Don't Blame Homosexuality for Catholic Church Sex Abuse
September 2, 2018
|Archbishop Aquila of Denver in 2015 at Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. (John Leyba / The Denver Post)|
Top leaders of the Catholic church have a lot to answer for following recent back-to-back miserable stories — first that Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, had resigned over allegations that he sexually abused minors and adult seminarians and, second, that according to a grand jury report more than 300 priests had sexually abused 1,000 children over seven decades in Pennsylvania.
Clergy offered apologies and expressed disgust. You would expect that. But many of them ventured to assign blame — not solely to the perpetrators and those who enabled them but also to homosexuality. This calumny against gay people brings shame upon a church already teetering under the weight of massive humiliation.
In a letter he wrote in response to McCarrick's resignation, Samuel J. Aquila, the archbishop of Denver, said that an aspect of the sex abuse crisis was that "too many, both clergy and lay, have listened more to the world than to Christ and the Church when it comes to human sexuality," and that the church must teach that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered." He continued: "The sexual revolution occurring in our culture, which essentially says, 'Anything goes if adults consent to it,' is not the way of God and only leads to where we are today."
What led the church to where it is today was unspeakable crimes and institutional cover-ups. At a moment when unqualified humility would seem the only possible response available to leaders of the Catholic faith, they instead choose to engage in the scurrilous scapegoating of innocent gay people. They demonstrate an unwillingness to accept full responsibility and a breathtaking absence of decency. Abuse in the church occurred not because of homosexuality but because church leaders created safe spaces for predators. Some of the abusers might have been gay. So what? Psychologists say pedophiles are sexually aroused not by gender but by youth, and homosexuality does not make people more likely to abuse others, as studies have shown. Some of the victims in Pennsylvania were girls.
When priests tell church members that homosexuality is a bar to Heaven, that's ultimately a spiritual matter the faithful must work out for themselves, but when church officials charge that homosexuality causes outrages in communities here on Earth, the discussion becomes a concern for believers and non-believers alike. Whether for spiritual or humane principles, the reaction from within and without the church must be to categorically reject such hateful messages.
Aquila was hardly alone in maligning gay people. Sacred Heart of Mary Church in Boulder posted to its website a video in which Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles discussed the scandals. "Is homosexuality something we should mention? Yeah, sure," he says in the video. "There is evidence that the vast majority of these cases involves male-on-male violence. Is that worth looking at? Yeah, absolutely."
A former Vatican ambassador to the United States, the reactionary Carlo Maria Vigano, set the global Catholic community aflame last week when he published a score-settling screed that in essence blames church abuse scandals on homosexuality and those church officials, including Pope Francis, who tolerate it. "The seriousness of homosexual behavior must be denounced," Vigano wrote.
Imagine the harm that remarks like his must inflict on gay people who were abused by predator priests. Such victims are traumatized twice, first by the abuser, then by the bigot.
Regarding McCarrick, Vigano offered purported evidence against homosexuality: "80 percent of the abuses found were committed against young adults by homosexuals who were in a relationship of authority over their victims," the former ambassador wrote. Even if this were true, factors other than sexual orientation obviously could have produced such a figure. More clear-eyed church officials have identified one plausible true culprit: clericalism, the elevation of priests as spiritually superior beings and the accumulation of power to religious hierarchy. And Vigano fails to mention that the environment in which church sex abuses occurred is one where dogma excludes women, a condition that just might have a skewing effect on the numbers. The energy behind Vigano's attacks against gay people would be better spent reforming the culture of the offending Catholic seminaries.
The Catholic church as an institution is in an existential crisis. Many Catholic writers have offered wrenching testaments of sorrow and regret. The most touching are those that do little but humbly align their interests with those of victims, and, insofar as they do, the faithful might see a way forward for the church. Outbursts of homophobia will only impede what progress is possible and are an affront to every community where Catholic churches minister.
Quentin Young, for the editorial board, email@example.com, @qpyoungnews.