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VIEWS Cardinal Cupich on sexual abuse: Clerical culture, not gay priests, at fault
Robert Shine

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A top U.S. cardinal has expressed strong skepticism that gay priests are the cause of clerical sexual abuse, saying instead the problem stems from clericalism in the Church.

Cardinal Blase Cupich of Chicago addressed the topic of sexual abuse by clergy and, in particular, the credible allegations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, in an interview with America Magazine. That article explained:

"In the weeks since allegations were made against Archbishop McCarrick, some commentators and clergy have suggested that allowing gay men to be priests has created a culture ripe for the kind of abuse Archbishop McCarrick is alleged to have committed.

"But Cardinal Cupich said he 'would be very careful' in accepting that conclusion, noting that similar claims made during the height of the child sexual abuse crisis in the 2000s were refuted by an independent 2011 report compiled by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

"'I really believe that the issue here is more about a culture of clericalism in which some who are ordained feel they are privileged and therefore protected so that they can do what they want,' Cardinal Cupich said.

"'People, whether heterosexual or homosexual, need to live by the Gospel,' he said, adding that he 'would not want to reduce this simply to the fact that there are some priests who are homosexual.'

"'I think that is a diversion that gets away from the clericalism that's much deeper as a part of this problem," he said.

Cupich also expressed his trust in the laity when it comes to investigating and acting on allegations of sexual misconduct in the Church, saying:

"I've always trusted the laity to do the right thing. Their expertise and their knowledge far exceeds many of us who are ordained. ... We need to pay attention to that."

Cupich's words are important for four reasons. First, the cardinal's voice carries significant weight as he is one of Pope Francis' leading allies in the United States, as well as being a public figure outside the Church. His record on LGBT issues is overall quite positive. In 2017, Cupich invited lesbian and gay people to dialogue because the Church needed to listen to them.

During the Synod on the Family in 2015, Cupich said the gathering would have benefited from listening to lesbian and gay couples, which he himself had done in preparation for the Synod. Later that year, he said the Church should respect the consciences of lesbian and gay people. In 2014, the cardinal said lesbian and gay parents should be supported even if the Church cannot recognize their marriages.

The second reason Cupich's words are important is that, precisely because of this prominence, it is notable that he directly criticized the scapegoating of and discrimination against gay priests. To do so also indirectly challenged the Vatican's 2016 instruction, reinforcing a previous document promulgated under Pope Benedict XVI, that gay men should be banned from the priesthood. He seemed to recognize that there are many good gay priests who do ministries that greatly benefit the people of God—priests like Fr. Gregory Greiten, Fr. Michael Shanahan, Fr. Steve Wolf, Fr. Fred Daley and others.

Third, Cupich directed attention to the real cause of sexual abuse and harassment by clergy, namely clericalism. Though their numbers are thankfully increasing, albeit too slowly, few prelates have been willing to acknowledge and condemn the culture among clergy which has allowed all types of abuse to flourish. Clericalism, not sexual orientation, is what allowed McCarrick to abuse children and seminarians alike. It is what allowed a prominent French priest-psychotherapist to sexually victimize patients under his care as part of "ex-gay" therapy. It is what still perpetuates a crushing homophobia in the priesthood and religious life.

Fourth, the cardinal emphasized the laity's role in helping build up a just and accountable Church. Indeed, his words now and in the past, clearly indicate his belief that the laity have an essential role to play in the life of the Church and may, at times, be more competent to lead than clergy. There are obvious parallels for listening to, learning from, and being led by the laity when it comes to not only sexual abuse, but LGBT inclusion, women's equality, racism, and other ecclesial justice issues.

For far too long, gay priests have been scapegoated and marginalized because of a false conflation of questions about sexual orientation with questions about sexual abuse. It is good to see a high-ranking Church official firmly reject such ideas, but now it is time for more bishops to echo publicly Cupich's call for justice in the Church.

Fr. Bryan Massingale, a leading theologian at Fordham University, will be leading New Ways Ministry's next retreat for gay priests, brothers, and deacons on the theme of "Living in Truth: The Call to Authenticity." It will take place Oct. 2-4 at Siena Retreat Center in Racine, Wisconsin. For more information, click here. Please share this information with gay priests, brothers and deacons that you know.

Robert Shine is the associate editor at New Ways Ministry. The article originally appeared at

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