Coming Out as a Gay Priest: “If not me, who will?”
The existence of gay men in the Catholic priesthood is one that is surrounded by so many clouds of mystery. The reason for the mystery is that so few gay priests publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation. One priest who has “come out” reflected on the experience, and his insights shed some light on other priests’ reluctance to do so.
Father André Samson of Ottawa, Canada, went public about his orientation on a popular Canadian talk show last year. The Ottawa Citizen recently interviewed him about his declaration, and his observations are important and poignant.
Samson sees it as an important responsibility for him to speak out: “If not me, who will?”
Most importantly, Samson said that the experience of being open has led to a strong sense of affirmation in his life. “It’s good to be me,” he stated.
Such affirmation was not present in his early life, where he said that growing up in a conservative Catholic family kept him from acknowledging his feelings. Adolescence found him bullied and beaten in school. He turned to the priesthood, he said, as a way to explain why he didn’t marry and to “regain a sense of dignity.”
After being ordained over 30 years ago, he came to realize that he was not the only gay man in the priesthood. His reflections since coming out explain why many priests are reluctant to be public:
“He added that many priests and bishops continue to hide their sexual orientation because of their dependence and their fear of being rejected by the church, but he wants others to revel in who they really are.
“ ‘I know it’s not healthy to live with that kind of fear,’ said Samson, who has lived a life of service, teaching counselling as a University of Ottawa professor and serving as a chaplain during the Persian Gulf War.
“I would like to see the Catholic church recognize that many of its priests are gay and many of its bishops are gay — and that’s OK,” he added.
Samson is no stranger to truth-telling. In 2013, he was relieved of duties at a Montreal church, which he believes was because he tried to raise the issue of clergy sex abuse there.
Fear is such a powerful and harmful force in our lives. So much harm in our Church is caused by fear, particularly fear of authority. We need to remember that Jesus’ constant message to his disciples was: “Be not afraid.”
There is great reward in facing up to fear, and Samson expressed that powerfully. Describing what it was like immediately after his television declaration, he said: “I really felt for the first time in my life, I felt free.”
What surprised Samson the most was that he received hundreds of supportive emails and messages. Not one email came from a fellow priest. I think that shows how deeply entrenched the fear of homosexuality is in clerical culture.
Catholics, as polls continually show, support LGBT people very strongly. The people in the pews, I think, are ready for learning that their priests and bishops may be gay. What lay people respect more than anything from their priests is honesty.
What can you do to let your priests know that you would support them if they “came out” as gay? How can Catholics support their gay priests? Leave your ideas in the “Comments” section of this post.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
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TELL THEM! Say that they have your support. Emotionally, spiritually and as a advocate. That they will defend them and help them in whatever way they can.
I have often sensed a connection between the Catholic Church’s inveterate misogyny and its homophobia. Both, of course, are fear-based and misguided. But I think the roots of connection may go much deeper. This post–particularly the line “He added that many priests and bishops continue to hide their sexual orientation because of their dependence and their fear of being rejected by the church…”–helped clarify that link for me. What man but the very strongest and most secure would knowingly choose to put himself in the position of both subtle and overt rejection lived by women within the Church throughout the ages?
What difference is there if a priest abstains from Gay sex vs Hetero sex?
None! They are both fulfulling their voluntary priestly vows. The core problem here is that the administrative hierarchy of the Catholic Church targets gay lay folks, who are perfectly free to marry civilly, as are all lay folks, as being “beyond the pale” of acceptibility in the Catholic Church. But says who? Is this the judgment of some angry and frustrated Catholic priests and bishops, who don’t understand the lives of faithfully-bonded same-sex civilly-married Catholic couples? To the best of my knowledge, civilly married heterosexual practicing Catholic couples, even if they were not sacramentally married in the Church, are still fully entitled to practice as Catholics, including participation in the Eucharist. WHY is not the very same courtesy extended to civilly married same-sex couples? Go figure.
While I strongly believe that coming out for anyone and particularly a priest is liberating in a way that straight people may not be able to truly grasp, there is a practical problem for priests in that they are coming out to a very hostile employer as well. A church which is secretive and arbitrary and from which there is little recourse if an out priest is “fired”. And then how does a priest support himself after being taken care of for decades.
The terrible, terrible truth is that the gay men in the hierarchy are the most brutal in disciplining any priest who dares to comes to terms with and acknowledge their gayness mostly because it shows them up as weak. And perhaps they fear that they will be outed and lose their positions and fancy homes etc.
I think the solution for gay priests is the same as it was for gay people in the 60’s, 70’s etc. The more priests that come out the better it is and the more support that they have. The power is in the numbers.
Thank you, Father Andre, for speaking the truth of what we in the pews have known for many years. It is also time for sisters and nuns to do the same thing. You are absolutely right in saying that honesty is what we respect from out priests and religious. We have not had truth about so much in the Church and sadly, I think had we been told about homosexual priests there would have been acceptance and support for these priests who had lived in fear. What is the difference between celibate heterosexuals and celibate homosexuals? If there is one, I wish someone would inform me, as I see no difference. What wonderful things could have happened in the church and still can when priests come out as gay. Recognition and understanding homosexuality, acceptance in a loving parish family, support and counseling, if needed and the list could go on and on. We are ALL God’s children, warts and all. Until priests and religious are honest, they will continue to live in fear and, personally speaking, not feel as fulfilled in their calling as they could be if they were honest.
A priest in my parish recently told me that gay men can become priests as long as they are celibate. Maybe the new rule is gay men can become priests as long as they are celibate and never to speak of it. That would be horrible.
Bonjour à tous!
Un grand merci pour vos bons mots, ça me vas droit au coeur!
Thank you for your prayers and support.
Fr. André Samson, Ph.D.