Fallout from Cardinal O’Brien’s Resignation Is Both Good and Bad

Cardinal Keith O'Brien
Cardinal Keith O’Brien

While the Catholic world’s focus is on the conclave in Vatican City, it might do well to remember one prelate who is not there: Cardinal Keith O’Brien of Scotland.  As Bondings 2.0 reported last week, O’Brien resigned as archbishop of St. Andrews and Edinburgh because of credible allegations of sexual misconduct raised by three priests and one resigned priest.

O’Brien apologized for his behavior, and it seems that his apology–and the entire crisis–has brought about two interesting responses in Scotland.  The first is from Kevin Crowe and Simon Long, two gay Catholic men from Durness, who urged forgiveness for O’Brien.  They recently wrote the following letter to the editor in Scotland’s The Herald newspaper:

As gay Catholics, we have long campaigned for a more inclusive attitude from the church.

 On several occasions, we have publicly expressed our disagreement with the stance taken by the church and in particular the intemperate language used on occasions by Cardinal Keith O’Brien.

However, we take no satisfaction from the revelations about his past sexual behaviour and the resignation that followed (“‘Sexual conduct fell below standards expected of me'”, The Herald, March 4). Our major emotion is one of great sadness.

It is not uncommon for those who are in the closet to attempt to convince others of their heterosexuality by being virulent in their opposition to gay equality. Did Keith O’Brien follow this path?

He has asked for forgiveness for his failings. This forgiveness should be forthcoming – from Catholics and from gay people. Rather than condemning him, we should try to understand the pressures and forces that led him to make statements that could be seen as hypocritical. And we should remember that, on many other issues, he was considered to be a liberal.

If the Catholic Church begins the process of examining the harm caused by its dogmatic stance on sexual matters, then some good will have come out of this sad sequence of events.

We hope that in his retirement Keith O’Brien will find peace and happiness. Judgment we leave to God.

A little more complicated response comes from Peter Kearney, the former spokesperson for Cardinal O’Brien.   Kearney seems to acknowledge that the church under O’Brien’s leadership was not pastoral enough to gay and lesbian people.  However, the remedy he offers falls short of the mark.   The Scottish Express interviewed him, and he offered the following comments:

“Mr Kearney admitted more needs to be done to provide support for Catholics struggling with their sexuality.

“He added: ‘If there’s an area where the Church hasn’t been seen – frankly, because it’s not present – it’s in that area of compassionate, pastoral outreach to people who are struggling with same-sex attraction, or they’re confused about it and would love the chance to talk to someone in a compassionate, pastoral context.

“ ‘The truth of it is that that level of support really isn’t there.

“ ‘If you’ve got a drug, or alcohol problem, or homelessness, then we seem to be able to step in and offer you support, help and options. But when it comes to human sexuality, it just isn’t there at the moment. And that’s unfortunate.’ ”

Of course, Kearney is correct in saying that pastoral outreach seems absent in the Scottish church, and that people need support in the area of human sexuality.  Unfortunately, his negative appraisal of gay and lesbian people indicates that the kind of guidance he would want to offer would probably be more harmful than helpful.

Not all gay and lesbian people struggle with their orientation or have any confusion about it once they have accepted it.  Indeed, I would venture that most gay and lesbian people have come to a place of self-affirmation, sometimes against incredible odds.  A “compassionate, pastoral context” that Kearney mentions would be one that built upon this affirmation, not one that would cause people to develop negative evaluations of themselves.

Yes, more needs to be done pastorally for gay and lesbian people, but that “more” has to be positive and affirming, reminding them of God’s unconditional love for all.

The example of forgiveness from Kevin Long and Simon Crowe is a testimony to the fact that the entire church can learn a lot about God’s unconditional love from gay and lesbian people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



Sensational Headlines that Gays Pushed the Pope Out of Office Mask the Real Scandal of Vatican Affairs

Vatican Museum staircase
Vatican Museum staircase

A news story that sounds like the plot of a Dan Brown novel has been making headlines around the globe as it promotes the idea that Pope Benedict XVI was supposedly forced to resign by a group of gay prelates in the Vatican.

The Guardian newspaper reported:

“A potentially explosive report has linked the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI to the discovery of a network of gay prelates in the Vatican, some of whom – the report said – were being blackmailed by outsiders.

“The pope’s spokesman declined to confirm or deny the report, which was carried by the Italian daily newspaper La Repubblica.

“The paper said the pope had taken the decision on 17 December that he was going to resign – the day he received a dossier compiled by three cardinals delegated to look into the so-called ‘Vatileaks’ affair.

