Transgender Woman’s Ministry Continued Long After She Left Priesthood

If you have not heard of Nancy Ledins, who passed away in July at age 84, her story is very much worth reading if you are concerned with Catholic LGBT issues.

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Nancy Ledins leading worship

Ledins, then presenting as a man, was an ordained Roman Catholic priest for ten years. A member of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood, she left the priesthood in 1969 to get married to a former woman religious. Eventually the couple divorced around the time that Ledins transitioned in 1979.

In news accounts and profiles of Ledins after her transition, the perennial question of whether she was still a Catholic priest arose. Reporter John Dart of the Los Angeles Times explored this question in 1980. He wrote at the time, as reported by the Charlotte Observer this year:

“‘[Ledins] might be the first woman priest in Roman Catholic history in a technical sense. . .since she never sought to be returned officially to lay status, has never been summarily notified of such by the church and, by the usual understanding of church law, is still a priest – though not a legally functioning one.'”

The National Catholic Reporter’s (NCR) coverage agreed with this assessment, saying the first woman priest came about not through a bishop but through a surgeon. Incidentally, Ledins’ had her gender-confirming surgery on Holy Thursday when the church celebrates the institution of the priesthood.

Church officials never formally responded to Ledin’s situation, and Ledins has never challenged that silence. She told NCR that though technically ordained, “there is probably a canon somewhere that spells my demise as a priest” if she tried to celebrate the sacraments. Still, on the 55th anniversary of her ordination, Ledins prayed:

“‘Lord Father, my special thanks for the gift of ordination and ministry over the years. . .And thank you for letting me be here. Amen and amen. Alleluia.'”

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1980 Los Angeles Times piece on Ledins

Beyond any canonical questions, the spiritual testimony Ledins offered about her journey is what is most impactful. She knew in childhood that she wanted to be like her sister, saying, “I didn’t know what to call it, but I felt it.” The stress led to depression for many years. The Observer reported that after Ledins’ transition, she “was shot at, had her car bombed and was sent dead animals in the mail.”

Nonetheless, she powerfully affirmed the decision to transition. In a 1978 letter to her parents, Ledins wrote:

“‘For the first time in my life, I am running into and not from. What a healthy feeling!. . .I am now very very glad to be alive. . .My bucket of tears (and there were many) are over. The sunshine is real.'”

Years later, Ledins finally returned to pastoral ministry leadership, serving at a North Carolina church that is affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA and the United Church of Christ. Half of the congregation’s members are LGBT people. Ledins’ passing in July led many people to share the pastoral experiences they had with her. Rev. Marsha Tegard said of Ledins:

“‘She was just so welcoming and just kind of embraced me as someone just starting out on my journey. . .She told me, “It’s OK to be you. God loves you. You have a place in the Kingdom.”. . .I believe Nancy blazed the trail for people like me.'”

Another member of the congregation, Maddison Wood, said hope was found “in the lines of Nancy’s face” because “she had lived – not just survived, but lived – to old age.”

Regardless of Nancy Ledins’ canonical status in the Roman Catholic church, she was a Christian minister leading people to God until her death. Judging from her fellow congregants’ accounts, it was precisely Ledins’ courage and authenticity that made her such an impactful minister. The comment she made about her transition is a true Resurrection message: “I am now very very glad to be alive. . .The sunshine is real.”

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 12, 2017

 

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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

Controversy at Irish Seminary Prompts Conversation on Gay Priests

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, October 13, 2016

This summer’s controversy at Ireland’s national seminary over the use of a gay dating app by students has quieted, but it has since inspired many worthwhile commentaries on homosexuality, ministry, and the future of the Catholic Church. Today’s post features excerpts with links provided if you would like to read more.

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St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth

Earlier this year, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin removed three archdiocesan seminarians from St. Patrick’s College Maynooth over allegations of a “gay culture” there. But he also expressed more general concerns about the closed, strange world of seminaries, and proposed that new models of priestly formation would be needed. Other bishops have rushed to defend the seminary, and a review with an eye towards reform has been conducted.

Michael Kelly’s column in The Independent speculated that the review of priestly formation now underway could actually “kickstart an authentic reform and renewal of Irish Catholicism.” He noted that, according to history, the concept of seminaries was itself a response to problems in the priesthood, but now:

“The world has changed and the way that Irish priests are educated needs to change to meet the needs of the modern world. Pope Francis – that great herald of Church reform – recently observed that Catholicism is not living in an era of change, but a change of era.”

