by Peter Miller
The continuing saga of a depraved Web site
On July 17th, the Vatican Information Service reported that Rome had accepted South African Bishop Reginald Cawcutt's resignation. This announcement marked the first major consequence to result from the audacious behavior of dozens of priests on an Internet site and chat-room known as St. Sebastian's Angels.
When Steven Brady of Roman Catholic Faithful (RCF) first exposed this site several years ago, it seemed too outrageous to be true. Featured on St. Sebastian's Angels were names, photos and email addresses of openly homosexual priests, a disturbing selection of pornographic images, and a forum for participants to discuss anything from their open rejection of Church teaching to their perverse activities and fantasies.
Like Bella Dodd's accounts of the communist infiltration of the Church,1 the exposure of St. Sebastian's Angels was one of those events nearly too shocking to accept, but impossible to ignore. What was once held in the arena of conjecture and speculation was now on display for the world. Stories once susceptible to being dismissed as "conspiracy theories" had become a part of history.
How could things have gotten this bad? Could the Catholic Church really have fallen so far from the days of banning from ordination those with perverse inclinations? Not only were these individuals no longer screened or removed, they had become so secure in their position and sure of their invulnerability as to announce and celebrate their depravity to the world.
2002 has seen the shocking become commonplace in the Catholic Church. St. Sebastian's Angels gave us all a startling glimpse into the "gay" subculture not hiding, but thriving among the clerical ranks. We were also given an early warning as to what extent the network of bishops were willing to support such a spectacle. Although few of us expected to come across a figure such as Paul Shanley or witness hundreds of bishops cling to their dissent on homosexuality in the midst of a male sexual abuse scandal, we can no longer claim to be "shocked."
Fallout in Dallas
Ironically enough, the only priest besides Cawcutt to receive significant media attention for his involvement in St. Sebastian's Angels was from Dallas, serving under the USCCB's spokesman on sexual abuse, Bishop Joseph Galante.
On June 23rd, after it was revealed that Fr. Cliff Garner had expressed on the site his sexual attraction towards Hispanic men, he took the opportunity to apologize to his congregation during Sunday Mass:
"I apologize to anyone I may have scandalized, confused, or angered. There was no excuse for the inappropriate remarks." 2
The vague apology left most of the parishioners confused as to what he was referring. At a special congregation meeting later that day, some parishioners pressed him on whether he was gay. He refused to answer. One week later, after receiving several threats, Fr. Garner resigned from his parish. Later that week, in keeping with the American bishops' de facto policy of reacting more to media pressure than moral justice or public safety, Dallas Bishop Joseph Galante announced that Fr. Garner had been "sent to an undisclosed location for rehabilitation and barred indefinitely from functioning as a priest." 3
Bishop Galante was faulted in the press for his "protection" of both Fr. Garner and a second priest (Fr. Art Mallinson) after he learned of their involvement with St. Sebastian's Angels.4 Galante told The Dallas Morning News that when he learned of the Fr. Garner's participation, he told him to stop using the site and recommended he undergo counseling.5
But according to Stephen Brady, Fr. Garner changed his email address and remained a member of the site even after this admonition, posting messages which attacked Church teaching on homosexuality and asked for advice on convincing his parishioners that the Bible did not condemn sodomy.6 Although this information was presented to Bishop Galante, no further action was taken until Fr. Garner's activities were publicized. Speaking on the prospect of heterodox preaching in his diocese, Galante gave the assurance that, "if I had known he was giving unauthorized teachings, he would not have been allowed to preach." 7
The unrepentant bishop
Far from distancing himself from the Web site and its participants, Bishop Cawcutt defended his involvement as a normal part of his "ministry":
