Saturday, September 1, 2018

Grandpa Bergoglio

Grandpa Bergoglio. He has such a kindly grandfatherly look about him. Nonno, I want to call him, remembering how fondly my best friend growing up referred to his Italian grandfather. Opa in German; “papoosh” in Greek; pawpaw, grandpa, gramps.

Pope Francis is married to the Catholic Church. He doesn’t have kids, so no grandkids, either. Pity. I have no trouble seeing him snuggled up on a couch reading bedtime stories to his adoring little ones, the reward for many years of raising a family. He's got a warm smile, although he doesn't get to display it much anymore.

Instead, he has become a lonely tired old man, carrying the burden for the evils his church brought upon itself for running from the priest abuse scandals; the corruption of the Vatican Bank; the bones of 800 children buried without records in unhallowed (septic) ground of the Sisters of Bon Secours, in Tuam, Ireland, one of more than a dozen such homes run by nuns; the loathing of women forced over the years to stay married to wife-beaters, the anger of gays and lesbians for being portrayed as depraved human beings. And, if you’ve really got it in for the church, there’s always the brutality inflicted on indigenous populations in Africa and the New World, “softened up” for the job of colonization by missionaries. And, thank you Monty Python, let’s not forget the Spanish Inquisition.

It was only after I broke free from the socialization I had as a child into the world of Calvinism and came to see the Pilgrim Fathers as just another bunch of wacko religious fanatics that I began to lighten up on the Catholics and see them in the same light as all other fallible human beings, prone to great folly in the name of dedication to their particular conceptualization of a divine being.  More and more, recently, I've come to care little about other people’s doctrinal beliefs. What I seek in people these days is kindness and compassion. Being right is important, but it’s not all there is. I used to call indoctrinating children with religious belief a form of child abuse. But I’ve seen how most people, including myself, shake off the fantasy that there is a big fatherly friend in the sky who can be persuaded by prayer and fasting to change the laws of nature on a petitioner’s behalf. I consider being raised in a religious home not the worst thing that can happen to a child. In a great many cases, it instills good values and a sense of awareness that one is not alone in the universe, that one needs a community, not just to survive, but to develop a healthy world view, and that’s a good thing.

So I look at the bishop of Rome not so much as the leader of a smug hypocritical organization of self-serving autocrats, as a man who’s playing the cards he was dealt, just like the rest of us.

He’s on the ropes these days, is poor old Francis. In my gay activist days I’d say, “Hot damn, there is justice in the universe, after all. Homophobia Central’s long delayed journey toward Enlightenment is finally getting some of the same shit it has long been dealing out."

But there’s an irony here at least ten feet tall. He’s been put on the ropes not by those who are bothered by his homophobia; he’s been put there by the radical right wing of the church for not being hard enough on gay people and on homosexuality itself. By a group of exceedingly stupid men who believe the church’s child abuse scandal is the direct result of an infiltration of the priesthood by homosexuals.

Take out the homosexuals, they say, and you take out the abusers.

It’s true to a large degree. If you take out those men who are sexually attracted to other males, you would take out a significant number of men who abuse their power over altar boys and other children of their parish. Figures are contested. One source claims the majority of cases involve boys between 11 and 14. This source lumps pre-pubescent kids together with post-pubescent kids, which I think is a mistake. Another source claims most cases of sexual molestation, around 80%,  involve not small children, but post-pubescent teenagers, so those who maintain homosexuality doesn’t figure into the scandal are mistaken. Regardless of the actual figures, the problem with making homosexuality the source of the problem is that it misses the target by a mile. First off, the number of priests involved in abuse is quite small, no more than about 4%. That means that 96% of priests do not molest anybody, teenagers or small children. Estimates of gays in the priesthood range from 22 to 45%.   If the church succeeded in eliminating celibate gay priests (and gays engaging in sex with another consenting adult) along with the abusers, they would be burning the house down simply because it needs a new paint job. And you wouldn't have begun to address the nearly 20% оf those priests who molest little girls.

