Statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry
While I am in no position to comment on the veracity of Archbishop Carlo Vigano’s recent claims about what Pope Francis and other church officials knew about various cases of clergy sexual abuse, after reading his statement, his emphasis that all of the Catholic Church’s current problems on supposed “homosexual networks” within the Church and also with Pope Francis reads like classic scapegoating. The sex abuse crisis in the church is so extensive and complex that simplistic explanations of one or two root causes should immediately raise a red flag. The fact that gay clergy are once again being scapegoated, after their influence on the abuse crisis has for so long been disproved, should be a cause of great alarm to all those who want to find real solutions to these problems.
Archbishop Vigano offers no hard evidence of the supposed “homosexual networks,” and relies instead on hearsay and with an expectation that his words will be accepted as truth. His stories, however, read more like gossip than like an accurate reporting of facts.
The simple fact is that as long as Catholic Church officials continue their negative evaluations of LGBT people, and particularly of gay clergy, they allow scurrilous accusations to be hurled about because there is no way that they can be proved or disproved. Accusing a church leader of homosexuality or being part of a “homosexual network” becomes an easy way to destroy a cleric’s reputation and trustworthiness by creating a cloud of suspicion and duplicity around the victim of these accusations.
Institutional homophobia encourages silence and secrecy harms individuals, as well as the whole community. It provides a breeding ground for conspiracy theories and unproven allegations. If the Church’s leadership wants to purge any supposed gay lobby, they should purge silence, secrecy, and homophobia from the Church.
Vigano’s method of argument exhibits classic conspiracy theory tactics: invent an enemy, which is invisible, which is infiltrating from the inside, but which can’t be proved or disproved. The suggestion creates fear and suspicion, but worse, it characterizes the selected group as evil, manipulative, and duplicitous.
Conspiracy theories pop up when one side of a discussion (in this case, Catholics who do not want change) feels as if they are losing the argument. It is simply a way to discredit the other side and to try to offer an alternative explanation of why the argument is being lost–instead of just relying on logic and rational discourse. It is a tactic used from ancient times to contemporary politics.
The timing and method of release of this document is also somewhat suspicious. Why did the archbishop release his accusations during the pope’s visit to Ireland, and why did he so by releasing it to two extremely conservative Catholic outlets? From Vigano’s own account, he supposedly had all of this information for a long time. Why release it at this specific moment if it were not intended to be primarily defamatory, not as a serious contribution to a serious discussion?
Far from saying anything definitive about either clergy sex abuse or gay men in the upper ranks of the hierarchy, Vigano’s statement reveals more about the intramural fights and politics at the Vatican. It reads like a sad story of intrigue and alliances. It shows that church leaders are unable to communicate or get along with one another.
While I would never want to discourage a church official from coming forth with hard evidence about abuse or cover-ups, it is clear that Vigano’s method of reporting these supposed accusations is a textbook case in what not to do.
Vigano’s document reads not like it was authored by someone interested in solving the Church’s sex abuse crisis, but as someone who is attacking a pope whose church policies he opposes.
But it is even more dangerous than that. For close to 20 years, we have endured the unfounded claim that gay men in the priesthood is the root cause of the sex abuse problem. [For the latest professional refutations of this claim, click here.] In this new document, Vigano goes one step further and tries to pin the blame of the cover-ups on the supposed “homosexual network” in the Vatican.
This sad and sorry account only succeeds in smearing people’s reputations. It does not help the church. Instead, it tries to roll back any positive steps that Pope Francis has taken in opening up the church conversation on LGBT issues, particularly in regard to his appointment of bishops.
Such ugly chapters in church discourse would end if the Catholic hierarchy would have an open discussion of LGBT issues and if it would allow gay men in the priesthood and hierarchy to live open and free lives. The time for manipulative secrecy about abuse and about clergy sexuality is long past.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, August 26, 2018