A Wisconsin archbishop has expressed support for a priest in his archdiocese who came out as gay this past weekend.
Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee said in a statement that Fr. Gregory Greiten sharing his coming out story “reminds each of us of God’s call to continue to grow in understanding and to live holy, chaste lives.” The archbishop said further in a statement, reported by USA Today:
“We support Father Greiten in his own, personal journey and telling his story of coming to understand and live with his sexual orientation. As the Church teaches, those with same-sex attraction must be treated with understanding and compassion. As priests who have made a promise to celibacy, we know that every week there are people in our pews who struggle with the question of homosexuality.”
Greiten had a meeting with Listecki prior to his coming out in a homily and in an essay in the National Catholic Reporter, according to an archdiocesan spokesperson. Parishioners were overwhelmingly supportive of Greiten on Sunday, giving him a standing ovation after he came out during Mass. Fr. James Martin, SJ, expressed his support for the priest on Facebook. You can read Bondings 2.0’s coverage of his coming out here. [Editor’s note: More about this story will be posted in the coming week.]
For priests, coming out as gay can be risky. Though Catholics in the pews are overwhelmingly supportive when priests do come out, there are still risks involved. Few church leaders encourage gay priests to be public about their sexual orientation. In some cases, priests who come out can be punished. For example, Warren Hall, a gay priest from the Archdiocese of Newark, was suspended from ministry after coming out and has since left the priesthood.
Listecki’s support is significant because it helps pacify concerns that Greiten might be disciplined for his decision.
When Fr. Michael Shanahan, a Chicago archdiocese priest came out in 2016, Cardinal Blase Cupich made a statement in support of him, too. Similarly, Fr. Steve Wolf, a Nashville diocese priest, reported that his bishop was very supportive of him when he came out as gay.
More church leaders voicing their support for gay priests would allow more priests to come out, a healthy and life-giving decision for them and for the Church. Unfortunately, such public support is unlikely to appear soon. As of today, the Vatican’s formal policy for seminaries bars gay men from entering the priesthood.
Theologian Lisa Fullam has suggested gay priests instead have their own “Stonewall Moment” by refusing to remain closeted any longer. Former priest Krzysztof Charamsa did just that when he came out with his partner before the 2014 Synod on the Family and was quickly suspended. He has similarly called for a Stonewall in the church.
It seems true that change will only happen when gay priests start coming out in greater numbers. The situation in Milwaukee and the other cases mentioned above show that coming out need not be an antagonistic moment, and that the bishop, in caring for the diocese’s priests, could be in conversation and even support gay priests.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, December 20, 2017