A conservative resistance has been growing in the church since Pope Francis was elected in 2013, with many of the harshest criticisms reserved for the ways he has slowly begun to change the church’s conversation around LGBTQ+ acceptance. Writer Kaya Oakes has examined this movement in a recent essay for The New Republic.
The immediate background for Oakes essay is August’s ‘Vigano letter,’ a publication which placed full blame on the church’s sexual abuse crisis on gay priests, and on Pope Francis, whom the author’s letter Archbishop Carlo Vigano, accused of supporting them. In particular, Vigano focused on the abuses of former cardinal Theodore McCarrick without acknowledging that this abuse occurred during the papacies of more conservative popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
The members of the conservative resistance, of which Vigano is a prominent member, “privilege reputation above truth,” writes Oakes, calling the attacks that have focused only on Francis while ignoring the wrongdoings of earlier leaders “sinister and abusive.” She observes:
“Because he has softened the church’s stance on LGBT issues, his opponents can accuse him of sheltering gay priests and, in their minds, saddle him with responsibility for the sexual abuse crisis, despite the fact that it began long before he was elected pope.”
Oakes notes that leading this movement are multiple high-ranking church officials who have repeatedly expressed their disagreements with Francis’ more liberal actions. Vigano, who served as the papal nuncio to the US, made headlines for bringing marriage equality opponent Kim Davis to meet the pope, and many US-based members of the hierarchy have also made a point to bring their own conservative politics to the pulpit.
Some of their actions are directly related to the current US government administration: Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput asked the University of Notre Dame to award President Donald Trump with an honorary degree. Former St. Louis Cardinal Raymond Burke has partnered with Steve Bannon, a former Trump advisor and close ally, to “construct a Catholic compound near Rome” in the interests of “protecting ‘Christendom.’”
Even earlier than the present political moment, some expressed extreme positions to LGTBQ+ issues, with Burke making a comparison between gay priests and murderers in a 2015 interview with a Catholic conservative activist site.. Even earlier, San Francisco’s Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone raised over a million dollars in support of Proposition 8, which would have banned same-sex marriage. Another example Oakes cites:
“In May, when Francis told a gay Chilean sexual abuse survivor that God made him gay and loves him anyway, American Conservative columnist Rod Dreher said that the pope was destroying the church like a ‘wrecking ball.””
These actions stand in contrast to Pope Francis’ more moderate take on gay rights. Oakes writes:
“Their most common line of attack focuses on Francis’ supposed support for gay priests. In 2013, the pope quipped, ‘Who am I to judge?’ when asked about gay Catholics. Two years later, he met with an openly gay former student, Yayo Grassi, and his partner in Washington.”
The ‘Vigano letter’ is notably focused on queer sexuality as a scapegoat for child abuse in the church. Oakes records that the document uses the word ‘child’ only twice, but ‘homosexual’ sixteen times, and argues that this is the main line of attack for the anti-Francis members of the church, who she says have two major goals: “to purge the church of its gay clergy” and to oust Francis from the papacy.
But Oakes also notes that Francis has still “taken no official action to change church policy about homosexuality,” but still the extreme reactions of conservative critics have keep multiplying being shared widely.
Oakes ends her article with a concise understanding of the issues at the root of this situation. She writes:
“The problems of the Catholic church stem not from homosexuality but from an entrenched culture that protects the clergy– and the church itself– at the expense of the people they are meant to serve.”
If this culture is to change, it will take a reckoning at all levels of the church about the value of truth: for the victims and all those that the church has harmed in their attempts at self-preservation.
—Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, November 19, 2018