Letter to My Senators on the Brett Kavanaugh Confirmation

Supreme Court

Supreme Court building, Washington, DC. Photo by Callen Harty.

This is the letter I sent to both of my Senators this evening regarding the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation:

I am a constituent from Monona, Wisconsin. It appears this evening that the FBI may have wrapped up its additional investigation of Brett Kavanaugh. I am disappointed in how that investigation was limited, but I understand that political maneuvering can sometimes leave us all unsatisfied. My understanding is that Mitch McConnell is moving to schedule a vote in the Senate within the next few days. I am writing to strongly encourage you to vote no on the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as the next Supreme Court justice.

There are numerous reasons to vote no against this judicial candidate. He has absolutely no experience trying a case in any court. After graduating law school, he served as a clerk and then worked for Ken Starr, where he was instrumental in the impeachment of Bill Clinton concerning sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. I do not approve of what Bill Clinton did at that time. Legally, at the very least it was sexual harassment due to the power differential between he and his intern. Morally, it was reprehensible. Brett Kavanaugh was key in bringing impeachment proceedings against President Clinton for lying under oath, so I believe that he needs to be held to the same standards that he espoused at that time.

In 2000, Kavanaugh worked for the Bush campaign in the Florida recount. After that he was awarded a job working for the White House, vetting judicial candidates. In 2003, in what appeared to be political payback for his service to the White House, he was nominated to a circuit judgeship by President Bush. The nomination took three years and a series of negotiations to be confirmed, primarily due to Kavanaugh’s clear partisanship, something that should not be reflected in any judge, let alone a Justice of the Supreme Court.

Judge Kavanaugh’s partisanship is still alive and well (or perhaps I should say unwell). It was made clear at the hearing in which both he and Christine Blasey Ford testified under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee. It is simply not acceptable to seat him when his views are so clearly aligned with one major political party and against the other major party. Judges are supposed to be impartial and leave their own political persuasions aside. His prepared testimony last week makes it clear that he is still not able to do that. One might have thought that he would have learned a lesson from the three years his previous nomination languished because of it. I believe he struck a strident partisan tone in his recent remarks precisely because our current political climate is so partisan and projecting that image to those on his side of the political spectrum may work to his benefit. It did not play so well for those of us who believe in judicial impartiality.

In addition, Judge Kavanaugh’s hostile demeanor in that same hearing does not reflect well upon his ability to be steady and thoughtful when deciding important and historic cases.

Far worse than his demeanor, numerous news sources and websites have clearly delineated a couple dozen or so lies that Judge Kavanaugh told under oath. Many of his responses in the most recent hearing were evasive or completely failed to answer the questions asked of him. This kind of equivocation does not reflect well upon him. As a judge, I am confident that he would not tolerate a witness before him who refused to answer so many questions or redirected the questions back upon those who were trying to get answers. The evasion was bad enough, but his outright lies were so obvious that even an untrained listener could name at least half a dozen of them. Many were simple, such as his made-up definitions of the words in his high school yearbook and his weak attempts at denying that he was a heavy and out-of-control drinker in his youth. If he can lie about these things, then it becomes far likelier that he could be lying about anything, including the sexual assault allegations against him. Whether he committed that crime or not, it is unacceptable to reward a man who strays so far from the truth by giving him a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court. It is simply unacceptable to even think that a man who would so brashly lie under oath should be given any position in a court of law.

I believe Dr. Ford and found her testimony to be forthright and as truthful as it could be given the time that has passed and the trauma she so clearly suffered. As a child sex abuse survivor and someone who has spoken publicly and trained others on sexual assault, I can tell you that specific memories, such as the laughter Dr. Ford described, can stay with a victim forever, but other details that are not critical to what happened, such as the exact time of day or precise location, may be lost in a haze. Not remembering every detail does not mean that the whole story is fabricated. From my experience I absolutely believe that Dr. Ford was honest and one hundred percent correct in the details she recalled.

Finally, polling across the country shows that the majority of the citizens of this country, including those of us in Wisconsin, do not want Brett Kavanaugh to be appointed to the Supreme Court.

Please understand that I am not a Democrat or Republican. I have been an independent voter my entire life. In one election several years ago I voted for four different parties on the first four offices on the ballot. Please know that I, for one, will not vote for any politician from any party, in the Senate, House, White House, or in positions back home in Wisconsin, who continues to support Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination in any way. I emphatically urge you to vote no on his confirmation and I thank you for your consideration.

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Brett Kavanaugh confirmation

Supreme Court

Supreme Court building, Washington, DC. Photo by Callen Harty.