Secondly, those within the church trying to defend themselves by saying that child abuse is no worse in the church than it is in the general population are right. In any group of adult males you’re going to find some who are sexually aggressive. Making a vow of celibacy is relatively easy when you’re young and naive. Maintaining that vow over the years is another thing entirely.  The real problem here is not that there are priests who abuse; the problem is that the church has done such a piss-poor job of cleaning up the mess. They’ve thrown the child-victims under the bus. Paid off families and forced them to sign agreements to keep the cases hushed up. Shuffled priests around instead of exposing them to justice, thus enabling them to abuse again. An individual who abuses another is a bad apple. A church which covers up a case of abuse is a corrupt institution.

When a grand jury report on sex abuse in the church in Pennsylvania revealed that the church has not fixed the problem first exposed in 2002 in Boston, anger at the church increased by leaps and bounds. Will this never end, people are asking. When, in God’s name, are they actually going to do something? The pressure on the church increased. Church bashers cited the numbers yet again of those fleeing from the pews. And from within, the church revealed that, as with Erdoğan in Turkey, Orbán in Hungary, and Trump in the United States, it is not immune to the global swing away from fighting poverty and hunger toward autocratic, authoritarian rule.  America is now divided into two warring camps: those who believe in the scientific approach to truth as that which is empirically verifiable and those who believe that truth is whatever you decide it should be. And the church is also divided into two camps: those concerned with rooting out fellow members who are not doctrinally pure, and those who believe the church’s role on earth is to provide a large communal tent for those struggling with the meaning of life, all the while urging, but not compelling, adherence to the church’s teachings.

In the 60s, the church under Pope John XXIII underwent a radical change from a focus on ritual and the trappings of power to a focus on community and pastoral care. Since then those with an authoritarian bent have been attempting to bring the church back to believing that it is the sole possessor of truth, that it alone holds the keys to the heavenly kingdom, and that what the church teaches is valid for all times and in all places and must not change. Bergoglio has been hinting that maybe a bit more focus on pastoral care might be in order, and a bit less rigidity when it comes sexuality and the role of women.  Feeble as these hints are to those who believe changes are way past due, they suggest he is probably more at home among Vatican II (John XXIII) Catholics than among those who would maintain the Latin mass and rule the Church as a Roman autocrat.

Just as Trump appeals to those looking for a Leader to bring back the good old days, fight off alien beings, and protect their right to carry a gun, radical conservative Catholics want to feel secure in their belief that they have a Leader appointed by God himself and are members of a heaven-bound elite. A Leader who is infallible when it comes to ultimate truths. Who can tell them how to tell right from wrong in simple language they can commit to memory, making debates about the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin interesting to the Jesuitical types among them, maybe, but ultimately unnecessary.

If you’ve been following the news about this forest fire within the Catholic Church these days, you know all about Cardinal Viganò and the likes of folk like Michael Voris of The Church Militant. Voris is a “reformed homosexual” who has given his life since “seeing the light” to rooting out homosexuals like his former self within the church. And Viganò has laid the blame for the scandals at the feet of Grandpa Bergoglio and blamed him for being soft on homosexuals, as well. Irony on top of irony. Remember how the pope, during his U.S. visit, told Kim Davis, that Kentucky marriage clerk who refused to give a marriage certificate to a gay couple, to "stay strong"? Viganò, the ardent authoritarian papist who is down on Grandpa Bergoglio/Pope Francis, put in power in a legitimate session of the College of Cardinals, for not being sufficiently papal. And blaming the head of one of the world’s chief centers of homophobia for not being sufficiently homophobic.

What would life be without a delicious irony or two now and then?

Google Viganò, if you've got the time. You’ll find more to read than you can handle. And the more you dig into it – Viganò's role in exposing the Vatican Bank scandal, for example – the more interesting the background story gets.

Me, I’m sticking with Pawpaw. My Argentine abuelito. He’s three and a half years older than I am. I doubt I could get very far these days on a bicycle, much less peddle one uphill with this crumbling institution in the basket, as he’s having to do.

I wish we could get together over coffee. I’ll bet he has great stories to tell.

Photo credit


William D. Lindsey said...

Alan, I've been caught up in the incessant flurry of news stories about all of this and had not yet taken time to thank you for this wonderful posting — as I should have done long since. As I read it, I think — and you may find this odd — of Charles Marsh's biography of Bonhoeffer, which I'm reading right now. Before reading it, I had not known the extent to which Bonhoeffer was attracted to Catholic ritual and pageant, in his first trip to Rome and then in the time in which he lived in Barcelona as a Lutheran pastor.

