Ever since it was announced that Cardinal Joseph Tobin would replace Archbishop John Myers as the leader of the Church in Newark, New Jersey, many people have asked me if I thought that meant that Fr. Warren Hall would be reinstated as a priest there.
Some of you may recall that Hall was suspended from priestly ministry by Myers at the end of last summer. The Archdiocese of Newark said that the suspension was because of Hall’s support of LGBT organizations, though Hall saw his outreach to LGBT people and groups as part of his ministry. The archdiocese’s disagreements with Hall began in 2015 when they removed him as chaplain at Seton Hall University because of his support of the “NOH8” campaign and re-assigned him to the Hoboken parish of Sts. Peter and Paul. Soon after that re-assignment, Fr. Hall came out as gay in a journalistic interview.
Since Hall’s suspension of priestly faculties came well after Myers had submitted his resignation, many people, including me, thought that a new archbishop might reinstate him.
However, Hall, in an op-ed he penned for Religion News Service, recently announced that the possibility of reinstatement is not something that he would like to pursue. Hall explains how he came to the decision, first tracing the history of how things have transpired:
It has now been a year and a half since this whole saga began, when Archbishop Myers removed me from my job as chaplain at Seton Hall University in May 2015. He did this due to suspicions that a “NOH8” posting I made on Facebook standing against attacks on the LGBT community, plus my subsequent coming out as a gay man, reflected a “hidden agenda” that he claimed undermined Catholic teaching.
It has also been five months since Myers suspended me from all priestly ministry for my “disobedience” in continuing to be involved with that same work against LGBT discrimination.
Hall said he has spent the intervening months discerning whether he should request reinstatement, something that his family, friends, and parishioners were encouraging him to do. But then another incident happened which decided his position:
“. . . [A]s I was contemplating it all the decision was effectively made for me, on Dec. 7. That’s when the Vatican issued a document reaffirming a 2005 instruction that gay men should not be admitted to the priesthood. Apparently, Pope Francis approved of the policy.
How he could assert this is as confusing as his famous “Who am I to judge?” comment when asked about gay men in the priesthood.
In describing his ministry to LGBT people, Hall emphasizes a point that all who minister with LGBT people encounter: engaging in ministry means encountering people who do not always agree with church doctrine:
The activity for which I was suspended last August was related to my speaking publicly to LGBT Catholics and encouraging them to stay in the Catholic Church. Yes, I said stay IN the church!
And yes, I met with groups that do not necessarily agree with our teaching. But those are the places Jesus went. I believe that today is comparable to many other times in the church’s history when the tenets of its teachings came face to face with developments in society, and things became “messy.”
Hall acknowledges that the church’s language of “objectively disordered” and “intrinsically evil” are offensive, but he believes that in the future these terms will change. Unfortunately, though the current language prevents him from seeking reinstatement:
I can’t [seek reinstatement], simply because I could not in good conscience take the Oath of Fidelity that all priests take upon ordination and when assuming a pastorate, namely, that I “accept and hold everything that is proposed by the hierarchy” and that I “adhere with religious submission of will and intellect to the teachings.”
He recognizes that the teaching on sexuality is not the most important one, and he wishes church leadership would focus on more primary concerns:
I think the average Catholic wants the church to get back to the basics: feeding the hungry; clothing the naked; proclaiming the message of love, forgiveness and inclusion that Jesus taught his followers.
It’s a message the people are not hearing enough, and because of that their church is failing them and because of that many are abandoning their church, in droves!
Hall also asserts another important idea that seems to have played a role in his decision:
I don’t think the church knows yet how to deal with openly gay men in active ministry, even those of us who observe our vows of chastity. I don’t think the church knows how to minister to its LGBT brothers and sisters, and it’s not yet trying to learn.
I’ve excerpted what I consider the highlights of Hall’s essay, If you are interested in LGBT pastoral ministry or the issue of gay priests, I recommend that you read the entire essay by clicking here.
The Catholic Church is diminished by the loss of Warren Hall from the priesthood. Having met him personally, I know that he is a faith-filled person who responds to others with love, compassion, and justice. Obviously, the decision not to seek reinstatement was a difficult one for him, but he has done so with integrity. I was happy to read at the end of his essay that he plans to continue his ministry as a Catholic lay person:
I will work now in the secular world with that same sense of mission that was mine since I was a youth group teen and which I committed myself to on the day of my ordination.
In doing so, I’ll continue to live by the final command of the liturgy that we all celebrate: “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.”
Hall will be leading a focus session on “Gay Men in the Priesthood and Religious Life” at New Ways Ministry’s upcoming Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis.” We had invited him before his suspension, and now we think his words will be even more prescient. For more information about the symposium, scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, click here.