With a Call for Compassion, Jesuit Scholastic Comes Out as Gay

April 18, 2015

Because we know that so many priests and members of religious communities are gay and lesbian, and since so many of them choose to remain private about their sexual orientations, it is news when one of them decides to come out publicly.

Damian Torres-Botello, SJ

Damian Torres-Botello, SJ, is a Jesuit scholastic from Chicago, who went public about his orientation yesterday in an essay on The Jesuit Posta blog by young Jesuits.  Entitled “This I Believe: Created in God’s Image, the essay is primarily a call to the Church to be more inclusive and compassionate, and Torres-Botello only comes out as subtle example of the diversity of our religious home.

He begins with a reflection on current challenges the Church faces in regard to accepting minorities, including LGBT people:

“As Catholics, we have a sense of the Church being a truly universal home, a place where all are welcome, as the name Catholic would indicate. Yet within that sense of universality there are many who feel the Church is not a welcoming home for them. Teachers have been terminated from jobs, children with disabilities have been refused sacraments, and many divorced men and women continue to feel unwanted. You don’t have to look hard to find similar stories from African-American Catholics,Latino Catholics, Catholic women, and former Catholics alike. And all of this tension has caused people to leave the church, and in some cases, lose their faith.”

Torres-Bottello notes, however, that these problems only exist because we fail to take seriously a simple, basic truth of our faith:

“Yet here’s the truth I know and believe: I am created in God’s image and likeness, just as God creates us all. It is actually that simple. But sometimes we take that image and likeness and complicate it.”

After acknowledging that entering the Jesuits did not force him “into the closet after seventeen years of accepting myself as gay,” he observes:

“I am more than my skin color, my sexual orientation, and my economic class. It restricts God’s image and likeness if I only see myself as those three aspects. Defining myself purely on what I am limits who I am and how I can be of service. Even allowing these characteristics to dictate my life would prevent me from engaging the world as a wholly integrated human being. Besides, I prayed, and discerned, and made a choice. I made a commitment to live the vows of consecrated chastity, poverty, and obedience because of my belief in Christ, the mission of the Church, and the people of God. I share my struggles openly just as I share my joys. Like my parents did with each other, transparency helps me live my vows honestly so that I am always available to live out my calling as a Jesuit.”

Originally published on The Jesuit Post, the essay was also re-blogged on America magazine’s website, with the following detail in the author’s bio:

“This article was approved for publication by his Jesuit superiors.”

Father James Martin SJ

Father James Martin SJ

In a separate blog post on America’s  website, Jesuit Father James Martin, celebrated spiritual author, commented on the significance of this detail:

“A little background: Jesuits, like members of other religious orders, take vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. For most Jesuits, obedience is often the easiest of the vows: basically, carry out the job to which you have been missioned. But in some cases obedience is brought to bear on more sensitive topics. And over the last few decades no Jesuit, as far as I know, has been permitted by his superiors to “self-identify” as gay in a public way.”

Martin examines some of the reasons, both personal and spiritual, that may prevent a Jesuit superior from granting permission for a member to come out as gay, but at the same time, he notes that this example is a welcome change:

“So the decision of Damian’s superiors to grant him permission is notable. It is the first time that I can think of that a Jesuit has been permitted to do write about being gay. So I’m proud of two things today: Damian’s courage and honesty, and that of his superiors.”

Torres-Botello’s reflection is a reminder not only that we already have many dedicated LGBT people serving in the Church, but it is also a signal that the younger generation of these ministers will be more visible and vocal than the predecessors were, understandably, able to be.   His announcement bespeaks a future Church where all will be welcome, accepted, cherished.

His closing sentence shows us the way to help propagate that kind of church:

“I pray as a Church we discover tender compassion for each other to love the God that dwells in us all.”

Benjamin Brenkert

Amen to Damian!  Let’s pray that his witness will help pave the way for a church where all of its LGBT ministers–clergy, religious, lay–are welcome and accepted, and, at the very least, not fired, as so many lay church workers have been over the past few years, due to LGBT issues.

Let’s remember thankfully, too, the gay Jesuits who came out in the 1970s, and also Benjamin Brenkert, who recently left the Society of Jesus because he could no longer remain closeted or accept the firings of LGBT church employees.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Open Letter to Pope Francis: Help Save My Vocation

August 22, 2014
Benjamin Brenkert

Benjamin Brenkert

Guest Blogger: In an open letter to Pope Francis,  Benjamin Brenkert explains his decision to leave the Jesuits because of LGBTQ issues, and asks the pontiff to be stronger in his statements about LGBTQ equality.