A lot of things about him and his work suddenly click for me when I read Marsh saying that Bonhoeffer's intellectual curiosity and his ecumenical openness to various forms of religious expression and ideas beyond his own cultural pale led him always to be reaching across the "approved" lines in his upbringing, culture, and church. He caused dismay for his parents when he chose not the eminent Harnack or Holl to be his dissertation director, but the cranky, eccentric Seeberg — because he himself did not want to be easily pigeonholed.

I have not yet gotten to the part of the book that made waves by suggesting Bonhoeffer was gay and had a gay relationship. But I'd add that to the mix, as I think about his desire not to be pigeonholed, boxed in — and about his openness to many different kinds of ideas, different people, different religious persuasions and anti-religious ones. The only intellectual milieu that seems to have irritated him profoundly was the seminary life in New York in the time he spent there. He was dumbfounded at the glib, anti-intellectual optimism of the seminary students there.

I hope you won't find it offensive for me to suggest you and Dietrich have some similar traits.

Jimmy Mac said...

I'm a little late to this posting.

Blaming homosexual priests. is an old canard, which has been disabused by many, including Thomas Plante, PhD in a 2010 article in Psychology Today (

Let me quote some of his findings. The article is still online and available for all to see.

“First, no research suggests that homosexuals are at higher risk of being sex offenders, committing sexual crimes, or having impulse control disorders that result in sexual crimes than heterosexuals. Sexual orientation, by itself, is not a risk factor for crime. Almost all of the professional medical, psychiatric, and psychological associations (such as the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Pediatric Association) have position papers that articulate this understanding. For example, the American Psychological Association stated in 1975: "homosexuality per se implies no impairment in judgment, reliability or general social and vocational capabilities…(and mental health professionals should) take the lead in removing the stigma of mental illness long associated with homosexual orientation."

Second, sexual crimes against children are not merely an issue of sexual desire. Most men who are sex offenders struggle with a variety of co-morbid disorders such as substance abuse, impulse control problems, personality disorders, affective or mood disorders, brain injury as well as an inability to maintain mature, intimate, sexual or non-sexual relationships with adults. Often a sexual crime and behavior (violating a child) is more than just they can’t help themselves with their sexual attractions and desires. Many pedophiles are indeed sexually attracted to pre pubescent children but 80% of clergy sexual offenders violated a post pubescent teen and are not pedophiles at all (but are described as ephebophiles). Many report that teens are not the object of their desire but what was available to them at the time. Perhaps prison sexual behavior is a good example. Often heterosexual men find themselves engaging in homosexual behavior while in prison and return to heterosexual behavior once released. Abusing priests, especially during the 1960's and 1970's when most of these crimes were committed, had power, control, access, and trust with boys much more so than with girls.

Certainly some homosexual priests did in fact abuse boys. But so did heterosexual priests as well as priests who were unclear about their sexual orientation and desires. I have evaluated or treated about 60 of these men during the past several decades and have found this to be true clinically as well as true based on research findings. Sexual crimes against children are much more complicated than merely an issue of sexual orientation.

In my view, sexual orientation is a red herring in this debate. If we truly are interested in protecting children from harm and doing the right thing, we shouldn’t blame homosexuals but focus our attention on the various well known and established risk factors that are more likely to result in the sexual victimization of children and youth. These include a history of sexual and other victimization, impulse control problems, the inability to maintain satisfying peer/adult relationships, maladaptive coping styles, substance abuse, and several co-morbid psychiatric disturbances. Sexual orientation isn't one of them. There is quality research and state-of-the-art practice that can help us with this and those of us actively involved with this work from a clinical, research, and policy standpoint are using it. We must do so for the sake of our children as well as for the Church.”

Jimmy Mac said...

In order to get my last bit past the "number of character censors":

"In summary, Plante states what I find to be true way too often in the annals of conservative Catholicism: “Tragically, those with a homosexual orientation have a long standing history of being scapegoated and victimized in our culture and in many others cultures for centuries. Sadly, this group is being again victimized in the clergy abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. We need less and not more victims in this story.”

For his full posting, see: