Michelle Boorstein’s latest piece in The Washington Post expands the emerging conversation on gay men in the priesthood.
Stating the Catholic Church is undergoing an “historic period of debate about homosexuality,” Boorstein wrote:
“At a time when the phrase ‘coming out’ is starting to sound almost quaint, the Catholic priesthood may be one of the last remaining closets — and it’s a crowded one. People who study gay clergy believe gay men make up a significant percentage of the 40,000 ordained priests in the United States, including some who believe they may even be the majority. Meanwhile, the number who are out is minuscule.”
This reality means gay priests are, as Boorstein stated, “invisible” in the wider conversation about homosexuality. The Post report emerged from interviews with “a dozen priests and former seminarians who are gay, and experts on gay priests,” who shared their varying thoughts:
“Many [of those interviewed] express no urgency for the church to accept it. Some, however, say the priesthood remains sexually repressive; one said there is an ‘invisible wall’ around the topic among priests.
“They speak forcefully about the tough work they had to do to accept their sexuality and how important a part it is of who they are. But their acceptance of the closet often harks back to an earlier time.”
“[T]he impact his coming out could have on the lives of young gay people in treatment for addiction or who are suicidal, on the parents and grandparents who feel they must choose between their gay child and their church. For some, knowing their priest is gay — and at peace with it — could be healing, he felt.” ‘There’s a level of witnessing here that’s important for me to do. The Christian faith has a lot to say about the underdog, about the marginalized or the leper, the blind, the lame, the ostracized woman prostitute, widow, the little one,” [Shanahan] said.” ‘I’d like to be one of those priests, who, with great respect for the church’s teaching, can say: I’m a human being. I’m a son — one of six — I’m gay and I’m a priest, period.’ “
Boorstein interviewed Fr. Fred Daley who said his brother priests, “gay as well as straight,” remain “silent” rather than supportive about his coming out. Daley, whose story you can read here, said he does not receive support as a gay priest because he “broke the rules of the clerical club” by coming out.
Fr. Warren Hall, who came out as gay after being fired from Seton Hall University for supporting the NOH8 Campaign, said priests may choose to not come out because they believe it will negatively impact their ministries. In fact, Hall would recommend to current seminarians that they remain closeted.
Regarding the priesthood’s future, of those interviewed only Monsignor Stephan Rossetti believes there are fewer gay priests today. One gay priest in Pennsylvania said of younger priests and seminarians that, “They may be more conservative, but no less gay.”
The need to openly discuss and better support gay priests is and will remain very real for the Catholic Church. To help that discussion, New Ways Ministry is sponsoring a retreat this spring for gay priests and male religious that will be led by Fr. Fred Daley.
Entitled, “Fan into Flame the Gift of God: Embracing the Gifts of Gay Priests and Brothers,” it seeks to help the church embrace more the gifts of its vibrant gay ministers.
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. For more information, click here.
If you are a member of the target audience and 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