Was the Summit the Beginning of the End of Clericalism?

Bondings 2.0 has been reporting from the clergy sexual abuse summit at the Vatican the past several days.  Editor Francis DeBernardo has been 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.  This will be the last post in the series. 

The Vatican summit on the Protection of Minors in the Church has ended, and its effectiveness is being debated widely in the press.  Did it succeed in making progress on preventing and dealing with clergy sexual abuse?  Are the survivors of sexual abuse pleased or not with the results?  Is there hope that the Catholic Church will be different because of what transpired over three days of meetings in Rome?

These are all important questions, and I urge you to read the extensive debate on them in the press.  Because of Bondings 2.0’s focus on LGBTQ issues, I will deal here in this final post of our Rome coverage only on how the summit may affect these topics.  For other opinions and discussion of the very important wider topics mentioned above, please consult your favorite Catholic and secular press outlets.

The only overt LGBTQ topic connected to the summit was the scapegoating of gay priests for the crisis.  I covered those in two previous posts (here and here), so today I want to focus on another topic of the summit that I believe has ramifications for LGBTQ Catholics.

A main theme at the summit was how the problem of clericalism has hampered the life of the Church and has been the main cause of the sex abuse crisis.  Although clericalism had emerged as an important theme before the summit, it was amazing to see how many speakers condemned it as a significant problem that the hierarchy must work to eradicate.

Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez

The sharpest criticism of clericalism came from Cardinal Rubén Salazar Gómez  of Colombia when he addressed the summit on its first day.  It is worth excerpting a long passage from the beginning of his speech:

“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.

“Moreover, in analyzing the way in which this crisis has generally been responded to, we encounter a mistaken understanding of how to exercise ministry that has led to serious errors of authority which have increased the severity of the crisis. This has a name: clericalism.

“It is this reality that the Holy Father Pope Francis describes in his letter to God’s people in August of last year: ‘This is clearly seen in a peculiar way of understanding the Church’s authority, one common in many communities where sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience have occurred. Such is the case with clericalism … To say “no” to abuse is to say an emphatic “no” to all forms of clericalism.’

“Clear words that urge us to go to the root of the problem in order to face it. But it is not easy ‘to say “no” to abuse (and thereby) to say an emphatic “no” to all forms of clericalism,’ because it is a mentality that has permeated our Church throughout the ages. Also, we are hardly ever aware that it underlies our way of conceiving ministry and acting at decisive moments. This observation means that it is necessary to unmask the underlying clericalism and bring about a change of mentality; in more precise terms, this change is called conversion.

“Fundamentally, our responsibility is a meticulous coherence between our words and our actions. The mentality behind our words must undergo a thorough revision so that our words and actions correspond to God’s will in the Church at this time.

“This invitation to conversion is addressed to the whole Church, but first of all to us who are her pastors.”

Salazar also reminded the bishops that they need to be updating their awareness with new information and developments when faced with new realities:

“The ongoing formation of the bishop has been a constant concern of the Church. Changing times pose new challenges to which the bishop must respond. As we face this crisis we need to be in a permanent process of being updated, formed and instructed, so that our response will always be the right one.”

Cardinal Blase Cupich

Intimately related to solving the problem of clericalism is the church’s call to be a more synodal church, i.e., a church where all members–bishops, laity, clergy, religious men and women–all participate in the discussion of the church and all help with the discernment of how to go forward. Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich focused on this synodality in his address to the summit on the second day, saying:

“While we share a unique responsibility in this regard as the college of bishops, it is also imperative that we consider the challenge we face in the light of synodality, especially as we explore with the entire Church the structural, legal and institutional aspects of accountability. For synodality represents the participation of all the baptized at every level – in parishes, dioceses, national and regional ecclesial bodies – in a discernment and reform that penetrates throughout the Church. It is precisely such a penetrating discernment, so vital to the Church in this moment, that will give rise to the elements of truth, penitence and renewal of cultures that are essential to fulfilling the mandate of protecting the young within the Church, and in turn within the larger society. A process that merely changes policies, even if it is the fruit of the finest acts of collegiality, is not enough. It is the conversion of men and women throughout the entire Church — parents and priests, catechists and religious, parish leaders and bishops — and the conversion of ecclesial cultures on every continent that we must seek. Only a synodal vision, rooted in discernment, conversion and reform at every level can bring to the  Church the comprehensive action in the defense of the most vulnerable in our midst to which God’s grace is calling us.”

