Catholics On Opposite Sides of West Virginia Religious Freedom Bill

February 8, 2016

Will West Virginia go down the path of 20 other states and pass a religious freedom bill which many who are concerned with LGBT equality say will become a license to discriminate?

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), also known as HB 4012, passed out of the House Judiciary Committee last week on a vote of 16-9.  As has been the case with many other RFRA bills, which exempt religious groups and individuals from certain state laws, LGBT equality advocates are concerned that such exemptions will mean that churches, businesses, other institutions, and individuals will be given the legal freedom to discriminate against sexual and gender minorities, if they believe that interacting with them would violate their “sincerely held religious beliefs,” in the language of the bill.  Other groups which advocate for racial and religious minorities, are similarly concerned that the bill could hurt their constituents’ civil rights. The bill now goes for a vote of the full House.

Andrew Schneider speaking at the Wheeling Jesuit University forum. (Photo by Drew Parker)

West Virginia is not a very Catholic state, with only about 6% of the population identifying as such, but Catholics there are involved in the public discussion of the bill.   Last week, Wheeling Jesuit University’s (WJU) Appalachian Institute hosted a forum on LGBT issues in the state, and the discussion featured perspectives on the bill.  One of the guest speakers was Andrew Schneider, the executive director of Fairness West Virginia, the state’s LGBT equality organization.  The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register reported:

“Schneider said a bill pending in the Legislature, the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, would allow businesses to refuse service to anyone, including LGBT residents, if they feel providing a service is against their religion. According to Scheneider, similar laws passed in Indiana and has cost that state millions of dollars in revenue.

” ‘People of faith, like myself and yourself, receive more protection than any other group or protected class in this country,’ Schneider said. ‘The concept that when you’re in the marketplace engaging in commercial activity for public accommodation, you are supposed to serve everyone. … Your religious freedom cannot infringe on the rights of others. RFRA claims religious rights are special and trump others.’ “

Showing the split nature that exists in the Catholic Church on issues like this, Fr. Brian O’Donnell, SJ, the research director of the Wheeling Jesuit’s Appalachian Institute, the organization which sponsored the event which invited Schneider, has expressed support for the bill.  O’Donnell, who is also the executive secretary of the West Virginia Catholic Conference, said in an email that the Catholic hierarchy supports the 1993 federal RFRA, and that, further:

“The WV bills in question are almost exact copies of the federal statute. Insofar as the state laws echo the federal RFRA, the Diocese [of Wheeling-Charleston] is in favor of the legislation.”

Yet, the newspaper account of the forum also quoted another religious figure associated with the university who opposed the bill:

“Sister Barbara Kupchak, a former WJU employee and nurse, said she opposes HB 4012.

” ‘As a health care worker, if this passes and I would decide a Muslim, gay person, or whoever offends my religion, I could refuse them treatment,’ Kupchak. ‘That’s not right and not constitutional.’ “

At the WJU forum, the Fairness West Virginia director noted that even without the RFRA law, LGBT citizens in the state are already very vulnerable:

“Schneider added LGBT individuals are still legally denied employment, housing and other public services due to their sexual orientation, with only six West Virginia cities having non-discrimination ordinances on the books. He believes Wheeling should consider adopting such an ordinance to grow business opportunity in the Ohio Valley.

” ‘Now that marriage equality has arrived in West Virginia and the country, LGBT non-discrimination laws have become even more important,’ Schneider said. ‘Those laws protect LGBT people from discrimination for employment, housing and public accommodation. They’re more important now with marriage equality because marriage has made our community both more visible, and therefore more vulnerable.’

The Gazette-Mail newspaper in Charleston, the state’s capital, editorialized against the bill, comparing it to the debacle in Indiana last year when, after passing a similar bill, businesses put up such a protest that the governor ended up vetoing it.  The editorial, headlined “Republicans’ anti-business bill,” makes an economic case against the measure:

“All such a law would shield against is prosperity and better quarterly earnings. West Virginia doesn’t need this type of prejudice. Kill the bill.”

