Pope Benedict and I agree, finally

We’re thrilled to bring this guest post by Cathy Renna of
. Cathy, along with her team, are the media gurus
for Family Equality Council.

While at GLAAD, much of my time in the early 2000’s was focused in
the Catholic Church abuse scandal. We saw very early on that it was
going to be a “let’s blame the gay priest” strategy. At a press
conference in Rome in 2001, then president of the US Bishops’
conference, Wilton Gregory, said “we do not have a pedophilia
problem, we have a homosexuality problem.” Vatican City, we have a
problem. My media “spider -sense” had gone off months before, so we
were ready with experts, allied groups, messages and a strategy to
deal with this. We were certainly not going down without a fight.
And that fight paid off, as we saw from this recent visit by the

First a little background. We bird-dogged the Bishops at their
conferences in Dallas and Washington, DC, duly noting two things:
one, their PR people were not so smart to ban reporters from the
conferences since it left them in the lobby to spend the day with
us and many of the abuse survivors who were also there; and the
stunning similarity to the GLAAD awards, a lot of men in black and
no line at the ladies room. Let’s not discuss the parlor game we
played daily, called “Is that Bishop gay?” It was an entertaining
diversion that turned out to be pretty time consuming. Enough said
about that.

So imagine my surprise when the extremely frightening new Pope
Benedict (as a Catholic I think I can say this) has this it say
about the abuse scandal during his first visit to America. : “I do
not wish to talk at this moment about homosexuality, but about
pedophilia, which is another thing.” He also offered an unflinching
acknowledgment that church officials mishandled the crisis and that
victims deserve care and compassion. My guess is that the survivors
want more than that, but that’s another post.

But wait a second – those are MY talking points, Papa! It seems all
of our hard work and the work of the other groups, especially the
amazing and truly courageous Survivors Network for those Abused by
Priests (SNAP) who tried for years to get the media and the public
to understand not only that the conspiracy and intentional denial
of the problem has ruined so many lives, but that the media was
ignoring the many female victims of abuse to play up the “gay
priests angle” and also that the issue was NOT homosexuality but
pedophilia and ephebophilia (look it up, it was a very important
point in the conversation).

One high point was placing a front page piece in USA Today the day
the conference began in Dallas and some other fun stuff take a look
at: http://www.glaad.org/media/archive_detail.php?id=345&

After much of the media hoopla died down, many lay Catholics
continued to pressure the church, and when Bishop Gregory was
interviewed by George Stephanopoulous, who asked him about the
strategy used by the church to lay the abuse scandal at the feet of
gay priest, Gregory backpedaled and said the church was not
interested in “scapegoating” anyone.

So what may be the most challenging issue I have ever worked on
seemed to pay off – to all of our benefit. If you are interested,
you can find a lot more info at www.glaad.org.

On a personal note, one of the most important things we did was to
NOT deny the huge number of gay priests in the Catholic church (at
all levels of the hierarchy, hint hint). As we used to joke – how
many straight priests does it take to put in a light bulb? Both of

But the complex and nuanced issues related to the gay priests in
the Catholic church go far beyond this and I think we helped make
some headway into better understanding how the church has
facilitated the repression of so many of us.

Kudos to the folks at Dignity – and all the others – who are
braving the crowds to confront the Pope during this trip with,
well, Dignity, as LGBT Catholics who refuse to have the church
hierarchy deny them their faith tradition. It is the one I grew up
with and one I maintain – and neither the Pope, the Bishops or
others can take that from us. I will not pretend that the church is
not flawed. But my Dad, who passed a way 10 years ago this week and
to whom I dedicate this piece, told me many times, “it’s not the
religion that we should be bothered by, it is the hierarchy and the

I think he would have been proud of the work I have done on this
and other things.