Theologian’s Autobiography Explains His Gay Journey

Those who are familiar with Catholic LGBT history will remember that in 1976, Rev. John J. McNeill, SJ, published The Church and the Homosexual, the first book-length theological critique of the Catholic Church’s moral ban on same-sex relationships.  It is a monumental work.

But the first defense of same-sex relationships by a Catholic theologian actually was made two years earlier by Gregory Baum, an ethicist from Canada.  In an article in the February 15, 1974 issue of Commonweal, Baum wrote an article entitled “Catholic Homosexuals” in which he defended the ethical status of same-sex relationships.

Baum, who was a towering theological figure during and after the Second Vatican Council, is now in his 90s, and he just published his autobiography, The Oil Has Not Run Dry: The Story of My Theological Pathway (published by McGill-Queen’s University Press). In this book, for the first time publicly, Baum acknowledges that he is a gay man.

The acknowledgment comes in chapter 32, where the recounting of his experience will, I’m sure, sound familiar to any LGBT person who came of age before the turn of the 21st century.  It is a poignant tale, filled with the usual confusion, fear, and denial which many had experienced.  The twists and turns of his life will also be familiar.  Describing his young adulthood, he writes:

“In subsequent years I fell in love with men on several occasions with a passion that was both joyful and painful at the same time:  I had great joy in the presence of the beloved and great pain because my love could not be received.”

He explains that he became a priest, but that now, in hindsight, he sees it was for the wrong reason:

“Looking back I began to realize that my vow of celibacy had not bee a meaningful religious commitment but simply a promise to bracket my homosexuality, to refuse to explore its meaning and power.”

He decided to leave the priesthood “since I no longer agreed with the church’s official sexual ethics and was exploring my sexuality in non-conformist ways.”

Baum’s affectional and relational journey took additional twists and turns after leaving the priesthood, but I’ll leave it to you to discover those as you read his book.

Recalling his publication of the 1974 Commonweal article, Baum describes it genesis.  After giving a lecture in 1973, he received a letter from Rev. Pat Nidorf, the founder of Dignity, then a ministerial support organization of gay and lesbian Catholics, which continues today in a much-expanded organization.  Nidorf sent him a copy of Dignity’s faith statement for Baum to evaluate theologically.

Baum’s Commonweal article was the result of that evaluation.  He made the case for same-sex relationships in two ways.  First, he argued that “The definition of human nature tends to reflect the self-understanding of the cultural elite”  and so “To say that homosexual love is ‘unnatural’ is to make a cultural statement,” not a moral one.

His second point comes from his background in ecumenical and interfaith relations.  (Baum, whose mother was Jewish, wrote the first draft of Nostra Aetate, Vatican II’s document on the Church’s relationship to the Jewish people, when he was a theological advisor at the Council.) So he argued that “The church’s anti-homosexual rhetoric has produced a culture that despises and persecutes homosexuals, devises cruel punishments for homosexual acts, and fosters self-doubt and self-hatred in homosexual men and women.”  The antidote for this, he says, is “Christ’s great commandment–to love one’s neighbor  as oneself.”   To follow that commandment, he said, the Church needed to review its teachings in regard to all marginalized people.

Baum’s book is a treasure trove of the background of one of the great theological debates of the twentieth century, especially the Second Vatican Council.  New Ways Ministry was blessed to have Baum as a plenary speaker at our Fifth National Symposium in 2002 which was entitled “Out of Silence God Has Called Us:  Lesbian/Gay Catholics in the Vatican II Church.”

Even more so, the book is an inside look at a very gentle soul.  In closing the chapter where he acknowledged his gay identity, Baum wrote the following beautiful analysis:

“I have asked myself if there is a special meaning in the homosexual condition.  God creates the great majority of humans heterosexual and only a small minority homosexual.  Is there a special task associated with the condition of the latter?  Since they are an oppressed minority, aware of the hypocrisy of society and the damage done by the dominant culture, I have suggested that gays and lesbians are intended to extend solidarity to all marginalized groups and demand greater justice. Because homosexuals are largely invisible in society, their prophetic vocation will have a cultural impact and support the struggle for human emancipation.”

Gregory Baum has already been a gift to the Church.  With his new book, he shows us the inner soul behind his keen mind, making the gift of himself that much more precious.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 29, 2017




8 replies
  1. Friends
    Friends says:

    What a magnificent and moving story. I truly wish Pope Francis would grant him the honor of restoring his active priestly status, without demanding in any way that he renounce the very special insights and gifts of his lifetime of prayer and discovery.

  2. Barry Blackburn
    Barry Blackburn says:

    A sincere Thank You Francis DeBernardo for drawing our attention to this important autobiography of Gregory Baum–a dear friend of both Toronto and Montreal and DIGNITY/DIGNITE Canada. Although a group effort, DIGNITY/DIGNITE Toronto (the first Chapter in Canada) was founded in November 1974 with the help of Gregory Baum (among others). We were founded here in Toronto with the help of DIGNITY BOSTON which sent Jim Leitner here to begin the process of helping us start our Toronto, and Canada’s first DIGNITY Chapter. Gregory Baum also helped us find our meeting space in St. Cecelia’s Parish in the central west area of Toronto. For years I kept Gregory Baum’s NCR article “Catholic Homosexuals” until I finally gave it to the LGBTQ Archives here in the city with other early DIGNITY papers. Gregory Baum once gave a talk to our Toronto chapter of DIGNITY the same night that the founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, Rev. Troy Perry, attended. I have a nice photograph of both of them together at that meeting. Gregory Baum is a hero of the Canadian Church especially through his ecumenical work, but he will always be close to the hearts of the Canadian LGBTQ community and family of Faith!

  3. Max
    Max says:

    As a dude that has received Jesus and experienced the Holy Spirit, I would be interested to learn about people that call themselves LGBT Christians and hear test testimonies of meeting Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit and the clarity it brings. I wonder if it is discussed in that book. And also, I am not a huge fan of quoting the Bible for explaining everything, but, to my understanding, the book has plenty of recommandations concerning sexual behavior no? I dont get how someone can reconciliate all of that together and build a identity out of it. I’m not about judging people or telling them what to do and what to think, and I do have many ”gay people” in my family (they arent beleivers in Christ tho), but I just find it difficult to understand to logic behind this identity ”gay christian”. Do you guys received actual approval from the Holy Spirit?
    Mr Baum here says ”I had great joy in the presence of the beloved and great pain because my love could not be received”. Isnt that a missunderstanding of what love is ? Loving someone and behing sexualy attracted to them is 2 different things I think. I can have a crush on a cute girl that already has a boyfriend, and not tell her for that reason. I dont know. ANYWAYS. This topic bring so many confusions in me. lOLollol
    God bless you allll 😀
    And sorry if I offended anyone, it’s just my present questionning/understanding of this topic.
    If anyone has received information from the Holy Spirit regarding this topic, please share.

    • Daniel Senger
      Daniel Senger says:

      Yes! I receive regular “approval” and blessings from the wholly spirit! Your initial instinct not to proof text the bible is a good one…stick with that!

  4. Timothy McNeill
    Timothy McNeill says:

    Uncle Jack ‘came out’ in 1976 on the national broadcast of the Today Show hosted by Tom Brokaw while promoting his book “The Church and the Homosexual”. He suffered significant consequences for his courage of putting the welfare of others (specifically the Catholic Gay community) above his own…not the least of which was being driven out of the Jesuit Order. For several years prior to the publication of this first book he wrote several articles in the Homiletic & Pastoral Review on the subject of understanding and compassion for ‘homosexuals’. While I have no doubt Baum is a wonderful person, this end of life pronouncement shouldn’t be put in chronological competition with a true martyr.


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