A priest in the Netherlands has said he was removed from active ministry because he is gay, a claim his diocese disputes.
News broke in early July that Fr. Pierre Valkering was being removed from the Amsterdam parish where he has served for twenty five years. Crux reported on this development in the Diocese of Haarlem-Amsterdam:
“Valkering was then told he would be transferred to a new parish, as he could no longer work in his parish in Amsterdam. The reason for this was the evolving unrest in his parish caused by him speaking openly and in detail about his homosexuality and his refusal to abide by his promise of celibacy. Another reason for the transfer is simply that Valkering had been working in the same parish since he entered the priesthood 25 years ago.
“Diocesan spokesman Bart Putter said that since the scandal broke out in April, ‘the priest hasn’t taken any initiative to enter into a period of reflection. Therefore, there is no opening as of yet to place him anywhere else. Frankly, nothing new has happened.’
“Putter also emphasized that Valkering has not been dismissed from the clerical state and that his homosexuality has nothing to do with the decision to remove him from his parish.”
Crux also reported that the decision to remove Valkering had the support of the parish council, which wrote a letter to parishioners announcing the transition. The council claimed “many parishioners got restless due to the confusion about Father Valkering’s situation.” Bishop Jan Hendriks, the diocese’s coadjutor for Bishop Jozef Punt, will administer the parish for the time being.
This removal follows Valkering’s coming out in March. The priest announced he was gay and had published an autobiography during a Mass on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination. Already an LGBTQ activist, he criticized the “big pink elephant” and, most controversially, admitted to violating his vow of celibacy in the past. In a follow up letter to the bishop and parishioners, Valkering said he tired of the culture of untruthfulness pervading the church, and now, after coming out, was greatly relieved. The bishop, Jozef Punt, has refused to speak with the priest.
Of this latest development, Fr. Valkering told news outlets that he was unsure about his next steps, and would decide whether to appeal the decision or not at a later time. Gay Star News quoted him as saying, “I will let it rest until after my vacation. My life has been turned upside down enough and it is nice to be able to take some distance.”
The situation surrounding Valkering’s removal from active ministry is murky. Was he removed because he was gay? Was it because he came out? Was it because of his biting criticism of the church? Was he pushed out by disgruntled parishioners? Was it simply a reassignment like most priests face from time to time? What role did his admission of violating celibacy play? It is hard to know with certainty and diocesan officials’ intentions cannot be tested.
But the perception of the public is that Valkering is being punished because he is gay. Optics matter. And in the case of Fr. Pierre Valkering, the optics are quite bad. Bishops Punt and Hendriks should engage the priest in dialogue when he is ready. Then they must quickly figure out how to rectify what appears to be a very unjust situation for the harm being done is not only do Valkering, but to gay priests worldwide who deserve much better treatment than they are receiving now.
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, July 13, 2019