A public debate among some of Switzerland’s Catholic leaders has emerged after one auxiliary bishop made a strong comment blaming gay priests for the clergy sexual abuse crisis.
Tages Anzeiger, a Swiss newspaper, reported that Claudius Luterbacher, the chancellor of the St. Gallen Diocese, has spoken out against the anti-gay comment made by Auxiliary Bishop Marian Eleganti of the Chur Diocese. In a separate article, the same newspaper reported on an interview that Eleganti had given to Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) during the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, in which he said that in the Pennsylvania report “90 percent [fo the cases] are directly related to homosexuality” and that much of the abuse detailed in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report is “related to a homosexual disposition and inclination.”
The St. Gallen Diocese Facebook page contained the following statement:
“We disagree with and clearly distance ourselves from the statement of Auxiliary Bishop Marian Eleganti. It is unbearable that the subject of the [clergy] attacks is linked to the topic of homosexuality. Such a statement is the opposite of reputable efforts to prevent sexual assault in the future and to process the bad things done to victims. And especially it hurts homosexual people in their dignity, that’s unacceptable.”
[Editor’s note: All of the sources were originally written in Swiss German. The texts in this post are computer translations. We welcome any refinements from German speakers.]
The Basel Diocese Facebook page reposted the St. Gallen statement in support of their position.
Luterbacher gave an interview with Tages Anzeiger in which he explained why it was important to publicly contradict Eleganti. He explained:
Whoever makes this connection [between homosexualitly and clergy sex abuse] distracts from the topic. It’s about sexual assault in the Catholic Church, abuse of power – not homosexuality. We must do our utmost to prevent abuses and to clarify the cases that are becoming known. And we have to push ahead with prevention, even though we have already done a lot in this area in the diocese of St. Gallen.
When asked if Eleganti’s statements were harmful, Luterbacher said:
“It can make homosexuals feel discriminated against. It is not up to the church to judge these people. And as I said, it distracts from a topic that is already difficult enough and which we have to discuss with all intensity. That’s where the Catholic Church has to do its homework.”
When asked about the Vatican’s instruction to ban gay men from seminaries and ordination, Luterbacher said:
“When people are interested in church service, we look at the person very closely. It’s not just about whether he completed the right education. Part of a suitable personality is that a candidate has a responsible handling of one’s own physicality and sexuality. This is true for both homosexuals and heterosexuals. It also needs a mature handling of power – and that too is not detached from sexuality. For in pastoral care there are [interpersonal] dependencies such as in social work, at school or in the hospital.”
Tages Anzeiger provided some fact-checking for Eleganti’s claim that the Pennsylvania cases were homosexual in nature. For one thing, they cited a conservative Catholic organization which analyzed the report and said 75% of the cases involved males, mostly teenagers. But the newspaper’s stronger evidence came from the John Jay Report, commissioned by the U.S. bishops after the 2002 abuse crisis:
“The so-called ‘John Jay Report’ from 2011 recorded allegations of abuse against almost 4,400 Catholic priests from 1950 to 2002: ‘The majority of the victims (81 percent) were male, in contrast to the gender distribution of victims of sexual offenses in the United States,’ notes the study notes. In fact, only a small percentage of the accused priests are pedophile [molesting pre-pubescent boys], the study continues.
“However, further findings of the study contradict the view that this is related to homosexual inclinations of the priests: “\’Priests who had same-sex sexual experiences before or during the seminary, (…) would not be more likely to abused minors,’ it says Introduction. Also, clinical data ‘does not support the hypothesis that priests with homosexual identities or those who had same-sex sex with adults sexually abuse children significantly more frequently than those with heterosexual orientation or behavior.’ In terms of sexual identity, the only risk factor is a ‘confused’ sexual identity, the researchers said.”
More recently, a World Meeting of Families panel of four experts who have studied clergy sexual abuse cases, unanimously debunked the idea that gay priests were the cause of the problems. One expert, Professor Gabriel Dy Laco explained that sexual orientation was not a factor and that clergy abuse “is a sexual crime that arises out of a disordered use of power and affection.” If statistics show that a disproportionate number of the victims were male, including post-adolescent males, Dy Laco explained these cases show the abuse to be “a crime of opportunity,” meaning that priests usually have more social and other interactions with boys and men.
The fact that scapegoating gay priests for the sexual abuse crisis has once again become part of the public discussion is a terrible tragedy of prejudice, ignorance, and a search for simple answers. Many commentators have already debunked the idea that gay priests are to blame, citing many other causes for this ecclesial calamity: clericalism, abuse of power, silence, and secrecy.
It is good to see high ranking church officials such as Luterbacher contradicting another church leader when the leader spreads such dangerous falsehoods. We need more leaders, especially bishops, to be willing to do the same whenever homophobia arises in these discussions.
-Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, September 17, 2018