On the heels of the sexual abuse disclosures conservative Archbishop accuses Pope of hiding sexual abuse and attacks “homosexual underground” in the Church. He is backed by the Koch brothers and other right wing Catholics
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network, I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you all with us.
The latest revelations from Pennsylvania, the grand jury report that we talked about the other week on the horrible sexual abuse of children by some Roman Catholic priests and more recent revelations about nuns allegedly killing and torturing children in Vermont, have shaken the Church, Catholic laity, and the wider world has been watching.
On top of that, we now have conservative Archbishop, Carlo Maria Vigano, who had been the Vatican envoy to the United States until Pope Francis removed him in 2016, writing that the pope knew about priests’ abuse of children and kept it quiet. It has made the deep schism between progressives and conservatives within the church very public. Conservative church leaders want to get rid of Pope Francis, that seems to be clear, and are trying to blame what happened on him and as they put it, “homosexuals in the church and priesthood.”
Well, it goes far deeper than that. And to work through some of this with us, I want to welcome Daniel Schultz, who writes Religion Dispatches for Rewire.News and hosts The Stranger Jesus podcast and is a minister. And Daniel, welcome, good to have you with us.
DANIEL SCHULTZ: Thank you, thank you for having me on.
MARC STEINER: So, this is continuing to unfold, it’s a complex issue. I think it goes in many ways to the heart of schisms that have happened in the church for many, many, many centuries and is playing itself out now. But it seems to me that what we’ve just seen in the news about Archbishop Vigano and his attack against Pope Francis is almost- given that he was removed by Pope Francis, and the pope had been removing removing people who were more conservative in the churches to start with, has more to do with a political battle within the church that also has to do with religious interpretation than anything we’re seeing about the revelations about abuse. How do you see that?
DANIEL SCHULTZ: Well, we should be clear that Archbishop Vigano hit the maximum age of seventy-five, at which he was expected to retire. So, it’s not entirely fair to say that Francis fired him. He could have let him stay on for another year or two-
MARC STEINER: Could have.
DANIEL SCHULTZ: But generally at that age they’re expected to move on. What has been more of a problem is that Vigano’s primary sponsor within the Vatican hierarchy was Benedict XVI, and Vergano has been allied with church conservatives. Of course, Pope Francis has not. And so, there’s a lot of bureaucratic infighting going on here, a lot of petty resentment. So, you’re absolutely correct. This is like a lot of church schisms.
MARC STEINER: So, I mean but look at this. I mean, you mentioned Pope Benedict. I mean, he was conservative. John Paul was much more conservative, I think, than many people won’t remember him as because he was such a dynamic figure as well. But then you have the present Pope Francis, who when he was installed as pope, most people within the church, even the hierarchy, did not expect him to be this almost progressive incarnation of John XXIII.
And I think that you can- and that’s part of the problem here, that Francis has taken a very independent view and a different view around gays and lesbians, around the question of women in the church and many other things that he’s kind of pushed the envelope more than other popes have in the past. And I think that is kind of what’s underneath of this. And these reports coming out, like the Pennsylvania grand jury, are just kind of fueling the intensity of what is a very different battle.
DANIEL SCHULTZ: Well, you have a lot of different threads coming together here. In many ways, Francis continues the work of John Paul XXIII and Benedict, particularly in their attitudes toward the poor. But he extends, in other ways, in a focus on environmental issues and his tolerance for gays and lesbians and divorced people within the church. Where he’s really different is that he is unwilling to be sidetracked by those social issues that we know and love so well in American politics. He’s not interested in fighting battles about divorce, he’s not interested in fighting against gays and lesbians. He’s anti-abortion like anyone else in the Catholic hierarchy, but he doesn’t want that to be his central concern.
So, there is always in Catholicism a lot of movement back and forth. And Vigano is lined up on one side and Francis on the other. What’s really at stake here, however, is that Francis is trying to reorient the values of the church away from esteem of the hierarchy, of self-serving, self dealing, self promotion, and toward a more modern outlook of service. That, of course, gets all kinds of resistance, both within the Vatican itself and around the globe. Vigano is taking advantage of that to take a stab at Francis, to kind of sidetrack some of his agenda. And he’s doing that in a very clever way.
The rolling sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church is, of course, an enormous deal. It has been for thirty years. It’s something that the laity are extremely concerned about. And the more we learn about it, the more we learn that the hierarchy has been bungling the response again and again and again. They’ve been concealing, they’ve been denying, they’ve been protecting. So, Vigano has this opening, he thinks, to attack Francis and sort of turn this issue back against him to sidetrack his agenda.
MARC STEINER: So, part of this, I think, that we really need to get into here; part of the attack of Vigano against Pope Francis is attacking what they’re calling homosexuals in the church, homosexuals in the priesthood, homosexuals throughout the Vatican, homosexuals in the Vatican bureaucracy. This is, I mean, this is kind of the heart of what he’s doing in terms of trying to link Pope Francis to this, and also saying this is the issue, as if pedophilia and homosexuality are somehow connected. And I think that-
DANIEL SCHULTZ: He seems to think that homosexuaity causes pedophilia and notes that most of the abuse within the Catholic Church, of course, is with older men and younger boys. The problem with that is that predators will go wherever they think that they can find victims. And if what they have available to them are boys, that’s what they will do. It has nothing to do with sexual orientation and a lot to do with power and control.
