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Pope Francis Calls To Fight Sex Abuse; United Methodists Debate LGBTQ Issues


Two major faith groups gathered this weekend to discuss what could be sweeping reform. At the Vatican, Catholic leaders wrapped up a four-day summit on clerical sex abuse. And in St. Louis, leaders of the United Methodist Church, one of the country's largest Protestant denominations, held a conference on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex weddings. Together, they represent more than 1 billion worshippers around the world, and the outcomes could have significant implications for how congregants view church leadership. To walk us through what happened, we've invited Washington Post religion reporter Julie Zauzmer. She's with us now in our studios in Washington, D.C.

Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

JULIE ZAUZMER: Thanks so much for having me.

MARTIN: So let's start first with the Vatican summit on child sex abuse that started on Thursday. What's happened since then?

ZAUZMER: It's been an intense few days - 190 Catholic leaders from the church around the world discussing the problem of sexual abuse and what to do about it. They're wrapping up without very many concrete suggestions but a lot of bishops promising to go back home and come up with solutions in their own countries.

MARTIN: Well, you know, well, Pope Francis called for a, quote, "all-out battle on clerical sex abuse." So what did that actually mean? I take it he's getting very mixed reactions.

ZAUZMER: Yes. He gave his address this morning, which would have been the time to declare specific policies that he's changing. And he did not do that. At the beginning of this summit, he distributed a list of 21 suggestions he has for concrete reforms or discussion points for how to get to those reforms. The bishops are going to take those home. But this did not result in a worldwide policy change.

MARTIN: Do you have any sense of why? I know that this is all very new, and these remarks were just delivered. But given how high the expectations were for this meeting, this seems like a very oddly ambiguous conclusion. Is there any sense of why?

ZAUZMER: I think he knew all along that they weren't going to be able to reach something that - a solution that works for the entire world in a four-day meeting. He had said beforehand, lower your expectations. If you look at the United States, the United States is a very good example here of a region-specific goal where back in November, the U.S. bishops all got together, and they wanted to address the question of accountability of bishops. If a bishop does something wrong, what do you do about that?

That's not the question in other parts of the world. In some parts of the world, the question is child marriage, for example. There are very different goals when it comes to sexual abuse in different countries. And the U.S. bishops are basically leaving at the same place where they came in. They're leaving with a statement today saying, OK. We had a good meeting. We're going to meet again in June, and we're going to deal with bishop accountability because that's what we wanted to do all along. I think a lot of the bishops are returning to their home countries to deal with their specific issues.

MARTIN: So now let's go to St. Louis, where leaders of the United Methodist Church are deciding whether to permit openly LGBTQ clergy and same-sex weddings. And obviously, this is a very complicated issue. There are lots of different proposals on the table. But briefly, could you tell us what's the status quo? Because I think people know that in some parts of the country, there are LGBTQ clergy. There are same-sex weddings performed. In other parts of the country, not. What's the discussion here - whether to create a national standard, an international standard?

ZAUZMER: Exactly. If you read the United Methodist Church "Book Of Discipline," the letter of the law right now says no gay clergy, no gay weddings. Of course, as you said, there are bishops across the United States who pretty openly ignore that, and there are plenty of gay clergy in the United Methodist Church who perform plenty of gay weddings. The question is - it's not sustainable. The question is, what are they going to do going forward? And the big question is, should they split the church?

MARTIN: What are the different options that they're considering?

ZAUZMER: There are several options which they can modify as they go. One option is to keep their traditional straight couples only definition of marriage and indeed double down on that and punish congregations that don't obey it. A second option is to split the church into three separate denominations - one that affirms LGBT people, one that doesn't and one that lets each church decide for themselves. A third option is to let each church decide for itself worldwide. A fourth option that is somewhat on the table is to remove the language entirely about the morality of same-sex marriage, thereby sort of tacitly saying that we do approve of this and that this is a positive good for our church.

MARTIN: Do you have any sense of where this debate is going? And I apologize if I'm asking you to speculate.

ZAUZMER: I think that there is tremendous desire to get through this meeting with an answer. They've been putting off this question for a long time. There are a lot of Methodist leaders who want to by Tuesday night have a real solution. What that solution's going to be - I think a very popular plan is the - called the one church plan, where they would remain united but would allow each individual local congregation to just choose for themselves whether to do gay weddings and whether to ordain gay clergy, so they stay a denomination without really reaching an answer on the morality of this. But there's obviously other plans that are drastically different.

MARTIN: So, finally, do you see any kind of overlap here in terms of how these religious groups' polities are dealing with these issues?

ZAUZMER: I think this week is a very good reminder for me and probably for many others who follow the religion world fairly closely that these institutions still matter - that we talk a lot about people becoming less affiliated and finding their own spirituality. When you see these huge, very institutional, very rigid organized meetings of the leaders of the Catholic Church, of the Methodist Church, you remember that policy still shapes people's lives, that the policies that come out of these very organized, systematic meetings are going to determine how a victim of sexual abuse in a country where there's no process for reporting that abuse - how that victim can come forward. These policies are going to determine whether people can get married in the churches they love and grew up in. These institutions still shape our day-to-day existence.

MARTIN: That's Julie Zauzmer, religion reporter for The Washington Post.

Julie, thank you so much.

ZAUZMER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.