This morning I sent a letter to both of my senators and to all of the senators who appear to be currently on the fence about Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court:

The Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate have the responsibility to advise and consent on nominations for judgeships and this is a huge responsibility. Supreme Court justices are appointed for life and should be fully vetted before being appointed. They should be experienced, fair-minded, impartial, and have a full understanding of the law and the Constitution of the United States. Brett Kavanaugh seems fully qualified, but there are too many lingering doubts about him to ensure that he is the right selection for the highest court in the land.

Judge Kavanaugh has been accused of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault by a number of women. This is not something to be dismissed lightly. The American people heard the same thing about Donald Trump and still voted him in as President. The people have the right to elect someone to office, regardless of that person’s moral or criminal background. The Senate needs to be more deliberative and more careful.

Only one of the women who has accused Judge Kavanaugh was asked to speak to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Why did the committee not invite the others? Why did they not invite his friend, Mark Judge, to testify under oath? Why are they not willing to take their time and fully vet the candidate? While some say the Democrats are trying to slow down the process for political reasons, and I believe this is true, it is also clear that the Republicans are trying to rush the process for political reasons. Dr. Ford, the woman who accused Judge Kavanaugh, was simply trying to get information to the committee so that they would have that information before voting one way or the other. Regardless of which side of the political aisle one falls on–and I am independent voter who has voted for several parties in various elections–the Senate has the responsibility to take whatever time it needs to make sure the appointment serves the American people.

I believe Dr. Ford. I am a male survivor of child sex abuse. I know how difficult it can be to name that. I know the shroud of secrecy that comes with it. I know how hard it can be to admit it to oneself, let alone publicly. Statistically, only 2-8% of all sexual assault allegations are false, and this is the same statistic as for other crimes. In the case of false sexual assault allegations, a very high percentage of the cases of false claims occur in contentious divorce cases. That is not the situation here. Dr. Ford came forward publicly only after journalists had figured out who she was, so that she could tell her own story. In addition, you will find that many, if not most, sexual assault victims, take years to process the assault. Very few immediately report the crime. There is too much shame and fear associated with sexual assault for it to be easy to talk about. Statistics show a large percentage of women and men who are victimized never report it.

Even if Judge Kavanaugh were fully innocent of this crime, and on paper fully qualified for the Supreme Court, his demeanor at the hearing on Thursday, September 27, should be disqualifying. Supreme Court justices are supposed to be above politics and fully independent jurists who remain objective. Their only guidance should be how they interpret the Constitution, not how they view one political party or the other. It was clear from Kavanaugh’s outbursts at the hearing that he cannot be an objective, impartial justice, that he opposes one of the two major political parties in this country, and that will undoubtedly impact his views and decisions on the bench.

I urge you, as a survivor and as a citizen of this great country, to fully consider the nominee, the accusations against him, and his behavior at the hearing and throughout his life, before you make a decision about his nomination. I believe that if you do so in good conscience you will have to vote against seating him on the Supreme Court.

Thank you for your consideration.

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Grade School

Me in grade school Photographer unknown.

Why I didn’t report?

Blame. I did report. As a little boy I told my mother and her response was, “You shouldn’t let him do that to you.” She didn’t know any better and neither did I. So when it happened again I didn’t tell her because I had let him do that to me. And the next time. And the next. The next. Next. I didn’t report because I didn’t know I could or should or that there was anyone I could tell who would help me.

Why I didn’t report?

Fear. Because I was told that I had better not ever tell anyone. I was threatened. Years later, when I was writing a play about surviving my childhood sex abuse I had irrational (or maybe they were not so irrational) fears that if he found out what I was working on he would kill me so that no one would ever know.

Why I didn’t report?

Shame. I told a friend in high school, but then immediately told her that she could never tell anyone else. I was ashamed, embarrassed, afraid. What would people think of me?

Why I didn’t report?

Processing. It took me years, as it does many survivors, to sort through and process what had happened to me as a child. While I told a few close friends over the years, it took me decades to be able to talk about it in any kind of detail. It took time, exploration, courage to be able to face the horror of it all.

Why I didn’t report?

Time. Even if I wanted to have him put away, by the time I had enough courage to deal with it, the statute of limitations had long since expired. Plus, our justice system is such that it would have been clear that even without a statute of limitations the burden of proof would be too great. There was no physical evidence, no corroboration–nothing but my memories, some of which are still vivid to this day, but with many of the specific details lost. Who remembers the date or day of the week every time something like this happens? I can say with certainty exactly where some of the incidents took place, but not all of them.  Memory is imperfect and so is the justice system.

Why I didn’t report?