It’s a bit sad to say, in a way, but perhaps the economy will win over morality in this debate, just as it did in Indiana.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


India’s Cardinal Gracias Wants Homosexuality Decriminalized

February 7, 2016
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Cardinal Oswald Gracias

India’s top bishop supports the legalization of homosexuality in his country, which may now be possible that the nation’s Supreme Court is reviewing the issue. His acceptance is hopefully leading more Catholics to their own acceptance of LGBT people, too.

Cardinal Oswald Gracias of Bombay said the law which currently criminalizes homosexual acts among India’s 1.2 billion residents should be repealed, reported Gay Star News. He said:

” ‘I have met some groups and associations of LGBTs and I had an understanding for them. I don’t want them to feel ostracised. . .I feel that homosexuality should not be criminalised. For me it’s a question of understanding that it’s an orientation.’ “

The cardinal, who heads the Catholic Bishops Conference of India as well, said, given the choice, “why would you be harsh” and reject people from society instead of loving them. Though he does not accept the validity of same-gender marriages, Gracias said this “does not mean you throw out these people as bad.” He explained, too:

” ‘I believe maybe people have this orientation that God has given them and for this reason they should not be ostracised from society. The Church is concerned, and if you’re Christian or Catholic and if you’re part of the Church you have to have compassion, sympathy and understanding toward them.’ “

These are not Cardinal Gracias’ first compassionate words for marginalized communities. Interviewed by Bondings 2.0’s Francis DeBernardo at last year’s Synod on the Family, the cardinal told LGBT people that the church “wants you, needs you, embraces you.” When India’s Supreme Court recriminalized homosexuality in 2013, Gracias was the only religious leader in India to oppose this controversial move publicly . He has also instructed priests in his archdiocese to exercise greater sensitivity and compassion when discussing sexuality and gender.

The Supreme Court of India said earlier this week it would reconsider whether homosexuality should be criminalized. This rare “curative petition” will subject the Court’s 2013 ruling to a five-judge constitutional bench. Though it is an uphill battle, that the court took this case at all could lead to expanded justice for lesbian, gay, and bi Indians, reported Buzzfeed.

There is and will be resistance from some Catholics, which represent Indian society overall, because many hold sharp prejudices.  For LGBT people, invisibility is the preferred form of social acceptance. But there are others who, like Cardinal Gracias, wish to see LGB people more welcomed in society and even in the church. An article from Open Democracy cited one example which revealed a more accepting, though because of all its complexities, a far from perfect approach:

“Geof, a traditionalist Catholic male confessed, ‘After watching LGBT guests on Aamir’s show [a popular television talk show],  I was reduced to tears. These are real people, making the best of traumatic circumstances they were born into. For long I’ve judged them because I didn’t ‘know’ them. May I add that I’m a straight male who won’t turn gay because of the show. I also support Pope Francis all the way!”

Another Catholic, a retired teacher named Edith, said that before there was no language for LGBT students who suffered intense bullying. She now calls for acceptance:

” ‘They are mocked by other children who are products of a hate-filled heteronormative society. I know for sure that these kids were born this way and not deviants who chose a sinful, promiscuous lifestyle. Their lives are difficult enough. Let’s stop condemning.’ “

These perspectives from Indian Catholics reveal an emerging consciousness that Cardinal Gracias represents about the need to defend LGBT people’s human rights.

For many U.S. and European advocates, the notion that simply advocating for the legalization of homosexuality, while not approving of marriage, could be difficult to understand. Yet in other contexts, like Indian society or the current political debates in some African nations, Cardinal Gracias’ appeal for loving acceptance is radical. To come out as LGBT in hostile areas could mean discrimination, violence, even death at much higher rates.

Cardinal Gracias is a Catholic official who is saying simply that we must accept people’s identities rather than punish them.  In his cultural context, that certainly is prophetic.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 

 


Alum Fighting Discrimination Exemplifies the Best of Catholic Education

February 6, 2016

200px-blanchetlogoA Catholic high school in Seattle refused to publish an alumna’s same-gender wedding announcement in its magazine, citing archdiocesan prohibitions. But a fellow alum is standing in solidarity against this discriminatory decision and exemplifying the very best of Catholic education.

Bishop Blanchet High School told 1997 alumna Jessie Gifford that “the archdiocese does not permit this type of information to be published in our Catholic school magazine.” Gifford, who was a student leader and homecoming queen in high school, married her wife recently and had submitted an announcement to the alumni magazine.

Criticism of the school administrators’ decision is being led by James Nau, a 1997 graduate who knows the rejected alumna and was homecoming king to Gifford’s queen. Nau posted an open letter to the Archdiocese of Seattle on Facebook. He said that despite his disagreement with church leaders’ opposition to marriage equality, he had a different request:

“I would invite you to consider that a marriage is first and foremost a celebration of love, and while the debates within Christian communities around the question of gay marriage indicate something short of scriptural clarity on the matter, there is another matter upon which scripture is absolutely clear: the value of love. . .

“This policy which prohibits the public acknowledgement of Jessie’s marriage stands behind a faith that you no doubt believe is right, but it does so at the cost of what is greater: love. When there is an opportunity to rejoice in love that exists among the members of your community, you have chosen instead to shut them out, and on this issue Pope Francis has warned, ‘a Church with closed doors betrays herself and her mission”. . .

“While the Church might persist in its opposition to gay marriage, it would do well not to forgot to rejoice in love where it can be found, especially within its own communities and from a woman who it has been justified in honoring in the past.”

Nau, who is Catholic, wrote about being brought up in the church and said that his education in Seattle’s Catholic schools “made me into the person who writes this letter.” His solidarity with Gifford comes, in part, from an affirmation of the Pauline statement that “if one part is honored, every part rejoices in it.”

Additionally, Nau has been in correspondence with Bishop Blanchet’s President, Antonio DeSapio, who defended the rejection of Gifford’s wedding announcement, despite thanking Nau for being involved in the discussion. Nau raised objections about an inconsistent application of church teaching in the alumni announcement, asking for instances where opposite-gender couples must prove they are not previously divorced. This discrimination has been harmful, as Nau wrote in another Facebook post reporting on the correspondence:

“Personally, I have found this experience to be very alienating, and I can only speculate as to how it must feel for my friend Jessie. . .As a teacher, I keep thinking about what this policy says to your current students, and I hope that you consider what this incident teaches the students in the Archdiocese who might be gay or questioning their sexual identity as well as what it says to their friends, families, and teachers who love and support them. What does it teach students whose parents are gay?”

As he concluded, Nau noted the irony that this experience of exclusion and marginalization has actually rallied the alumni community together and been a cause for former peers to become reacquainted.

Jessie Gifford’s wedding is not the first to be shunned by a Catholic school because it celebrates a same-gender marriage. At least three similar incidents have happened at Marian High School in Omaha, Notre Dame Prep in Baltimore, and Sacred Heart Academy in Amherst, New York. Notre Dame Prep eventually reversed its decision after pressure from alumnae, vowed religious in the sponsoring congregation, and other Catholics. Hopefully, officials at Bishop Blanchet will recognize their bad decision and reverse it.

Either way, those who believe in Catholic education can celebrate James Nau and other former students who stand in solidarity with those marginalized and rejected in our church. Rooting themselves in Catholic teaching, they intelligently and eloquently articulate why discrimination is wrong and how it can be redressed. In brief, they commit to live the Gospels with integrity and that, over all else, is why Catholic education exists.

As National Catholic Schools Week concludes today, there is much work to be done on raising LGBT standards but it is reassuring to know so many alumni learned about true justice and seek it wholeheartedly.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

Seattle PI: Catholic high school: Archdiocese ‘does not permit’ same-sex wedding announcement


Why Do Conversations About Gay Priests Always Focus on Celibacy?

February 5, 2016

As we mentioned in Tuesday’s Bondings 2.0 post, Chicago’s Fr. Michael Shanahan came out as a gay man in an article published in The Washington Post.  The article detailed both many challenging experiences that gay priests face, and it also spoke about their deep spirituality and love of ministry.  Yet, in the past two days, other news outlets have picked up on the Post’s story, but the only thing that they have focused on is the fact that Fr. Shanahan came out  in the article.

s-first-united-lutheran-church-largeI’m happy that the idea that there are gay men in the Catholic priesthood is getting some publicity, and I applaud Fr. Shanahan’s decision 100%.  I am a little surprised that the media have jumped on this story in this particular way.

For example the CBS station in Chicago featured Fr. Shanahan’s announcement both on television and online.  But even though Fr. Shanahan’s quotations in his story spoke about his interior struggles and his dedication to ministry, the CBS segment focused on celibacy.  More than half the article is devoted to the topic.  If a priest in a news article said that he was heterosexual, would the topic of celibacy be raised by others?  I think not.  I think a bias still exists in society that gay=sexually active, so that acknowledgment of a gay orientation implies that a person may be more inclined to be involved with sexual activity.

The news media, however, are not the only ones to blame for this focus on celibacy.  The church hierarchy promotes this kind of thinking.  The CBS story reported that the Archdiocese of Chicago issued a very succinct statement:

“In response to inquiries from CBS 2, a spokesperson for the Chicago Archdiocese on Monday said Shanahan would not comment and released a one-sentence statement from Archbishop Blase Cupich:

‘We support all our priests as they live out the promises they made on the day of their ordination.’ “

In one sense, it is good to hear that the Archdiocese of Chicago supports both their gay and heterosexual priests.  In another sense, though, it is sad that in responding to a question about a gay priest that they felt the need to bring up the promise of celibacy.

The article prolonged the celibacy theme by quoting two other experts in the area of priesthood:

“Can openly gay men be priests? Amid allegations last year the Archdiocese of Newark had effectively disciplined an openly gay clergy member, a spokesperson for church leaders there said being gay does not preclude a man from being a priest, provided he upholds his vow of celibacy.

“Thomas O’Brien, director of DePaul University’s Center for Religion, Culture and Community, agrees that is the general policy church leaders are following.

“ ‘All priests are required to be celibate, regardless of sexual orientation,’ he said in an email to CBS 2. ‘That policy does not vary from diocese to diocese, although different dioceses do approach violations of celibacy in distinct ways depending on the leadership style of the bishop and his administration.’ “

Again, in regard to this quotation, I am glad that the Archdiocese of Newark says it does not discriminate against gay candidates for the priesthood.  But, again, I am amazed that their primary concern about gay men in the priesthood is whether or not they will keep their vow of celibacy.  Aren’t they also concerned with how he might be treated or accepted by others in the Church?  Don’t they want to know how his spiritual life is developing and what spiritual gifts his experience of sexual orientation provided him?  Aren’t they interested in knowing what kind of minister he might be?

The CBS article did carry a lay person’s perspective on the issue.  Mildred Soriano, a parishioner at Shanahan’s parish, said she wasn’t concerned about the priest’s sexual orientation:

“It doesn’t really matter, as long as he believes in God. It doesn’t matter to me at all. We’re all God’s children.”

Now, that’s a wise perspective!

I think this obsession with celibacy shows that our Church still hasn’t fully appreciated the gifts that gay men bring to the priesthood.  Men like Fr. Shanahan have a unique perspective on the world and on spirituality, and so they bring a richness to the Church and its ministry.  Gay men have been serving admirably and courageously in the priesthood for centuries, and, by all estimates, still make up a significant segment of the contemporary priesthood.  They are as varied and diverse as the heterosexual priests are, as varied and diverse as all in the Church.

I think that the fascination with a priest’s orientation is due in part that we have imagined that all celibate people give up their sexuality.  They may forego the opportunity to express that sexuality physically with an intimate loved one, but that doesn’t mean that they still aren’t sexual beings.  The cloud of secrecy and silence that hangs around priesthood and celibacy also becomes a lure for some to want to inquire deeper into these men’s sexual lives than they would about other people.  Secrecy and silence only cause harm–to both individuals and the Church as an institution.

