Coming Out as a Gay Priest: “If not me, who will?”

August 26, 2014

The existence of gay men in the Catholic priesthood is one that is surrounded by so many clouds of mystery.  The reason for the mystery is that so few gay priests publicly acknowledge their sexual orientation.  One priest who has “come out” reflected on the experience, and his insights shed some light on other priests’ reluctance to do so.

Father André Samson

Father André Samson of Ottawa, Canada, went public about his orientation on a popular Canadian talk show last year.  The Ottawa Citizen recently interviewed him about his declaration, and his observations are important and poignant.

Samson sees it as an important responsibility for him to speak out:  “If not me, who will?”

Most importantly, Samson said that the experience of being open has led to a strong sense of affirmation in his life. “It’s good to be me,” he stated.

Such affirmation was not present in his early life, where he said that growing up in a conservative Catholic family kept him from acknowledging his feelings.   Adolescence found him bullied and beaten in school. He turned to the priesthood, he said, as a way to explain why he didn’t marry and to “regain a sense of dignity.”

After being ordained over 30 years ago, he came to realize that he was not the only gay man in the priesthood.  His reflections since coming out explain why many priests are reluctant to be public:

“He added that many priests and bishops continue to hide their sexual orientation because of their dependence and their fear of being rejected by the church, but he wants others to revel in who they really are.

“ ‘I know it’s not healthy to live with that kind of fear,’ said Samson, who has lived a life of service, teaching counselling as a University of Ottawa professor and serving as a chaplain during the Persian Gulf War.

“I would like to see the Catholic church recognize that many of its priests are gay and many of its bishops are gay — and that’s OK,” he added.

Samson is no stranger to truth-telling.  In 2013, he was relieved of duties at a Montreal church, which he believes was because he tried to raise the issue of clergy sex abuse there.

Fear is such a powerful and harmful force in our lives.  So much harm in our Church is caused by fear, particularly fear of authority.  We need to remember that Jesus’ constant message to his disciples was: “Be not afraid.”

There is great reward in facing up to fear, and Samson expressed that powerfully.  Describing what it was like immediately after his television declaration, he said: “I really felt for the first time in my life, I felt free.”

What surprised Samson the most was that he received hundreds of supportive emails and messages.  Not one email came from a fellow priest.  I think that shows how deeply entrenched the fear of homosexuality is in clerical culture.

Catholics, as polls continually show, support LGBT people very strongly.  The people in the pews, I think, are ready for learning that their priests and bishops may be gay.  What lay people respect more than anything from their priests is honesty.

What can you do to let your priests know that you would support them if they “came out” as gay?  How can Catholics support their gay priests?  Leave your ideas in the “Comments” section of this post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related posts: 

Author Behind Book on the Life of a Gay Catholic Priest ‘Comes Out’

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Father Gary Meier, In His Own Words

 

 

 

 


NEWS NOTES: October 1, 2013

October 1, 2013

News NotesHere are some items you might find of interest:

1) Marianne Duddy-Burke, DignityUSA’s executive director, has penned a beautiful, reflective Huffington Post essay on 15-year Catholic marriage to Becky Duddy-Burke.

2) Joseph Gentilini, whose new book Hounded By God: A Gay Man’s Journey to Self-Acceptance, Love, and Relationship, is interviewed about the connections between sexuality and spirituality in The Columbus Dispatch.

3) Maurice Monette’s new book, Confessions of a Gay Married Priest: A Spiritual Journeyhas won the 2013 Global Ebook Award for best LGBT nonfiction, reports IndyBay.org

4) Croatia, a largely Catholic European nation, is poised to institute civil unions for lesbian and gay couples, reports Gay Star News.  Catholic church officials had organized a 750,000 signature petition to constitutionally ban same-gender marriage, though there were reports that some of these signatures were not collected fairly.

5) The Ukranian Catholic Church’s hierarchy is among many religious leaders in that nation to reject the European Union’s demands for new gay rights laws, reports London’s Catholic Herald.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Father Gary Meier, In His Own Words

May 28, 2013

Father Gary Meier

Father Gary Meier

Last week, we reported on the story of Fr. Gary Meier, a St. Louis archdiocese priest who came out as gay by publishing a memoir, Hidden Voices: Reflections of a Gay, Catholic Priest. 

Since that post, Fr. Gary has published a reflection on HuffingtonPost.com, which explains his decision to come out at this time.  He has also appeared on HuffPost Live.  