“Last May Pope Benedict’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, was arrested and charged with having stolen and leaked papal correspondence that depicted the Vatican as a seething hotbed of intrigue and infighting.

“According to La Repubblica, the dossier comprising ‘two volumes of almost 300 pages – bound in red’ had been consigned to a safe in the papal apartments and would be delivered to the pope’s successor upon his election.”

While such a story could be true, the sensationalism, coupled with the paucity of facts, and being based on a “secret” document, all inspire serious doubts about its legitimacy.

Veteran church observer David Gibson downplays the possibility of the report’s veracity on his Religion News Service blog:

“I’m one of those who would say this is pretty massively overplayed. For one thing, Benedict’s resignation was most certainly the result of numerous factors, mainly revolving around the internal problems of the Vatican, of which sexual shenanigans were likely one — but hardly the only one, or even the principal one. His advancing age was the element that pushed it all to the brink.”

Reports such as this one, based on little fact, are dangerous because they perpetuate a myth that gay people are to blame for anything wrong or unusual in the church–the way that gay priests were scapegoated for the sexual abuse crisis.  Furthermore, it paints gay people as manipulative, power-hungry, clandestine.

The tragedy is that such myths will continue as long as gay people serving in the church must do so in secrecy.  By maintaining such a repressive atmosphere around LGBT issues, the Vatican has helped to foster a climate of suspicion and fear which paves the way for such speculation.  Could a “gay lobby” exist in the Vatican?  Given the repressive atmosphere, it seems very unlikely that any gay priest or prelate would have the courage to acknowledge his sexual orientation to another priest or prelate.

The sorry scandal of this story, which could be lost in the sensationalism around gay issues, is that power-mongering does indeed exist so blatantly at the Vatican.  Whether by gay men or straight men, this power-mongering seriously harms the church’s mission and credibility in the world.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry




Vatican Official Calls for Protections for Same-Gender Couples

Over the course of the past year or so, we’ve witnessed a slow evolution in Catholic hierarchical thinking on marriage for same-gender couples.  Recently in France and Great Britain, bishops’ groups  have spoken more positively about same-gender couples than they had before.  In Germany and Italy, individual bishops have made positive statements about same-gender couples.  Even here in the U.S., Chicago’s Cardinal Francis George made surprisingly positive statement about love between people of the same gender, even though he opposed Illinois’ marriage bill.

Archbishop Vincent Paglia
Archbishop Vincent Paglia

Today, the positive statement on same-gender relationships comes from the Vatican itself.  The National Catholic Reporter stated:

“A high-ranking Vatican official on Monday voiced support for giving unmarried couples some kind of legal protection even as he reaffirmed the Catholic church’s opposition to same-sex marriage.

“Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, also said the church should do more to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in countries where homosexuality is illegal.

“In his first Vatican press conference since his appointment as the Catholic church’s “minister” for family, Paglia conceded that there are several kinds of ‘cohabitation forms that do not constitute a family,’ and that their number is growing.

Paglia suggested that nations could find ‘private law solutions’ to help individuals who live in non-matrimonial relations, ‘to prevent injustice and make their life easier.’ “

Paglia also spoke forcefully opposing discrimination and criminalization of homosexuality:

“Responding to journalists’ questions, Paglia also strongly condemned discrimination against gay people, who he said ‘have the same dignity as all of God’s children’

” ‘In the world there are 20 or 25 countries where homosexuality is a crime,’ he said. ‘I would like the church to fight against all this.’ “

While these positive remarks are welcome, it must also be said that Paglia still strongly opposed marriage equality:

” ‘The church must defend the truth, and the truth is that a marriage is only between a man and a woman,’ he said. Other kinds of ‘affections’ cannot be the foundation for a ‘public structure’ such as marriage.

” ‘We cannot surrender to a sick egalitarianism that abolishes every difference,’ he warned, and run the risk of society becoming a new ‘Babel.’ “

Despite the continued intransigence on marriage equality,  I think it is important to note that the archbishop’s comments represent a giant step forward in terms of Vatican recognition of same-gender couples.  Even just a month ago, when the pope made harsh statements against same-gender relationships in his World Peace Day message, one could not have imagined a Vatican official making such positive comments as Paglia did.  His comments are a small change, but all change happens little by little.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Irish Priest’s Refusal to Be Silenced Is a Beacon of Hope for Church Renewal


As I see it, one of the greatest hindrances to progress on LGBT issues in the Catholic Church is not just the intransigence of many hierarchical leaders, but the fact that many “mid-level” leaders do not speak their mind about their support for such issues.  The fear of retaliation, no doubt, is strong, but it has always been a puzzle why so many so often give into this fear.