MARC STEINER: I mean, there are people who have been commenting on this in the church. And I’m going to read you one piece right now which shows the depth of where this argument is going inside the church, I think. And is it Janet Smith, professor of Moral Theology at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, wrote, “The problem of clergy abuse cannot be resolved simply by the resignation of some bishops and even less so by bureaucratic directives. The deeper problem lies in homosexual networks within the clergy which must be eradicated.”
So, it seems to me that this is at the heart of a lot of what we’re looking at here, and people not wanting to deal with in some ways that I began to talk to Matthew Fox about the other week, which had to do with the general repressive sexuality that takes place not just in the church, but in some ways in the whole monotheistic world. That is part of the problem here. And there are some deeper issues also in terms of how the church runs, but let’s just tackle that one for a moment, which is not an easy one to attack or tackle.
DANIEL SCHULTZ: Where do I begin?
MARC STEINER: Where do you begin? Where do you begin?
DANIEL SCHULTZ: Well, you begin back in the very early part of church history, in the 300s and 500s, where as someone explained, sex was dirty and dangerous. If you got someone pregnant, there was no guarantee that they were going to survive that kind of pregnancy. There was no treatment for venereal disease. So, it became a kind of freedom for people not to be defined by sex, by expectations of becoming a father or a mother, and to have some kind of freedom to choose a different kind of life, to dedicate themselves to God. Somewhere along the line, we have lost that sensibility and to restrict one’s sexuality becomes an imposition, it’s something that you have to do. And that, along with some unhealthy attitudes about sex, leads to a lot of distortions in people’s sexuality, in their personality, and leads to terrible, terrible events.
MARC STEINER: So, I mean, I think some people could argue also that some of the sexual oppression that happens in many religions has to do with control. It also has to do with the the ancient battles against whether it was Rome, Rome especially, and the pagan world, and also with the kind of more indigenous religions and spiritualities that were surrounding all of those religions with it in the Middle East. I mean, so it’s a complex root to all of this. But so, the question for you to answer is, how do you think this will affect the wider struggles within the Christian religions of of our world, not just the Roman Catholics, inside Protestantism and beyond? Because these conflicts are deep, and I’m just curious where you think this takes the entire conversation in the future of both the church and other parts of the Christian religion.
DANIEL SCHULTZ: Well, I think that the major effect is going to be to continue a process that we’ve seen for a long time now, which is that the tighter a grip the church wants to exercise, the tighter control they want to have on sexuality and how people express that, the less people want to have to do with it. Now, I’m certainly not going to say that there aren’t gay Catholics, extremely faithful gay Catholics, I know many. But in general, what’s going to happen is that gays and lesbians and transgender people within the Catholic Church are just simply going to leave. It doesn’t take too many times of being blamed for horrific examples of abuse before you figure out that you’re not wanted.
So, as well, people have been flooding out of the Catholic Church in the U.S. and Ireland and many other places because of the abuse that they’ve seen and the poor response to it. Those trends are going to continue, and unless Francis comes out with a very forceful response on both fronts, they will continue. I am not entirely sure that he can offer as forceful a response as would be necessary. He simply does not have enough control or enough political capital within the Catholic Church to make that happen.
MARC STEINER: Right. I think the next move is on Pope Francis’s part, how vigorous he will come out and defend not just himself, but all the things he’s trying to do to reform things within the church itself.
DANIEL SCHULTZ: Right.
MARC STEINER: I think that’s going to be the test. And as one friend of mine said, who is both gay and a priest and deeply celibate, “If you got rid of all of us who are gay in the church, you’d have very few priests left.”
DANIEL SCHULTZ: Right.
MARC STEINER: That’s his comment to me. And I think there’s a reality here we have to check, that we’ll see how this unfolds.
DANIEL SCHULTZ: Right. Now, we should mention just very quickly that this story was spread through a network of conservative Catholic news outlets, blogs and other media entities, many of them led by a guy named Tim Busch, who is a real estate developer and lawyer in California and a real fan of the Koch brothers. So, some of why it’s important to track the story is that it has consequences in the political world. If you don’t think that evangelicals are going to pick up on this and Catholic conservatives are going to pick up on this, to push back against the increasing acceptance of gays and lesbians in our society, you’re fooling yourselves. They’re absolutely going to do that and will translate, then, into increased support for President Trump.
MARC STEINER: This is really important, what you just said. Because we started our conversation this way in some ways, and let’s just conclude it right here. I mean, that there is a deeper political conversation and deeper political struggle going on that is part of what’s defining what we’re seeing right now in the attacks on Pope Francis, which is what you’re outlining.
DANIEL SCHULTZ: Correct. The Catholic Church I hesitate to tell you that it’s moving into a schism, that’s often a point pushed by Catholic conservatives. But the truth is that there are some deep, deep divisions within the Catholic Church, particularly within the American church, between conservatives and liberals. The conservatives are kind of shoring up their side of the argument and pushing back against liberals, sort of deepening those divisions. I think that’s what this is really about, is trying to increase the divisions to support the culture war.
MARC STEINER: Well, Daniel Schultz, this has been a fascinating conversation. I appreciate you taking the time with us today.
DANIEL SCHULTZ: Thank you. I enjoyed being on.
MARC STEINER: Thank you so, pleasure having you with us. And I’m Marc Steiner for The Real News Network, thanks for joining us. Take care.