While at GLAAD, much of my time in the early 2000's was focused in the Catholic Church abuse scandal. We saw very early on that it was going to be a "let's blame the gay priest" strategy. At a press conference in Rome in 2001, then president of the US Bishops' conference, Wilton Gregory, said "we do not have a pedophilia problem, we have a homosexuality problem." Vatican City, we have a problem. My media "spider -sense" had gone off months before, so we were ready with experts, allied groups, messages and a strategy to deal with this. We were certainly not going down without a fight. And that fight paid off, as we saw from this recent visit by the Pope.
Pope Benedict and I agree, finally
First a little background. We bird-dogged the Bishops at their conferences in Dallas and Washington, DC, duly noting two things: one, their PR people were not so smart to ban reporters from the conferences since it left them in the lobby to spend the day with us and many of the abuse survivors who were also there; and the stunning similarity to the GLAAD awards, a lot of men in black and no line at the ladies room. Let's not discuss the parlor game we played daily, called "Is that Bishop gay?" It was an entertaining diversion that turned out to be pretty time consuming. Enough said about that.
So imagine my surprise when the extremely frightening new Pope Benedict (as a Catholic I think I can say this) has this to say about the abuse scandal during his first visit to America. : "I do not wish to talk at this moment about homosexuality, but about pedophilia, which is another thing." He also offered an unflinching acknowledgment that church officials mishandled the crisis and that victims deserve care and compassion. My guess is that the survivors want more than that, but that's another post.
But wait a second - those are MY talking point, Papa! It seems all of our hard work and the work of the other groups, especially the amazing and truly courageous Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests (SNAP) who tried for years to get the media and the public to understand not only that the conspiracy and intentional denial of the problem has ruined so many lives, but that the media was ignoring the many female victims of abuse to play up the "gay priests angle" and also that the issue was NOT homosexuality but pedophilia and ephebophilia (look it up, it was a very important point in the conversation).
One high point was placing a front page piece in USA Today the day the conference began in Dallas and some other fun stuff take a look at.
After much of the media hoopla died down, many lay Catholics continued to pressure the church, and when Bishop Gregory was interviewed by George Stephanopoulous, who asked him about the strategy used by the church to lay the abuse scandal at the feet of gay priest, Gregory backpedaled and said the church was not interested in "scapegoating" anyone.
So what may be the most challenging issue I have ever worked on seemed to pay off - to all of our benefit. If you are interested, you can find a lot more info at the GLAAD website.
On a personal note, one of the most important things we did was to not deny the huge number of gay priests in the Catholic church (at all levels of the hierarchy, hint hint). As we used to joke - how many straight priests does it take to put in a light bulb? Both of them.
But the complex and nuanced issues related to the gay priests in the Catholic church go far beyond this and I think we helped make some headway into better understanding how the church has facilitated the repression of so many of us.
Kudos to the folks at Dignity - and all the others - who are braving the crowds to confront the Pope during this trip with, well, dignity, as LGBT Catholics who refuse to have the church hierarchy deny them their faith tradition. It is the one I grew up with and one I maintain - and neither the Pope, the Bishops or others can take that from us. I will not pretend that the church is not flawed. But my Dad, who passed away 10 years ago this week and to whom I dedicate this piece, told me many times, "it's not the religion that we should be bothered by, it is the hierarchy and the dogma."
I think he would have been proud of the work I have done on this and other things.