A new right-wing Catholic group has announced its intention to investigate Catholic cardinals ahead of the next papal conclave, saying it will be “noted very carefully” in reports if a cardinal is considered to be gay.
Organizers of “The Better Church Governance Group” (BCGG) launched their initiative this week, ostensibly to help contribute to cleaning up the clergy sexual abuse crisis, yet the effort seems to be aimed more at undercutting Pope Francis and his allies. Crux reported:
“The Red Hat Report, dubbed as the group’s ‘flagship project,’ is designed to audit all 124 current papal electors. Organizers say it will be conducted by a team of, to date, nearly 100 researchers, academics, investigators, and journalists, with the aim ‘to hold the hierarchy of the Catholic Church accountable for abuse and corruption, and to develop and support honesty, clarity, and fidelity in Church governance.’
“In an audio recording obtained by Crux of the event’s launch, Better Church Governance’s Operations Director, Jacob Imam, said the organization was not meant as an attack on Pope Francis, though he asked the crowd of nearly forty attendees: ‘What if we would have had someone else in 2013 who would have been more proactive in protecting the innocent and the young?’
“‘Had we had the Red Hat Report, we may not have had Pope Francis,’ stated one of the slide presentations accompanying his remarks.”
The Report, funded by the BCGG’s $1.1 million dollar budget for its first year, will likely take a gay-negative approach:
“When asked by one attendee if the report would note whether cardinals are homosexual, [Imam] replied that the report would follow civil law as necessary, but it would also follow the Church’s moral law, adding: ‘If there is a rumor of him being homosexual, it will be noted very carefully…but we need to be sure.'”
Each investigation of a specific cardinal will rate him based on how connected they are to scandal and abuse, following investigations by graduate student researchers and 10 FBI investigators, among others. The format is that similar to political opposition research. But despite claims by the BCGG that it is nonpartisan, National Catholic Reporter explained:
“In the final point of their plan, using Parolin as an example, the organizers outline their intention to use the information gathered ‘to edit the cardinals’ English language Wikipedia pages. It is well known that at the last papal conclave many of the cardinals’ secretaries used these pages to help the cardinals better know each other,’ writes [the Report’s managing editor Philip] Nielsen.
“For example, he states, Parolin, ‘the very corrupt Vatican Secretary of State’s Wikipedia page is currently very benign, with no links to scandal included despite the fact that he has repeatedly been linked with banking scandal’s [sic] and was named in the Vigano letter.’ The latter statement is a reference to the controversial letter circulated by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, former nuncio to the United States, who accused Pope Francis of mishandling the case of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and further called for Francis to resign.
“‘We can change that,’ writes Nielsen, declaring that by the next conclave, Parolin ‘needs to be known, worldwide, as a disgrace to the church. Our plan would be to make sure that his Wikipedia page shows ‘Church Watchdog The Better Governance Group, names Parolin, ‘Extremely Guilty of Abuse’ etc. with a link to the report. At the same time we would add all the pull-quotes from other sources that connect him to all the financial corruption, etc.'”
A full explication of the Group’s funders and board is forthcoming, but those already named as involved are conservative figures, like Jay Richards, a professor at The Catholic University of America, Washington, who has publicly criticized Pope Francis and has with ties to the libertarian Acton Institute.
Numerous critiques of “The Better Church Governance Group” could be lodged, but setting aside what seems an obvious partisan attack on Pope Francis, focus for a moment solely on organizers’ treatment of homosexuality. If the goal really is to increase accountability when it comes to sexual harassment and abuse in the church, a cause most Catholics would support, then why would a cardinal’s sexual orientation matter? This approach seems to rely on the myth that homosexuality is an underlying cause of abuse.
Worse yet is the idea that rumors about a person’s sexual identity would be included in a publicly available document. Such homophobia perpetrated through false stereotypes and nasty gossip will undercut the initiative’s credibility entirely if carried out. If the Group’s organizers genuinely care about abuse survivors and ensuring the church is a safe environment, they will ditch their gay-negative approach.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 8, 2018