Statements from church officials and protestors alike targeted gay priests and Fr. James Martin, SJ, during the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ assembly in Baltimore this week. The following statements from some bishops are but some of several signs that the U.S. episcopate still strongly resists Pope Francis’ efforts at church reform.
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s mixed remarks on gay priests
Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco offered mixed remarks on gay priests and clergy sexual abuse during an intervention in which he proposed the bishops commission a study on the alleged link between the two. He highlighted the opinions of right-wing critics who blame the abuse crisis on gay priests, saying that while their conclusion is “overly simplistic,” it did have some merit. Cordileone continued:
“I would hasten to point out there is a temptation to jump to an overly simplistic conclusion, which is that there is a direct causal connection between the presence of homosexual priests and bishops in the clergy and the sexual abuse of minors. It’s tempting maybe for some to jump to that conclusion, but obviously it cannot be true because there are priests with a homosexual inclination who do not abuse minors that are serving the Church well and heterosexually-oriented priests who do abuse and are serving the Church poorly.”
But then the archbishop cited a study from debunked sociologist Fr. Paul Sullins funded by the anti-gay Ruth Institute which found a near 100% correlation between an increase in gay priests and an increase in sexual abuse of minors. Cordileone commented:
“The worst thing we can do is discredit this [Sullins’] study so we don’t have to deal with it or ignore or deny this reality altogether. I think we need to lean into it. The correlation exists and we have to face it. To flee from it would be to flee from the truth, and to be perceived as fleeing from the truth. . .More and more of our people are not buying the conclusion in the John Jay causes and context study [which in 2004 found no link between gay priests and abuse], and that includes some reputable professionals in the field.”
Cordileone suggested two options for looking into a connection between gay priests and sexual abuse: 1) the bishops themselves can commission a study; 2) researchers conducting their own studies can be allowed access to church records. The archbishop also seemed to argue such a study would and should benefit gay priests, at least partially:
“It is really important we don’t infer from this [Sullins’ study] that there is a direct link of causation. . .This study would simply take the causes and context study to a deeper level. . Not only will it help us get to the root of the problem, but we will be doing a service to many good priests who risk being wrongly and unjustly maligned by those who would like quick and easy answers. We need to support them, too.”
The day after his remarks, the archbishop was elected head of the conference’s Committee on Laity, Marriage, Family Life, and Youth. Cordileone has an LGBT-negative record, and he led the U.S. bishops’ efforts to oppose marriage equality. He has, however, been less vocal in recent years, and he did not intervene when a Sisters of Mercy high school in the San Francisco archdiocese continued employing a transgender teacher after the teacher transitioned. He also met with representatives from New Ways Ministry and DignityUSA.
Bishop Seemingly Attacks Fr. James Martin for LGBT Ministry
A remark by Bishop Joseph Strickland of Tyler, Texas, was taken by several observers to be a harsh criticism of Fr. James Martin, SJ, for the LGBT ministry he has undertaken since his book, Building a Bridge, was published last year. Strickland spoke about the goodness of “fraternal correction” and questioned whether bishops actually believe in church’s condemnation of homogenital activity.
“There’s a priest that travels around now basically saying that he doesn’t [believe the teaching of the Church on homosexuality]. He seems to be very well promoted in various places. Brothers, I think part of the fraternal correction or fraternal support we offer each other is to say, ‘Can that be presented in our diocese to say that same-sex marriage is just fine and that one day the church will grow to understand that?’ That’s not what we teach, and I think we have to ask those serious questions. Condemning no one, we get berated for bigotry that is not real.”
Observers like Joshua McElwee of the National Catholic Reporter and campus minister Rich Raho took Strickland’s comments to be an attack on Martin. Strickland’s comments were reportedly met with light applause from the assembly. It is worth noting that Strickland was the first U.S. bishop who came out in support of Archbishop Carlos Maria Vigano after the former nuncio released his first letter attacking Pope Francis and promoting anti-gay theories.
National Advisory Council on “predatory homosexual behavior”
Anita Raines of the USCCB’s National Advisory Council (NAC) spoke to the assembly about the Council’s work related to clergy sexual abuse, including this recommendation:
“The NAC unanimously and strongly calls for an audit of U.S. seminaries to investigate possible patterns of abuse of power and predatory homosexual behavior. We must ensure a safe environment for the formation of our future priests.”
The gay-negative views mentioned above, even with certain nuances, reveal a number of U.S. bishops still seemingly do not comprehend the true causes of the abuse crisis, which is not gay priests and sexuality, but the clerical abuse of power. Linking homosexuality to abuse, discussing “predatory homosexual behavior,” and attacking Fr. Martin’s good work for LGBT inclusion are distractions from looking at the clericalism which has caused so many problems in our church. Such wayward thinking has no place in solution-focused discourse.
Thankfully, Pope Francis’ appointment of the LGBT-positive Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta to a top Vatican position addressing sexual abuse and sanctions is a hopeful sign that more reasoned and insightful discussion of causes will replace the scapegoating of gay priests.
Until the U.S. bishops admit the true root causes of clergy sexual abuse, any efforts they make to stop abuse and hold abusive priests and bishops accountable will be fatally flawed. Survivors and vulnerable populations deserve better than what happened in Baltimore this week, as do gay priests and the entire People of God.
–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 15, 2018