Starting today and continuing through the coming weekend, Bondings 2.0 will be reporting from the clergy sexual abuse summit at the Vatican. Editor Francis DeBernardo is in Rome and will be offering news and insights on how LGBTQ issues are discussed at this meeting, particularly the situation of gay priests, who continue to be wrongfully accused as being the cause of the crisis. Bondings 2.0 will resume regular coverage of other Catholic LGBTQ issues once the summit is over.
A lead organizer for the Vatican’s summit on clergy sexual abuse this week has said homosexuality is neither a cause of abuse nor a central problem in the priesthood.
Answering journalists’ questions at a Vatican press conference on Monday, Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago offered generally positive statements in support of gay priests. Cupich is a lead organizer for the summit, “The Protection of Minors in the Church,” beginning today, February 21, and running to February 24. A full schedule and program for the summit can be found here. For a brief explainer about the summit, click here.
Whe asked whether the fact that abusive priests mostly targeted boys will be addressed at the summit, Cupich responded:
“Yes, I believe that it’s important to admit the fact and recognize the fact of what you said in terms of the percentage of abuse involving male on male sex abuse. That is important. I think that that has to be recognized. At the same time, as professional organizations studied the causes and contexts, such as the John Jay School of Criminal Justice and also the Royal Commission’s report in Australia, indicated that homosexuality in itself is not a cause. It is a matter, however, of opportunity and also a matter of poor training on the part of people.
“Just maybe to put a fine point on that, it’s very clear that we have had, at least in the United States, a dramatic drop in cases on an annual basis in the United States, which peaked in late 60’s and early 70’s. Today the statistics show from the CARA report, for the Center for Applied Research at Georgetown University that on average there are about five cases a year and in fact the last report in 2017 said six substantiated cases of abuse and four of those allegations involved one priest. I think the other two were with priests. So we’ve dropped dramatically the number. So if in fact you, as some say, there is homosexuality in the priesthood, you can see already that it is not as a result of being homosexual that you abuse, as though homosexual people are more prone to abuse children than straight people, but it is a matter of making sure that the opportunity and the protection of children are priorities. That is what not only the research shows, but what our efforts have done in protecting children, at least in our country.”
Asked about the release of a new book on homosexuality in the Vatican, which claims same-gender relationships among church leaders have enabled abuse, Cupich said that it is a hypothesis and that “hypotheses have to be proven.”
Another question directed at Cupich asked whether the decline in reported abuse in the U.S. is because gay men have been rejected from the priesthood. Cupich replied:
“I also mentioned that the success in keeping children safe has also been due to a wide program of safe environment where people know how to report, young children are trained, and so it’s a full range of efforts that are part of any safe environment program. It is also making sure that reporting to authorities is part of the issue as well. The screening is important, not in terms of the issue of homosexuality but in terms, as it was already noted, that if in fact someone has an attitude with regard to human sexuality that is not in keeping with the Church, or the protection of children isn’t important, or if there are other factors as well that make them high risk because of their own psyche. . . then that also has to be taken into consideration. But it is not a particular screening that has to do with one’s sexual orientation as the major factor.”
In addition to the LGBT-positive Cupich’s participation, some of the global Church’s more gay-positive prelates will be giving presentations during the summit. Presenters include:
Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay, India: Before India’s Supreme Court struck down a law criminalizing homosexuality in 2018, Gracias had repeatedly spoken against the law. A participant in the Synod on the Family, he told Bondings 2.0 that his message to LGBT people is “The church embraces you, wants you, needs you.” Towards the end of the 2014 Synod, Gracias was asked whether lesbian and gay people were welcomed to the church. He replied, “The answer is an unequivocal yes. Of course they’re welcome.” He has directed his priests to speak more sensitively about LGBT issues, and met with LGBT Catholic advocate Ruby Almeida to discuss pastoral outreach. However, he has said that marriage equality is a threat to the family.
Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich and Freising, Germany: Marx has an ambivalent record on LGBT issues, though his bent is more towards the positive. He made headlines at the beginning of 2018 for offering what seemed to be an endorsement of blessings for same-gender unions, however several weeks later he clarified he did not in fact support them. Responding to a 2015 report from German lay Catholics which called for such blessings, he both condemned the blessings while affirming the need for discussion. In another 2018 interview, he appealed for the church to help form but respect people’s consciences, applying that teaching specifically to homosexuality. A key player during the Synod on the Family, Marx was a voice for greater pastoral outreach to LGBT people, but his support was again confusing at times as when he called for the church to take “a differentiated view” of homosexuality. Most positively, Marx said in 2017 that church leaders should focus more on how the church has aided homophobia, instead of putting so much energy to oppose marriage equality, which he himself opposed. In 2016, he called for the church to apologize to LGBT people days before Pope Francis made a similar statement.
Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez of Bogota, Colombia: Salazar’s record on LGBT issues is split. Somewhat positively, he endorsed civil unions in 2013 as an alternative to marriage equality. But since then, he has strongly opposed LGBT-inclusive education efforts in Colombia, saying they represent an incursion of “gender ideology.”
Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta: Scicluna called for the Church respect lesbian and gay people as far back as 2013 while still an auxiliary bishop and called a lay Catholic’s claim that same-gender relationships are solely about lust, not love, “a caricature of the Church’s teaching on gay relationships.” He elsewhere has said of LGBT people’s relationships, “Love is never a sin. God is love.” Scicluna did not punish and even affirmed the LGBT outreach ministry of a priest who blessed a same-gender couples union in 2015, said the church should apologize to LGBT people even while opposing civil unions, condemned the harmful practice of “reparative therapy” with an apology for a church report which supported it, and participated in the International Day Against Homophobia. For this work, the Malta Gay Rights Movement sought to award him for his LGBT-positive work, though the bishop declined. Still, Scicluna has remained a firm opponent of marriage equality and is reported to have said Pope Francis was “shocked” at the idea of gay couples adopting.
Rome is packed with journalists, probably at least double the amount that I have seen at the three recent synods. The world’s eye is focused on this meeting, and while hopes are high, expectations do not seem to be so. The immensity of the problem, the damage and pain it has caused, the inability of church leaders to see the clericalism that affects them–all these are just three reasons that a four day meeting is clearly not capable of solving the problem.
However, I applaud Pope Francis’ willingness to hold this meeting–which should have been done decades ago except that Francis’ predecessors were too blinded by clericalism and ignorance about sexuality to do so. At best, I think, the meeting can be a good first step to tackle this problem, if the bishops are willing to face the real issues involved, and not succumb to ridiculous diversionary tactics like blaming the problem on gay priests.
Check in with Bondings 2.0 the next few days for Editor Francis DeBernardo’s reporting from Rome during the Vatican’s summit meeting on clergy sexual abuse. For daily updates on Catholic LGBT news, opinion, and spirituality, enter your email in the “Subscribe” box in the upper right hand corner of this page.
—Francis DeBernardo (with research help from Robert Shine), New Ways Ministry, February 20, 2019