Issue Date: October 14, 2005
A gay priest speaks on impending Vatican document
By JEFF SEVERNS GUNTZEL
The anonymous gay priest is getting a lot of attention lately. He is turning up in newspapers, on the radio, and he is getting calls from TV producers (complete with promise of fake mustache and altered voice). They are from both coasts and places in-between. Their take on recent news from the Vatican causes in them a variety of responses with some uniformity: They are hurt and they are scared.
NCR spoke with a gay priest who is active in an ethnically diverse urban parish on the East Coast. He was eager to speak out but just as eager to protect his identity and his vocation. In the interview that follows, this priest reflects on the possible release of a document barring -- or at least discouraging -- gay men from entering the seminary, news of a Vatican plan to send teams of investigators to each of the more than 200 American Catholic seminaries to gather evidence of homosexuality, and the internal struggle of a gay priest trying to stay true to his vocation in a church that is, at best, conflicted about homosexuality and, at worst, acting out a deep prejudice.
NCR: What was your initial reaction to word of a looming
Vatican document barring -- or at least discouraging -- homosexuals from
entering the seminary?
Were you surprised?
Certainly the majority of the cases were people preying on adolescent males and young boys. The logical fallacy, though, is to assume that every gay priest is therefore a pedophile, which is crazy -- or to assume that gay priests are not celibate, which is also crazy. Every gay priest I know is celibate. Now, I may travel in very faithful circles, but that is my experience.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls homosexual acts
intrinsically disordered -- that is fairly well known -- but it
also says a couple of things that are, relative to that statement, more
affirming. It says that homosexuals must be accepted with respect,
compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard
should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill Gods will in their
lives. What does that mean to you?
Gay priests are celibate. Or at least as celibate as their straight counterparts, and that message is not getting out there.
There is all this talk of lavender seminaries or rectories -- of a subculture of homosexuality. Look, theres a subculture of Irish priests. Theres a subculture of priests who like football or priests who like going out and drinking beer.
The reason that the subculture of gay priests or seminarians is so offensive is this idea that you cant have gay priests together because all they do is encourage each other to act out sexually.
That said, there are some problems that gay priests need to look at. Sometimes they can be very insular, but its not surprising for a group thats been persecuted to retreat in on itself.
What about the very elementary issue of gay celibacy versus straight
The only slight difference is that gay priests live in rectories with other men. But let me tell you, if youve ever looked at the average age of priests -- the idea that somehow a retired 85-year-old priest is going to be a danger to your vocation is absurd [laughs].
Look, its just as likely that a straight priest would have difficulties working with a sister or with a woman on his staff.
From what I understand, the Vatican might spin this as Were trying to protect people from living in these difficult environments. Thats crazy. Its the old proximity argument that they used in the military: Homosexuals cant control themselves.
Ratzinger addressed this in a 1992 document issued from the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith: What is at all costs to be avoided is the unfounded and demeaning assumption that the sexual behavior of homosexual persons is always and totally compulsive.
I think if a document comes out barring people who feel a real vocation and who have discerned it over the years with their spiritual advisers and their rectors, [barring them] from pursuing that vocation -- a document like that would be close to sinful. They would be denying the people of God the graces of the priesthood.
Do any of your parishioners know youre gay?
How did you come out to them?
What has been the response in your parish to a potential Vatican
document barring -- or at least discouraging -- homosexuals from entering
A lot of my parishioners have asked what I think about the document. I feel a little uncomfortable because this is not a big issue for me -- Ive never read any books on gay spirituality. A lot of critics say that gay priests see themselves as gay first, which is bullshit. I see myself as a Christian first -- Im a Catholic and a priest who happens to be gay.
Id rather be talking about -- I was going to say Id rather be talking about the Gospel, but maybe this is the Gospel [laughs].
Do you ever address the issue of homosexuality from the
It must be hard to get so close to the issue and not bring in your
Its strange. In a sense I feel sometimes that Im perpetuating the problem by not speaking out.
But you are speaking out, albeit anonymously. How strong is the
temptation to come out more directly as a gay priest?
