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, is a Jesuit scholastic from Chicago, who went public about his orientation yesterday in an essay on The Jesuit Post, a 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.”
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.”
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