Father Tony Flannery
Father Tony Flannery

An inspiring story out of Ireland gives a shining example of one priest who has not succumbed to such fear.  The New York Times  reports:

“The Rev. Tony Flannery, 66, who was suspended by the Vatican last year, said he was told by the Vatican that he would be allowed to return to ministry only if he agreed to write, sign and publish a statement agreeing, among other things, that women should never be ordained as priests and that he would adhere to church orthodoxy on matters like contraception and homosexuality.”

Fr. Flannery’s words, I hope, will give courage to many other church leaders:

“ ‘How can I put my name to such a document when it goes against everything I believe in,’ he said in an interview on Wednesday. ‘If I signed this, it would be a betrayal not only of myself but of my fellow priests and lay Catholics who want change. I refuse to be terrified into submission.’ ”

What is inspiring is not only his bravery, but his willingness to expose the fear tactics that are often used at higher levels in our church.

A member of the Redemptorists, Fr. Flannery is also a leader of Ireland’s Association of Catholic Priests, which the New York Times  describes as ” a group formed in 2009 to articulate the views of rank-and-file members of the clergy.”  He commented on what he sees as the scare tactics of the current papacy:

“He believes the church’s treatment of him, which he described as a ‘Spanish Inquisition-style campaign,’ is symptomatic of a definite conservative shift under Pope Benedict XVI.

“ ‘I have been writing thought-provoking articles and books for decades without hindrance,’ he said. ‘This campaign is being orchestrated by a secretive body that refuses to meet me. Surely I should at least be allowed to explain my views to my accusers.’ ”

Fr. Flannery will be holding a press conference later today, and so more news may be forthcoming about this story.  Bondings 2.0 will be on the alert for any new developments and will share them with you.

Along with Fr. Roy Bourgeois, who was recently dismissed from the Maryknoll community for his support of women’s ordination, Fr. Flannery is a beacon of hope for those who work and pray for a renwal of our church’s approach to gender and sexuality.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Were Croatian Events Extreme? What Is the Definition of “Extreme”?

Four days ago, we posted about two protests about Catholic involvement in marriage equality–one for marriage and one against marriage for lesbian and gay couples.  The “pro” protest involved women going topless in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City; the “con” protest was a letter of inflated rhetoric on religious liberty signed by 1,000 priests in England and Wales.

In our headline and in the post, we labeled both protests “extreme.”  Several thoughtful commenters disagreed with our characterization, and we appreciate their feedback.  It has provided us with much input for reflection.

So, today, we post about another protest and another set of hierarchical comments, these from Zagreb, Croatia.  And at the end of this post, we ask three questions of you, our loyal readers:  1) Would you label the Croatia events “extreme”?; 2) What is your definition of an “extreme” when it comes to protest and comments?; 3) Does using tactics that some might think “extreme” help or hinder a cause?  We look forward to your feedback, and we hope that it sparks some discussion on this important matter of what is an appropriate and effective form of protest.

KissCroatiaThe Croatia protest was a “kiss-in” in front of the Catholic cathedral in Zagreb, the nation’s capital.   It was sparked by comments from the archbishop there who compared a pro-LGBT government proposal to Nazism and from other senior priests who disparaged LGBT people.

Balkan Insight.com reports:

“Some 100 campaigners for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights kissed each other and waved rainbow flags at the protest in front of the cathedral on Saturday despite being confronted by a much larger crowd of opponents.

” ‘We are here to send messages of love from the place which only sends out hate speech,’ Matea Popov from campaign group Zagreb Pride told journalists during the protest. . . .

“The protest was organised after recent statements by several top priests calling homosexuality ‘unnatural’ and ‘pathological’.

” ‘The conspiracy of faggots and lesbians would destroy Croatia,’ said Adalbert Rebic, a professor of theology and prominent priest, said last week in an interview with the newspaper Slobodna Dalmacija.

“Some other Catholic dignitaries, including Zagreb’s assistant archbishop Valentin Pozaic, have made similar statements.

“Their comments were sparked by a major dispute between the government and the Catholic church in Croatia about the introduction of health education into primary and secondary schools which includes teaching on homosexuality that the church considers unacceptable.

“The centre-left government said that children should be better educated about health and sexual issues.

“The church and conservative civic associations accepted the idea, but strongly opposed a part of it in which children are to be taught that homosexuality is normal. . . .

