Sunday’s Washington Post printed an open letter from Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire to Pope Benedict XVI. Robinson is an openly gay bishop. He has been the center of controversy in his own church in recent years as it debated the ordination of openly gay and lesbian priests and bishops. (The Episcopal Church has since approved that policy, and is now in the process of welcoming its first lesbian bishop. Mary Glasspool).
Robinson’s letter to the pope focused on sex abuse, and he shared the problems that the Episcopal church once faced -- and they sound a lot like those the Roman Catholic church faces today in Europe and Latin America. Then, he outlined the steps the Episcopal church took to deal with the problem, saying that “we sought to change our church’s culture -- an effort that took no small amount of courage.”
At the end, he says, “I would not presume to instruct you. That would be arrogant. Nor would I impose upon you advice you’ve not sought. But I do offer you the benefit of my experience …” Then, he urges the pope not to do what some have done: scapegoat gay men/priests by wrongfully connecting homosexuality with the abuse of children. He cites the results of research when he says, “…every reputable scientific study shows that homosexuals are no more or less likely to be child abusers than heterosexuals.”
But his key phrase, in my view, is “change our church’s culture.” Linking sex abuse with homosexuality or celibacy … or whatever … takes our eye off the real issue: the need to reform church culture, especially its political culture, to move it out of its semi-feudal mentality and structures and toward the ideals of transparency and lay participation in decision-making.