This past week, Bondings 2.0 reported on the coming out of Fr. Gregory Greiten, a gay priest in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee who revealed his sexual orientation to parishioners last weekend (you can read our coverage here).
Today, we share both Greiten’s piece in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR) about his journey, and we summarize the homily in which Greiten came out by focusing on the gifts of gay priests in the context of Advent and Christmas. In the NCR essay, he shared:
“For years now, I have been carrying a heavy burden, a secret cloaked in silence that the leaders of my church have not wanted me to share publicly. Each time I had a great desire to speak out I was challenged by other priests and leaders. . .Today, I break the silence and emerge free from the shackles of shame placed upon me at a young age. There is so much to speak about, to repair and to heal — much beyond the limits of these words in print.
“I am gay.”
Greiten wrote in NCR that he was 24 years old before he could admit that truth to himself. The toxic environment in high school seminary was traumatic, a “culture of shame and secrecy” where homosexuality was condemned and all talk of sexuality suppressed. But then, while driving on a long trip, “the truth broke through the denial.” He wrote:
“I finally admitted to myself, ‘I AM GAY!’ I was driving down a road trying to keep from veering out of my lane or off the road itself, repeating to myself again and again, ‘I am gay!’ Years of built-up, toxic shame came pouring out of me as the tears were flowing down my cheeks.
“It felt more like a life sentence than freely embracing my true sexual orientation.
“I went to the fifth floor of the seminary building, opened the window and climbed into it — with one leg inside the room and the other leg dangling outside. There I sat straddling the window for three hours contemplating whether I could face the truth of being gay or simply jump out of the window ending this once and for all. . .
“In a moment of lament and ultimate surrender, I remember crying out inside, ‘God, where are you right now? I need you. Help me. I cannot do this or face this by myself.’ Wiping away my tears, I crawled out of the window and stood firmly on the floor inside the seminary.”
Eventually, Greiten was ordained to the priesthood (25 years ago this past May). Since then, he has considered coming out and what the reactions might be. He eventually concluded with the help of spiritual directors and counselors that a choice had to be made:
“In clearly identifying this dilemma in my life, he was helping me to realize the difficulty and severity of the choices that I was making. For the next several years, I pushed onward in my priesthood seeking to maintain the secrecy of my sexual orientation only to discover that the harder I tried to suppress it, the more and more it was pushing back in order for the truth to be set free. Over the past year, I came to the realization that I could no longer live the lie of masquerading as a straight man in the priesthood. . .
“This fire burning deep inside my heart, I will no longer contain. I will not be silent any longer; the price to pay is way too great. I must speak my truth. I have lived far too many years chained up and imprisoned in the closet behind walls of shame, trauma and abuse because of the homophobia and discrimination so prevalent in my church and the world. But rather, today, I chart a new course in freedom and in integrity knowing that there is nothing that anyone can do to hurt or destroy my spirit any longer. First steps in accepting and loving the person God created me to be.”
Fr. Greiten shared some of this story in his homily last Sunday, but in a move to look outward, he framed his coming out around three gifts that gay priests offer the Church. These are the three gifts, he would conclude, that he offered the Infant Jesus this Christmas: integrity, honesty, and authenticity.
He opened the homily on the Third Sunday of Advent by drawing on that day’s first Scripture reading (Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11):
“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord and a day of vindication by our God.”
About integrity, Greiten said he needed to speak the truth about his own life to have professional integrity as a priest and counselor. Over time, and with the loving acceptance of his mother (something the institutional church has never given him), he came to realize that despite church leaders’ statements that his sexual orientation did not matter, it very much did. When he raised the possibility of coming out with leaders, they worked to silence him and keep him closeted. But if it really did not matter, he figured, then why not come out and live truthfully. There would be no more secrecy.
About honesty, Greiten discussed his attendance at New Ways Ministry’s retreat for gay priests, brothers, and deacons, as well as congregational leaders and formation personnel. Upon returning, a parish staff member asked him about the retreat, which Greiten had listed simply as “Priests’ Meeting” in the staff calendar. He explained that, in that moment, the choice was to be honest or to fabricate a lie again. He told parishioners that last Sunday would be the day when lying, hiding, and toxic shame stopped. His life would largely be the same, and yet everything would change because he was living honestly.
About authenticity, Greiten said it was important to live as who he truly is when it comes not only to personality and character, but sexual orientation, too. He acknowledged in the homily (as well as the NCR piece) that a high percentage or priests are gay, and yet only a few have chosen to come out. The institutional church prefers to pretend such priests and religious are nonexistent. The priests who refuse to live inauthentically challenge that narrative. Though his own journey of realizing he was gay and coming out took 25 years, he expressed a desire to live his remaining years authentically.
In both the homily and in NCR, Greiten also apologized to the LGBT community for remaining silent in the midst of injustices against them. He wrote in NCR:
“As a priest of the Roman Catholic Church currently serving in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, I would like to apologize personally to my LGBT brothers and sisters for my part in remaining silent in the face of the actions and inactions taken by my faith community towards the Catholic LGBT community as well as the larger LGBT community. . .
“While I do sincerely believe, along with St. John Paul II, that the false voices of the world do at times succeed in robbing our young people of hope, I believe it is even more devastating and an even greater theft in their lives when the church itself robs them of hope by rejecting them, by not listening to their stories, by scorning them for who they are and who they were created to be, by telling them they are not invited or welcome at the table of the Lord, and by the failure of its leadership who either looked the other way or somehow failed to do everything in their power to end the discriminatory practices taking place.”
In NCR, Greiten concluded with the acclamation, “I am Greg. I am a Roman Catholic priest. And, yes, I am gay!”He then read the Orlando Prayer, an interpretive reading of Ezekiel 37 written by Robert Shine:
God says this:
I am now going to open your closets,
shed light into your darkness, bear your pain with you;
I mean to invite you to your truest selves,
my beloved LGBTQIA people,
and to accompany you to liberation.
And you will know that I am God, when we die to false selves,
speak against silencing, destroy closets, reject violence,
and walk into life’s fullness together.
When you and I love one another so you can live
as I have made you, my LGBTIA people.
And I shall put my spirit within you, and you will live,
you will live authentically and openly and wondrously;
and you will know that I, God, have said and done this.
I am forever with you, even when death surrounds
and darkness pierces you.
From the four winds come, O Breath,
and breathe into those slain and those hurting
that they may live!
With the Christmas season now begun, let us be grateful for Fr. Greiten’s courage in coming out, for gay priests and religious, and for the many gifts they offer our Church.
To order the “Orlando Prayer” card, please visit https://www.newwaysministry.org/contact/ or call (301) 277-5674.
—Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, December 28, 2017