Cathy Renna

Pope Benedict and I agree, finally

Filed By Cathy Renna | April 17, 2008 8:02 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: Benedict XVI, Catholic church, gay priests, homophobic behavior, papal visit, pedophilia, pope, priest abuse

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.

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.

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Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 17, 2008 9:01 AM

I think it must be the shoes. Those Pradas finally worked their way up into his heart. Look, when your religion is also a major slum landlord, it is a problem. When religion enjoys tax advantages, but we are supposedly living in a secular state, it is a problem.

Many problems of religion would be solved by their having to pay property tax and join the rest of the human race.

I am sure your dad was a great guy!

I was raised Catholic, but I long since gave up the religion way before I became Monica. For my parents, I was married in the church and my two sons were baptised Catholic, but neither of them practice the religion. I also was an alter boy and I lucked out on not being abused by a priest. However, I see that being a Catholic as a child, I was "religiously abused" in other ways.

I haven't been happy with this Pope because of his continous hateful language about gay people. But, I am glad to see he has stopped blaming the sex scandle on gay priest . . . at least at this moment. We'll have to see how it progresses.

Thanks to our old nemesis Dr. Paul McHugh the Catholic Church is moving in an anti-transgender direction

Cathy, great post! Way to give us all a word for the day: ephebophilia. I looked it up. Exclusive sexual attraction to adolescents.

I'm glad that the Pope has caught onto the fact that gay priests aren't the problem. Perhaps if the priests didn't have to remain celibate, they wouldn't prey on children and teenagers. I'm not trying to make excuses for pedophiles. Molesters are molesters. I'm just saying . . . you gotta get your rocks off, I don't care how pious you are. And I don't doubt that Jesus was knocking boots with Mary Magdalene, plus some of the apostles. He did say love everyone, after all. Where is the justification for the whole celibacy thing, anyhow?

That's a stunning statement from the Pope. Thanks for your hard work in getting the Church to that point, Cathy. Great post.

PS - I now know where you got your ability to give such darn good advice! :)

While it does look like the Roman Catholic Church is now handling the molestation problem more honestly than when they tried to blame it on "gay priests", the Holy See and His Church have not gone quite far enough to satisfy me.

By their own current rules, the priests are expected to be celebate. If a priest is truly celibate, then his sexuality should not be that much of an issue. Each priest should be free to disclose he is straight, free to disclose he is gay, or free to say that his sexual feelings are a private matter and that he chooses not to discuss them publicly. Each of these positions is reasonable.

So if the RCC retains the policy of celebacy for priests, the logical end point which they must eventually get to is that "a priest is a priest is a priest." This, in turn, obligates them to welcome both straight and gay men into the priesthood, not prefering one over the other, while at the same time emphasizing also that when the RCC says celibacy, it means celibacy.

Notwithstanding the Pope's progress on these matters, I still understand that there are seminaries and monasteries where efforts are made to weed the gay men out of the priesthood. Unless there is a specific problem with a particular individual not maintaining celibacy, there is no theological reason to do so whatsoever, even if they maintain that all overt homosexuality is sinful. They do so only out of pure social prejudice. So they have come a long way, but there is still a considerable way to go.

Nothing he has said or done (including his meeting with the abuse survivors) indicates to me that the man has a clue. He is wining and dining and shuffling his ruby slippers with the men who stayed in power with his blessing after years of shuffling the pedophiles from one parish to another. And his message is not just that Catholics should adhere to the dictates of The Holy Office of the Inquisition, but that they must cooperate with Protestant fundamentalists (who despise them) to elect politicians who will impose his paranoid vision on all of us.

From the YP4 Blog:

Cathy Renna over at Bilerico Project has a post about the work GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and others did to keep the Catholic Church from blaming the child abuse scandal on gay priests. That work paid off, among other places, in the Pope's talking points yesterday.

Read the full entry