A Dutch bishop is refusing, at least temporarily, to speak to a priest of his diocese who came out as gay this spring. Meanwhile, the priest has written a letter to the bishop, to parishioners, and to others in the Church further explaining his decision to come out and to publish a book on his experiences.
Responding to Fr. Pierre Valkering’s coming out last month, the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam said Bishop Jos Punt would not meet with the priest until he has “finished his media campaign.” The suspension of his priestly faculties would likewise remain in place until Valkering was, according to the diocese, “truly repentant” and sought to “repair the damage he has done.”
Valkering’s coming out, coupled with the publication of a book in which the priest describes his experiences as a one-time sexually active gay priest, led to the suspension in late March.
To further explain his position, the priest posted a letter online to the bishop, parishioners, and others in the Church. He acknowledged that the book’s publicity came largely from his admission that he had had sexual encounters and relationships in earlier years. These items can be “confronting and shocking,” he wrote, and could contribute to gay-negative stereotypes that provoke judgement. But Valkering clarified that he was now living a celibate life, and “would like to devote myself to it with all my heart, releasing everything which does not contribute to that.”
The real problem, according to Valkering, is the culture of untruthfulness which functions in the Church. He wrote:
“What has become visible in my life has, in my opinion, everything to do with and is partly a symptom of ways of thinking and doing. . . I myself have clearly been untrue but untruthful is actually encouraged by how the church often ‘works.’ Because in order to be able to continue to cherish a certain ideal image of church and priesthood, so when the reality and truth of the lives of homosexual people and certainly those of homosexual priests is brought to light it is considered problematic. That reality and truth is often not or hardly allowed and would rather be left in the dark and withheld.”
This culture is, according to Valkering, what led him down mistaken paths. But now he stands “in the light and in the truth” with his book, such that he is entirely transparent about his life. And it is precisely that openness which prompted such a stern and swift reaction on Bishop Punt’s part. In a secretive, clerical culture, Valkering writes that “openness becomes tackled, stealth is rewarded.”
Concluding his letter, Valkering said the pain caused by the events surrounding his coming out and book are hopefully leading the Church to “emerge stronger and better” together. In his own life, being open and authentic about his sexual identity and his life is “substantially better” than before. But he apologized as well for “what I have done in His and in your eyes” before ending with an appeal for Punt to reinstate him for Holy Week celebrations.
When news of Valkering’s coming out and book first appeared earlier this month, there were questions about whether or not he was presently committed to celibacy, which could help determine if the suspension was justified or not. Opinions from Bondings 2.0 readers and other observers were mixed. But these latest developments reveal a deeply unjust situation. Bishop Punt’s refusal to meet with a priest he is charged to support is unnecessarily disrespectful. Perhaps the bishop believes the suspension is pastorally necessary or in the priest’s best interests. We cannot know his intentions. But from the outside, the refusal to dialogue appears to be simply punitive.
Valkering’s honesty and authenticity are gifts to the Church. His courageous witness and the witnesses of other openly gay priests are precisely what a deeply broken Church strangled by clericalism, homophobia, and criminality needs. Catholics must stand with our beloved gay priests when they are unjustly treated by Church leaders like Bishop Punt.
Here are two ways you can stand with gay priests:
1. Spread the Word about New Ways Ministry’s upcoming retreat for gay priests, bishops, religious, and deacons, “All Are Welcome. Are All Welcome?” with Fr. Peter Daly. Over the course of this retreat, attendees will be looking at a variety of questions pertinent to this moment in the Church, such as “Is my ministry welcomed by our church?” The retreat is designed to assist attendees in developing better self-understanding, spirituality, friendships, and relationship with the institutional Church. For more information or to register, click here.
2. Sign “The Gift of Gay Priests Vocations,” a campaign by New Ways Ministry to show our support for gay clergy and vowed religious who faithfully, dutifully, and effectively served the People of God and to call on church leaders to end the falsehoods about and lift the ban on gay priests. To add your name to this show of gratitude and solidarity, click here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, April 24, 2019