A Catholic priest in Milwaukee came out as gay to his parishioners at Masses this past weekend, drawing standing ovations from parishioners, a reaction that is similar to what many gay priests have experienced when they came out publicly to their congregations.
Fr. Greg Greiten shared that he was a gay, celibate priest during his homily on Sunday to which a parishioner exclaimed, in the middle of the talk, “God bless you, Father!” National Catholic Reporter explained:
“The rest of the congregation at St. Bernadette Parish, where Greiten is pastor, responded with applause. . .More applause and a standing ovation came when Greiten finished explaining that he was going to ‘no longer live in the shadow of secrecy’ during the 10:30 a.m. Mass Sunday, Dec. 17.
“After Mass, over coffee and doughnuts, parishioners responded positively or with nonchalance.”
Several parishioners, including at least one who does not support marriage equality, told NCR they very much support Greiten’s decision to come out. Many, like Madge Powell, said they were unconcerned with his sexual orientation because, she said, “I love him for the person he is.” Shawn Govern said, “He made a choice to walk in Christ’s shoes, because he’s not going to be accepted by everyone.” NCR reported further:
“Drew Prusko, who attended Mass at St. Bernadette with his husband and heard the homily in which Greiten came out, was inspired by the priest’s words. ‘I grew up Catholic, but I haven’t stepped foot in a Catholic Church in a long time,’ he said. ‘If I had known a priest that shared what he did today, maybe my spiritual development would have been different.'”
Such positive support from parishioners is fairly typical, said New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo, in an interview with NCR:
“‘All of the priests I’ve met who have come out have told me that their parishioners or the people they minister to have had no problem with learning their sexual orientation.”
Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, affirmed Greiten’s decision to come out because being in the closet is not healthy. Not being public about one’s sexual orientation “doesn’t enable them to be the full human beings that God intended them to be,” and harms priests’ ability to do ministry well.
NCR also interviewed two openly gay priests in their coverage of Fr. Greiten’s coming out.
Fr. Frederick Daley, pastor of All Saints Parish in Syracuse, New York, said of his own coming out, “I realized one of my greatest gifts to those who are marginalized and struggling is to share my own struggle. . .I have no regrets at all.” Daley, like Greiten, received a standing ovation from parishioners.
Daley lost a position with Catholic Relief Services in 2006 because of being public about his orientation, but he has faced little pushback since coming out. Instead, he has benefited greatly, explaining about his journey:
“‘The fear and depression around coming to that conclusion [that he was gay] was very agonizing. . .Slowly, but surely, I was able to accept who I was and ultimately rejoice in who I was.’
“‘I loved being a priest and was committed to the priesthood. . .So I chose to continue in ministry and continue living a celibate life.'”
A second priest, Franciscan Fr. Ralph Parthie, OFM,said he faced no negative reactions after coming out, in part because of his religious community’s support. NCR reported:
“[Parthie], who was ordained in 1975, considers himself lucky since early on in his priesthood, a “very enlightened” provincial suggested the friars have an open conversation about homosexuality to better understand one another and live their vocations.
“He came out slowly, first to close friends and family, but has been open about his sexual orientation for a couple of decades, especially as he became involved in LGBT ministry and service those with HIV/AIDS.
“‘I wasn’t afraid, because my province was really so healthy about it,’ said Parthie, who is director of friar life and secretary for formation for the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart, based in St. Louis.”
Parthie said now he is “not worried about people who can’t see beyond their own fears and prejudices” and that God judges him based on his actions, not his sexual orientation.
But both Daley and Parthie are concerned with an ongoing culture in the Church which keeps gay priests in the closet:
“Parthie said, ‘Secrets kill. When you have to keep parts of yourself secret because you’re afraid people won’t love or respect you, that’s not healthy.’ . . .
“Daley worries that the current polarized climate in the church is not helpful for LGBT people. But his biggest concern is formation of new priests and the repressive attitude at some seminaries.
“‘That’s a very unhealthy atmosphere for a person to grow in pycho-sexual development,” he said, noting that many of his fellow priests reacted to his coming out with silence.'”
Schlumpf’s article referenced both the case of Fr. Warren Hall, who came out as gay after losing his position at Seton Hall University in Newark in an LGBT-related dispute, and the Vatican’s re-affirmation in December 2016 of guidelines which bar seminaries from accepting gay men. These illustrate the potential risks that keep many priests closeted. Sr. Gramick commented:
“The gay priest does not know what will happen and maybe is not willing to take a risk because there may be negative consequences — or he thinks there will be negative consequences.”
Posting on his Facebook page, Fr. James Martin, SJ, author of Building a Bridge on LGBT issues in the Church, commented about Gretein’s coming out:
“This man is a pioneer. As I mentioned in “Building a Bridge,” there are hundreds, if not thousands, of celibate gay priests ministering in the Catholic Church today. There are many reasons why they are not more public about their sexuality (that is, their bishops or religious superiors ask them not to be; they fear reprisals; they are worried that they would become targets for hate groups; and they are uncomfortable with their sexuality; or they are simply private people). But the church is invited to see, and accept this truth. Because the truth sets us all free.”
Tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will feature Fr. Greiten’s own words about his coming out and being a gay priest.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 19, 2017