Bondings 2.0 will be reporting from the clergy sexual abuse summit at the Vatican through the coming weekend. 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. For previous posts on the summit meeting, click here.
While the main event here in Rome is the Protection of Minors in the Church summit meeting, many other events are happening around town to bring out the experiences and perspectives of abuse survivors. Besides the importance of hearing about not only their abuse and the cavalier way that church leaders responded to them, the survivors seem to have another message in common: they all assert that blaming the crisis on gay priests and homosexuality is totally wrong.
On Wednesday, a group of survivors met with the summit’s four organizers for a conversation. When the survivors left the meeting at the Instituto Maria SS. Bambini, which adjoins the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square, they were swarmed by an army of journalists, myself included, who were eager to hear their experiences.
I was lucky enough to squeeze into the crowd listening to Canadian abuse survivor Leona Huggins, from Vancouver. She expressed optimism about the summit, but it was truly difficult to hear much else of what she said.
After having stood for over two hours waiting for the survivors and trying to hear their reactions, I finally took a rest and sat at the base of a pillar of the colonnade, chatting casually with a Canadian indigenous woman who was also an abuse survivor. We made small talk, both relieved to be free of the wrangle of the journalist mob. After a few minutes, while resting my feet and enjoying a bit of Roman sunlight, who should appear to meet my interlocutor but Leona Huggins. I introduced myself and asked her if the question of gay priests had come up during the meeting with summit officials. Her answer was quick, direct, and confident,”No, and it’s good that it didn’t because it is a red herring.”
Huggins went on to explain that she is the mother of a gender-neutral child, and she very much hoped that church officials would not be discussing LGBTQ issues during the summit. Her reason is that she feels that the bishops are very ill-prepared to talk about sexuality in a general sense, let alone to discuss the specialized area of LGBTQ people. A rumor had been circulating that a gender neutral person who is a survivor would be addressing the summit, but Huggins learned that this would not be the case. She was relieved because she said she would not want her child or any other gender neutral person to have to face the group of bishops whom she thought would be ill-prepared to receive the person and the message.
At another press conference here in Rome, members of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) also refuted the notion that gay priests are abusers. A Catholic News Service article captured the highlights of these messages:
” ‘To make this link between homosexuality and pedophilia is absolutely immoral, it is unconscionable and has to stop,’said Peter Isely, a survivor and founding member of the survivor’s group SNAP.
“Speaking to reporters outside the Vatican press office Feb. 18, he said: ‘No matter what your sexual orientation is, if you’ve committed a criminal act against a child, you’re a criminal. That’s the designation that counts. Period.’ ”
“Barbara Dorris, a survivor and former executive director of SNAP, told reporters in Rome Feb. 19 that in the past 17 years, she has spoken to ‘thousands, thousands of victims’ and close to half of them were women.
” ‘Survivors only come forward when they feel they will be believed, when they feel they can get help or when reporting the crimes will make a change, when it will help others protect children,’ she said. ‘Most of the stories in the media in the past have been about the altar boys; the abuse of women and girls has not been the focus of coverage and when it has, unfortunately, words like “affair” and “relationship” have been used.'”
“Too many women feel they will not be believed or ‘will be blamed’ as having tempted a priest, Dorris said. ‘It’s a vicious cycle,’ because victims speak up when they see other victims have been believed.
“Framing the abuse crisis ‘as a homosexual issue,’ she said, takes the focus away from ‘the real issue, which is criminal sexual assault.’
“Focusing on homosexuality also ‘acts as a smokescreen; people now are discussing homosexuality, rather than the crimes themselves,’ she said. Pretending clerical sexual abuse is a result of homosexuality in the priesthood ‘automatically removes the women from the discussion and, magically, half the victims have been made to disappear.’ ”
Other reports provide other testimony from survivors who all agree that homosexuality and gay priests are not the problem. The Daily Beast reported:
“Sexual-abuse survivor Peter Saunders, who was expelled from the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in 2017 for criticizing the church’s lack of resolve, said that many of the victims he has worked with over the years were female, which he says proves his point. ‘There is no link between people who are gay and people who abuse children.’
“Saunders, who is part of the victim-survivor group Ending Clergy Abuse, added, ‘Once you are inside the church and you are gay, you are bound to be silent and then when you see someone abusing, you are silenced from reporting it.’ “
Fox News reported the thoughts of another prominent abuse survivor spokesperson:
“Phil Saviano, a Church sex abuse survivor says, ‘My feeling is that there has been a lot of scapegoating of homosexual men as being child predators and I’ve sometimes thought that that was, that’s been a dodge, that’s been an excuse that they’ve used which is not based on any sort of reality because I don’t think that having a homosexual orientation automatically means that you’re sexually attracted to children.’
Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich, one of four summit organizers, addressed it as well. Saviano was pleased with Cupich’s response saying, ‘He said that we are not trying to screen out homosexuals, that we are trying to come up with a set of rules that people will abide by, I took that as something that was encouraging.’ “
So, although conservative Catholic leaders and press outlets continue to try to scapegoat gay priests, the powerful community of abuse survivors, whose voices are critical in the discussion of clergy sexual abuse, obviously recognize the truth, based on their painful and personal experiences, that sexual orientation is not the issue.
—Francis DeBernardo, (assisted with research by Robert Shine), New Ways Ministry, February 22, 2019
More stories where abuse survivors speak out against scapegoating gay priests: