Breaking the silence

Gay Priest “Bart” continues his weekly series:

I ended my last post by asking: will our silence [forced as it so often is] be judged as complicity in the Church’s deceptive ways? It’s a question that has been troubling me for quite some time now, not only as a gay priest who is going through a coming-out process, but also in the wider sense, as a member of the Catholic Church. Even as I was grappling with this complex subject, I was informed of a recent documentary shown on BBC’s Channel Four. Entitled Father Ray Comes Out, it presents a very touching account of the coming-out of an Anglican vicar – Father Ray Andrews – to his congregation during a Sunday homily. For the benefit of my readers, I thought of embedding the story here (in 2 parts), before expanding on the subject in today’s post.


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Rethinking Church and Sexuality: London Conference

One of the features of last year’s extensive publicity over sexual abuse and Catholic clergy, was the appallingly inadequate preparation that priests received in their training for matters of sexuality – their own, or that of others in their pastoral care. To some extent, the attention given to sexual abuse over the past few years has dramatically improved the position for those currently in training, but much remains to be done. For evidence of this, we need only consider the response of some bishops to works such as “The Sexual Person” (by the lay Catholic theologians Todd Salzmann and Michael Lawler), which the US Bishops attacked simply because its findings conflicted with Church teaching – without any serious attempt to engage in the evidence and thoughtful reasoning the book presented. We can also point to the ignorance displayed by others who casually cite “nature” as support for Church teaching, when the overwhelming weight of evidence from the real world, whether in the animal kingdom or from human anthropology, flatly contradicts it, or who argue against “redefining” marriage, with no recognition at all of how marriage has been constantly redefined over the centuries, often directly by the church itself.

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Suicide, Abuse, and the Catholic Church

One of my earliest memories from primary school religion lessons is that suicide is a grievous sin, one of the worst of all. If that is so, how serious is it to be responsible for another person’s suicide? And how serious is it if that person is a representative of the Catholic Church, or indirectly, the whole impersonal structure of the Church itself?


The Church has by now become accustomed to being sued by survivors of clerical abuse, of boys, girls, and adults alike. It is also now accustomed to paying out large sums, as the result of court judgements, out-of court settlements, or (in some cases) plain hush money, all for abuse. Read the rest of this entry »

Ireland, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Netherlands, Italy, Denmark – SPAIN

What more is there to say?

First, of course, is to welcome the fact that the cases are being investigated at all, and that the numbers are low.  But here, as elsewhere, there is evidence that some clergy at least put heavy pressure on a young complainant to simply withdraw his allegations.  Given the high proportion of sexual abuse cases outside of the church that never get reported, we should recognise that the reporting rate inside the church will also be low – especially when powerful authority figures put pressure on the weak to just button their lips and go away.


From Times Online:

Vatican investigating 14 sex abuse cases in Spain

The Vatican is investigating 14 cases of alleged child sex abuse committed within the Spanish Catholic Church over the past nine years it emerged today.

The incidents of abuse are alleged to take have taken place between January 2001 and March 2010. Charles Scicluna, the promoter of justice in the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, said today they amounted to “less than one case every year”.
Monsignor Scicluna stressed that Spain was one of the countries with the “lowest number of alleged abuse investigations” and said no convictions had been made.

The Vatican investigation in Spain widens the number of alleged abuse cases involving the Catholic Church after recent cases in Italy, Ireland and Germany.

Despite falling church attendances, the Catholic Church in Spain is said to wield much power which victims claim makes it hard for them to denounce their abusers.

Juan Pedro Oliver, a lawyer who acted for a 12-year-old boy who was sexually abused by Amador Romero, a priest in Granada in 2001, said that his client came under pressure to withdraw the allegation.

Romero was later jailed for 18 months for sexual abuse of a minor.

“The bishop, instead of helping the victim to make the allegation, did exactly the opposite,” Mr Pedro said.

“He kept the priest in the same village and made it difficult to go ahead with the case.”

Hand Wringing & Blame

The pastoral latter is carefully constructed to address several groups of people affected by clerical sexual abuse, or implicated in it as perpetrators, or as complicit in their protection. Benedict speaks directly to the survivors and heir families, and to the rest of the Irish people.  He speaks to the priests who were guilty, and to the bishops who shielded them. He speaks also to the rest of the Irish clergy ,to those priests and bishops who were not implicated, but are now shamed by mere association with the rotten eggs in the clerical basket.  But – where’s Wally? Who’s missing from the line-up?

Vatican Cardinals: Free from blame?

In treating this as an entirely Irish affair, in speaking only to the Irish priests and clergy, are we really to believe that culpability lies solely on those flawed Irish, and none in his own domain, the Cardinals of the Curia? Read the rest of this entry »

Abuse: Is it OK if everybody else is doing it?

An Irish prelate has lashed out at “the media” for making so much fuss about clerical abuse, when so much more abuse occurs elsewhere.

A senior bishop has attacked the media for singling out the Catholic Church for covering-up paedophile priests when 95pc of child abuse occurs in families and community life.

Christopher Jones, the Bishop of Elphin and head of the bishops’ committee on the family, said in Maynooth last night that he strongly objected to the way the church was being isolated. “Of course we have made mistakes,” Dr Jones added.

“But why this huge isolation of the church and this huge focus on cover-up in the church when it has been going on for centuries?

“It is only now for the first time ever that victims have been given their voice.” Dr Jones said that it was known that “95pc of abuse out there is in families, communities and other institutions.

He is right, of course.  There is far more abuse outside the church than in it.  But that completely misses the point.  We do not point to “families” as at fault, because they do not represent a cohesive group, subject to the same  corporate rules and controls as the church.

But let’s take Bishop Jones’ figures at face value, and consider their implication.  If 95% of abuse takes place outside the chruch, then presumably 5 % is “within” . That implies that 5% of abusers are priests ( or other church staff).  Wikipedia gives the number of secular clergy in Ireland as about 3000, with a further 700 in religious orders.  Call it 4000 for round numbers, or even 5000 in case of undercount. The total population of the country is about five million: one person in a thousand is a priest.  So, 0.1% of the population are responsible for 5%  of the of the abuse.  That equates to a propensity to abuse which is 50 times greater than the general population (or 25 times more if we assume all abusers to be male). That is the point – not the total number of cases, but the incidence, especially in an institution that claims to be a moral guardian, guiding us in right living.

Abuse & Celibacy: Austrian Cardinal Opens the Can of Worms (UPDATED)

As the problems of sexual abuse within the Church continue to cascade across Europe, The Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna has called on the Church to investigate fully the causes of the problem, including the role of celibacy and methods of priestly training.  This is should be welcomed with enthusiasm:  observers and analysts outside the Church establishment have for years been producing convincing evidence that these are two of the crucial issues behind the creation of the enabling environment, evidence which most bishops have simply ignored.   In an odd sequel, though, Cardinal Schonborn later issued a “clarifying” statement that he was not calling into question the Vatican stance on compulsory celibacy.  In doing so, he brings into sharp focus the third of the factors widely believed to be behind that enabling environment:  excessive central control and abuse of power. For there is little point in “investigating” the causes if you rule out in advance certain conclusions that  might follow, or fail to act on the conclusions you might reach, but the Cardinal knows full well that an unfavourable conclusion on celibacy will be totally unacceptable to the Vatican – and so threatening to his own position.  It is not at all accidental that Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, through his extensive work with the Australian problems with abuse, reached the firm conclusion that celibacy was indeed central to the issue – but waited until his retirement before publishing those conclusions.

Cardinal Shonborn - under his watchful eye.

Still, every little step forward is welcome.  The institutional response is clearly “evolving”, and will evolve a lot further before this is over. Read the rest of this entry »

Faithful Obedience, or Collaboration in Heresy?

At Enlightened Catholicism, Colleen has posted a powerful piece from Australia, after Pope Benedict’s visit there and expressions of regret and sorrow over Australian clerical abuse.  The author, Tom Doyle, writes of his experiences and reflections on the church, after appearing as an expert witness at several trials over abuse claims, concluding with his suggestions for what Benedict could and should have done – but didn’t, and won’t.

Colleen makes some important points about the comparison with the current reports out of Ireland, which hardly show any more appropriate response from the ecclesiastical authorities. Read Tom Doyle’s thoughts, and Colleen’s response, at “Two Views of Meaningful Vatican Responses for the Abuse Crisis.”

(Jayden Cameron at Mystic Gay sees in this  an improbable sign of hope:

My own feeling, which may seem pessimistic to some, but not to me, is that the Spirit is simply moving us away from dependence on these large institutional religious structures. We are being forced into the catacombs and onto the desert margins where the wild Spirit blows, and from this marginalization with come the radical restructuring of the tradition, burned free of it’s deadened, ossified structures. Spiritual seekers will simply begin looking elsewhere for their spiritual transformation, in smaller, independent religious communities whose primary obligation at this point in history is to offer a light in the wilderness….except it isn’t a wilderness at the moment. There is an extraordinary explosion of spiritual consciousness taking place at the moment, much of it chaotic, much of it highly creative, and quite a bit of it deeply inspiring. But it is not taking place, for the most part, within the major religious institutions of conservative Christianity, which have more or less lost their way. So be it.

What caught my eye, though was an observation at the end of Doyle’s article on our response.  Making the point that the church is unlikely to do the things he has suggested, and which it quite clearly needs to do, where does that leave us?  Do we simply wring our hands, express regret, and continue as before? Doyle sees the challenge for us in rather more bracing, even shocking, terms:

I think we all know that all of the above have no chance of happening. Perhaps the most realistic thing we can hope for is an awakening by isolated bishops here and there. We can also continue to hope that lay Catholics, who persist in looking at the hierarchical system through rose-colored glasses, will start to grow up, get past their denial and see reality for what it is. The recent popes and the hierarchy have enabled the most horrendous spiritual and emotional destruction of vulnerable people in a thousand years. Thus far they are doing precious little to make it right.

Those who continue to bow and scrape at the medieval ecclesiastical court are not faithful Catholics but enablers of evil. The heresy here is that the pope and the bishops seem to have no real clue that the plunder of the bodies and souls of the vulnerable…..boys, girls, men and women is evil that is perpetrated by clerics and religious men and women whose lives are supposed to combat evil rather than cause it.

This is strong stuff, but needs to be considered very seriously.  The widespread scandal of clerical abuse has not just been the result of individual weakness and a failure of governance, but has been deeply ingrained in the entire institutional structure of the church.  By paying lip service to their remorse while failing to address the real problems in any meaningful way, the hierarchical system is indeed continuing to inflict real evil on the entire church.  Is heresy too strong a word?

The rest of us, outside the system, are accustomed to being told that we should defer to the “wisdom” of the (self) appointed leaders of the church and their teaching.  But in accepting our subservient status, we are aiding and abetting the evil. We have a clear choice here:  to participate in the ongoing heresy of denial, or to stand in vocal and prophetic witness against it.

Related articles

Celibacy and the USCCB Eunuchs

Of all the issues that the USCCB should be discussing, but won’t, possibly the mot topical and most important is that of admitting married men and women to the priesthood.  This is not because they don’t want to – many would like to not only discuss it, but to go ahead with recruitment – but because (as Colleen Kochivar-Baker has noted at Enlightened Catholicism), they have been neutered by their Vatican controllers.  It is as if, recognising that in their (alleged) state of personal celibacy, they have recognised they have no need of balls, and allowed then to be cut off.  With at least three current news stories that imply a need to open this discussion, and the continuing crisis of too few willing candidates, their timidity is disgaceful.

US Catholic Bishops

With the imminent arrival in the Roman fold of an unspecified number of married Anglicans and Episcopalians, the discussion has already begun outside the conference hall – but is unlikely to be conducted inside it. The interim report of the John Jay research, clearly rejecting homosexual clergy as a causal factor behind the problem of clerical sexual ab use, should now turn attention to the real causes (one of which is compulsory celibacy) – but won’t.  And now a news story from Ireland shows that the debate is again being opened up in the public sphere – but not, I suspect, by the bishops. Read the rest of this entry »

Fig Leaves, Gerasene Swine, and Carpets: Bishops and Clerical Sexual Abuse.

Since my somewhat rushed report at midnight last night, with one 3 am update. I have had some time to look for more information.  Guess what?  I have found none. Is this a symptom of  what will happen to the full report later?

Let me recap.

A news story from Associated Press yesterday stated that an interim report had been presented to the USCCB meeting on research undertaken for the bishops by researchers from the John Jay College. of Criminal Justice.  The AP story on this report, carried by the Minneapolis Star Tribune and by Azstar yesterday, focused on a finding that there was no evidence that the problem was caused by “homosexual” clergy. On the contrary, gay and straight priests appeared to be equally culpable. The Catholic News Agency also carried a story on the report, but picking up on a different aspect. Another key finding of the report was that there had been “no change” in the pattern of abuse since the first report. I have made extensive attempts to track down additional reports on this story, and have found none. I have seen exactly the three discussed above – two carrying essentially the same syndicated AP take, and one from Catholic News.

Worst Logo Ever? LA Diocesan Youth Commission

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