Archbishop Mark Coleridge

In a similar vein, Archbishop Mark Coleridge of Brisbane, Australia, reflected on how difficult it is for a bishop to even have time for listening because a bishop has ended up “being a manager, not a pastor.  The whole way a bishop functions needs to be addressed.”

Cupich outlined four tasks that can help to create a more synodal church:  radical listening, lay involvement, collegiality, and accountability.  About listening, Cupich had strong words:

“Our listening cannot be passive, waiting for those who have been abused to find a way to us. Rather, our listening must be active, searching out those who have been wounded, and seeking to minister to them. Our listening must be willing to accept challenge, and confrontation and even condemnation for the Church’s past and present failures to keep safe the most precious of the Lord’s flock.”

On lay involvement, he observed:

“This witness of faith and justice by the laity represents not a confrontational challenge to the Church, but an ongoing and grace-filled testimony of faith and action that is essential for the pilgrim people of God to fulfill its salvific mission at this moment in history.”‘

Later that day, at a press briefing, Cupich touched on the topic of transparency and defined this concept as ” to make sure that everybody has a voice.”

So what does all this mean and what is its impact on LGBTQ issues in the church?  I’d like to put all of these ideas into the context of what we heard from bishops during the synod on youth in October 2018.  At that time, similar themes of the importance of listening and of paying attention to diverse perspectives were also brought to the forefront of the discussion.  I think that from the youth synod and from this summit on abuse, we are beginning to see a new consciousness emerge among church leaders where they are at least admitting that they don’t have all the answers, that they need to be in dialogue and discussion with the laity and with the world.

This emerging consciousness is critical for preventing future abuse from happening and for dealing with it justly and humanely when it does.  This new consciousness also can benefit many other issues in the Church, including the discussion of LGBTQ topics.  Clericalism is a major barrier in the LGBTQ discussion, as well.  When bishops don’t listen, don’t seek the advice of lay people and of new information, when they exercise their authority in an overstated way, and when they see the defense of the church institution as more important than the defense of people–all of these combine to make our church a fortress, not an open door.  All of these are also the very things which seriously harm the discussion of LGBTQ issues in the church.

Will the bishops adopt these measures?  Because the stakes are so high in the clergy abuse crisis, they will put themselves and the church in great peril if they don’t. Clericalism must end for healing and reconciliation with abuse survivors to begin. Clericalism must end for effective prevention of future abuse.  It is uncertain whether the bishops are only using words against clericalism or whether their expressed hopes will manifest in policies and actions geared toward dismantling clericalism.

The bishops need to adopt new ways of being bishops in order to work towards solving the clergy sex abuse crisis.  If they do so,  they will also at the same time be paving the way towards reconciling with its LGBTQ members, and with many other people who have been alienated from the church.

The whole church owes a great debt to the survivors of abuse who so bravely came forward to tell their stories, often at great pain to themselves in reliving such traumatic moments.  Their willingness to be vulnerable, to respect themselves, to speak truth to power, and to suffer all sorts of insults offer a great example of courage and prophetic stamina to all of us.  At the very least, they deserve justice.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, February 26, 2019



4 replies
  1. Mary Jo
    Mary Jo says:

    Do they want change? I’m not sure they even know what real change might mean. They want input from women? And yet they invited so few of them to this meeting! Ordain women for heavens sake! In light of Cardinal Pell’s conviction, if they want change then they need to take big bold steps toward change. The fact that they didn’t even mention the continued vilification of gay people by the church, or be willing to even state that gay men aren’t more prone to abuse of children than straight men are, shows they have no spine and no stomach for significant change. More meaningless talk it seems.

  2. Kris
    Kris says:

    Drop your titles, guys, and your differentiating styles of dress.

    Vesting is appropriate only for liturgical service. (And then plainly.)

    And live more simply.

    A cleric who lives in a ‘palace’ has no business calling himself a disciple of the Nazerene.

    These (and other obvious and necessary changes) should not have needed pointing out to you.

    The time for talking is over.

    Act now!

  3. Fr. Paul Morrissey, OSA
    Fr. Paul Morrissey, OSA says:

    Cardinal Ruben Salazar Gomez points to a matter that LGBT people have experienced: the abuse of conscience. Here is the phrase that jumps out at me: ‘This is clearly seen in a peculiar way of understanding the Church’s authority, one common in many communities where sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience have occurred. Such is the case with clericalism … To say “no” to abuse is to say an emphatic “no” to all forms of clericalism.’ The LGBT community must speak out about this “abuse of conscience.”


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