Gender. As a boy and young man I was supposed to be strong. I was supposed to be able to protect myself. Admitting it was like admitting weakness.

Why I didn’t report?

There are too many reasons. What if I wasn’t believed? What if he found out I told and hurt me? What if everyone said the same thing as him, that it was my fault and that I wanted it? It was far easier to drown myself in alcohol and drugs, think of killing myself, ignore the reality as much as possible, and blithely go on living, hoping the pain and the burden of it all would go away.

Why am I speaking now?

Because it is never too late. Because other survivors need to know they are not alone. Because there is at least justice in naming what happened. Because I know now that it was not me–that it was on him. Because I am no longer afraid. Because I love myself enough to claim my truth.

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When the Gun Comes to Your Door


Arms Are for Hugging. Photo by Callen Harty.

When the gun comes to your door,
is it still too soon to talk about it?
When it’s pointed at you and your child,
is the right to bear arms still so sacred
you would sacrifice everything to protect it?
Still so sacred you would bear the murder
of those you love?

When the sound of gunshot
rings in your own ears
so loudly you cannot hear yourself scream,
is it too late to listen to the cries of others
who have suffered that same sound?

When bodies pile up around your feet
do you still believe the NRA cares about you
and me
than the makers of the weapon
that laid them there?

When the gun comes to your door,
do you answer it, invite the shooter in,
sit down for coffee?
Do you think about how
will get your pistol out of the locked cabinet
before it’s too late to save yourself
and those you love?

When the gun comes to your door,
does your life flash before your eyes
as fast as muzzle flash? Do you

When the gun comes to your door,
do you
do anything but cry for mercy
for you and those you love?

When the gun comes to your door,
is it still too soon to talk about it?

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Am I Next?

Am I Next

Am I Next? Sign at a March For Our Lives march and rally in Madison, Wisconsin. Photo by Callen Harty.

This morning at work there was the sudden sound of a piercing siren that went by the building where I work in Middleton, Wisconsin. I didn’t think too much of it as the fire department is across the street from us. A very short time later we heard another one, and another. Looking out the window I saw two ambulances coming from different directions and heading west. Then a police car, and another, and more–sheriff’s car, unmarked car, and more. I had just said to someone that either there was a really bad accident out on the highway or a shooting situation nearby when an employee came in and showed us a posting on Facebook that there was an active shooter situation in Middleton.

It turned out that the shooter was at a building less than a mile away, in the office of a software company called WTS Paradigm. The shooter was an employee who injured several people before the police shot him. He later died at the hospital. But for several hours our building was locked down. It was nerve-wracking. I can’t even imagine how it must feel to those who were shot, who were there, or nearby. A couple friends work near the building where the shooter was. One of them works at the hotel where the police were taking workers from the Paradigm building. He witnessed people crying, in fear, in shock.

All day long it was difficult to focus at work. It was a little too close. Heading home on the opposite side of the city seemed more welcome than usual.

After an unsettling day, I was finally able to leave work and head home. When I got home I walked the dog, then came back into the house and went online only to find out that someone had been shot on a city bus just six blocks from our house in Monona and that shooter is still at large. I went back into the kitchen and shut and locked the door I had left open to let in some fresh air. This one is literally too close to home.

I am currently safe, but I don’t feel like it, because I live in a violent country where virtually everyone has easy access to guns, and shootings are so commonplace that they are only a big story if multiple people are shot. Today, a gunman was killed and four people were also injured in a shooting at a courthouse in Pennsylvania. That and the Middleton story made national news. But I wonder how many individuals were shot and injured or killed in how many cities around the country that will only make the local news and then be forgotten. I wonder how soon the stories in Middleton and Pennsylvania will be forgotten because the only people killed were the shooters. Soon there will be no one left in the country who doesn’t have a memory of a mass shooting in their neighborhood or town.

Something must be done. I don’t have the answer about how to balance our second amendment rights to keep and bear arms with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but some kind of balance must be found. Everything is out of balance now. We cannot live like this anymore. The employees at Paradigm in Middleton now understand this. The young people from Parkland High School understand this. The families of the children killed at Sandy Hook understand this. We cannot wait until everyone has an experience with a mass shooting for everyone else to understand this. We need common sense gun laws and we need them now. We cannot afford more victims. We cannot continue to live in a daily world of fear. We cannot go about our day-to-day lives wondering, “Am I next?”