These changes must include the church acknowledging and affirming the presence of gay and bisexual men in the priesthood, said former Irish president and LGBT advocate Mary McAleese. She told The Irish Times:

” ‘We have the phenomenon of men in the priesthood who are both heterosexual and homosexual but the church hasn’t been able to come to terms with the fact that there are going to be homosexuals in the priesthood, homosexuals who are fine priests.’ “

McAleese tied this problem to church teaching and its damaging language about homosexuality as “intrinsically disordered.” Thislabelling  has resulted in Maynooth’s culture where “policing celibacy is more important than pastoral service” and where they seem “to be concentrating on the wrong things.”

Promoting an atmosphere hostile to gay clergy was most noticeable, McAleese said, when Maynooth was visited in 2012 by Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Archbishop Edwin O’Brien. She commented:

” ‘They wanted to be reassured that neither place was, in their words, ‘gay friendly’ . . . so they walked away happy that they were gay unfriendly, hostile to gay people – what sort of message does that send out to young men who are there who are gay, to priests who are gay?’ “

One commentator, Tom Clonan of The Journal, suggested that focusing on gay seminarians and priests is driven by external prejudice, and i misses the actual crisis in the Irish church:

“To be honest, I believe the sexual orientation of seminarians or priests is largely irrelevant in the context of the grave challenges that confront the institution of the Catholic Church in Ireland. Indeed, much of the coverage has been voyeuristic and gay shaming – perhaps unwittingly revealing a deep-seated homophobic bias among some commentators.”

But in general, Irish Catholics have said that a main, if not the primary, issue at Maynooth this summer has been a toxic culture around gay and bisexual men in the priesthood. Voices like Senator Jerry Buttimer, a former seminarian, and Fr. Tony Flannery, CSsR, have affirmed gay priests. Others have rejected outright the allegations of gay dating app use which prompted this controversy.

This question of homosexuality in ministry is not limited to Ireland, however, and affects the global church. Some priests, like Fr. Warren Hall and Msgr. Krzysztof Charamsa have been sanctioned because of LGBT issues. Too often conversations are problematically focused around the question of celibacy, rather than the gifts and opportunities gay and bisexual priests offer the church. Ignored is the faithful service of gay men like Fr. Fred Daley, Fr. Michael Shanahan, and Fr. Ron Cioffi, who has said:

“Yes, I am a gay person whose self-identity includes an abiding call to ministry in our church. . .my orientation is a blessing from God for use in and for the church that is called to help each of us discern and celebrate the good and always affirming love of God for all persons.”

The Maynooth incident has been yet another ugly scandal for an Irish church already crippled by the clergy sex abuse crisis. Instead of turning inward and implementing new restrictions on seminarians, which only further remove them from reality, the nation’s bishops should welcome gay and bisexual men (and, ultimately, people of all sexual and gender identities) to the priesthood with open arms. To paraphrase Pope John XXIII, this is a clear moment to throw open Maynooth’s windows and let the fresh air in.

Gay Priests Have a Place in the Catholic Church, Says Irish Senator

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Senator Jerry Buttimer

An Irish legislator has affirmed a place for openly gay priests in the Catholic Church, comments made as discussion continues about an unhealthy sexual atmosphere at the country’s national seminary.

St. Patrick’s College Maynooth is in the spotlight after Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin decided to withdraw the archdiocese’s seminarians from the school. As Bondings 2.0 reported yesterday, he cited as his reasons an alleged “gay culture” and questioned whether the seminary was a “good place for students.”

This archbishop’s decision has elicited many responses, including that of Irish Senator Jerry Buttimer who, according to the Evening Echo, said he was unsurprised that gay men would be in formation for the priesthood

Buttimer, an openly gay Fine Gael legislator from Cork and a faithful Catholic, said church leaders should welcome this reality rather than regard it as a problem. He said the church has failed to respect people of all sexual identities, and Archbishop Martin’s decision “exposed the hypocrisy of the Church around its teachings on sexuality, celibacy and attitude towards gay people.” This case highlights for the senator “the need for the Irish hierarchy to embrace LGBT people of faith and make them part of our church,” adding:

” ‘Many of these [LGBT] people are already making a huge contribution in parishes across Cork. The Church is nothing without its people, all of its people. Many of us pray for a Church that is inclusive, welcoming, accepting, open and transparent. We are fortunate that in many parishes across Cork and around the country a vibrancy does exists and liturgies are participative, led by good men. However, unfortunately, we could do a lot better.’ “

Buttimer studied at Maynooth for five years, and spoke highly of his time there which left a “lasting impression” upon him, saying he never regretted studying there. But he continued:

” ‘I disagreed with them at times about issues surrounding formation and teachings of the Church, but I still believe today that they were, in the main, interested in developing and educating young men to be good priests. As a person of faith, I pray and yearn that my Church and its leaders would move to be more progressive, open and transparent around the teaching on sexuality.’ “

Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, founder of the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), concurred in a piece for The Independent  where he called on Irish Catholics to use this controversy as a time for re-imagining ministry. Flannery suggested that most applicants to seminary today were either gay men (or at least men confused about their sexuality) and traditionalist men. He wrote:

“There is absolutely no reason why a gay man should not be a priest, but if a particular profession is attracting a far higher percentage than is present in the general population, then questions need to be asked about the nature of the profession. . .what type of priest is needed in today’s world, and what type of spiritual and theological formation should they be given?