Dear Pope Francis,

              In your time as Pope, your commitment to poverty has awakened the world to the evils of globalization, capitalism, and materialism. Many now understand poverty to be a structural sin and a social evil. Through your public statements you have sparked the interest of Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and atheists. The world looks to you as a shepherd, a man filled with the joy of the Gospel.

Yet, while you have focused on physical and material poverty, members of my community–lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered and queer/questioning men, women and youth–have been neglected. They remain on the frontiers, the margins, living spiritually poor lives. Some need the voice of Cardinals like Walter Kasper to tell them that God loves them. Others know that God loves them, but Church leadership rejects them as disordered and disoriented. Your prophetic question “Who am I to judge?” encourages people everywhere to have a non-judgmental attitude towards members of the LGBTQ community. But being non-judgmental is not enough; especially when Jesus tells us to be like the Good Samaritan and “Go, Do likewise.”

But who am I to write you?

As an openly gay man, I’ve spent the past 10 years pursuing the priesthood in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). I am full of gratitude for this time. I loved being a Jesuit, a son of St. Ignatius of Loyola. This July, I left the Jesuits in good standing.

Today, I can no longer justly or freely pursue ordination to the priesthood as a gay man in a Church where gay men and lesbian women are being fired from their jobs. The last straw for me was when a married lesbian social justice minister was fired from a Jesuit parish in Kansas City. 

Such marginalization is contrary to what many have called the “Francis Effect.” These firings negate your emphasis on eradicating poverty because the firings bring men and women closer to physical and material poverty. Firing people because of their sexuality, or their right to marry, is discriminatory. It is unjust, especially since many Catholic institutions have employment non-discrimination disclaimers that state they are equal opportunity employers that comply with all federal, state and local laws which prohibit discrimination in employment based on race, color, national origin, age, gender, religion, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, veteran status and arrest record.

In my decision letter to my Provincial I noted my awareness of how LGBTQ injustice contradicts the Gospel. Furthermore,  I pointed out how anti-gay legislation in countries like Uganda and Russia, and the subsequent lack of action by the Church, led me to start questioning my membership in the Church. As I pray about why I left the Society of Jesus, because of LGBTQ injustice in the Church, I continue to pray St. Ignatius’ Suscipe Prayer:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own. You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

I pray that God continues to give me the grace to fulfill my vows, to respond to the needs of our world, an Incarnated reality that needs an ecumenical Church–one that responds to the needs of the physically and spiritually poor together, as evidenced by Matthew 25. I long to not be a safe outsider or a fringe character.  Yet, I, an openly gay man, was told by my superiors to focus on other pastoral concerns. Why?

As an openly gay man I sought ordination because of God’s calling me to the priesthood. From the age of 15 I prayed to understand that question. I prayed not to run but to be found. Time and again vocation directors, spiritual directors, and superiors tested my deepest desires, my holiest longing, these men saw me as oriented not disordered, available to the priesthood for good and holy reasons.

As I entered the Jesuit Novitiate, God helped me to know myself, to see myself as a fully self-loving and integrated gay man. Over time, I saw that I had gifts to offer as a sensitive, empathic, joyful, loving, prayerful, articulate, multi-dimensional, well-educated minister. I understand myself to be priestly, despite my humanness and frailty.

Pope Francis, with my vocation evolving, I remain priestly. I write you to help save my vocation, whatever that might be in the future. I ask you to instruct the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to tell Catholic institutions not to fire any more LGBTQ Catholics.  I ask you to speak out against laws that criminalize and oppress LGBTQ people around the globe. These actions would bring true life to your statement “Whom am I to judge?”

As I continue my transition as a member of the laity, I am reminded that like every Jesuit, I am “a sinner yet called to be a companion of Jesus as our founder Saint Ignatius of Loyola was.” And like many of my Jesuit brothers worldwide, gay or straight, I still reflect on the three principle questions of Jesuit and Ignatian prayer: “What have I done for Jesus?, What am I doing for Jesus?, and What will I do for Jesus?” For this, I am full of gratitude.

As a former Jesuit, I know that at the core of Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises is a meeting of God, others, and self. This meeting takes place in a dynamic way that draws on our human and godly desires for relationship and love. In short, it is a pilgrimage that places Jesus at the center of one’s life. This pilgrimage is open to homosexuals and heterosexuals. Jesus instructed us all to be good Samaritans,to “Go, Do Likewise.”