"Naturally enough [AIDS ministry] got me involved with ministry also to gay people. Both of these ministries are totally known and quite public to my fellow bishops as well as to the general public. Somehow the group of gay priests heard about me and invited me to discuss gay related matters with them hence I joined the 'newsgroup' quite openly letting the members know I was a bishop. I did not try to hide anything." 8
Presumably, his open challenges to Church teaching and death wishes for Cardinal Ratzinger and Pope John Paul II were also "naturally" part of this "ministry." Cawcutt would later say his comments made on the site, which ranged from sexual attraction towards a curial official in Rome to hoping to see "attractive boys" at the upcoming Confirmations, were "taken out of context." 9 In what was perhaps an attempt to obscure the connection between sodomy and AIDS, he would later change his claim that his participation was an extension of his AIDS "ministry":
"Neither did my work with people with AIDS lead me to St Sebastian's Angels. It was my ministry among gay people that led me to join when I was invited to do so by an Australian priest." 10
Details concerning the consequences of Cawcutt's actions are a bit convoluted. It was initially reported that he had been summoned to Rome in the later half of 2000 for a meeting with Cardinal Ratzinger. When Cawcutt arrived, the meeting had been cancelled and he returned to South Africa, claiming himself "victorious" in the matter. It was later claimed that the issue of discipline had been delegated to the South African Bishops' Conference. Last month, Cawcutt revealed a different account of that trip:
"I was disciplined by the Vatican for my involvement in St Sebastian's Angels. I was instructed by the papal nuncio (Vatican ambassador) in Pretoria to go to Rome to see Cardinal Ratzinger. When I turned up he was not there but his second-in-command did see me and I was disciplined." 11
Unfortunately, for almost two years after his full and active participation on the site was first revealed, he still retained his position and there has been no observable change in his activities or "ministries." In fact, he would become the spokesman for the South African Bishops' Conference, a position he held last Spring when its "guidelines for dealing with clergy involved in sexual abuse" was released. Cawcutt asserted, the guidelines "must be issued to every candidate priest and religious in Southern Africa from the very outset and should form a key aspect of candidates' training." 12 Two months later, he would recommend that all Africans, "gay or straight, or whatever ... learn to use condoms correctly." 13 In all likelihood, his involvement in the site started a "dialogue" with the Vatican which concluded in his resignation rather than repentance.
Few details surrounding the resignation were given either in the Vatican release or Bishop Cawcutt's own farewell statement. It was announced that Pope John Paul II had accepted Bishop Cawcutt's resignation "in accordance with Canons 401, para. 2, and 411 of the Code of Canon Law." 14 Canon 401, para. 2 reads:
"A diocesan bishop who, because of illness or some other grave reason, has become unsuited for the fulfillment of his office, is earnestly requested to offer his resignation."
while Canon 411 applies the same policy towards auxiliary bishops. Given the circumstances, his resignation is certainly the result of disciplinary measures rather than illness.
In his official statement, Cawcutt acknowledged his shortcomings but apologized only for offending others and continued to defend his work as "Christ-like":
"I know that my ministry has not been without controversy. I know that I have made mistakes. I know that I have offended and angered some and for that I humbly apologise and beg your forgiveness and understanding. ... That has always been my image of the Lord the one who is the same as the "Good Shepherd" kind of Lord and so I beg no forgiveness for trying to be the same a priest reaching out in love and compassion to those to whom Jesus reaches out." 15 (emphasis mine here and throughout)
Although a scandalously long time coming and done in manner too quiet to set an effective example, the official acceptance of the most openly immoral and unrepentant bishop in recent memory has come to an end.
Had the site been named "St. Sebastian's Angel" and consisted only of the ramblings of a single bishop, this unfortunate chapter would be nearing its close. Unfortunately, the important lessons to be learned are not limited to the internal disorders of one or even fifty isolated individuals, but an ecclesial illness marked by acute dementia.
