In his first press conference, the new president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has repeated the false claim that homosexuality is a cause of sexual abuse in the church. Meanwhile, the U.S. bishops sustain their use of religious liberty to counter LGBTQ+ equality.
Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Archdiocese for Military Services was elected president by the conference, which is meeting in Baltimore this week. At a press conference yesterday, Broglio was asked by the National Catholic Reporter’s Brian Fraga whether he stood by previous 2018 comments that there is no question that the crisis of sexual abuse by priests in the USA is directly related to homosexuality.” The archbishop responded, per Religion News Service:
“‘I think it’s certainly an aspect of the sexual abuse crisis that can’t be denied. I think it would certainly be naive to suggest that there is no relationship between them.'”
Linking homosexuality to abuse is a claim that has been repeatedly debunked, including by the bishop-commissioned John Jay College report in 2011.
Among an electoral slate of LGBTQ-negative prelates, Broglio has been one of the more strident in his opposition to equality: he supported banning transgender people from the military, precluded military chaplains from serving same-gender couples, barred LGBTQ+ lay people from ministries, and blamed homosexuality for the church’s sexual abuse scandal. Notably, Broglio is closely tied to the abuse crisis as he was personal secretary to Cardinal Angelo Sodano, an infamous church leader who helped cover up serial clergy abuse. Bondings 2.0 previously reported about the candidates’ records on LGBTQ+ issues.
In addition, Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore was elected as the USCCB’s vice president. In the past, Lori has led the U.S. bishops’ religious liberty efforts, which has been used repeatedly against LGBTQ+ equality. On the local scene in Baltimore, though, he has a reputation for having been pastorally oriented.
Nonetheless, religious liberty remains the U.S. bishops’ favored strategy against equality. Bishop Kevin Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend was elected as the new chair of the conference’s Committee on Religious Liberty. Rhoades has been a leading figure in trying to deny Communion to President Joe Biden last year, and both at the USCCB and in his diocese, has objected to efforts to protect LGBTQ+ couples in civil legislation and Catholic universities’ employment policies.
This week, the USCCB’s blog published a statement from Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York decrying the Respect for Marriage Act, which would codify marriage equality into statutory law, is likely to be voted on in the Senate soon. Dolan, who chairs the USCCB’s Committee for Religious Liberty, wrote that the “deck is already stacked” against opponents of marriage equality and their freedoms of speech and religion are being curtailed. He continued:
“The Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell gave same-sex couples the right to enter into civil marriages. The Court’s ruling in Dobbs does not threaten that right. Now, with no legal restrictions on the freedom to have a same-sex relationship, many seek to go a step further and force private parties—religious organizations, individuals of faith—to approve and support those relationships by our own words and conduct. We must bake the wedding cake, design the wedding website, rent the halls, and arrange the flowers—and afterwards, pay spousal benefits, place foster and adoptive children—even if it violates our deepest convictions about marriage and family.”
Dolan decried the Respect for Marriage Act, saying it would make opponents “voices in the wilderness, increasingly marginalized and dismissed.”
Dolan also used religious liberty to attack transgender rights in a joint September 2022 column with Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich. Published by America, the prelates’ piece concerned Catholic healthcare and the federal government’s efforts to protect LGBTQ+ patients from discrimination. Specifically, Dolan and Cupich are opposing the Department of Health and Human Services’ new rules under the Affordable Care Act that would extend non-discrimination protections to LGBTQ+ people.
Dolan and Cupich claim that trans people are welcome at church-affiliated facilities where they “will receive the same treatment” but not face discrimination, claiming that objection to the procedure, not the patient is not discriminatory.
The latest USCCB elections and sustained use of religious liberty to oppose LGBTQ+ equality show that the conference as a whole has not changed much since Pope Francis’ papacy. It looks just like it did in 2012. Still, even if routine, it is jarring each time the bishops choose to ignore real, pressing issues of justice and peace in the world and instead focus myopically on suppressing LGBTQ+ people. There is little hope the conference will change course under Archbishop Broglio’s leadership these next three years. That failure means it is even more important for the majority of Catholics who are pro-LGBTQ+ to continue advocating for equality in society and creating inclusion in the church.
—Robert Shine (he/him), New Ways Ministry, November 16, 2022