An Air Force chaplain is accused of blaming the Catholic Church’s ongoing sex-abuse crisis on gay priests, according to a woman who attended his service.
U.S. Air Force Capt. Antonio Rigonan; chaplain at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas; reportedly told parishioners on August 19 that many priests who abused children were “homosexuals” and “effeminate.”
The accusation comes from an officer’s wife who walked out of mass with her family after his comments. She is asking for anonymity to protect her husband’s career.
“I’ve had to talk about a lot of serious things with [our children], who didn’t understand why we were upset,” she told Military.com. “It’s at least been a good message on consent and being aware of other people’s intentions.”
The day after the incident, she contacted Archbishop Timothy Broglio, who oversees Catholic ministries and spiritual services at more than 220 U.S. military installations worldwide. While Broglio didn’t agree with Rigonan’s wording, he backed up the homophobic sermon in an email. “There is no question that the crisis of sexual abuse by priests in the USA is directly related to homosexuality,” Broglio wrote. “[Ninety percent] of those abused were boys aged 12 and over. That is no longer pedophilia.”
The officer’s wife says their family will not be returning to mass at Goodfellows, but the military families who do attend there deserve better,
“Being a homosexual is not the same as [being] a pedophile,” she said. “I want young people in the military to feel welcome when they’re on base. How is the military affecting how they feel about their new home if they hear comments like that?”
Starting in the 1980s, the Catholic Church has faced an onslaught of accusations of sexual abuse. Just days before Rigonan’s sermon a shocking grand jury report detailed how church leaders covered up for hundreds of priests who abused hundreds of victims over the decades.
Addressing the scandal, Father Rigonan read a letter from San Angelo Bishop Michael Sis that condemned pedophilia and pledged to investigate a local priest who’d been named in the grand jury’s report.
“It was this very thoughtful and good letter,” the woman said. “He gave the hotline number people could call if they had experienced any abuse, and we were really happy with that.”
But then the Air Force chaplain said he wanted to share his own views, which is when he called out gay men as the root of the problem. The accuser says her husband became concerned that his presence at the service would be seen by younger troops as an endorsement of Rigonan’s bigotry, prompting their departure. “We didn’t want to sit there and let people think we’re okay with that,” she said.
Air Force chaplains and other military clergy are protected by religious freedom laws, and cannot be forced to perform any ritual contrary to their moral principles or religious beliefs. In addition, the Armed Forces cannot punish a chaplain “if they don’t comply with requirements in which they don’t believe.
An unnamed spokesman for the Archdiocese for the Military Services called Broglio’s email simply a statement of fact. “The archbishop believes that any abuse of anyone, regardless of his or her age, is a sin,” they said. “When it involves someone under 18 or a vulnerable adult, it is also a crime.”
But the issue of “homosexual attraction” cannot be ignored, they added, since most of the victims are males ages 12 up. “Otherwise, would one not expect that the victims would have included more females?”
According to Military.com’s story on September 7, base officials were not aware of Rigonan’s statement before the site’s reporting. A public affairs officials said, “Goodfellow leadership is looking into what comments were made.”