“The dispute boiled over last week when assistant archbishop Pozaic compared the government to a Nazi dictatorship.

” ‘Nazism got into power democratically, but then they imposed dictatorship. Is there any need to compare them with today’s communists in Croatia?’ Pozaic asked in a speech.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry




Extreme Protests from Both Sides of the Catholic Marriage Equality Debate

Two protests occurred in Europe over the weekend regarding Catholic involvement in the question of marriage equality.  One protest was for marriage equality and one was against it. Both were extreme.

article-protest4-0113The pro-marriage equality protest took place in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City,  when four women went topless to demonstrate against the Catholic hierarchy’s opposition to marriage for lesbian and gay couples and adoption of children by same-gender couples.

The New York Daily News reports

“While the pope was giving his weekly address on Sunday, four women from the Ukrainian Femen group who were in the crowd, pulled off their T-shirts to reveal the slogan ‘In Gay we Trust’ painted over their bodies.”

The same Femen group staged a protest appearing as topless nuns in Paris a few months ago, which erupted in a violent clash between two demonstrating groups.

An Italian court had recently issued a ruling allowing for a mother and her female partner to maintain custody of a son, depsite the father’s protest against such an arrangement:

“The Court of Cassation ruled it was ‘mere prejudice’ to assume that living with a homosexual couple could be detrimental for a child’s development

“While gay rights group Arcigay called it a ‘historic ruling’ for Italy, where it is illegal for gay couples to adopt, Catholic leaders were quick to defend the traditional family unit.”

In the United Kingdom, 1,054 Roman Catholic priests and 13 bishops and abbots signed a public letter protesting the move in that nation toward legalizing marriage equality.  The Daily Telegraph reports:

“More than 1,000 priests have signed a letter voicing alarm that same-sex marriage could threaten religious freedom in a way last seen during ‘centuries of persecution’ of Roman Catholics in England.

“They even liken David Cameron’s moves to redefine marriage to those of Henry VIII, whose efforts to secure a divorce from Katherine of Aragon triggered centuries of bloody upheaval between church and state.”

The news report notes that the signers account for one-quarter of  all the Catholic priests in England and Wales.  Of course, that means that three-quarters of the priests did not sign the statement.

Both cases illustrate a minority of the people who promote or oppose marriage equality, and their extreme actions and rhetoric add nothing to the debate, but simply inflame passions.

See also: Gay Star News:  Italian Catholic Church likens gay parenting to selling children.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Support the Sisters by Re-Directing Peter’s Pence Donations

NunJustice.org, the coalition of Catholic organizations which has formed to support Catholic nuns in the wake of the Vatican’s challenge to the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, is recommending an alternative donation option to a popular Catholic Church fundraising project.

On June 24th, the Vatican will be sponsoring its annual Peter’s Pence, a worldwide collection of donations from Catholics to support the pope’s private charities.  The NunJustice.org coalition is asking Catholics to donate, inste ad, to a community of nuns in their local area, as a sign of support for the nuns, and a sign that Catholics disagree with the Vatican’s critique of women’s religious life in the U.S.

The NunJustice.org  website is NOT collecting any funds for this effort, but they are asking Catholics who donate to a local women’s religious community to visit the website and let them know how much was donated, as a way for them to track how much money was actually raised by donating to local women’s communities.

The website also has a comment about the lack of transparency concerning Peter’s Pence donations:

“Jason Berry’s recent book Render Unto Rome: the Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church exposes a shocking misuse of charitable donations by people who administer the finances of the Catholic Church. An investigative journalist, Berry’s meticulous documentation reveals that Peter’s Pence donations are frequently used to cover Vatican operating costs even though Catholics are told the money will be used for the Pope’s private charities. There is no public accounting of Peter’s Pence contributions as would be expected of other charitable organizations in the US and around the world.”

The Vatican’s critique of LCWR was in part motivated because of the Sisters’ public support of LGBT ministry and justice generally, and of New Ways Ministry in particular.

NunJustice.org has already succeeded in collecting over 57,000 signatures, one for each of the nuns in the U.S., on a petition against the Vatican’s challenge to LCWR.  The coalition presented these signatures to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops at their recent semi-annual meeting in Atlanta, Georgia.  You can read about the petition delivery in a New York Times article here.

Please be as generous as you can to your local sisters for two important reasons:  1) to thank them for their presence and ministry in our church; 2) to show the Vatican that Catholic support is with the Sisters during this important crisis.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry