The story of gay men in the Catholic priesthood received national attention earlier this summer in a segment on CBS’ Sunday Morning, in particular by focusing on the stories of Fr. Greg Greiten and an anonymous priest who called the oppressive culture of secrecy a “slow-moving cancer.”
Greiten spoke about his experiences of being gay, living in the closet, and then coming out from the pulpit back in 2017. At the time, parishioners applauded him with a standing ovation and his archbishop supported him. Greiten previously spoke about those experiences, which you can read here. (For reflections Greiten has offered on Bondings 2.0, click here, here, and here.)
Now, Greiten spoke to CBS in stark terms about what living in the closet was like and what he risked coming out:
“Correspondent Seth Doane Asked, ‘What are you risking by being out?’
“‘Sometimes it feels like I have to walk on a tightrope,’ he replied.
“‘I just want to break the silence,’ he told Doane. ‘We’re here. And for me, Seth, that was part of the hypocrisy that I was watching happen.’
“‘Did you feel like a hypocrite when you were up here at the pulpit, and not out?’
“‘I personally did. It’s like wearing a mask. Every day I have to go up there and pretend I’m something I’m not.'”
The unfortunate reality is that, despite there being 38,000 priests in the U.S., the majority of whom are likely gay, Greiten says, “I’ve always heard the number thrown out, like, ten of us, that are really out there.”
The Sunday Morning report included an interview with one of those priests who remains closeted whose image was blurred out and went by the name “Father Frederick”:
“Doane asked, ‘What does it say that you need to do this interview in shadow?’
“‘It says that it’s not cool to be gay if you’re a priest. And if you are gay and a priest both at the same time, you’ve gotta hide one or the other.”
“He likened that secrecy to the ‘double-life” of spies. . .
“Doane asked, ‘What’s the effect of this culture of silence on the church?’
“‘It is a slow-moving cancer,’ Father Frederick said.
Greiten also commented on the problem of the clerical closet:
“Father Greg Greiten, faithfully serving his parish in Wisconsin, said secrecy is a scourge in the church, so the first step for him is being open and honest.
“Doane asked, ‘You signed up to work for an institution that thinks being gay, acting out on that, is a sin.’
“‘Correct. But the difference is, this is my spiritual home. This is where I was baptized. This is where I received my first communion. And so, this is my home. And I don’t believe that the home should be throwing out its children.'”
The CBS segment also included a brief view from the pews. Doane asked Carol and Fred Webber, parishioners at Greiten’s parish who have a gay son, whether it matters that their priest is gay. Carol answered: “No, it’s a positive thing.”
Carol Webber’s words could be affirmed by many Catholics who know a gay priest or simply assume that some of the good priests they have experienced over the years were gay. Unfortunately, as the stories of Fr. Greiten and “Father Frederick” reveal, the secrecy and shame surrounding homosexuality in the priesthood remains quite damaging, to individuals and to the church. Whether gay priests are out or closeted, it is incumbent on the lay faithful to support these men who do so much to serve the people of God.
One way of supporting gay priests, brothers, and deacons is spreading the word about New Ways Ministry’s regular retreats for this group. The latest retreat, “Love Casts Out Fear: Finding Courage to Speak Our Truth,” will be held this November 1-4, 2021. For more information or to register, click here.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 9, 2021