A bishop in the U.S. has positively affirmed gay men in the priesthood, saying, “I know priests who are gay and they’re great.” He also acknowledged his desire to welcome LGBTQ people, saying, “It is never wrong to love another person. Never.”
Bishop Edward Scharfenberger of Albany made his gay-positive comments in a new interview with Albany’s Times-Union. Scharfenberger has gained prominence in the U.S. due to his appointment as apostolic administrator for the Diocese of Buffalo, whose former bishop, Richard Malone, resigned in disgrace last year. Regarding LGBTQ issues, the newspaper reported:
“[Scharfenberger] said he would welcome everyone, including those the church deemed sinners, to attend Mass in his churches. He said exactly that to a gay man who asked Scharfenberger’s permission to bring his gay spouse to church. . .
“And he’s trying to build bridges to gay Catholics. His communications director, Mary DeTurris Poust, said that in 2017, ‘in an effort to be sensitive to the needs of the LGBTQ community, Bishop Ed and I and about 20 other people working in the Diocese of Albany’ attended ‘safe space’ training to learn how to make gay congregants feel welcome and protected.
“It’s not simply gay worshippers he wants to welcome.
“‘I know priests who are gay and they’re great,’ Scharfenberger said.
“He knows the church’s definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman is alienating for many gay Catholics. But he has his own message for them.
“‘It is never wrong to love another person. Never,’ the bishop said.”
Scharfenberger’s comments are notably affirming, not only for his support of gay priests, but his demonstrated commitment to welcoming LGBTQ people. It is the rare bishop who undergoes “safe space” training.
These comments are not the bishop’s first on LGBTQ issues. In 2016, he was one of only a handful of U.S. bishops who acknowledged that LGBTQ people were the target of the Pulse Nightclub massacre. In a diocesan newspaper column he wrote at the time:
“[W]e must state unequivocally that our respect for the dignity of all human beings includes those who themselves identify or are associated in the judgment of others as members of the LGBTQ community, a class whose vulnerability to acts of terrorism was graphically and shockingly exposed at the massacre in Orlando.”
In 2014, Scharfenberger affirmed the Synod on the Family’s work, suggesting that Pope Francis was “encouraging people to speak frankly” so that all feel heard. The bishop added a specific statement of welcome for gay Catholics.
What has prompted Scharfenberger to so positively affirm LGBTQ people, particularly gay priests? There is likely not one cause, but his experience as a pastor for over a decade in addition to leadership and academic roles must certainly be one factor. As a pastor, Scharfenberger encountered LGBTQ parishioners and their loved ones in a way too many bishops confined to chanceries throughout their careers never have.
Scharfenberger also worked alongside gay priests, and he clearly appreciates the contributions such ministers have made. His comments on gay men in the priesthood, who have often been scapegoated in the sexual abuse crisis, are all the more significant because Scharfenberger is among the better bishops in addressing not only the abuses, but the coverups. While not explicitly stated, it seems clear he does not find gay men to be a cause of abuse.
In offering a warm and unconditioned welcome to LGBTQ people, Scharfenberger preaches words many people yearn to hear. Imagine the possibilities for ministry if every bishop underwent a “safe space” training on LGBTQ inclusion. What a church that would be.
Upcoming Retreat for Gay Priests, Bishops, Deacons, and Brothers
Unfortunately, the false charge that gay ministers are a cause of sexual abuse remains too prevalent. The atmosphere of blame and shame that exists in the church means gay priests, bishops, brothers, and deacons are afraid to speak the truth of who they are. They fear they will be rejected, and worse, retaliated against.
In this context, New Ways Ministry is offering a program for these men facilitated by Fr. Peter Daly. The retreat, “Love Casts Out Fear” aims to help gay priests, bishops, brothers, and deacons develop better self-understanding, spirituality, friendships, and a more honest relationship with the institutional church. For more information or to register, click here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 14, 2020