I am so happy for the witness of Fr. Shanahan.  His many contributions to the church, including this last one of coming out, help to build God’s reign of justice and equality.

New Ways Ministry is sponsoring a weekend workshop abourt gay priests, deacons, and religious brothers. Entitled,Fan into Flame the Gift of God: Embracing the Gifts of Gay Priests, Deacons, and Brothers,” it seeks to help the church embrace more the gifts of its vibrant gay ministers.

The retreat, scheduled for April 28-May 1, 2016, near Philadelphia, is open to gay priests, deacons, and brothers, but also to all diocesan clergy personnel, as well as leaders and formation personnel of men’s religious communities.  The program is designed to foster communication and understanding between gay clergy and religious, and the leaders responsible for their development. To view a brochure, click here.

If you are a member of the target audience and are interested in attending the retreat or know someone who might be interested, please contact New Ways Ministry at info@NewWaysMinistry.org or call (301) 277-5674.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Chicago.Go.Pride.com: “Chicago priest: ‘I’m gay and I’m a priest, period’ “

 

 

 


“The Lost Flock” Film Profiles LGBT Ministry in Baltimore

February 4, 2016

The good work done by the LEAD Ministry of St. Matthew’s Church in Baltimore has been profiled before on this blog, but a new video series gives even greater insight into the ways this ministry serves the people of God. Filmmaker Eric Kruszewski produced “The Lost Flock,” the seven-part series on LEAD, which stands for LGBT Education and Affirming Diversity.  He told Out Magazine:

“I was raised Catholic, but have not practiced my faith in years. And before this project, I had never heard of Saint Matthew Catholic Church. . . It was clear that there was something special within this congregation.”

Though not an LGBT Catholic himself, Kruszewski hoped the documentary could “accurately capture their thoughts, feelings and experiences” and advance the discussion about acceptance of sexual and gender diversity in the church.

The series covers diverse perspectives when it comes to LGBT identities in the church. One part documents the baptism of a same-gender couple’s daughter, with one of the dads saying that St. Matthew’s is a place which honors their relationship and which supported them during the adoption process.

In another, a lesbian woman named Gigi describes first being disowned by her adoptive parents but then coming to see God through her partner, Ashley, and through the church community which quickly welcomed her.

In a third part, Henry, who comes from Kenya where homosexuality is criminalized, explains why he participates with the LEAD Ministry. He says the LGBT communities need support like anyone else, and further:

” ‘I always ask myself: What would I do if one of my daughters or one of my sons came out? Do LGBT people need to be accepted? To be heard? Yes. We have got to find a way to give them everything they need.’ . . .Gay or straight. We are together.”

But “The Lost Flock” is not simply positive stories. It also explores the harsher realities of LGBT Catholics’ experiences. In a segment about Rachel and Vania Christian dos Passo, the film highlights that their marriage cannot be recognized in the church and for this reason, Vania explains:

“We made a serious decision to leave the church. We want to have a family where our children don’t feel pointed out because we are gay. . .W still go to LEAD because its family for us. But unfortunately we have to live this exile until one day, maybe in another lifetime, gay people will be equally recognized in the church.”

Then there is Carolyn’s story, the Catholic mother of two gay children, Renee and David. Though there were no difficulties with Renee’s coming out, her husband was unable to accept David’s sexual orientation and kicked their son out of their home. Carolyn now says she wants the same opportunities for my gay and straight children in the Catholic Church.” She says further that it was this idea that “was the foundation for LEAD” and expresses her own growth since joining LEAD as a Catholic led by her conscience.

Those profiled have helped foster the safe and affirming space that is LEAD.  Supporting the ministry is Fr. Joe Muth, the pastor, who, in his own video segment explains why, as a Catholic priest, he supports this LGBT work, saying:

“I don’t think the institutional church realizes how hurtful they are to homosexual people when they come across so harshly on that issue. The institutional church says, in a sense, you can be a part only so far.”

