Crisis in the pews

San Diego Catholics shaken by abuse revelations, cover-ups; "listening sessions" with bishop expose anger, division, distrust

Before one of San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy’s “listening sessions,” a group gathered to pray the rosary. (Nelvin C. Cepeda/ The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Mary Josweg is a 21st century Catholic, but she sounds an awful lot like the 16th century Protestant reformer Martin Luther.

“The church needs to get cleansed,” said Josweg, 69, a parishioner at St. Patrick’s in Carlsbad. “I believe in Jesus as the son of God and Creator of the world — I happen to be Catholic. But the organization that I belong to is totally corrupt.”

Josweg was among the thousands of Catholics who attended eight “listening sessions” convened by San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy in October and November. He got an earful.

“People are no longer following blindly,” said Harley Noel, 85, a parishioner at St. John’s in Encinitas.

Across the nation, Catholics have questioned and criticized church leaders, frustrated by months of distressing headlines. More damaging revelations may be coming. San Diego’s Irwin Zalkin and other lawyers are urging California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to investigate California dioceses, following the lead of civil authorities in Pennsylvania, New York, Florida and other states.

When McElroy launched his listening tour in October, many in attendance were skeptical and angry.

“I thought it was horrific,” Josweg said of McElroy’s Oct. 17 “listening session” at Church of the Nativity in Rancho Santa Fe. “I was outraged that people were not screaming at him. It is such a cover-up. They never talk about the cover-up, all they talk about is it has gotten better, that the police are now called whenever a child is molested.”

The crisis has exposed divisions in the pews. Some argue that the scandals reveal a “lavender mafia” of powerful gay clerics. Others insist it illustrates the need for married and female priests. There are those who say the liberalizing changes wrought by Vatican II and Pope Francis have undermined the church’s timeless teachings.

Sexual morality

At the Church of the Nativity, men and women sat at 40 or so tables. After the bishop’s contrite remarks — “this was a horrific abandonment of the responsibility the church had for the safety of children” — a spokesperson at each table rose to ask a question.

How do we get younger people back to church?

The bishop admitted this is a difficult task: “Young people see the hypocrisy…”

Are there clear moral teachings in the seminaries?

Yes, McElroy insisted, plus extensive screening of candidates. “Most important is their relationship with God,” the bishop said. Another essential quality, he added, is “the ability to live out a life of celibacy.”

The mention of celibacy seemed to open the floodgates. The next questions all focused on the sex lives of church employees, whether clerical or lay.

Would engaging in homosexual acts with another consenting adult end a priest’s career?

“It could. It’s a serious violation of his vow of celibacy,” McElroy said. “But I am not prepared to say that any single action” between consenting adults would mean automatic dismissal.

Should the church employ people “living unchaste lives?”

Why do so many preachers “seem to be accepting sin, instead of rejecting sin?”

McElroy listed the church’s “three essential teachings” on sexual morality.

First, “we are called to live all the virtues of Jesus Christ — all the virtues. Chastity is one of them. But chastity is not the central virtue of Christian life. The central virtue is to love the Lord God with your whole heart and to love your neighbor as yourself.”

Second, “in Catholic moral teaching, any sexual activity outside marriage between one man and one woman is considered sinful.”

Third, while violence and hatred against LGBT people “exists in a dark corner of the church, it is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Octopus tentacles

Within the church, some authorities insist the clergy abuse scandal can be traced to a single source: homosexuality.

“The deeper problem,” wrote Janet Smith, a professor of moral theology at Detroit’s Sacred Heart Major Seminary, “lies in homosexual networks within the clergy which must be eradicated.”

These cabals, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò wrote in a letter critical of Pope Francis, “act under the concealment of secrecy and lies with the power of octopus tentacles, and strangle innocent victims and priestly vocations, and are strangling the entire Church.”

A new group, Concerned Catholics of San Diego, makes a similar argument.

“There are a lot of Catholics who are concerned about a homosexual agenda in the church,” said Daniel Piedra, 33, a Concerned Catholics leader. “The group advocates that people who have deep-seated homosexual desires or tendencies should not be allowed to be priests.”

Piedra wants “answers to specific questions, about specific incidences of possible misconduct in the diocese. The bishop has been quick to defend all of his priests but we hear of ongoing incidents in the seminary.”

The listening sessions ended Nov. 5. The diocese is preparing a report, a spokesperson said, complete with recommendations.

Full story at The San Diego Union-Tribune.


  1. For better or worse, even among those who have stayed, there are numerous concerns. Others have simply left to join that growing group ‘former Catholics’.

  2. So the organization she belongs to is “totally corrupt”. I see. Then I assume she is including the laity. The chastisement will come to completion and the Church will be cleansed. But the laity is next on the list….

  3. I understand the feelings that give rise to the “totally corrupt: remark. But let’s be honest: there are really great and holy priests and bishops out there who labor under the stigma give them by the misdeeds of others. Imagine their difficulty. If they speak out against the sin of their brother bishops/priests, or in favor of the Church’s traditional teaching on marriage and sexuality, their difficulty increases. Do I believe there is a lavender mafia? Yes. Do I believe they exercise an inordinate influence in Church affairs? Yes I do. Do I believe there are even more holy and good priests/bishops? I do. Will I pray for them? Absolutely– that they may be bold in these dark and difficult tines.

