Catholic LGBT Ministry Responds to Archbishop’s Criticism of Retreat for Gay Priests, Brothers, Deacons

Statement of Francis DeBernardo, Executive Director, New Ways Ministry

August  19, 2018

MOUNT RAINIER, Maryland– It was with deep disappointment that New Ways Ministry read Archbishop Jerome Listecki’s criticism of the retreat for gay priests, brothers, and deacons that New Ways Ministry is sponsoring at the Siena Retreat Center in the Milwaukee Archdiocese on October 2-4, 2018.

Surprisingly, Archbishop Listecki claims that the event “is not in line with Catholic Church teaching” although he never inquired about the content of the retreat. The retreat, entitled “Living in Truth: The Call to Authenticity,” is described in a promotional brochure as follows:

“Inspired by the Gospel of John, Jesus’ call to live the truth (John 8:32) in order to have abundant life (John 10:10) will provide the focus for this retreat. Jesus invites us to pattern our ministry and our sexuality according to his embrace of the truth. Embracing God’s truth, discovered in our deepest selves, both challenges and empowers us to live more authentically in every dimension of our lives.”

What in this description led the Archbishop to conclude that the retreat “is not in line with Catholic Church teaching”? Furthermore, the retreat leader, Fr. Bryan Massingale, is one of the world’s leading Catholic social ethicists, a past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, and has been a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee for several decades.

Archbishop Listecki claims that “it can be confusing for some people as to whether someone with same sex attraction can minister as a priest.” This does not fit our experience. In city after city, in parish after parish, we have encountered thousands of Catholics who are grateful for the gay priests who minister to them, and who recognize that such priests are a gift to the church. The gay priests who have come out publicly, even in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, have received overwhelming support from their parishioners. The Catholic community generally believes that sexual orientation is not a relevant factor in approving someone for ministry.

Archbishop Listecki’s statement quotes Fr. Nathan Reeseman who recommends that gay people adopt “the attitude that our sexual desires are simply one facet of who we are as persons, rather than making them our dominant marker of identity with a term such as ‘gay.’”  The term “gay” does not mean that individuals make their sexual orientation the dominant marker of themselves, any more than calling someone Italian or Polish makes that attribute the dominant marker of the individual. Society should not use derogatory words to refer to Italians or Poles or any other minority. The gay community considers “same-sex attraction” disparaging and prefers the term “gay.” The words society, and we as a Church, should use to describe any characteristic of a group should be the word the group designates, not the word outsiders impose. The retreat participants have often reported that their primary identity marker is as a member and minister of the Catholic Church. Since Pope Francis uses the word “gay” in reference to priests, should not the rest of the church use it?

New Ways Ministry has sponsored retreats and other programs for gay priests, brothers, and deacons for many years. One of the primary goals of these programs is to help men who have made a promise or vow of celibacy to live out that commitment in healthy and holy ways. Few programs such as these exist in our church. We encourage church leaders to provide programs to help these men avoid frustrated lives, deal with their sexual feelings in a healthy way, and integrate their sexuality with their spirituality.

New Ways Ministry invites Archbishop Listecki to dialogue with us and with the gay priests who live and serve in his Archdiocese, so that he can learn more about the pressures these men experience and about the blessings that they bring to the community through their priesthood.