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Abuse in the Diocese of Madison

candleOn August 21 I sent a letter to the Wisconsin Attorney General, Republican Brad Schimel, and to Dane County Democratic District Attorney, Ismael Ozanne, asking either or both of them to start an inquiry into sexual abuse of children in the Diocese of Madison. This was in response to Bishop Morlino’s letter that he wrote to the members of his diocese that dismissed the abuse issue as a problem of homosexuals being allowed to be priests. In it he pretty much said that virtually all the victims were boys who were abused by gay priests. His letter was in response to the release of a Grand Jury report in Pennsylvania in which it was discovered that more than 300 priests had abused more than a thousand children since the 1940s or 1950s.

This is the letter I sent to the Attorney General and District Attorney:

“With the recent release of the Grand Jury report in Pennsylvania implicating more than 300 priests of abusing more than 1,000 children (and likely far more), it seems that it is time to open a similar investigation here in Wisconsin. The Diocese of Milwaukee has already been in the news for the abuse of dozens of young people, but the same lens has not been applied to the Diocese of Madison. What the Pennsylvania Grand Jury (and others in New York and elsewhere) have shown is that there has been a culture of church superiors accepting and covering up crimes and improper behavior by priests under their authority. In every jurisdiction in which there has been an investigation or Grand Jury, evidence has shown crimes committed and covered up.

“Throughout the world there have been cases of child molestation in Catholic and other churches for decades. This is bad enough, but in most of these cases the crimes have been covered up and priests moved to other parishes and allowed to continue preying on innocent children. There have been at least 11 cases of Madison diocesan priests being publicly accused of sexual abuse. In the most recent case, that of Father William Nolan, the church was less than forward about what it may have known about and when. It is time to make sure that any crimes that have been committed that are still within the statute of limitations are prosecuted to the full extent, including the crime of withholding information and covering up the crimes of others.

“I don’t know what the process is for convening a Grand Jury, but am assuming that it must start with a District Attorney or the Attorney General of Wisconsin. I am copying both the Wisconsin Attorney General and the Dane County District Attorney on this e-mail and am pleading with one or both of you to embark upon this path of justice for any victims that are out there and still holding onto their secrets. The more time that passes the likelier that perpetrators will not be brought to justice due to statutes of limitation.

“I am an adult survivor of child sex abuse (not by a priest) and know the pain and scars that can result from this. I recently read about a Cardinal in New York holding children culpable by stating that by the age of seven they know right from wrong. I also saw and responded to a letter written by Madison’s Bishop Morlino that laid the blame for all child abuse in the church at the feet of Wisconsin’s gay population instead of looking inward and cleaning house. It is time to make sure that house is clean.

“My understanding is also that Grand Juries are secret, so I understand there may already be something in place or you may not be able to share with me if you do convene one. I simply ask that you consider doing so if it hasn’t already been considered.

“Thank you for your consideration.”

Neither the Attorney General nor the District Attorney have bothered to respond to my e-mail, even to acknowledge that they had received it.

Everywhere that an investigation has begun, whether in Boston back in the early 2000’s, Australia, Ireland, or Pennsylvania, it has been determined that sexual abuse of children (and adults) by priests was an institutional problem and that bishops and cardinals had interceded to protect the Church and not the victims. I am confident that an investigation into the Diocese of Madison would uncover some of the same institutional cover-ups that have been seen elsewhere.

I am not prepared to just let this go.

It may be that my letter was ignored because I didn’t present any evidence of criminal wrongdoing, and I guess that would be understandable, though the courtesy of an acknowledgement of my letter or an explanation for why an investigation or Grand Jury is not appropriate would have been appreciated.

So what I’m doing next is looking for people who have been victims of sexual assault by priests, whether they be survivors who were young boys/girls or adult men/women, or transgender when it happened, and regardless of how long ago or how recent it may have been. I want to be able to go to the authorities and say, “Here are the stories of some victims who are willing to talk. There are bound to be many, many more. Are you now willing to look into this issue?”

I’m asking for any survivors of this type of abuse to contact me if you are comfortable doing so. I promise full confidentiality unless you specifically agree to allow your name to be used. I’ll present the details of your case without your name or identifying information. I’d like to be able to present the Attorney General and the District Attorney with at least a dozen stories, if not more. And, if that doesn’t get an investigation going, I have some more ideas. I can be contacted at charty@tds.net or via private message on Facebook.

If you are not a survivor, please feel free to share this with others. Unless they have come out as a survivor as I have, you cannot know which of your family members, friends, or others may be holding onto an awful secret.

Note: The Open Letter to Bishop Morlino can be found here:  https://callenharty.wordpress.com/2018/08/20/open-letter-to-bishop-morlino/

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Open Letter to Bishop Morlino

St Augustine Church

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 perpetrate 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 empanel 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.

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