In addition, Bondings 2.0 asked Fr. Gary to answer questions about his experience, and he has responded affirmatively.  The exclusive interview follows.

The Interview:  Father Gary Meier

What is different about your life now that you are known publicly as a gay priest?

Being known as a gay priest is not that much different than when I wasn’t known as such.  What’s different is the response I’m getting from all over.  My story has gone viral on the Huffington Post and the attention that story created is different for sure.  I’ve been hearing from people all over who have been suffering in silence and who feel rejected.  They feel betrayed by a church they have supported for years – a church that will not support them – it is so incredibly sad.    

How did you come to the decision about coming out? Why did you decide to do this at this particular point in your life?

The decision to come out was made through years of prayer, spiritual direction and reflection.  It was not an easy or short process.  Why now?  As I told a reporter recently, “Why not now?”  Saint Catherine of Siena once said, “Speak the truth as if you had a thousand voices.  It is silence that kills the world.”  So, why not now?  I do feel some shame and embarrassment that I didn’t speak sooner.

How have fellow priests responded to your decision? How have lay people responded?

Both lay people and priests have been incredibly supportive of my decisions and actions.  It is amazing.  In the first few days, I received more than a hundred communications – all of which were supportive with the exception of two – just two!  That’s insane!  I realize that this has only just begun, but I didn’t expect such an outpouring of support.  The emails and communications that have come to me directly have been overwhelmingly supportive. 

 What has been the biggest surprise or most unexpected thing to happen to you since making your announcement?

The fact that this story is viral on the Huffington Post has surprised me.  But to me, that simply affirms that because our church is unwilling to have a discussion about this topic, when someone starts a conversation, people want to be heard.  The other surprise has been some of the emails I’ve gotten.  The atmosphere of silence and shame that our church has created regarding homosexuality is bigger than I thought and the pain we have caused is real.

What can lay people do to help more gay priests come out of the closet?

Let them know they are loved and supported.  It has been truly a blessing to have had so many lay people I’ve ministered to in the past 15 years be so incredibly supportive.  We don’t have to make this journey alone.  There are lots of people who will support us and stand with us.

Do you expect any retribution to come from your announcement?

I keep getting the question, “what do you expect?”  And to be honest with you, I don’t have any expectations.  I know I am not willing to ‘recant’ my position or my beliefs.  I suppose we have to wait and see.

If you had the opportunity to advise the pope about gay priests, what would you tell him?

We are here!  We’ve always been here and it’s time to for a new understanding regarding homosexuality and what it means to love and to be loved.

How do you think our church would change if more gay priests came out? How do you think your personal ministry will change?

The church will dramatically change if every gay priest came out.  But I’ve also come to understand that coming out as ‘gay’ is one thing.  Coming out as gay and pro-gay is another.  While I don’t know where my personal ministry is going to take me, I do know that advocacy for the LGBT community will be part of it. 

Do you plan to be more involved with Catholic LGBT issues?

Yes

How can people get a copy of your book?

You can find the book on amazon.com and kindle.  You can also borrow the book through kindle.  Or, go to my website www.fathergary.com and click on the amazon logo. Or click the following link: http://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Voices-Reflections-Catholic-Priest/dp/1484106792/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1369340840&sr=8-1&keywords=gary+meier .

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Author Behind Book on the Life of a Gay Catholic Priest ‘Comes Out’

May 21, 2013

Fr. Gary Meier

Readers of the book Hidden Voices: Reflections of a Gay, Catholic Priest knew the 2011 work’s author only as “Anonymous” until last week. Fr. Gary Meier has come out as the author of the book, which is being re-released to include his name.

Hidden Voices is introduced with an explanation of why the author published it in 2011:

“This book is for all those who are being or have been driven away. And that’s not just the gay population; it’s all of those who have accepted a member of their family, all of those who have allied as friends.”

In U.S. Catholic, Fr. Meier spoke about his decision to now go public as a gay priest:

“‘It has been difficult to remain part of a hierarchy that has been so hostile towards homosexuals in recent years… Our church once stood for and represented the radical nature of God’s love for all people. That is not the true today – especially towards the LGBT community – and therefore I feel compelled to stand in solidarity with those Catholics who have lost their jobs, have been denied the sacraments, have been excommunicated or who have been made to feel “less than” by their church leaders because of who they love.’”