Defending the indefensible
As Catholics around the globe have been made increasingly aware in the first half of this year, homosexuals in the clerical ranks enjoy a network of support and protection within the hierarchy of the Church. This support remains intact even when teenage boys end up molested and seems only susceptible to the heat of the secular media spotlight. Even then, as we have witnessed, American bishops will go to great lengths to protect their theory that homosexuality of the non-raping variety can be "healthy" and "life-affirming." Such a position is very easy to maintain when one's inquisitors are the same secular media outlets that would have us believe that a class of deviants rampant with disease and boasting a life-expectancy half that of the rest of society is somehow a "healthy alternate lifestyle" or an inconsequential "sexual preference."
Rather than the recent chain of events shaking this bizarre philosophy to its core, bishops have gone about their business of avoiding the homosexual connection while drawing up a policy focused on how to get their priests to rape fewer children.
The difficulties one faces in dealing with such a network were apparent to Roman Catholic Faithful from the very beginning. Before they ever went public with information on St. Sebastian's Angels, the typical channels and means were exhausted:
"We were given the address of the site, with the photos of the priests and the bishop, by a concerned Catholic. I was able to go directly to that site; you did not have to be a member or have a password to do so.... We contacted a prominent Catholic priest who gave us some direction and some other clergy who gave us exact direction. We then contacted the papal nuncio but he wasn't interested. We also faxed Cardinals George, Bevilacqua, Hickey, O'Connor, and Law. All we got back was a fax in response from Cardinal George (of Chicago) saying he didn't want to access the site. ... We didn't have anywhere else to turn; no one seemed interested." 16
When news of the site first came out, the anger and vile of the Church hierarchy was directed, not towards the participants of the site, but to those at RCF who publicized its existence.
Charges of "sexual McCarthyism," "prurience," "invasion of privacy," and other things were immediately hurled at the messengers, often with only the most perfunctory expressions of regret, if that, about the website itself.17
Bishop Cawcutt accused them of "illegal, unchristian, irresponsible, and immoral scandal-mongering" and that "hacking into a private newsgroup violated the law and rights of its members to confidentiality." 18
Although Brady's efforts led to the public exposure and eventual downfall of the site, the clerical participants (which included at least one vocations director) were given little or no punishment from their superiors.
Two priests of the diocese of Portland (Me.) were among the organizers of the site, and it was announced that they were being put on leave of absence and that the site was being closed. However, the principal organizer was soon assigned to what was described as a very desirable pastoral assignment, and some months later the site was still operating.19
Before Bishop Cawcutt's resignation was announced, only three of the fifty-three priests known to have participated in the site had received any sort of discipline.20 Even with Cawcutt's compulsory resignation, the widespread lack of response is simply scandalous. As James Hitchcock observed in his article for Catholic Dossier:
"The fact that Church authorities have been unwilling to deal adequately with the revelations made on the website in turn reveals the degree to which homosexual activity by clergy is now in effect a protected area in the Catholic Church. If, for example, the priests on St. Sebastian's Web were heterosexuals, their remarks would be denounced immediately as adolescent, sexually obsessed and demeaning of women." 21
Supporting this claim, he notes:
"The St. Sebastian's Web priests believed they were invulnerable and that they had friends in high places, specifically mentioning by name a prominent curial cardinal ... They gave direct empirical evidence that, as has long been suspected, there exists a network of homosexual clergy who protect, support, and even promote one another. The priests on the web made references to their contacts around the country, including chancery officials and others in important positions, and confirmed the suspicion that in some religious orders vocation directors vigorously, even exclusively, recruit homosexuals. There are many theories as to why Church authorities do not act boldly to root out this pathology, the existence of the clerical homosexual network being itself the most likely explanation." 22
A current and serious problem
The escapades surrounding the participants of the Web site known as St. Sebastian's Angels serve to demonstrate two truths which many inside the Church are still unwilling to admit: a homosexual clerical network is a current reality and the Church leaders are unable or unwilling to deal with it.
