Monday, July 20, 2015

First Person Account: I Was a Gay Priest for 25 Years

As many regular readers know, I was raised Roman Catholic, was an altar boy for 10 years and eventually rose to the level of a 4th Degree Knight of Columbus.  From this experience - and from being gay - I know first hand that few things inflict more emotional and psychological harm than Catholicism and is emphasis on guilt, self-loathing and, of course, constant condemnation of all things sexual, especially homosexuality.   The result was that it took years of therapy - and leaving Catholicism - to undo the damage done to me by my religious upbringing.  I am but one of millions of LGBT individuals damaged by the Catholic Church and its obsession with a 13th century understanding of sex and sexuality.  A piece in The Daily Beast looks at my experience but with a special twist - the author is a former gay Catholic priest.  Unlike the author, I believe only massive defections from membership and plummeting financial support will bring the Church hierarchy to re-evaluate its homophobia.  Here are article highlights:
At age 54, and after 25 years as a Roman Catholic priest, I left the priesthood in November 2014, and came out as a gay man.

Seeking to be more honest with myself, and understanding the limitations that come with being a gay priest, this was a choice that was healthiest for me. There is no infrastructure within the Church to support me as a gay man. And the Church is not at her best when speaking to and about people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), or even questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Before leaving, I had a unique role in priesthood in that I provided leadership training, development, and consulting primarily for bishops and priests throughout the country. I served them, I assisted them, and I coached them.

Because I thought I had a credible relationship with bishops, in particular, I invited them to seize an opportunity regarding the LGBT community and the recent Supreme Court decision on marriage equality and October’s Synod on the Family at the Vatican, in which bishops and cardinals will discuss a range of issues related to family and evangelism.

Alas, only one of the 82 bishops I contacted has chosen even to respond. I found the non-response to be a great disappointment.

Still, as someone who was a Roman Catholic priest and who understands my own sexual orientation, I am offering to be a part of the solution for the Church leaders in their struggling relationship with LGBT people. Here are four things the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church can do, without changing Church teaching on sexuality:

First, as the Hippocratic Oath holds, they should do no harm: pause the public statements that deny LGBT people’s experience of themselves, that fan the flames of fear regarding religious freedom in America, and that perpetuate misunderstanding. Enter a period of silence and reflection—not hesitation, but consideration.

Second, to open such a period of reflection, bishops should organize an ad-hoc committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that seeks to understand the LGBT community and persons.

The next step would be to revisit the 2006 pastoral document, Ministry to Persons with Homosexual Inclinations, . . . so as to update recommendations and language. For instance, gay persons are not persons who have “homosexual inclinations.” To refer to our expression of sexual love as “intrinsically disordered” is neither helpful nor useful.

Finally, put in place an education process, through the USCCB, to enable all ecclesiastic leadership—ordained and lay—to live a life of ministry and/or celibacy with more authenticity and self-acceptance. Currently, gay and bisexual priests and bishops, for the most part, are quietly closeted, even amongst themselves.

Even in the absence of doctrinal change, promoting understanding, sensitivity, and proper language are acts of profound ministry. Through them, all of us become more inclusive, understanding, and respectful—even if we don’t always agree on issues or teachings.

My purpose is to be of service to the Church on this issue. There is a unique opportunity here given the events that are shaping people’s lives in the Church and throughout the nation. The right and responsible thing to do, as an act of leadership, is to understand LGBT persons, and to use language that respects them by listening and seeking to understand the joys and challenges they face in their lives. Everyone benefits, and the face of God is experienced more deeply.
I like the author's ideas.  Sadly, I see them as wishful thinking.  Here in the Diocese of Richmond even divorced and remarried Catholics - where the divorce was due to the other spouse - are subjected to witch hunts and bars on employment by the current bishop.  That being the case, what are the chances of gays being seen as even fully human?  No, the Catholic Church must experience a huge decline - which may be approaching - in order for it to move into the 21st century.

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