With love and affection,

Ben Brenkert

 

Related resources

Bondings 2.0  “Catholicism, Employment, & LGBT Issues”

Call To Action:  Church Worker Justice

The Riverdale Press: “Priestly, but no longer a candidate for priesthood”


Jesuit Pastor Resigns from Priesthood to Protest Patriarchy

July 17, 2013
Bert Thelen

Bert Thelen

A Jesuit priest who is almost 80 years old and who served in leadership roles in his province, including Provincial, has resigned from both his community and the priesthood as a protest against the patriarchal attitudes and practices active in the Roman Catholic Church.  He has mentioned the denial of marriage for same-sex couples was part of the motivation for his decision.

The National Catholic Reporter’s  Robert McClory reported this news:

“In a lengthy, moving letter to friends and colleagues, veteran Jesuit priest Bert Thelen explains his reasons for leaving the order and the priesthood and returning to the lay state. Thelen, who is almost 80 years old, has served as parish priest, provincial staff member and provincial during his 45 years of service.

“Thelen credits the example of Christian living he has experienced during the last 14 years working at Creighton University and St. John’s Parish for his decision. ‘It is you,’ he says, ‘who have freed, inspired, and encouraged me to the New Life to which I am now saying a strong and joyful “Yes.” You have done this by challenging me to be my best self as a disciple of Jesus, to proclaim boldly His Gospel of Love, and to widen the horizons of my heart to embrace the One New World we are called to serve in partnership with each other and our Triune God …

” ‘Why does this “YES” to embrace the call of our cosmic inter-connectedness mean saying “NO” to ordained ministry? My answer is simple but true. All mystical traditions, as well as modern science, teach us that we humans cannot be fully ourselves without being in communion with all that exists. Lasting justice for Earth and all her inhabitants is only possible within this sacred communion of being. We need conversion — conversion from the prevailing consciousness that views reality in terms of separateness, dualism, and even hierarchy, to a new awareness of ourselves as inter-dependent partners , sharing in one Earth-Human community.

” ‘In plainer words, we need to end the world view that structures reality into higher and lower, superior and inferior, dominant and subordinate, which puts God over Humanity, humans over the rest of the world, men over women, the ordained over the laity. As Jesus commanded so succinctly, ‘Don’t Lord it over anyone … serve one another in love.’ As an institution, the Church is not even close to that idea; its leadership works through domination, control, and punishment. So, following my call to serve this One World requires me to stop benefiting from the privilege, security, and prestige ordination has given me. I am doing this primarily out of the necessity and consequence of my new call, but, secondarily, as a protest against the social injustices and sinful exclusions perpetrated by a patriarchal church that refuses to consider ordination for women and marriage for same- sex couples …’ “

The entire text of Thelen’s can be read in McClory’s news story.

Bert Thelen has been a good friend of New Ways Ministry.  In February of 2006, he hosted New Ways Ministry workshop entitled “Building Bridges:  Lesbian and Gay Christians and the Church” at St. John’s parish on Creighton University’s campus in Omaha, Nebraska, where he served as pastor and campus chaplain.  It was one of the largest programs we have ever conducted, thanks to Fr. Thelen’s outreach and personal invitation of many people–students, faculty, staff, and neighborhood people.

When word was announced that the program was going to be held, Omaha’s Archbishop Elden Curtiss had some concerns.  Fr. Thelen went to speak to the archbishop personally and convinced him of the pastoral need for such a program, and no archdiocesan intervention occurred.

New Ways Ministry prays with and for this courageous, pastoral soul.  Even in resigning, he is preaching the Gospel not only to his parishioners, but to so many other Catholics who hear his story.  We are saddened that the condition of our church has motivated such a good soul to make what must have been a difficult decision.

We hope that Pope Francis, a Jesuit, will take notice that one of his order’s most sterling members felt compelled in conscience to take such a strong action because of the institutional church’s practices.

We pray that Bert Thelen’s witness will be blessed by God, and that it will further the cause of reforming the Catholic Church.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


QUOTE TO NOTE: The Cardinal and Colbert

September 20, 2012

Stephen Colbert and Cardinal Dolan

Cardinal Timothy Dolan and television personality Stephen Colbert engaged in a widely-publicized conversation at Fordham University last week, moderated by Jesuit Fr. James Martin. The New York Times reports on the question and answer period, where one person asked:

“ ‘So many Christian leaders spread hatred, especially of homosexuals. How can you maintain your joy?’ ”
 
“Cardinal Dolan responded with two meandering anecdotes — one about having met this week with Muslim leaders, and another about encountering demonstrators outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral.”
 
“But Mr. Colbert’s response was quick and unequivocal. ‘If someone spreads hate,’ he said, ‘then they’re not your religious leader.’ ”

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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