ teachings against LGBT discrimination. He could support Fr. Corces by publicly standing with him in his next assignment, as a way to show that attacks on church workers, LGBT or otherwise, will not be tolerated.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry