Natural Allies: Survivors of Clergy Abuse and LGBTQ Catholics

Bondings 2.0 has been reporting from the clergy sexual abuse summit at the Vatican the past several days, and will continue for a few days more.  Editor Francis DeBernardo is in Rome and will be offering news and insights on how LGBTQ issues.  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.

Since mid-January, Bondings 2.0 has been providing a Sunday series entitled “Why We  Came, Why We Left, Why We Stayed,” featuring personal testimonies by LGBTQ Catholics and allies.  While we pause that series for this Sunday, readers may find the following post very resonant with those stories. We will resume the series next week.  To read the past posts of  “Why We Came, Why We Left, Why We Stayed,” click here


“When Jesus was about to die, his mother was with him.  When I was abused by a  priest my mother church left me alone.  When I needed somebody in the church to talk about my abuse and my loneliness, they all go in hiding and I feel even more alone because I don’t know who to turn to.”

At the morning and evening prayer services at the Vatican’s Protection of Minors in the Church summit, a brief bit of testimony from an abuse survivor is read and meditated on.  The above passage was part of the prayer on Friday, February 22nd.

When I heard those words proclaimed, I realized that with a few modifications, I have heard that message hundreds of times in the past. When I heard those words before, they came from the mouths of LGBTQ people as they described their relationship with the Catholic Church.  During my time here in Rome focused on clergy sexual abuse, it has dawned on me how very similar in spiritual and emotional impact the experiences of sex abuse victims and LGBTQ Catholics are.

I don’t make this comparison lightly, and in doing so I do  not mean to cover over the tragic uniqueness that is part of the sexual abuse victims’ experience, particularly since their abuse had a strong physical dimension which was often violent.  But there are many points of commonality that their stories share with the stories LGBTQ people in terms of how the Church, family, and friends responded to  them.

Just take a look at the words above. In the second sentence, change the words “was abused by a priest” with the words “came out  of  the closet,” and the rest of thte sentence remains perfectly truthful and accurate for many LGBTQ Catholics. In the third sentence, change “my abuse and my loneliness” to “my coming out experience and fears of rejection,” and again the sentence maintains its veracity.

On Saturday, February 23rd, the following testimony from a survivor was read at the morning prayer:

“I feel  like a beggar at the door of the castle.  A beggar for truth, for justice, for light and all I get is silence and  the smallest pieces of information, which I have to  extract.  I get tired and worn out, it’s like they hide behind  their walls, their dignity, their roles that I don’t understand.  It hurts because I was abused, because they don’t tell the truth and because those who should be ministers of truth and light hide in  darkness.”

So many LGBTQ Catholics have experienced these feelings!  Standing outside churches, begging, struggling to be allowed to be part of the community. Receiving only silence in the form of unanswered letters, phone calls, and  emails from bishops and church leaders.  Having walls, instead of bridges, constantly being erected to thwart their participation in church life, in the form of being fired from jobs, dismissed from volunteer ministries, having church officials work against LGBTQ civil rights.

And here is perhaps the most painful testimony, read at the liturgy of the summit’s first morning, February 21st:

“Nobody was listening  to me; neither my parents, nor my friends, nor later the church authorities.  They did not listen to me and  my cry.  And I ask myself: why? And I ask, why did God not listen to me?”

I know that the existential pain apparent in this  reflection will ring true for many LGBTQ Catholics. I know, too, that the human pain of being ignored by people  they thought they could turn to is also an important part of their experience.

In a Religion News Service article by Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., the words of a survivor, which had been videotaped for the  bishops  to hear, were captured:

“One victim from Chile recounted how when he came forward, ‘the first thing they did was to treat me as a liar, turn their backs and tell me that I, and others, were enemies of the church.’ Rather, ‘victims need to be believed, respected, cared for and healed,’ he said.”

How many LGBTQ Catholics have been called liars and enemies of the church?  The number is too high to tally.

What are we to make of these similarities?  I have a few thoughts.  First and foremost, I think the similarities make it incumbent upon the Catholic LGBTQ community to do everything possible to support clergy sex abuse survivors.  Second, I think Catholic LGBTQ people can gain strength from hearing the stories of survivors because their experiences often resonate so deeply.  Third, I think these painful  similarities can motivate the Catholic LGBTQ community to  continue their own struggle for recognition and affirmation in the church.  The witness of  clergy sex abuse survivors who have continued to make their case after so many rejections can inspire LGBTQ Catholics to continue their own long quest.

Finally, I think the similarities between these groups show that the most appropriate way for church leaders to begin to deal more comprehensively to LGBTQ Catholics is to follow the pattern they are trying to establish with abuse survivors:  listen humbly to them, admit that as leaders they have a lot to learn, and make every effort possible to  work towards healing and reconciliation.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 24, 2019


5 replies
  1. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    I do think that the antigay, and anti trans and sexist theologies and actions by Catholic leaders are a form of sexual abuse. Whether the emotional abuse is as harmful as physical abuse or not, I do not know. In a sense, it doesn’t make much difference. I don’t like comparing forms of abuse or oppression, saying one is as bad or not as bad as another. That kind of comparison is a behavior that belittles the abuse or oppression of one or another. All forms of abuse are harmful. All forms traumatize and have lasting effects.

    I call antigay, anti-trans and sexist oppression sex abuse, because they are oppressions that attack one’s very sexuality. They demean girls’ and women’s and LGBT people’s very sexual nature and relationships, and they attempt to justify attitudes and behaviors that discriminate against and deny equality and human rights to women and girls, transgender people, and LGB people, solely on the basis of their sexuality or gender. All in the name of God.

  2. Soline Humbert
    Soline Humbert says:

    I once told the archbishop of Dublin that, in my experience of ministering as a spiritual director, the official church teaching and treatment of LGBTI+ people is spiritual abuse. And spiritual abuse is real abuse, a real violation of the person ,with all its deadly devastating impact. Like sexual abuse,it needs to be exposed for what it is,and what it does. And it needs to be ENDED,NOW. ‘Straight’ people like me need to speak out. Our silence is complicity in the abuse.

  3. Mary
    Mary says:

    The church continues to hurt and harm children everyday by what they teach about Homosexuality in the classrooms and in the pews. Lives of individuals and families have been ruined because of it.

  4. Tom Schellenbach
    Tom Schellenbach says:

    As a 69 year old gay man, abused by a priest when I was 13-14, worked for the Church for 40 years, and have left the Church behind, this article by Francis DeBernardo is the first time I actually felt that someone listened to my spirit, my heart, my identity, my pain. It was the first time I could authentically combine these two pivotal issues in my life. I feel more whole, more one, and I thank him for his insight and explanation.

  5. Fr Anthony
    Fr Anthony says:

    Yes, there are similarities.
    But there is one difference. Those, like myself, who realize their gay selves late in life have been able to function as heterosexual and without the emotional distress abuse survivors have.


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