Despite external pressure, little talk of homosexuality at Vatican abuse summit
In the months leading up to the Vatican’s four-day summit on the sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests, some U.S. prelates, activists and even some journalists tried to link homosexuality with the abuse crisis, in attempts to urge church officials to take a hard line against gay priests.
But the topic was barely broached during the summit, and when it was, leading prelates dismissed any connection.
“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.”
“To generalize, to look at a whole category of people is never legitimate. We have individual cases. We don’t have categories of people.”
“I would never dare to indicate a category as a category that has a tendency to sin,” Archbishop Scicluna said.
Archbishop Scicluna said that when it comes to sexual abuse, it is most helpful to eschew “categories” and instead to look at “single cases.”
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.”
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.”
“Heterosexuality or homosexuality is not the cause of pedophilia.”
“But,” he continued, “heterosexuality or homosexuality is not the cause of pedophilia.”
The timing of a controversial new book that claims to detail a network of gay clerics residing and working in the Vatican raised eyebrows, as it was released on the first day of the summit.
Frederic Martel said Inside the Closet of the Vatican does not imply that gay priests are more likely to be abusers. Speaking to America from Paris, Mr. Martel said, however, that he believes there is a link between the allegedly high number of gay men who work for the church and the culture of secrecy that has enabled the scandal to continue.
"There is no link at all between abuse and homosexuality," Mr. Martel said.
But he said “a culture of secrecy that is extremely strong” when it comes to gay priests, who the church has a rule officially prohibiting but which rarely enforces, “was used to protect abusers, even though this culture was not created to protect them.”
“A lot of bishops that protected abusers did so because they are in trouble themselves or they are hiding something, often related to their own homosexuality,” he said. “Often they are afraid their own sexuality will be revealed."
While analysis of reported cases of sexual abuse by clergy in the United States shows most offenses to be against boys and young men, participants in the summit seemed intent on highlighting that many girls and young women have also been victimized by clerics.
Participants in the summit seemed intent on highlighting that many girls and young women have also been victimized by clerics.
“For me, sexual abuse of minors is not just for boys but also for girls,” said Sister Veronica Openibo, in a Feb. 23 address to the nearly 200 bishops and church leaders gathered for the summit.
An adult woman who is a survivor of sexual abuse by a priest spoke to the bishops earlier in the day, telling bishops, “when I was 11 years old, a priest from my parish destroyed my life.”
The survivor, whose identity was not revealed, said in her testimony that recurring trauma from the abuse, which she said went on for five years, resulted in complications with her pregnancy years later.
“Flashbacks and images brought everything back to me. My labor was interrupted, my child was in danger; breastfeeding was impossible because of the terrible memories that emerged,” she said. “I thought I had gone mad.”
The head of the pro-L.G.B.T. group New Ways Ministry, Francis DeBernardo, told America on Feb. 22 that he anticipated the issue of gay priests would be “more prominent” during the summit because of activity leading up to the meeting. But after reading the summit’s preparatory materials, listening to the talks and attending the press briefings, Mr. DeBernardo said, “In the Vatican, they don’t buy the theory that gay priests are the cause” of the abuse crisis.
“In the Vatican, they don’t buy the theory that gay priests are the cause” of the abuse crisis.”
There does not seem to be much agreement about the root causes of the abuse crisis, which flared up again last summer in the United States following the release of a grand jury report in Pennsylvania detailing abuse allegations there. Pope Francis and his allies have repeatedly blamed a clerical culture that places priests and their well-being above lay people.
Speaking to reporters in Rome on Feb. 18, Chicago’s Cardinal Blase Cupich, one of the summit’s organizers, citing academic studies of the abuse crisis in the United States and Australia, said the research has “indicated that homosexuality in itself is not a cause.”
The cardinal, who has previously defended gay priests, added, “It is not as a result of being homosexual that you abuse, as though homosexual people are more prone to abuse children than straight people.”
But emboldened by new waves of revelations of historical abuse, including the recent laicization of the former cardinal Theodore McCarrick, some Catholics have set their sights on gay priests, whom, going against what the findings of experts and a church-commissioned academic study, they blame for the abuse crisis.
Some Catholic organizations and activists are leveling a campaign against gay priests, using the ongoing abuse crisis as a platform.
Recent articles about gay priests have appeared in The New York Times and New York magazine, reigniting a debate about the church’s stand. While Pope Francis has seemed more open to welcoming L.G.B.T. Catholics into the church than his predecessors, he also upheld the church’s official ban on gay priests as recently as last year. In a recent interview, the pope said having gay men serve as priests “is something that worries me” and said that homosexuality is becoming “fashionable” in both society and the church. Deeper analysis of the pope’s words suggested that he was talking about sexually active gay priests and not clerics who abide by their promises of celibacy.
That has not stopped some Catholic organizations and activists from leveling a campaign against gay priests, using the ongoing abuse crisis as a platform.
In a statement released Feb. 20, the U.S.-based Catholic League rejected the idea that a culture of clericalism created conditions ripe for the abuse crisis and, as the organization has done many times in the past, instead pinned it on gay priests.
“The preoccupation with clericalism on the part of so-called progressive Catholics has more to do with their myopia, and their desire to divert attention away from homosexuality, than with a pursuit of the truth,” said the group’s leader, Bill Donohue.
Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin tweeted Feb. 21 that the abuse crisis was caused by a number of factors, including “gay currents in the Church.”
A number of bishops who were not part of the meeting, which was limited mostly to the heads of bishops conferences, also sought to link homosexuality and the abuse crisis ahead of the summit.
Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput wrote in a brief blog post published on Feb. 19 by the National Catholic Register, that while bishops and lay people must work together to ensure abuse is handled correctly, that “predatory homosexuality played a major role in most of the abuse cases we know about.”
Archbishop Chaput’s comments echo those of Cardinal Raymond Burke and Cardinal Walter Brandmuller, who in a letter published Feb. 19 said the “plague of the homosexual agenda has spread within the church” and that it is “protected by a climate of complicity and a conspiracy of silence.”
And Rhode Island Bishop Thomas Tobin tweeted Feb. 21 that the abuse crisis was caused by a number of factors, including “gay currents in the Church.”
But abuse survivors have largely dismissed the connection between homosexuality and the abuse crisis.
As for Mr. Cruz, he said the heart of the crisis is allowing priests who have abused children to remain in ministry. Those priests, he said, should be dismissed from the clerical state and if bishops failed to act or covered up abuse, they should also be punished. He said he would be watching closely following the meeting for concrete next steps.
“Everybody has the right to be very angry, I am, too,” he said. “But I feel when there's an opportunity, where a door opens, you have to take it.”
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