From where I stand right now -- if that document banning gay priests comes out, then I would have to come out too. It would be a matter of conscience. I dont know how I could defend not coming out and keeping silent.
In a church that was more open-minded, gay priests would be seen as a benefit of the church and not some sort of curse. Like any cultural minority, gay priests bring something different to the table.
You know Pauls image of the body? We are basically going against Pauls image of the body -- we are saying we have no need of the hand or we have no need of the eye.
If you were allowed to be completely open about your sexuality, how
do you think your parishioners benefit?
For my parishioners who are gay and lesbian it would be good to be able to talk with them honestly about the fact that God loves them. Period. That is not often the message they get from the church.
In private I talk about that with people who are struggling but I cant share my own very personal experience and struggle. I cant speak directly from experience.
And parishioners who may be uncomfortable with homosexuality have no
idea that they are interacting -- sometimes very closely -- with a real, live
gay man. They are denied an opportunity for transformation.
If an openly gay man, committed to living celibately, were to come to
you today seeking your counsel on joining the priesthood, what would you tell
And interestingly, even if the document doesnt come out, there is going to be this tension -- this threat that the document might come out. Certainly the Vatican is not going to say, We welcome gay men with open arms. And theyre probably not going to say, Were not going to issue a document like this.
If a document comes out barring homosexuals from entering the priesthood you are going to have gay men who feel that they can live celibately and who feel called to the priesthood turning away from it. You will have a severe reduction in vocations. And you are going to have gay seminarians who are celibate and gay and who are going to be faced with this horrible choice: Either leave the seminary and turn away from your call or lie about your sexuality so you can get ordained. Frankly, lying as a way of approaching sacramental orders is just incredible. And you want to talk about a healthy way to live celibately? I guarantee you, the worst preparation for it is not talking about it.
And then you will have gay priests who will be demoralized even further. Some of them will leave -- I know a surprising number of people who have told me in the past couple of weeks that they would answer any move by the Vatican to discourage or bar homosexuals from the priesthood by turning away from the priesthood.
To be a gay man in an organization that says we should have no gay men is just too much for some people.
News of this proposed document has placed an enormous amount of stress on me personally. I dont know what to do anymore. I dont know what kinds of plans I should be making. Its very difficult to do the work of a priest and to celebrate Mass and baptisms and hear confessions and have this sword hanging over your head. Its tremendously stressful.
Among the gay priests you know, what has been the reaction to word of
the Vatican document and the seminary visitations?
At the other end of the spectrum are the people who say, Id have to leave.
Despite what people think about the subculture, there is no national network of gay priests. So I think that people would start to do things on their own. Youd begin to see priests leaving. Youd have some telling their parishioners why and youd have some just leaving. And youd start to see priests coming out. Maybe theyll talk to the local newspaper. Maybe theyll write about it in the parish bulletin. Maybe theyll preach about it.
Where in that spectrum of response do you place yourself?
What it means to be Catholic for me is to be part of a family of faith and I care too much about this family not to try to fix it where there are problems.
But by the same token, I think that if that document comes out, then Id have to come out as well. If at the end of my life Im looking back and saying what should I have done, I dont want to be like those priests who kept silent during the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany. I dont want to look back and say that I should have stood up. Perfect fear casts out love.
You said you dont know what kind of plans to make anymore and
that you have friends -- gay priests -- who are considering leaving the
The irony for many of us is that the very place where we were able to experience great spiritual freedom -- the church and seminary formation -- seems as if it is becoming the place where were going to have that freedom taken away from us.
Its as if Jesus came back to the disciples and said, Oh, by the way, the truth doesnt set you free.
You have to continually go back to Jesus. The only real role model for gay priests is Jesus. And I fear that Calvary is coming sooner than we thought.
In the final analysis, do we really believe that the truth sets us free? Do we really believe that the Holy Spirit calls all sorts of different people to the ministry? Do we really believe that the body is made up of many members? Do we really believe that God loves all of us as we are?
All these questions are very important for Catholics to reflect on because if the Vatican does release a document barring homosexuals from the priesthood, such a document would answer no to all of those questions.
Jeff Severns Guntzel is an NCR staff writer living in New York.
National Catholic Reporter, October 14, 2005
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