Muth acknowledges that LEAD struggles with being an LGBT support and outreach group, while at the same time worrying about being closed down by higher church officials. Despite that threat, these Catholics have managed to build up a more and more affirming community. They host parish events and have even participated in Baltimore’s Pride celebrations the last few years. As Bondings 2.0 has written previously, LEAD is a model for the Catholic Church when it comes to LGBT pastoral care.

To learn more and view all seven videos that compose “The Lost Flock,” click here. To read Bondings 2.0‘s previous coverage of the LEAD Ministry, click here.

To learn more about some of the hundreds of parishes across the U.S. which offer a welcome to LGBT people, click here.

The ALL ARE WELCOME series is an occasional feature on this blog that highlights Catholic parishes and faith communities that support and affirm LGBT people. 

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Alberta Bishop Refuses to Apologize for Anti-Trans Letter

February 3, 2016
>Bishop Fred Henry says the church has a lot to apologize for, but remains a tremendous source of good.

Bishop Fred Henry

The Canadian bishop who referred to LGBTQ education guidelines as “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic” is refusing to apologize for his comments or to dialogue about the issue, according to a second letter he released.

Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary issued his latest post, “Totalitarianism in Alberta II,” last week, reported the Edmonton Sun. In it, the bishop wrote:

” ‘If you are reading this piece in the hopes of discovering an apology and/or a retraction, you might as well stop reading right now. That’s simply not going to happen.”

Henry claimed he had received “considerable support” for both the substance and style of his initial letter, and quoted comments from Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si  about gender and used Scripture to defend the idea that he should warn people of wrongdoing.

Alberta’s Education Minister David Eggen responded to the letter by reiterating that collaboration and a willingness to put students’ well-being first would facilitate progress when he meets with church leaders in a few weeks. Other responses to Bishop Henry’s repeated attack of the LGBTQ guidelines were less reserved.

Educator and LGBT advocate Brian Hodder again noted how detrimental the Alberta bishops’ resistance to LGBTQ student supports is to actual students.  Writing in The Telegram, he stated:

“As we have found in this province, gay-straight alliances play a critical role in fostering support and understanding for all students. More importantly — as my own experiences in life have taught me — the value of a supportive and equal education system is vital in preventing many of the social difficulties faced by LGBTQ youth as well as others facing any kind of difficulty. Denying them this support is just the wrong thing to do.”

Hodder concluded that it was Bishop Henry, not Alberta’s Education Ministry, “who wishes to forcefully impose” an ideology, and he said that Henry could do so as long as Catholic education was not publicly funded.

Jeremy Klazsus echoed this point in Metro, stating the bishop “makes a better case than anyone that Catholic schools should no longer get full public funding.” The columnist explained further:

“Henry is unelected, and accountable primarily to his church, not the public. Yet he holds significant sway over the publicly funded Calgary Catholic School District as its moral and spiritual leader. . .Given his church’s privileged position, Henry could have responded to the new guidelines in any number of measured ways.”

The bishop’s responses could have included an acknowledgement that Catholics hold diverse views on sexuality or that more consultation with Catholics would be advisable. Instead, Klaszus wrote, Henry “went guns blazing.”

But in The Globe and Mail, University of Alberta law professor Eric Adams cautioned  against setting up the Alberta debate as a battle over religious freedom and human rights, or using the debate to undermine Catholic education. While there are many nuances in Canadian constitutional law and human rights law involved in the controversy, Adams’ broader point about consensus building is worth noting:

“The answer, as is so often the case, is not a battle of constitutional rights, but a co-existence of them. Policies that protect the rights of transgender students to human dignity fall, like other concerns focused on the well-being of students, within the province’s jurisdiction over education. A constitution of pluralism and mutual respect means Catholic schools teaching Catholic values and respecting the choices of transgender students to difference.

“Which rights win? They all do. We do, too.”

As regular readings of Bondings 2.0 will know, the question of LGBTQ policies in Alberta’s Catholic schools, specifically controversies around the Edmonton Catholic School Board, have made headlines almost weekly for awhile now. Each time, conservative church leaders and their allied board members have escalated the stakes with hyperbolic language. Church leaders fight harder and harder against guidelines that would help keep LGBTQ students safe and encourage them to thrive.