With a number of abuse cases coming to light as having taken place in the 1970's and 1980's, some have deluded themselves into thinking that such behavior is a relic of an undisciplined former generation. The accounts of the horrendous behavior exhibited on the St. Sebastian's Angels site, as well as recent publications exposing the homosexual culture present among seminarians and religious orders (e.g. Michael Rose's Goodbye, Good Men) demonstrate the issue is far from a thing of the past. Not only has it not gone away, but the advocates are becoming even more bold. Only in an environment where there is no fear of discipline could priests be so audacious as to announce their perversions on a public Web site.
Not surprisingly, this view has been vindicated by the complete lack of disciplinary measures to have resulted. This presumption of invincibility has also been reinforced by the response of the bishops to sexual abuse. Although it was hinted at in the American Cardinals' Final Communiqué from Rome, only two bishops have even stated that homosexual priests may not be desirable. On the other hand, upon his return from the Vatican, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick went on national television to proclaim that homosexual priests are a non-issue, so long as they are celibate and don't rape children.
Nor is this problem limited to the American episcopacy, as can be seen with the quiet and delayed punishment of Bishop Cawcutt. If those responsible for discipline of bishops are unable or unwilling to take decisive action against an openly homosexual dissident with perverse fantasies, what action can be expected from bishops much more discreet? Worse yet, combining this unlikely prospect of ecclesial discipline with the "openness" of American seminaries to homosexuals for at least the past thirty-five years and the unofficial estimate of a 30%-50% "gay" clergy, how many of the 300+ bishops or thousands of individuals in positions of Church authority are homosexual themselves? Recall that the past four years have seen seven American Bishops resign over various homosexual controversies.
We are not faced with a few bad priests who need to be reigned in with a little "zero tolerance," but with a significant portion of the hierarchy that has tolerated far too much for far too long. The recent string of abuse allegations and the candid statements of priests on the St. Sebastian's Angels Web site demonstrate the depth of the problem. The fact that bishops have continuously protected and counseled their depraved clerics rather than admonished and expelled them shows just how dismal any hope for internal reform truly is.
As long as the Church leaders show no intention of taking action until their errant behavior is widely publicized, it is up to the laity to bring the truth to light and hold them accountable. Until Catholics in pews are sufficiently outraged at what is happening around them and have abandoned the respect and deference so inappropriate in times such as these, the present crisis will continue to worsen at an appalling rate.
"Not to oppose error is to approve it; and not to defend truth is to suppress it." -Pope St. Felix III
1 In the 1950's, Bella Dodd, a former high ranking official in the American Communist Party described how communists had sent "eleven hundred men into the priesthood to destroy the Church from within" and they currently occupied "the highest places in the Church". Her claims have been substantiated from other defectors, including Douglas Hyde and Anatoliy Golitsyn
2 G. Archibald, "One priest defends, another apologizes for chat-room" The Washington Times (6/25/2002) [OPD]
3 G. Archibald, "Dallas bishop says gay priest banned from parish work" The Washington Times (7/5/2002) [DBS]
4 G. Archibald, "Bishops' spokesman shielded gay priests" The Washington Times (6/13/2002)
5 S. Hogan/Albach, "St. Pius priest leaves after threats" The Dallas Morning News (07/01/2002)
6 G. Archibald, "Pastor caught on porn site defended" The Washington Times (7/8/2002)
8 Catholic World Report (June 2001) [CWR]
10 I. Jacobs & D. P. Douglas, "South African bishop in gay website row" (June 23, 2002) [SAB]
12 National Catholic Reporter "South African bishops denounce abuse" (5/4/2001)
13 AllAfrica Global Media (7/30/01)
14 Vatican Information Service, "Other Pontifical Acts" (July 17, 2002)
15 Archdiocese of Cape Town, "Statement from Bishop Cawcutt about his resignation as auxiliary bishop of Cape Town" (17 Jul 2002)
16 A. Smith "Poor Saint Sebastian" San Diego News Notes (March, 2000)
17 J. Hitchcock, "Entangled on the Web" Catholic Dossier (March/April 2001) [EOT]