“I believe that the present malaise has much deeper roots. The solution would have to involve a radical revision of our understanding of ministry and the requirements necessary to become a priest. So, rather than just tinkering around with Maynooth, the Catholic Church needs to initiate a process of discussion at all levels to discern what type of ministry is best suited for the Church of the future.”

Flannery said beyond affirming gay men in the priesthood, the church must critically examine the issues of women in ministry, clericalism, and Roman interventionism.

Fr. Brendan Hoban, himself a member of ACP, said Martin’s decision amounted to “moving deck chairs on the Titanic” because the larger question behind the Maynooth happenings is the crisis of priestly vocations. He told The Irish Times:

” ‘[In seminary] you are always going to have a mixture of gay and heterosexual candidates, that has always been the case, and there will be – from time to time, incidents that people would prefer didn’t happen. But they do happen, human nature being what it is.’ “

Hoban said despite allegations, “there doesn’t seem to be anything substantially proven.” ACP’s statement defended Maynooth, and claimed criticisms were coming from disgruntled former students, traditionalist Catholics, and “right-wing commentators who are unhappy with the focus on the theology of the Second Vatican Council and suspicious of modern psychological and other insights.”

Several commentators have also said that homosexuality is, perhaps unfortunately, a feint to hide the real and much larger problems at Maynooth and beyond. Irish Times columnist Una Mullally said hypocrisy was the real scandal in this incident, writing:

“The immature, archaic and coded language clergy members and others have used to describe the Maynooth story – ‘gay subculture’ ‘strange goings on’ ‘quarrelsome’ ‘not the healthiest place’ – belongs in the past, and compounds homosexuality as something to joke about or be scandalised by. Across social media, the temptation for crass jokes and wink-wink-nudge-nudge comments was too much for many. Unfortunately, all this does is re-enforce an attitude towards homosexuality that is crude and childish. . .

“The church still views homosexuality as a ‘problem’, inside and out of its organisation. But the real scandal at Maynooth isn’t about gay priests. Of course there are gay priests. Tonnes of them. The real scandal is the church’s addiction to secrecy, arrogance, and its hierarchy of hypocrisy.”

Colum Kenny, also writing in the Irish Timessaid the Maynooth controversy has nothing to do with sex or theology at all. Ireland’s hierarchy has again proven itself  not to be credible, Kenny said, and so the Irish church must use this opportunity to renew itself:

“It is a question of the spirit, a challenge to be converted to a new order of witness and theology – one that can help Irish people of Catholic background who have rejected outdated dogma and practice as empty forms to live spiritually in the modern world.”

Allegations of sexual relationships, harassment, and mishandling at Ireland’s national seminary will assuredly keep provoking conversations. Archbishop Martin’s decision to withdraw his seminarians remains controversial. This incident is immensely painful for an Irish church already in crisis and surely so for the seminarians and staff of Maynooth.

The responses to this case show the necessity and the increasing willingness of many Catholics to have extremely hard conversations about ministry, sexuality, ecclesial power, and the intersection of these issues. If done well, this moment of pain and scandal could lead to a time of renewal and flourishing.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Archbishop Withdraws Students Over “Gay Culture” at Irish Seminary

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St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth

A leading Irish archbishop has withdrawn his diocese’s students from an embattled seminary, citing allegations of a “gay culture” there which led to sexual activity.

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin removed the three archdiocesan seminarians from St. Patrick’s College Maynooth, the country’s national seminary, reported Crux. Martin, initially quiet about his reasons, has now explained:

“There are allegations on different sides. One is that there is a homosexual, a gay culture, and that students have been using an app called Grindr [which] would be inappropriate for seminarians, and not just because they are training to be celibate priests, but (because) an app like that would be something that would be fostering promiscuous sexuality, which is certainly not in any way the mature vision of sexuality one would expect a priest to understand.”

The archbishop will instead send seminarians to the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, at least until the matter at Maynooth is resolved and structural reforms have been implemented.

Martin also criticized the anonymous nature by which complaints had been filed, saying it eliminated due process and created a “poisonous” culture.

Bishop Alphonsus Cullinan of Waterford and Lismore withdrew his diocese’s seminarians from St. Patrick’s, too, but other Irish bishops are publicly supporting the seminary. College President Monsignor Hugh Connolly said since no complaints had been publicly filed, there could be no investigation. He defended the seminary environment as “a wholesome, healthy one.”

