Sex and the Vatican

Sex. It’s all about sex, the Roman Catholic Church. Who hasn’t thought that? Pope Francis’s church needs to return, as Christ did, to talking about the poor, lest this becomes an obsession

Pope Francis
Tim Hedges
On 7 September 2018 11:49

Sex. It’s all about sex, the Roman Catholic Church. Who hasn’t thought that?

Contraception, abortion, divorce, homosexuality, sex outside marriage, it’s almost pagan the way they seem to concentrate on reproduction, gratification, desire. I have thought it, I confess.

The election of Jorge Bergoglio, formerly the Jesuit Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, to the Holy See, five and a half years ago, changed all that. Jesuits are teachers, and the teaching of Pope Francis reminded us that in the scriptures Christ spoke rarely, if ever, about sexual proclivities.

Francis spoke in favour of the poor, the dispossessed, the unloved. He washed the feet of prisoners. He even had a stab at saving the planet. On divorced people who wanted to take communion, he urged local bishops to make their own decisions, on the facts. On homosexuality, he said that if a gay person were seeking God, who was he to judge?

Francis wanted the clergy to be less remote, to be shepherds who smelled of their sheep.

Unsurprisingly Francis has made enemies. The surprise is how many of them and how important they are. It is easy to see how the conservatives accumulate: they see what has happened in the Anglican church, with modernisation of the liturgy, women priests, tolerance of homosexuality, and feel they must hold fast in the long term interests of the Church.

These conservatives do, of course, contain their fair share of homosexuals and deviants and many liberals are not slow to point this out.

The case of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick of Washington is an exception. He is a liberal, who, it is reported, had committed such a number of sexual offences that it could not be overlooked. It is said, and I am being precise with my language here, that former pope Benedict had banned him from saying mass and instructed him to live a life of penitence.

Francis later employed McCarrick to advise him on various aspects of the Church in the USA. And this is where the rather self-publicising former nunzio Carlo Maria Viganò (emphasis on the last syllable) comes in.

Viganò says that he advised Francis shortly after his ascendancy to the papacy that McCarrick was up to no good and was ignored. I should stress that this is only a part of a large dossier of complaint by Viganò, a disillusioned man. He was at the point where he might easily be offered a cardinal’s hat, but Benedict resigned, and he was unlikely to receive preferment under Francis.

Viganò had been responsible for nudging conservatives into senior posts in the American dioceses. Perhaps Francis was warned but did not regard him as a reliable witness.

Now there is outcry both in the clerical and the public domain and it is important to see a difference between the two. In the public domain, particularly in the present climate, we want sexual miscreants exposed, denounced and locked up. That makes us feel good.

In the Church, the emphasis is on understanding and confessing your crime, and on repentance. It is not, as is our public life, on obtaining ‘justice’ for victims. Could someone who has confessed and expressed suitable contrition still work in the church and perform a useful service to the Holy Father? Perhaps yes.

But we are left with the most extraordinary set of circumstances anyone can remember, where a senior prelate has denounced the pope for covering up a crime and demanded his resignation.

Francis will not say anything about this, rightly, in my view, and he will not resign. For all we know he may be prevented from speaking by the seal of confession. But it has dragged us back to the old church - sex, sex, sex.

Francis’s church needs to return, as Christ did, to talking about the poor.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here

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