For the sake of LGBTQ students, Catholic education, and the wider church in Alberta, this approach to the issue must change. Bishop Henry should apologize for the damage he has caused, and, along with his episcopal peers, find a third way forward with Alberta’s Education Ministry so that Catholic education can thrive even more by its enthusiastic protection and embrace of LGBTQ students.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Conversation on Gay Catholic Priests Expanded by New Article

February 2, 2016
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Fr. Fred Daley

Michelle Boorstein’s latest piece in The Washington Post expands the emerging conversation on gay men in the priesthood.

Stating the Catholic Church is undergoing an “historic period of debate about homosexuality,” Boorstein wrote:

“At a time when the phrase ‘coming out’ is starting to sound almost quaint, the Catholic priesthood may be one of the last remaining closets — and it’s a crowded one. People who study gay clergy believe gay men make up a significant percentage of the 40,000 ordained priests in the United States, including some who believe they may even be the majority. Meanwhile, the number who are out is minuscule.”

This reality means gay priests are, as Boorstein stated, “invisible” in the wider conversation about homosexuality. The Post report emerged from interviews with “a dozen priests and former seminarians who are gay, and experts on gay priests,” who shared their varying thoughts:

“Many [of those interviewed] express no urgency for the church to accept it. Some, however, say the priesthood remains sexually repressive; one said there is an ‘invisible wall’ around the topic among priests.

“They speak forcefully about the tough work they had to do to accept their sexuality and how important a part it is of who they are. But their acceptance of the closet often harks back to an earlier time.”

Those interviewed include Chicago priest, Fr. Michael Shanahan, who was praying about whether or not to come out after 23 years in the priesthood, and did so in the interview with Boorstein. He weighed potential negative consequences, like diminished respect from parishioners or penalties from the archdiocese, against the positive outcomes:
“[T]he impact his coming out could have on the lives of young gay people in treatment for addiction or who are suicidal, on the parents and grandparents who feel they must choose between their gay child and their church. For some, knowing their priest is gay — and at peace with it — could be healing, he felt.
” ‘There’s a level of witnessing here that’s important for me to do. The Christian faith has a lot to say about the underdog, about the marginalized or the leper, the blind, the lame, the ostracized woman prostitute, widow, the little one,” [Shanahan] said.
” ‘I’d like to be one of those priests, who, with great respect for the church’s teaching, can say: I’m a human being. I’m a son — one of six — I’m gay and I’m a priest, period.’ “

Boorstein interviewed Fr. Fred Daley who said his brother priests, “gay as well as straight,” remain “silent” rather than supportive about his coming out. Daley, whose story you can read here, said he does not receive support as a gay priest because he “broke the rules of the clerical club” by coming out.

Fr. Warren Hall, who came out as gay after being fired from Seton Hall University for supporting the NOH8 Campaign, said priests may choose to not come out because they believe it will negatively impact their ministries. In fact, Hall would recommend to current seminarians that they remain closeted.

Regarding the priesthood’s future, of those interviewed only Monsignor Stephan Rossetti believes there are fewer gay priests today. One gay priest in Pennsylvania said of younger priests and seminarians that, “They may be more conservative, but no less gay.”

The need to openly discuss and better support gay priests is and will remain very real for the Catholic Church. To help that discussion, New Ways Ministry is sponsoring a retreat this spring for gay priests and male religious that will be led by Fr. Fred Daley.

Entitled,Fan into Flame the Gift of God: Embracing the Gifts of Gay Priests and Brothers,” it seeks to help the church embrace more the gifts of its vibrant gay ministers.

The retreat, scheduled for April 28-May 1, 2016, near Philadelphia, is open to gay priests and brothers, but also to all diocesan clergy personnel, as well as leaders and formation personnel of men’s religious communities.  The program is designed to foster communication and understanding between gay clergy and religious and the leaders responsible for their development. For more information, click here.

If you are a member of the target audience and are interested in attending the retreat or know someone who might be interested, please contact New Ways Ministry at info@NewWaysMinistry.org or call (301) 277-5674.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

 


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