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St. Augustine Church, New Diggings, Wisconsin. (Photo by Callen Harty)

Bishop Morlino,

This is in response to your recent letter (August 18, 2018) to priests and parishioners of the Diocese of Madison. I am writing this as a gay man, a fallen-away Catholic, an adult survivor of childhood sex abuse and, most importantly, as a child of God, created in His image.

First, I applaud you for taking a stand by announcing that you will not tolerate abuse of children or adults in the diocese. Of course, this is a position that should be taken by every member of the clergy everywhere and should not need to be stated, but I thank you for making it clear. It is also a position that should have been stated long before the Grand Jury in Pennsylvania released their report naming more than 300 hundred Pennsylvania priests as abusers of more than a thousand boys and girls in their state. The timing of your letter seems more like public relations than concern for your parishioners, but either way it was good to hear you state that you will not tolerate abuse in the Madison diocese.

The Pennsylvania Grand Jury report makes it clear that many, if not most, of those cases, were covered up by superiors in the church and that there was a culture that allowed those activities to continue even after victims bravely came forward and shared their stories with pastors, bishops, and others. With ten other grand jury reports completed elsewhere it has become clear that this culture was not limited to the six dioceses in Pennsylvania, but was prevalent throughout the church in America, Chile, Ireland, in many other countries, and even the Vatican – in other words, in every nook and cranny of the Catholic Church. You have seen the huge number of cases that were uncovered in the neighboring diocese of Milwaukee, as well as others in northern Wisconsin, and even in your own diocese. It didn’t appear that the diocese was very concerned or forthcoming about the case of Father William Nolan. You need to do better. What appeared to be stonewalling and half-truths coming out of the diocese when the Nolan case came up makes one believe that this diocese has not behaved differently than the six in Pennsylvania. It warrants further investigation.

Bishopaccountability.org lists eleven cases of priests in the Madison diocese publicly accused of improper contact with both children and adults. If the grand juries in other states are any indication, then this is likely just the tip of the iceberg.

I ask you, if you are truly as concerned for the safety of your parishioners as you are the reputation and bottom line of the Catholic Church in Wisconsin, to empanel a group to study incidents of child sex abuse in the Diocese of Madison, to make public the names of all priests accused of indecent behavior and what was done about those accusations, ensure that those guilty of abuse are defrocked, compensate the victims for the money they have spent on therapy, alcohol and drug abuse recovery, other expenses, and the pain and anguish they suffered for years. If there are no additional cases to be reported in the Madison diocese then the panel will find nothing. If there are priests hiding their sins to this day, we need to know that, and we need to know that they are no longer in positions to be able to perpetuate this violence upon any more victims. They also need to be reported to the proper authorities. I intend to see what I can do to encourage the State of Wisconsin to impanel a Grand Jury here to get a clear picture of the issue in our state.

While I have your attention I must also take issue with your perception of the problem of abuse in the church, referring to it as “deviant sexual–almost exclusively homosexual–acts”. There are a couple of things wrong with this statement. Let’s start with the easiest: Rape, molestation, sexual abuse, child abuse are not deviant sexual acts. While there may be sexual gratification involved, they are acts of violence perpetrated upon innocent victims. They are acts of power perpetrated upon those with less power. They are selfish acts committed by evil people who have no concern for anyone but themselves. If these people were strictly looking for sexual gratification they could find that without imposing it upon unwilling victims, especially those who are minors. Sexual abuse is an act of violence, not of sexual expression.

Your claim that these acts are almost exclusively committed by homosexuals is simply wrong. Study after study has shown that the majority of the perpetrators of sexual abuse are heterosexual men. Do some research. Contact a rape crisis center. Look it up online. You will learn that the majority of perpetrators of sexual abuse are heterosexual men. Women, gay men and lesbians also perpetrate, but the majority are straight men, and often the gender of the victim does not matter to these people as it has nothing to do with their or their victims’ sexuality or gender, but about power and control. Just because a man sexually abuses a child who is male does not mean that the man is gay. You need to learn this and more.

You state, “There has been a great deal of effort to keep separate acts which fall under the category of now culturally-acceptable acts of homosexuality from the publically-deplorable acts of pedophilia.” That is true, but there is good reason for it, as the two are completely separate. Pedophilia is not homosexuality and homosexuality is not pedophilia. One’s orientation is not related to the sickness of pedophilia. Most men who are gay look for partners who are adult males. Most men who are straight look for partners who are adult females. Men who are pedophiles look for children to abuse and may abuse children who are male, female, or transgender.

Victims are often determined solely by who is convenient, someone who may be afraid to tell, and many other factors, and they are usually groomed over a long period. To be blunt, if the church weren’t such an historical patriarchy there would probably be many more female victims. Reading the grand jury reports from several jurisdictions it becomes clear that a large number of the victims were either altar boys or on sports teams that the priests coached, so there was a closeness there that girls did not historically have with their priests. If girls had been allowed to be altar servers and on sports teams in Catholic churches and schools the last fifty years or so instead of more recently, it would be likely that the incidence of abuse against female children would be considerably higher.

You are just wrong about sexuality and abuse. While you may be highly educated in theology, you appear woefully ignorant of sexual abuse, gender, and sexuality. In addition to my earlier request for you to study the incidences of sexual abuse in the diocese, I would ask you to better educate yourself on these other issues so that in your pastoral work you do not misspeak about these issues and do more damage to victims than good.

I would also point out that you note in your letter that ordained priests made a promise “to obey and be loyal to your bishop.” Does this same mandate not apply to bishops and cardinals to be loyal to the pope? Pope Francis has clearly stated, “If someone is gay and searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Yet, you have repeatedly judged gay people and opposed human rights by forcing priests to read a letter opposing marriage equality, allowing the Vicar General to release guidelines for funerals of gay people, and, as in your current letter, equating sexuality with perversion, among other things.

Pope Francis would clearly have you be more welcoming to gay Catholics, yet you state in your letter that gay people should not even be allowed in the priesthood – even if celibate – because homosexuality “is intrinsically disordered in a way that renders any man stably afflicted by it unfit to be a priest.” This is nothing less than bigotry on your part. The idea that gay people are psychologically disordered was removed by the American Psychiatric Association back in 1973, forty-five years ago. You may believe it is a sin based on your interpretation of the Scriptures, but you cannot say that gay people are intrinsically disordered without sounding like a relic of the Dark Ages.

As a survivor of child sex abuse, I encourage you to continue to take a strong stand against all forms of abuse within the church, but I also encourage you to continue to educate yourself about abuse, its causes and effects, and about the perpetrators of this crime. As a gay man and a child of God, I encourage you to continue to educate yourself about sexuality and gender, and to more fully open your arms to all of God’s children, including those whose sins you deem greater than others. As Pope Francis has said, “Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?” I would ask you to take those words of your pope to heart and welcome gay priests and gay parishioners with love.

Written by Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin, Callen Harty is a longtime Madisonian and the author of “Empty Playground: A Survivor’s Story,” a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse, and “My Queer Life,” a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man.

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