    • I agree. I can’t speak for all Priests, but I do know a lot of Priests as I am in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. The Priests I know are imperfect servants who strive for holiness. I know a few who are deeply holy men, including one of our retired Regional Bishops. I’ve been a real knucklehead over the years. I’m a recovering alcoholic and have made huge mistakes in my life. I thank God that I’m not among those who are attracted to children or young people. Having been convicted of sin I find it very difficult to look down my nose at anyone. But I have reported a Priest who was doing inappropriate things. He served time and then fled to another country. I’ve also reported two “dads” who were abusing their own kids. Being judgmental…

    • My sentiments exactly, Dan, and many good priests do not speak out because they fear that they will be falsely accused and set up by false witnesses as their Lord was.. Nevertheless, as St. Mother Teresa said, we must continue to do good even though we are called names, falsely accused and worse because the only judgement we need worry about is God’s

      .” Fear not he would can harm the body, but He who can cast body and soul into hell. “

  4. Linda Maria says

    Talk about “crisis in he pews!” In today’s church bulletin, at St. Vincent de Paul Church, in San Francisco — the parish of Rep. Nancy Pelosi– there was a big announcement of “Congratulations” to her and one other candidate, proud of them as parishioners– for their successes in the recent elections! With praise to God, for their successes! Wonder what all the St. Vincent de Paul parishioners thought of this horrific announcement?

  5. Yes, Mr. McElroy – we are called to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our strength and all of our mind. That is central. BUT we are told about love – ‘If you love me, KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS.’
    John 14:15. No talk about some of them, or somewhat. All of them.

    • Who is Mr. McElroy? Has the Bishop of Orange done something to deserve disrespect?

    • Marty Tours says

      Yes, we ate required to do all of those.

      That requirement, however, does not give unfettered license to those entrusted with the spiritual welfare of the faithful, to behave in any manner tjey wish or downplay the severity when responding to legitimate questions.

  6. There are a lot of folks in my parish who are saying the same things. And then there are Catholics who have been convinced by the seculars that the Catholic Church hates gay people, is racist and sexist and that most Priests are sexual perverts and should never be trusted.

    I don’t believe the MSM on politics, national or international issues. I have given up on the “News”, such as MSNBC, CNN, FOX and the rest. I haven’t read a Newspaper in a long time. I get my news from Catholic Websites and local TV channels and the police officers I know. Why would I trust the MSM to tell me about the Pope and the Bishops?

    • Fr. Higgins,

      The Church’s teaching on same sex attraction and homosexuality is clear. It is explained in the “Letter To The Bishops of The Catholic Church on The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons”, issued by the then Cdl. Josephh Ratzinger when he was head of the CDF:

      The church’s teaching contained therein does not in any way teach that the Church promotes hatred of persons suffering from the disorder of same-sex attraction. The disorder DOES NOT give license to hate or harm those who are afflicted. Rather, We can all learn from the example of St. Augustine of Hippo. His sexual depravity is well-known…

  7. Unless something totally unexpected happened recently, its still BISHOP McElroy.

  8. The leadership of the Church needs the laity’s support, both morally and financially, to help get out of the mess caused by those in positions of leadership. This is not the laity’s mess; however, when the leadership messes-up, it is the lay faithful who are called to bail them out.

    Don’t let this opportunity pass. The current leadership can’t afford to damage whatever modicum of credibility it has remaining, including the means of the Church”s economic survival.

    Invite the laity as part of the oversight and solution.

    Where the innocent and vulnerable are at-risk, the laity has a vested interest and right to be included in the proposed solution.

  9. Robert Ferrez says

    We need an “independent board,” not appointed by the bishop, that can not be dissolve! They must have their own legal counsel who is not also a diocesan lawyer and have access to all the relevant documents and interview priests and laity who worked in diocesan offices and allowed to testify. The independent board must have experts in Law enforcement, the Judiciary, parents and clinical professional in the treatment abuse trauma and survivors.
    Bishop Robert McElroy,
    You failed the Church’s teaching regarding marriage between a man and woman Instead, you have distorted and strayed from the Truth by promoting the homosexual agenda.
    We don’t believe that you can continue to lead us in this diocese.

  10. I will never leave the Church but I have lost faith in the clergy. Yes, there are saints among them but it is clear that the lavender mafia are in charge and we, the suffering and disenchanted laity, must call upon the good priests and bishops to stand up. In these horrible times for our beloved Church thevirtue of courage or fortitude if you prefer, must come to the fore. Silence denotes consent, whether intentional or otherwise.

  11. I have not lost faith in the clergy, but if i am tired of useless homilies and empty words spoken , all the while ignoring the destruction of our Faith, This country is headed toward the American version of the French revolution, or the Spanish civil war. This crisis is not something that happened in a vacuum, it is a deliberate and purposeful agenda that stretches back generations. At one time ( the 30s) The corruption of seminaries was promoted by American Communists by placing men friendly toward communism into the seminaries ((Bella Dodd testified she personally got over 1000 accepted into seminary, on the orders of leaders). I believe Homosexual activists are using the same methods to corrupt and destroy the Church since She stands…

    • Linda Maria says

      Les M.– Abp. Fulton J. Sheen– an expert on evil Communism — was informed of the evil of the Communist seminary infiltration– and he worked to completely stop this horrible thing! He also converted Bella Dodd, as well as many other top Communist leaders in the U.S., to the Catholic Faith! And he worked with the FBI to end the attempts of the Communists to infiltrate our Nation! We need brave, totally committed, strong, holy Catholic clerics to be leaders today, to do the work to end infiltration of the immoral, heretical, liberals, especially the “lavender mafia,” into the highest levels of the Catholic Church– and restore the Faith to Jesus Christ!

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