Fr. Meier is a priest in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, which responded ambiguously in a statement after the priest’s gay and literary identity was made public. The statement called on Fr. Meier to become an example for those who “struggle” with “same-sex attraction.” U.S. Catholic notes this limited acceptance might change as the story spreads:

“Regardless of what the archdiocese says, the floodgates are likely to open and Meier will undoubtedly receive some harsh criticism from many in the church. Some will probably call for him to be dismissed from the priesthood or banned from public ministry.”

Terence Weldon at Queering the Church helpfully sets Fr. Meier’s coming out within the broader context of gay Catholic priests today, and he addresses the archdiocese’s urging for him to be a ‘model’:

“In the Catholic Church, there is likewise a high proportion of gay priests…a slowly increasing trickle of priests are coming out, acknowledging their orientation, and publicly identifying as gay – but also insisting on their celibacy…The number of Catholic priests who have come out publicly is still minute – but very many more have at least begun  the process. Many of them will continue, taking it further. In years to come, openly gay priests will not be anywhere near as rare as they are today…

“In the Catholic Church, the orthodox teaching is crystal clear that to be homosexual is entirely natural and not in any way sinful – but this message is often obscured, so that young people do not receive it, experiencing instead only the perception of outright rejection. What better way can there be, to demonstrate emphatically that gay people truly are welcome in the Church than to have one of us at the altar, as celebrant?…

“The more that priests like Fr Meier, and other gay and lesbian Catholics, can come out and demonstrate the value for ourselves in obeying the Catechism, and integrating our sexuality into our personalities, the easier it will be for younger people who grappling with these issues to deal with them.”

For his part, Fr. Meier looks forward hopefully with the release of Hidden Voices ascribed to him, which he admits on his personal website is uncharted territory:

“I am not sure where exactly any of this will lead. It is a huge leap of faith and to be perfectly honest with you, very frightening. I know that while many will celebrate and be grateful for this publication, others will be angry and upset and feel as if I am betraying the church. I have no such intention. I am just a man trying to live a life of integrity and speak the truth that God has given me to speak.”

To hear more from Fr. Meier himself, views this YouTube video from Rising Voices:

New Ways Ministry applauds Fr. Gary Meier for his courage in writing Hidden Voices and coming out now as an openly gay Catholic priest, and we send our prayers as this leap of faith begins to unfold further.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


New Polish Film Examines the Life of a Gay Catholic Priest

February 18, 2013

A new Polish film about a Catholic priest who is struggling with his homosexuality took the prize for the best gay-themed movie at the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival.

 Malgoska Szumowska

Malgoska Szumowska

Entitled “In the Name Of,” the film was directed by 39-year old Malgoska Szumowska who told Reuters:

“They (the Catholic Church) don’t want to change anything. The church does not fit in with modern society. . . .

“Out of this conflict only bad things happen. I think they are extremely closed and intolerant… But I am not a politician or an intellectual. . . .

“We did not want to make a movie about an oppressive church… We wanted to make a movie about love.”

The film is expected to spark conversations, if not controversy, in heavily Catholic Poland.  But the filmmaker notes that the nation is changing, and it seems   a good time for such conversations:

“We have very strong discussions now in Poland, about the church, about homosexuality. We now have priests leaving the church.”

The Hollywood Reporter  carries a synopsis and favorable review of the film.  They note:

“Gay priests hardly raise an eyebrow anymore in Western films, but it is rare that their sexual angst is portrayed as sensitively as in Poland’s Berlin competition entry In the Name Of…., which hovers in an interesting middle ground between Gothic expressionism and psychological drama, heightened by a fine cast and outstanding performances. . . .The new film’s tolerance, propped up by a careful distinction between homosexuality and pedophilia, is unlikely to arouse much controversy among the kind of art house audiences the Memento title will attract, though it could provoke protest from traditional Catholic groups.”

Should the film be distributed in the U.S., Bondings 2.0 will update you with further reviews and discussions.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


QUOTE TO NOTE: Fr. Fred Daley on the Blessing of GLBT Gifts and Talents

June 19, 2012

An article entitled “Syracuse Gay Pride parade celebrates diversity” on Syracuse.com quotes Fr. Fred Daley, pastor of All Saints Parish in this upstate New York city.  Fr. Daley, an out gay priest who recently led a focus session on gay priests at New Ways Ministry’s Seventh National Symposium, stated:

Rev. Fred Daley

“There’s so much ignorance around the issue of orientation. As church, it’s our responsibility to proclaim the truth. No one chooses their orientation. It’s set before you’re four years old. We as a parish are so enriched by the presence and involvement of the GLBT community. How blessed we are to celebrate their gifts and talents.”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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