Three Vignettes on LGBTQ Ministry from a Passionist Priest

Fr. John Lee, C.P.

For Pride Month, we invited Passionist Father John Michael Lee, C.P., an ally and long-time minister with the LGBTQ community, to reflect on what he has learned from his pastoral experiences.  Fr. John, a Passionist priest for 50 years, has had a broad pastoral experience as a pastor, high school chaplain, itinerant preacher, promoter of lay ministry, and advocate for persons who are LGBT+ in Canada and the USA. He offered the following three short vignettes.

A group of girls ran into the principal’s office and clamored for her to run into the wooded lot behind the school to stop a classmate from killing himself. Fortunately, she arrived in good time. When “Joe’s” father heard that he was going to kill himself because he was gay, the father beat “Joe” severely and banished him to a stark room in the basement of their home.

Fortunately, Joe began to talk to two teachers who encouraged him to pray and to trust that Jesus would support him if he asked. Without revealing the student’s identity, they both sought support from me as a chaplain and teacher licensed in Guidance and Counseling. Several months later, Joe asked to see me. He affirmed that he was talking with two teachers about his sexual orientation.

He answered my “What can I do for you?” with some strong emotion: “Tell the other gay students that God loves them!” “Why should I do that?” I asked. And he answered, “Then maybe they won’t feel that they have to go to the gay neighborhood for support and have others take advantage of them…”

I was surprised by his request, as I was unaware of this kind of behavior. His words triggered my search for the truth about people who identify themselves as LGBTQ+, and the challenges they face.

At the end of the school year Joe’s words to me were: “Isn’t it odd that we should have become friends?” Over twenty years later, and still straight and celibate, I have found friendship, faith, and community among people of great generosity. These committed Christian adults, who have discovered themselves to be gay, lesbian, trans, etc. are often shunned, misjudged, and mistreated – regardless of the quality of their virtues – which are often heroic.

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Some 35 years ago, a friend and colleague asked a favor. His twenty-ish brother, “Bob”, needed a job, but due to AIDS, he was limited to about twenty hours a week. I knew the young man and liked him as a well-behaved and friendly person. At two Catholic training events for clergy, I had learned that persons with AIDS were not contagious except in unprotected sexual activity. Our parish was in need of a part time caretaker. So, I offered Bob a job.

Soon his mother started showing up and sitting in our waiting room a little before his quitting time. She was a pleasant person, whom I had known for years, and she was very welcome. Then Bob’s boyfriend also started showing up. From the little I had seen in the press and heard in local gossip, and my own lack of experience with gay persons, I expected that there might be some friction between these two people waiting for Bob. Instead, the two always chatted amiably while they waited. And when Bob became too sick to go to the theater his boyfriend and his mother started to attend the shows together – without Bob… but with his blessing.

Again, at the time of Bob’s wake and funeral, I feared there might be some disturbance from relatives or close family friends. But I was wrong, relieved, and very impressed when Bob’s whole extended family attended the funeral and included his boyfriend as one of the family. It was exactly how a Catholic family should respond.

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A few years later, a friend who assisted in our ministry formation center invited herself to join me on my weekly ski day. As we hit the highway for an hour-plus drive to the hills, she told me, “I really do want to ski with you, but I have another motive for asking you to include me.” I responded, “Well, I am actually glad to have a chance for a chat. But you first…”

And then she proceeded to tell me that she had recently begun to realize that she was probably gay. When she finished I said, “Well, I think you just took care of what I wanted to talk about with you. I have recently realized that I have very warm feelings for you and I’ve been wanting to have a chat to make sure we keep our friendship on a proper course…”.

“You men are all alike!” she muttered. And I countered with, “No, I have no desire to do anything that would go against my vows or your integrity. But I wanted us both to be aware of the boundaries of our friendship. And now I can say truthfully that if you fall in love with someone I hope it will be someone I can like!”

Since then, our friendship has deepened despite my long distance relocation. Periodically we get together for a three-hour meal and deep conversation – as frequently as our other commitments permit.

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If we are truly Jesus’ disciples, it is time for us to act as he did – and not be afraid to connect with those who are on the margins of society and on the margins of the church, who are seeking to deepen their relationship with God and others, and to proclaim to them the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Fr. John M. Lee, C.P., June 25, 2022

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