Article from Brazil Reveals How Repressing Gay Priests Harms the Whole Church

A 2020 BBC profile of several gay Brazilian priests offer insights into the church’s approach to homosexuality in their own ranks and lessons on how the church could evolve.

Yesterday’s post looked at the personal toll this repression takes on the priests. Today’s post will look at the toll repression of gay priests takes on the whole church.

In addition to the personal toll repression takes on gay priests, the church as a whole suffers from the lack of acceptance of these ministers. The BBC profile emphasizes that by rejecting gay priests, the church stands to lose dedicated, compassionate, and popular pastors who have genuine Christian witness to offer the world.

The news segment showed that while gay priests are discouraged from acknowledging their orientation, those that do inform their superiors are sometimes met with further trauma. Some superiors teach their gay priests how to hide their sexuality. Some of the superiors who are harshest on gay priests might themselves be repressed gay men. One priest interviewed by BBC acknowledged that there are numerous “homophobic homosexuals” in the ranks of the church, which he says is one of the consequences of repression:

“‘They want to combat in the other what they hate about themselves and that they consider evil.'”

But several gay priests interviewed acknowledge that once they are honest and truthful with themselves, fellow priests, or even some superiors, they experience a sense of freedom.

This freedom to be honest, allows gay priests to authentically live their vocations. Fr. Rafael, who in his early years of seminary wished for death rather than to continue hiding his sexuality, describes his vocation to be a Catholic priest committed to the poor:

“’The church that attracts me is the one that is with people, that gives to and helps those in need; the church that prepares you to face life and not the one that turns its back on what is different.'”

This deep, lived association with the marginalized and excluded was common amongst the gay priests interviewed in this article. Fr. Alexandre acknowledged that as a young man he felt “deep dislocation” because of his sexuality. Rather than becoming closed off to people, it allowed him to identify with people who are excluded:

“’We know what it feels like to be ‘different.’ I think it led me to be sensitive, to look at others with more compassion. I saw a lot of people suffer and I wanted to help.'”

Likewise, Fr. Aurelio believes that he and his fellow gay priests “are capable of welcoming others who are marginalized.”

When these gay priests are allowed to be honest with themselves and others, the social exclusion they had experienced can birth a new gift to the church. A deeper sense of compassion offers to the wider Catholic community a Christlike pastoral presence that promotes healing in the world.

These Brazilian gay priests minister with a variety of marginalized people, but also with LGBTQ Catholics themselves. Some of the priests who have found affirmation in their peers and superiors have started LGBTQ ministries in Brazil. They offer LGBTQ Brazilians supportive and compassionate places they can “unburden themselves, share the sufferings, the anguish.”

Through their lived experience of exclusion and marginalization and their dedicated compassion to others who experience the same, gay priests in Brazil are showing the church that ministry with LGBTQ people is “perfectly possible and that it fits in with the doctrine of the Catholic Church.”

Fr. Andre recalls that when he started preaching against homophobia, reminding his congregation that the Catholic Church does not accept discrimination against LGBTQ people, a mother of a bullied gay son emotionally thanked him for showing that her church respects her son.

When gay priests are able to live their authentic vocation, the dynamism is noticed amongst the faithful. BBC interviewed Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, who said that despite the culture of repression, when priests do come out to their congregations, they are generally met with encouragement from their parishioners. Those priests tend to be very popular clergy, which makes it harder for superiors to quietly remove them, DeBernardo added.

Rather than creating a problem for the church, gay priests who are affirmed and encouraged to live authentically provide a real opportunity for the whole church. They are dynamic pastors who have a genuine vocation to care for humanity. They offer real hope to LGBTQ youth who might be feeling condemned and sinful. They envision new and creative ways to share the love of God with their congregations. They live as examples of Jesus, who engendered unrestrained compassion for the poor and marginalized.

While the institutional church in Brazil and in countries around the world might continue to attempt to repress the sexuality of gay priests, it is clear from the lived examples of these pastors that doing so will be a detriment to individuals and the wider Catholic Church. Instead of causing hurt and guilt through homophobic policies, we should all choose to follow in the footsteps of these priests and practice ever-deeper Christlike compassion.

Kevin Molloy, New Ways Ministry, June 1, 2021

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