An openly gay priest has shared more details about his coming out story–a reminder of how important it is to do ministry authentically.
Fr. Fred Daley, the pastor of All Saints Parish, Syracuse, New York, who came out as gay fourteen years ago, wrote for America Magazine about that coming out process and the impact it has had on his life. Daley said the day he came out, which happened to be the Feast of the Annunciation, was “the longest day of my life”:
“That evening, I was being honored by the United Way for my parish’s ministries to the poor and marginalized in the community. Shortly before the ceremony, a young reporter from the local newspaper interviewed me. She noted that I had been outspoken on many social issues and particularly supportive of the L.G.B.T. community. I knew this was the moment to come out publicly as a gay, Roman Catholic priest. . .
“I shared with the reporter that in my years accompanying members of the L.G.B.T. community, I recognized in their deep pain my own struggle of self-acceptance as a gay man.”
Daley fretted later that night about what the newspaper’s headline would be the next day. He feared he would be rejected by parishioners or suspended by the bishop. The headline read plainly: “Father Daley Reveals That He is Gay.” Like many situations in which a priest comes out as gay, Daley’s parishioners welcomed him with standing ovations at Mass and hugs afterwards. Daley also received hundreds of positive letters to the handful of negative ones, and the support of his bishops.
Working up to the day he came out was not easy. Daley shared that he repressed his sexuality until the early years of his priesthood in what was “a long and often painful” journey. A few years into active ministry, he noted with resistance, then dread, and then horror, that he was gay.
Prompted by a supportive Jesuit priest to seek counseling and spiritual direction, over time Daley came to accept himself and to come out to people in his inner circle of friends. Yet, a problem remained that would lead to that coming out day in 2004:
“. . . I also grew increasingly frustrated that being closeted prevented me from sharing my story in a way that could benefit others. I wanted to accompany and minister to the poor, the excluded and those marginalized in church and society, and this included ministry to the L.G.B.T. community.
“Then, in 2002, the sexual abuse scandal broke in the United States, and a number of church leaders began scapegoating gay priests as the cause of the crisis. I knew this was not true. I concluded that if I were to live with integrity and preach the Gospel without compromise, I needed to publicly come out of the closet. It was not an impulsive decision. It was preceded by prayer and strengthened by consultation with my spiritual director and the auxiliary bishop. I trusted in the Holy Spirit to show me the right moment to come out. The interview on the Feast of the Annunciation turned out to be that moment.”
Concluding his article, Daley answered a question often asked of him about whether gay priests living in the closet should come out. He responded:
“Taking this step is a very personal and sacred decision for each person. I would only ask my brother gay priests to pray for the grace to reflect deeply on the question. I can say that, for me, coming out was and continues to be a blessing. Folks who are facing personal struggles perceive me as more approachable because they know I have had personal struggles, too. Any illusion of being on a clerical pedestal has thankfully melted away.
“Being a public person, I have many opportunities to counter the homophobic prejudices that still exist in our church and society. One of my favorite spiritual themes comes from the writings and teaching of the Rev. Henri Nouwen, who said, ‘We tend to be compassionate to the extent that we have suffered the Passion in our own lives.’
“As I look back on those days when I was in the closet, I am so grateful that, through the gift of the Spirit, that closet door was broken open. Through that gift, I could become the person God intends me to be. Do I have any regrets? Not a one! For the past 14 years, I have looked forward to March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, as the day an angel whispered in my ear: ‘Fred, “Be not afraid.”‘ On that day, love conquered fear in my relationships with God, my neighbors and myself. Often, with gratitude I reflect on the words: ‘We are as sick as our secrets.'”
Fr. Daley’s positive experience of coming out as a gay priest has been echoed in the stories of Fr. Gregory Greiten, Fr. Michael Shanahan, Fr. Steve Wolf, and other gay priests. What is common to their stories is the idea that ministry is best done when it is done authentically by living one’s truth in the open.
Fr. Bryan Massingale, a leading theologian at Fordham University, will be leading New Ways Ministry’s next retreat for gay priests, brothers, and deacons on the theme of “Living in Truth: The Call to Authenticity.” It will take place October 2-4, 2018 at Siena Retreat Center in Racine, WI. For more information, click here. Please share this information with gay priests, brothers, and deacons that you know.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 13, 2018