Despite Pope Francis’ “Who am I to judge?” remark in 2013, the Catholic Church remains ambiguous in its acceptance of gay priests and religious though by some estimates they may constitute up to 60% of clergy.
While Catholics in the pews are more accepting of gay people, church leaders have not all followed the pope’s lead. So what is it like to be a gay priest?
Fr. Fred Daley, an openly gay priest from New York State, spoke to Al Jazeera America during the Synod on the Family about his experiences. Daley came out in 2004, his response to the “scapegoating” of gay priests for the clergy sexual abuse crisis.
Before that, Daley had journeyed for a decade to know and affirm his sexual identity. Several years after being ordained, he explained:
” ‘I became in touch with a sort of ache within me that was really my sexuality sort of bubbling forth, and I began to be in touch with sexual attractions, and I was horrified. I thought this was terrible and I’m going to go to hell’ . . .
“[A Jesuit director] put me on a journey of recognizing my orientation, accepting it and ultimately rejoicing in who God created me to be. . .I was freely able to choose celibacy, because I really continued to feel the strong call to ordained ministry. But I discovered that I had the capacity for intimacy.’ “
Unfortunately, too many priests lack a “contemporary understanding” of sexuality and, in Daley’s estimation, are “mouthing what they learned 30 or 40 years ago, which is a real problem.”
Though Daley’s coming out was greeted with a standing ovation by his parishioners, not all congregations have welcomed an openly gay priest. The Advocate reported that Daley was barred from a 2006 mission to Africa regarding HIV awareness because of his sexual orientation. Daley said the ‘Francis effect’ is slowly changing this type of ostracization, affecting gay people “as well as everyone else” with the pope’s reorganized priorities. Daley stated:
“Doctrine is important, but it’s not No. 1. Mercy, compassion, understanding come before doctrine. And he also makes it clear that, ultimately, we have to follow our consciences.”
Gay priests and religious are some of the church’s most vibrant ministers of mercy and understanding. To further help the church embrace their gifts, Fr. Daley is the main speaker at a retreat entitled, “Fan into Flame the Gift of God: Embracing the Gifts of Gay Priests and Brothers,” sponsored by New Ways Ministry.
The retreat, scheduled for April 28-May 1, 2016, near Philadelphia, is open to gay priests and brothers, but also to all diocesan clergy personnel, as well as leaders and formation personnel of men’s religious communities. The program is designed to foster communication and understanding between gay clergy and religious and the leaders responsible for their development.
As Fr. Daley’s sharing reveals, even though gay priests and religious contribute much to our church and our world, they remain undervalued and suffer unjust ecclesial pressures simply because of their sexual orientation. The retreat hopes to start conversations to help reverse these trends.
If you are interested in attending the retreat or know someone who might be interested, please contact New Ways Ministry at info@NewWaysMinistry.org or call (301) 277-5674.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry