By Gibbons J. Cooney
On June 6, Pope Francis lamented the existence of what he called “the gay lobby” in the Vatican. The announcement was not really news—the existence of such a mafia had been assumed for some time. Still, Pope Francis statement, especially following other revelations on the same subject around the time of Pope Benedict’s departure, drew much needed attention. But the Holy Father need look no further than his own order of priests, the Society of Jesus, for direct confirmation of what he called the “stream of corruption.”
This week from June 20-27, a retreat for men is being held in Spain. The retreat will be led by two Jesuit priests. It will be held in “…a self-catering retreat/holiday home run by the Jesuits which we will have to ourselves.” A description of the retreat may be found at spanishretreats.org.uk. It is titled Liberation. A Retreat for Men in Calpe, Costa Blanca, Spain, June 20-27., led by Father Donal Godfrey, S. J.
CalCatholic readers will be familiar with Father Godfrey. Until September of 2010, Godfrey served as the executive director of university ministry at the Jesuit University of San Francisco. He was demoted from the position of executive director right around the time that CalCatholic reported on his long-time association with Patrick Mulcahey.
CalCatholic revealed that Mulcahey, whom Godfrey singled out for special praise in the introduction to his book, Gays and Grays: the story of the Gay Community at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, had been keeping a “slave” and was giving workshops on the master/slave lifestyle. Godfrey still serves as an associate director of ministry at USF.
The retreat webpage begins with a short description of Godfrey’s work: “Donal is an Irish Jesuit priest who has been working for the last six years in California, USA. He is currently working as a chaplain in the Jesuit University of San Francisco; a job which involves training the Chaplaincy Team in Ignatian Spirituality. Donal is a regular celebrant at the popular Castro Church of Most Holy Redeemer and has been heard leading a service there on Radio 4’s Sunday Service. He has written a book on the parish ministry, Gays and Grays. As university chaplain, Donal spends much of his time mentoring students and staff. Donal loves this aspect of his work and has reflected on the task of a effective mentor, particular in relation to work with people who are in some way marginalised such as those who are immigrant or gay.”
The webpage goes on to describes the retreat program: “A retreat is a safe place to open yourself to healing the wounds of the past and allow new life and freedom to flood in. Feel nurtured by an accepting retreat community; receive the healing love of God. Learn how to better use your talents for the good. Donal and David (Father David Birchall, S.J.) will lead the group through prayer, reflections, and sharing to help us better understand and appropriate the inner liberation God desires for each of us as children of God…..
“By taking a look at the interaction between the individual conscience and the teaching authority of the Church and Scripture we shall consider how best we can live our call to exercise the freedom of the Children of God. This will focus specifically on the area of sexuality….Although both retreat leaders are Catholic priests, this retreat is open to men of any Christian denomination or of no church affiliation. We shall be dealing with issues of sexuality and spirituality and so we are open to all regardless of sexual orientation. However, a respect for difference is vital in a retreat that seeks to be a safe place for all however you might describe your faith or sexuality.”
Under the Making Friends section, the webpage says: “These retreats in Calpe have been running for a number of years and have always been an enjoyable experience with friendly and welcoming groups of people. We have found that there has always been an openness and acceptance of others. You can be yourself in the group sharing your faith and other areas of life such as sexuality.”
There’s a lot of sexuality there. The retreat program also includes “bodywork,” whatever that means. 2013 will not be the first year Father Godfrey has led a retreat for the group in Spain. According to a December 6, 2011 post on the British Quest Gay Catholic website Father David Birchall (who will assist Godfrey at the retreat) relates that Father Godfrey led a similar retreat called Clear as your Conscience on June 13-20, 2012. In the same post, Father Birchall also described the retreat’s new Jesuit House location: “After a dalliance with a retreat house in Mallorca run by nuns we have now taken residence in a sea-front house which the group has to itself.” Sounds like the presence of nuns cramped the retreatants’ style.
Father Birchall made a bit of news in 2003 when the British Catholic Herald reported on a website he had set up, which was also called Clear as your Conscience. According to the Herald, Father Birchall’s website featured a picture of “two adolescent boys kissing full on the mouth.” Father Birchall defense of the picture: “It’s not as if they’re naked on it. They’re fully clad folk and, as far as I can gather, they’re over 18.” The website also included links to other sites which “advertised instant access to explicit gay pornography and offered information on locations for homosexual ‘cruising.’” The website’s “reflections” openly repudiated Catholic teaching on homosexuality and offered advice on how best to undermine the Church: “The website encouraged sexually active gays to put themselves forward as candidates for the priesthood, arguing that ‘the place where most influence can be put on an institution is from the inside.’” Following the Herald’s coverage, Father David Smolira, then-provincial of the British Jesuits, ordered the site taken down.
Interestingly, the Herald apparently tried to scrub the story from its website. The story appeared on page 3 of the February 21, 2003 issue. The entire third page of the online version of that issue has been removed. But the Herald must have forgotten about the online digitized version of the physical paper, which contained the story, and which can be downloaded.