Bondings 2.0 will be reporting from the clergy sexual abuse summit at the Vatican through the coming week. 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 some conservative Catholic leaders and bishops keep howling that gay priests are the cause of the clergy sex abuse crisis, many other groups in the Church recognize that such a claim is plainly wrong and a classic example of scapegoating. Yesterday, I wrote about how one important group in the church has flatly rejected placing the blame on gay priests: the abuse survivors themselves. Today, I would like to look at how another important group in the church appears to also have rejected this theory. The second group is the Vatican leadership.
First, a disclaimer. If you are reading only this blog for news on the Vatican clergy sex abuse crisis, you will get a very narrow view of what is happening here in Rome. That is because I am focusing primarily on the discussion of LGBTQ issues at the summit. Our mission at New Ways Ministry requires me to keep this sharp focus. However, many other important issues are being discussed at this meeting, and I hope that you will be reading other Catholic news sources like The National Catholic Reporter, America magazine, Crux, Religion News Service, and secular sources like The New York Times (which has a whole team of reporters here and is doing a great job).
Now back to the main point: the Vatican leadership’s position on gay priests’ involvement in the abuse crisis. After three days here, I have noticed that the Vatican and summit spokespeople who address the press never bring up the issue of gay priests unless a reporter directly questions them about it. Since they speak about so many other facets of the abuse crisis, it is remarkable that the hotly discussed issue of gay priests is not mentioned by Vatican leaders.
Reporters received a “backgrounder” document from the Vatican before the beginning of the summit. This document provides a wealth of information, highlighting what the Vatican would like the reporters to be aware of–basically, it is the Vatican’s side of the story. The document is over 40 pages long and exhaustively covers the history of the abuse crisis, statistics, relevant church law, and so many other topics. Two items not mentioned: gay priests and homosexuality. These are not on the Vatican radar for this topic.
The document includes a 5-page list of papal documents addressing clergy sex abuse and a 12-page timeline of church responses to the crisis. In neither of these lists is there any mention of the Vatican’s 2005 and 2016 documents banning gay priests. (In fact, in neither of these two documents, which were very negative about gay men in the priesthood, ever mention sex abuse at all as a reason to ban gay men from ordination.) The Vatican obviously does not see a connection between these issues.
Additionally, Pope Francis presented the summit with a list of 21 “reflections,” basically a list of proposals for preventing and responding to clergy sexual abuse. While this list covers every angle of the abuse crisis, the issue of homosexuality is nowhere addressed in it, indicating that the pope does not see this as a relevant topic in preventing and responding to abuse.
At the daily press briefings, when key church leaders are available on a panel to make statements and then be questioned by reporters, the question of gay priests continues to be raised. So far, the idea that gay priests are the root cause of the crisis is always directly debunked. At Thursday’s briefing, when asked about the role of gay priests in the crisis, Malta’s Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who is also a secretary adjunct of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith responsible for monitoring clergy sex abuse, answered that his “instinct is to look at single cases. To accuse a category is not fair.” He said that “other variables” are in play in sex abuse cases, regardless of sexual orientation. He said that he “would never determine a category” of persons “as prone to sin. We are all prone to sin.”
What does seem to be emerging as a causal theme at the summit is clericalism. In a speech to the summit participants on Thursday, Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez, Archbishop of Bogotá, Colombia, said:
“What is the responsibility of the bishop? In order to understand this responsibility and to assume it, it is imperative that we try to define, as far as possible, the nature of the crisis.
“A brief analysis of what has happened shows us that it is not only a matter of sexual deviations or pathologies in the abusers, but that there is a deeper root too. This is the distortion of the meaning of ministry, which converts it into a means to impose force, to violate the conscience and the bodies of the weakest. This has a name: clericalism.”
[Editor’s note: More on the topic of clericalism at the summit will be featured in an upcoming post.]
While some had hoped that the summit would be an opportunity to brand gay priests as the causal problem of the clergy abuse crisis, in fact, at least so far, it seems that the summit, through its silence, is actually vindicating gay priests.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 23, 2019