Theologian: Gay Priests Must Have Their “Stonewall Moment”

Following initial reactions last week to the Vatican’s new document reaffirming a 2005 ban on gay men entering the priesthood, several Catholics have offered more extended reflections. You can find initial reactions here and New Ways Ministry’s response here.

charamsastonewallTheologian Lisa Fullam called for gay priests to have a “Stonewall Moment.” She disagreed with Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese’s recommendation that a “reputable survey” be undertaken to determine how many gay men are in the priesthood. (You can read Bondings 2.0’s coverage of Reese’s piece by clicking here, and you can read Fullam’s piece at Commonweal by clicking here.)

Fullam acknowledged that there are a significant number of gay priests, but challenged Reese’s idea for a survey:

“. . . [T]he central issue should not be how many such men serve as priests. The issue should be that what is said about them is not true. And a survey won’t correct a lie. What is needed is for gay priests to have a Stonewall moment. They need to speak up for themselves. Their colleagues, ordained and otherwise, need to stand with them. They need to come out of the closet, or nothing will change.”

(Fullam will be a plenary speaker on sexual ethics at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,”  April 28-30, 2017, Chicago. Among the many focus sessions at the symposium will be one on gay men in the priesthood and religious life, led by an openly gay priest.)

Fullam provided five reasons why gay priests should have their “Stonewall Moment,” beginning with the recognition that “what is said about them is a slander.” About the document’s suggestion that gay men are inhibited from correctly relating to people and their presence may cause “negative consequences,” Fullam wrote:

“And what are the ‘negative consequences’ we are warned of? Thinking that gay people are decent, hard-working, loving children of God like the rest of us? And that some are called to service in the Church, like the rest of us? . . . It is an act of thuggery to out people against their will; gay priests need to stand up for their own vocations and those of other gay priests.”

Fullam said that gay priests are currently invisible, yet it is because of out and visible LGBTQ people that society’s perceptions and opinions have changed. Unless gay priests begin coming out in greater numbers, they will “still be regarded as a question about a shadowy minority we think we do not know.” Fullam acknowledges that, for many, there is a fear that if a gay priest comes out there will be sanctions. But she remarked:

“It is also the case that there is a drastic shortage of priests in the Church at present, so this seems unlikely, at least if lots of gay priests come out. With any luck, their straight brothers would stand with them. If they do not, were they really their brothers in the first place? Myself, I have little sympathy for those who fear defrocking as a dire punishment–what does that say about all the other non-ordained ministers in the Church? Yes–coming out makes gay priests vulnerable. Aren’t we about to celebrate the birth of God into the human community in the most vulnerable possible form? So, like the angel said, “Fear not.” And gay priests should know: your friends, your allies, your colleagues, your parishioners, your families, we’ve all got your backs.”

Fullam also pushed back against priests who claim that their religious communities are open, even if they are publicly closeted. Fullam’s final reason for a “Stonewall Moment” about gay priests looked outward beyond the clergy:

“It’s not only about you. . .there are also queer kids in the Church who hear how important the Church leadership thinks it is to keep folks like them out of leadership. They might even buy that line about ‘objectively disordered,’ and, unless they’ve read a fair amount of Thomas Aquinas, might think it means they’re broken and unloveable, doomed to loneliness and despair. Even in these times of increased acceptance of gay people in our society, queer kids have an increased risk of being bullied, beaten up, thrown out of their homes, and even of attempting and completing suicide. Is that enough?”

Acknowledging the discomfort or risks involved in openly discussing one’s sexuality, Fullam said that until gay priests come out in greater numbers:

“Church leaders–some of them closeted, sometimes self-loathing, homosexually-oriented men themselves–will continue to utter the slander that affects not just ordained gay men and seminarians, but every LGBTQ person in the Church.”

Worth noting in Fullam’s piece are the two positive developments in “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation” that she identified. The document “bears the stamp of Francis in a good way” as it speaks of priests as “missionary disciples. . .’with the smell of the sheep'” bringing mercy to God’s people. Priests in this model are “constantly needing an integrated formation.” And the document, she points out, moderates “the clerical triumphalism of John Paul II.”  Both of these developments, if taken seriously, could have positive effects for LGBT ministry.

Another perspective on the Vatican statement controversy comes from Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, who wrote an essay for Advocate.com. She opined:

“The pope’s endorsement of this document sends a clear signal to those of us in the LGBTQI and ally community who follow church politics. Despite the pope’s tendency to say reasonable things about us in unscripted moments, when he is acting for the institution of the church, he shows no willingness to disrupt the status quo. This means that those who saw the Franciscan papacy as a time when official Catholic teaching on gender identity and sexual orientation might be changed are likely to be deeply disappointed.”

Duddy-Burke also identified church leaders’ failure to “accept the wide variety of human expression and relationships has far-reaching implications,” which affect matters like education and healthcare,” and which put “countless people at risk of violence, imprisonment, mental and physical health problems, social isolation, and increased poverty.”

Finally, Jamie Manson of the National Catholic Reporter used the Vatican’s document on priesthood as a springboard to discuss some broader ideas about Pope Francis and LGBT issues. But of the document, Manson wrote:

“Though the Vatican leaves to the imagination what precisely the “so-called ‘gay culture’ [sic] might be, the guidelines suggest that gay seminarians who act like straight guys, conceal their sexualities, repress their sexual desires, and oppose any campaign for LGBT rights might be given a small window of clerical opportunity. . .If the church does have ‘profound respect’ for these men, it has a twisted way of showing it.”

Manson said that Pope Francis, who reportedly approved the document actually signed by another Vatican official, may have “intended to use his message to critique ‘worldly and rigid priests,'” but instead he amplified the homophobia and misogyny present in the church.

The call for gay priests to have their “Stonewall Moment” is similar to former Vatican official Krzysztof Charamsa’s call for the Catholic Church to have its own Stonewall. Charamsa, who had been a priest and theologian at the Vatican, came out just days before the Synod on the Family began in 2015.

If you would like to show your support for gay priests, you can sign New Ways Ministry’ statement “The Gift of Gay Priests’ Vocations” by clicking hereThis statement is a wonderful way to let Catholic leaders know that Catholic lay people welcome and support the gay priests in their midst.

–Robert Shine, December 19, 2016, New Ways Ministry

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4 thoughts on “Theologian: Gay Priests Must Have Their “Stonewall Moment”

  1. amagjuka December 19, 2016 / 8:15 am

    Gay priests who self-identify are like the Dreamers. Once the truly draconian leaders take total control, they will be sanctioned. Those who know that gay priests are normal people who have vocations just like anyone else are for acceptance and inclusion. The bully bishops and the institutional church does not give one whit about individual priests, and even says they want a leaner more “faithful” church. Until the church rules/”law” is on their side, individual priests will become martyrs for the cause, losing their livelihood, homes, etc. To change the church, all the people need to speak up and ACT UP. We must not accept discrimination as a tenet of faith.

  2. Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf December 19, 2016 / 9:38 am

    I agree completely. Although I am not Roman, I have counseled many gay priests who feel oppressed by the RC. The gay priests that I have known are mostly committed and dedicated to the Gospel. They serve their congregations well. Being gay or straight is not what makes the difference between a good priest and a poor one.

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