Bondings 2.0 has been reporting from the clergy sexual abuse summit at the Vatican the past several days, and will continue until tomorrow. Editor Francis DeBernardo is in Rome and has been 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.
Two days ago, I posted that it seemed that the Vatican’s Protection of Minors in the Church summit was not discussing the repeatedly debunked idea that gay priests are the cause of the clergy sex abuse crisis. My evidence for this claim rested on the fact that in none of the Vatican’s written or oral reports did the topic come up, and when journalists raised the issue in interviews and press conferences, the theory was roundly rebuked.
Two other press outlets, The New York Times and America magazine, have since done their own research into the topic and come up with important conclusions.
In an article headlined “The Most Talked About Non-Topic at the Vatican? Homosexuality,” New York Times reporters Elisabetta Povoledo and Jason Horowitz noted that although the issue of gay priests was not on the agenda of the meeting, it had been discussed in conversations:
“At the meeting, even as organizers and attendees pushed time and again to focus the discussions on pedophilia, the conflicting views about homosexuality within the church emerged as a distraction.”
Yet, although the topic has been discussed unofficially, it does not seem that the majority of bishops at the meeting agrees with the causal connection between gay priests and abuse. When the causal theory comes up, there seem to have been plenty of bishops eager to refute it. The Times quoted Archbishop Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg and Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union:
“[Hollerich] said on Saturday that some bishops kept returning to homosexuality as a cause for abuse because ‘some people have some models in their head and they will always keep to it.’
“He said he and other bishops had sought to change their minds.
” ‘I tell them the prime minister of my country is homosexual,’ he said. ‘And he would never abuse children.’ “
Three prelates who were not part of the summit had stoked the flames of scapegoating gay priests when they made statements a few days before the summit began. The Times reported that Cardinal Raymond Burke of the U.S.A and Cardinal Walter Brandmüller of Germany sent an open letter to the summit participants urging them to end the “conspiracy of silence” surrounding the “plague of the homosexual agenda.” Similarly, Archbishop Carlo Viganó, who last August called for Pope Francis to resign, also weighed in on the matter, according to The Times:
“[Viganó] argued on Thursday that it was fitting that the meeting’s opening that day coincided with the feast of St. Peter Damian, an 11th-century monk who fought against “sins of sodomy” in the church.
“(Some church historians cautioned the archbishop that the saint was perhaps not the best model, as he had also denounced as immoral a Byzantine princess for introducing the practice of eating with a fork.)”
And others like Bishop Gonzalo de Villa y Vásquez of Guatemala thought that the question about gay priests’ role was still open, saying “I think it can be a legitimate question whether or not there is a link between homosexuality and abuses.”
America magazine national correspondent Michael O’Loughlin did a fine job collecting all the relevant remarks of the week in an article entitled “Despite external pressure, little talk of homosexuality at Vatican abuse summit.”
O’Loughlin cited Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who is a Vatican point person on sexual abuse and who helped organize the summit. Throughout the meeting Scicluna was clear that gay priests and the sex abuse crisis were not connected:
” ‘To generalize, to look at a whole category of people is never legitimate. We have individual cases. We don’t have categories of people,’ said Maltese Archbishop Charles Scicluna, who has become one of the Vatican’s point man in the fight against sex abuse.
“Responding to a reporter’s question during a press briefing on Feb. 21 about why the Vatican was not discussing homosexuality, he said that homosexuality and heterosexuality are ‘human conditions,’ adding, ‘they are not something that predisposes to sin.’
” ‘I would never dare to indicate a category as a category that has a tendency to sin,’ Archbishop Scicluna said.
O’Loughlin also reported the perspective of a gay abuse survivor who met with the pope last year and reported that the pontiff told him “God made you this way,” in reference to the man’s sexual orientation:
“Juan Carlos Cruz, a survivor of sexual abuse from Chile who now lives in the United States, told America that he rejects attempts by some Catholics to pin the abuse crisis on gay priests.
” ‘That is just a fallacy; that’s cruel, and that’s so far from reality,’ Mr. Cruz said in a Feb. 22 interview at the Vatican. ‘As a gay man and as a gay Catholic, I can tell you, there are gay people that are pretty bad and there are gay people that are incredibly wonderful. There are heterosexual people that are very bad and there are heterosexual people that are wonderful.’
” ‘But,’ he continued, ‘heterosexuality or homosexuality is not the cause of pedophilia.’ “
The only woman religious and the only African to address the summit, Sister Veronica Openibo, SHCJ, a Nigerian member of Society of the Holy Child Jesus who is an executive board member of the International Union of Superiors General, also made a point of emphasizing that girls were also the victims of abusive priests, not just boys.
The America article also noted that last week, Philadelphia’s Archbishop Charles Chaput claimed that “predatory homosexuality played a major role in most of the abuse cases we know about.” Similarly Bishop Thomas Tobin of Rhode Island, tweeted last week that one of the factors in the abuse crisis was “gay currents in the Church.” On the other side of the question, the article also offered Cardinal Blase Cupich’s strong objections to blaming gay priests for the crisis, which Bondings 2.0 reported a few days ago.
The New York Times article quoted me as saying that the summit showed that the gay priests’ theory had been “debunked as a cause” of abuse, but I also hoped the Vatican “would give a more definitive, official statement from the pope to that effect.” I tried several times during the press briefings to ask spokespeople if the absence of official discussion at the summit of gay priests accurately reflected a Vatican rejection of the theory, but I was not able to get myself recognized by the moderator in the very busy and intense question periods.
O’Loughlin reported that he thought the pope made an oblique reference to ending the debate about gay priests as a factor in abuse, when in his closing address to the summit, the pontiff said:
Pope Francis also seemed to dismiss the link between homosexuality and the abuse crisis. During a speech given Feb. 24, the final day of the summit, he said that the abuse of minors is “always the result of an abuse of power.” He also asked bishops to “rise above the ideological disputes and journalistic practices that often exploit, for various interests, the very tragedy experienced by the little ones.”
O’Loughlin presents an interesting interpretation, but we also must remember that the pope needs to speak more directly and less ambiguously about thorny issues. The furor over gay priests as abusers needs a more definitive answer than that.
In an interview with O’Loughlin, I told America that after my days at the summit, I came to believer that “In the Vatican, they don’t buy the theory that gay priests are the cause” of the crisis. While I still think that is true, it must also be remembered that even though Vatican officials who deal with abuse cases, and maybe even the pope himself, do not think that gay priests are part of the problem, there are still a number of bishops and other church leaders who do see a causal connection, flimsy though it may be. As we all know, “Roma locuta; causa finita est” (“Rome has spoken; the case is settled.”) is never a definitive remark. The discussion will continue.
For those interested in this discussion, I recommend that you read the entire New York Times and America articles, by clicking on the publication names in this sentence. They both contain a lot more information than was summarized here.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 25, 2019