Rumors about sexual relationships and administrative problems are not new for Maynooth, which hosts about 55 students currently, reported America:

“One former seminarian last week testified to its so-called gay culture, one that was widely known about but not addressed. Another former seminarian claims he was expelled from the college after he failed to report two colleagues for engaging in sexual activity. The reports revealed a deep disconnect between church authorities and the experience of some seminarians, along with the challenges the Irish church is struggling to address: homosexuality as a reality in the church, celibacy, accusations and secrecy and a formation process that is quickly becoming antiquated.”

But America’s coverage also noted further reasons why Archbishop Martin is removing his seminarians, stemming from the Apostolic Visitation to Ireland initiated by Pope Benedict and overseen by Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. That Visitation, which Martin has criticized, “resulted in greater separation between the seminarians and lay students in Maynooth, with barriers erected and separate eating quarters introduced.” The article continued:

“It created a more isolated formation process for seminarians, one that has been criticized for being at odds with Pope Francis’ vision for a more inclusive, open and integrated church. . .Indeed, it was claimed that six seminarians were held back from ordination and told to take time out last year because they were ‘too theologically rigid.’ “

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Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

Though reported as a scandal about homosexuality, Archbishop Martin seems less concerned with whom seminarians may potentially be in sexual relationships, and more focused on the idea that seminarians would be in any sexually compromising situation at all. He used the words “gay culture,” but nothing he mentioned about the seminary’s culture is uniquely gay. There may, perhaps, be an unintegrated or immature culture around sexuality in the seminary, but there would seem to be no difference whether seminarians were using the gay dating app Grindr or its heterosexual counterpart, Tinder.

Martin seems equally concerned that this incident revealed an unhealthy atmosphere of secrecy and anonymous accusations at Maynooth. He questioned if seminarians would be better educated beyond the “closed, strange world of seminaries” in new programs of formation more grounded in the real world.

In short, I do not believe Martin’s evaluation of Maynooth as not being “a good place for students” hinges upon seminarians being gay or in same-gender relationships. In general, he has evidenced a more positive approach to LGBT issues than most bishops. His positive approach is particularly distinctive, given the ugly history after the clergy sexual abuse crisis emerged in Ireland in the early 2000s, and gay priests and seminarians were frequently scapegoated.

Archbishop Martin’s decision to withdraw Dublin’s seminarians has provoked good conversations throughout Ireland about the priesthood, celibacy, and indeed homosexuality. His is a credible voice for an Irish public skeptical of the church, and he was described as a “maverick” among other clergy in a recent Irish Times profile. He cooperated fully with civil authorities in clergy sexual abuse investigations, and he has been pastoral in his treatment of LGBT issues. The conversations which Martin has initiated are important and ongoing, and they are applicable not only for Ireland but for the church universal. Tomorrow, Bondings 2.0 will cover more of those Irish conversations.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

QUOTE TO NOTE: Gay Priest’s Orientation a ‘Blessing from God’

computer_key_Quotation_MarksAs part of Sr. Camille D’Arienzo’s regular interviews with extraodinary “ordinary” Catholics in the National Catholic ReporterFr. Ron Cioffi reflected upon his 47 years as an ordained priest. He spoke about being raised Catholic, his call to ordained ministry, connections with the Catholic Worker movement, and most of all the parish in New Jersey where he has served for many years. Then, asked if there is anything else readers should know, the priest came out, tying together beautifully his sexual identity with his vocation:

“Yes, I am a gay person whose self-identity includes an abiding call to ministry in our church. I wish to testify that there is nothing in seriously living out my life as a priest that dissuades me from any other conclusion than that my orientation is a blessing from God for use in and for the church that is called to help each of us discern and celebrate the good and always affirming love of God for all persons.”

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Fr. Ron Cioffi

Earlier in the interview, Fr. Cioffi said he had an as yet unrealized goal of establishing an outreach committee with a “focus on welcoming and credibly supporting” LGBT people. He explained at the interview’s end how his coming out as a gay priest might advance that welcome and support:

“In sharing this deeply personal fact, I hope it will give courage and hope to so many people who find their minority status a deeply wounding and unrelieved burden that too few religious leaders have moved to redress with a healing that acknowledges one’s full human dignity.”

Despite research suggesting that a high percentage of Catholic priests are gay, there are very few priests who are out publicly. Like other out gay priests before him, Fr. Cioffi provides an example which helps combat the stigma that keeps too many clergy silenced.  Such an example can heal the wounds of exclusion that too many LGBT people bear because of church ministers. This witness is, most certainly, a blessing from God!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Conversation on Gay Catholic Priests Expanded by New Article

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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