Priest Suspended after Coming Out as Gay, Criticizing “Big Pink Elephant” in Church

Fr. Valkering, right, delivering to Pope Francis the book he edited on homilies for gay men who died of AIDS

Pastors in the Netherlands have again made headlines this year for their LGBTQ advocacy, this time involving a controversial coming out announcement and a rainbow crosswalk.

Fr. Pierre Valkering was asked by his Bishop Jos Punt of the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam to resign temporarily from his duties after coming out as gay and sexually active. NL Times reported that Valkering came out during a Mass honoring his 25th anniversary of ordination at which he also launched a new autobiography:

“Valkering closed his mass with a speech about the ‘big pink elephant’ in the Catholic Church. Wearing a pink robe, which he was allowed to wear because the color is part of the fourth Sunday of Lent, the 57-year-old priest criticized the silence that reigns around homosexuality in the church. ‘I suffered a lot from that’, he said. Valkering spoke about his life as a latent homosexual, also describing visits to gay saunas and darkrooms.

“Because it can be assumed from Valkering’s statements that he did not abide by his vow of celibacy, the diocese demanded that he step down for the time being, according to NOS. ‘He now unmistakably said in public that he has not kept his celibacy vow, and cannot and will not keep it’, the diocese wrote. ‘Moreover, he also allows other sexual freedoms. For the Roman Catholic Church, this is incompatible with a worthy exercise of the priesthood.'”

It was unclear from press reports if Valkering was confessing past violations of celibacy or if he was acknowledging that he is still sexually active.

Valkering has been an LGBTQ advocate for some time. In 2016, he presented Pope Francis with an Italian translation of the book “Goodbye, Young Man of Light,” which the priest compiled from funeral homilies of Fr. Jan Van Kilsdonk who ministered to hundreds of gay men dying from AIDS. That same year, Valkering appealed unsuccessfully to represent Catholics on the “World Religions Boat” during Amsterdam Pride in 2016 but was denied permission by his bishop.

Fr. Maickel Prasing, left, standing with a parishioner and supportive sign

Elswhere, in Oudenbosch, Fr. Maickel Prasing’s petition for a rainbow crosswalk in front of the basilica he oversees gained some 400 signatures before campaigners presented it to city officials, reported BN DeStem.

Prasing said a rainbow crosswalk leading into the basilica, which is a replica of St. Peter’s in Rome, would be a “beautiful statement” to “show that everyone is welcome and belongs.” The crosswalk would also help another concern of the priest: slowing down traffic in the heavily pedestrian area near the church.

Though the Diocese of Breda asked Prasing to remove the petition from the internet, the diocese says it supports the substance of his petition. Spokesperson Dapne van Roosendaal explained that the request for removal was due to “changing context” and to “prevent people from misunderstanding the pastor’s purpose” rather than a disagreement over the crosswalk itself, according to BN DeStem.

But the petition, launched during a Mass in early March, was well received by parishioners and the local community. Against a small conservative protest, members of the basilica added their names to signs reading “Pastoor Maickel = charity” after Mass one Sunday. It is unclear what city officials will now do with the petition in hand.

Frs. Valkering and Prasing are not the only Dutch Catholic priests active in efforts for LGBTQ equality. Earlier this year, the Netherland’s Working Group of Catholic Gay Pastors published an open letter to Pope Francis that protested the Vatican’s ban on gay priests and suggested the Gospel’s credibility is imperiled by the Church’s attitude on homosexuality.

There is a tradition of Dutch Catholic activism on LGBTQ issues that dates back to 1979, when the Netherlands’ bishops released their seminal document, Homosexual People in Society. That document, published in English by New Ways Ministry a year later, critiqued the traditional approach to lesbian and gay issues used by most Church leaders. Likewise, today’s Dutch bishops should approach incidents like the two described above with renewed eyes, recognizing that it is not the priests in these situations who are the problem, but the unjust systems which have provoked conflict in the first place.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 15, 2019

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