Catholics Reject Bishops’ Claim that Gay Priests a Cause of Sexual Abuse

YesterdayBondings 2.0 covered recent comments by several U.S. bishops that tried to link homosexuality with clergy sexual abuse. Today’s post offers commentaries from Catholics who either pushed back against such bishops or who have offered a more positive assessment about gay priests and the abuse crisis.

Two voices made immediate responses to Madison Bishop Robert Morlino’s letter in which he said gay priests are “wreaking great devastation in the vineyard of the Lord,” according to National Catholic Reporter.

Todd Salzman

Todd Salzman, a theologian at Creighton University, Omaha, rejected attempts to conflate sexual identity and abuse, saying such claims “fundamentally missed the point of power and power structures in the church, and the abuse of power that requires fundamental reform.” The main issue, he said, is the “structural sin of the abuse of power,” not sexual ethics.

Marianne Duddy-Burke

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, called such conflation “a disgusting attempt to reinforce the institutional church’s handwashing of the sex abuse of children.” It comes from Church officials unwilling to “take any responsibility for a problem that lies at their feet.”

Elsewhere, Fr. James Martin, S.J., author of Building a Bridge on LGBT issues in the Church, wrote on the topic of gay priests for America Magazine. Martin acknowledged that in the wake of new sexual abuse revelations Catholics “have a right to be angry,” but he wrote, “the intensity of hate and level of anger directed at gay priests are unprecedented in my memory.” Martin continued:

Fr. James Martin

“This hatred currently being whipped up by a few influential church leaders and commentators will, if unchecked, lead us to a place of great darkness, characterized by an increased hatred for innocent individuals, the condemnation of an entire group of people and a distraction from the real issues underlying this crisis of sexual abuse.

“There are many things that need to be addressed when it comes to clergy sex abuse. . .What is not needed is the demonization of gay priests. What is not needed is more hate.”

Francis DeBernardo

Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, challenged Vatican policies that would bar gay (men from entering seminary. He told Crux:

“‘Anecdotally, what we’re finding is that the policy encourages people to lie. . .If a man feels called to the priesthood, he’ll rationalize that he should not admit his sexuality. . .The institutional leaders want to promote a message that gay men should not exist in the priesthood. . .So they don’t offer healthy, holy examples of gay priests who are living their celibacy in effective ways.'”

During a press briefing at the recent World Meeting of Families in Ireland, DeBernardo asked a panel comprised of an abuse survivor and three experts in the area what they thought of the hypothesis that gay priests were the cause of the abuse.  All four panelists roundly denounced such a theory.)

In an editorial on how Church leaders can respond to the sexual abuse crisis, editors of the National Catholic Reporter addressed Church leaders’ treatment of homosexuality:

“. . . [W]e urge the bishops, the leaders of this church, to refuse and refute the argument rising from those who claim that homosexuality in the priesthood is at the root of the sex abuse problem. The fact — and studies have established the fact — is that the assault of children within the church structure is no more the product of gay culture than the assault of children within families, where most of it occurs, is a product of heterosexual culture. The problem is a sickness, and the most egregious offense to the Catholic community was the bishops’ deliberate strategy to cover up these unfathomable crimes.”

Nathan Schneider

Nathan Schneider, writing in America Magazine, not only rejected false characterizations of gay priests, but positively affirms the role queer folks have played in his faith life:

“[O]ver and over, the people who have saved my faith when it was on the brink happened to be queer folks. I suspect this is not an accident. I cannot be sure, but I expect it was their experience of marginalization and their humanness against it that helped me see where God is. . .The people who have saved my faith when it was on the brink happened to be queer folks.

Schneider added, “In a sense, there is some truth that the problem of abuse has to do with a problem of queer sexuality. It is the problem of a repressed, denialist, immature queerness that discovered itself a little after Vatican II but was not able to go beyond that.”

The question of gay men in the priesthood needs to be resolved soon so that church leaders can focus on the real causes of the abuse crisis, and so that no further harm comes to LGBT people. That is why it is vital for Catholics to speak out publicly about their appreciation of and gratitude for gay priests, countering wherever and however possible the homophobic narratives promoted by Morlino and his peers.

What steps will you take to support gay priests? Share your commitments in the “Comments” section below.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 4, 2018

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