I came out to my parents in 2001 when I was a freshman in college. At that point in my very young life, it was the hardest thing I had ever done. Don’t get me wrong -- my parents were great and the group hug between the three of us afterwards is a memory that I will cherish forever. My dad, knowing how important my faith was to me, asked me if I had talked to a priest. I told him that I hadn’t, but that I would. The Holy Spirit took over from there.
Today, however, I have to say that coming out as Catholic is at least as hard. And a question I’m often asked is how I can continue being Catholic as a gay, legally married 36-year-old. Like many, my answer to that question is a complicated and ever-evolving one (certainly too long to get into here). And I must admit that the latest revelations of sex abuse and coverup in the Church make the answer increasingly difficult to come by.
But the answer would surely be incomplete if it didn’t include the many gay priests that I’ve met along my Catholic journey who have been friends, mentors, confessors, sources of wisdom and inspiration, and vehicles of God’s grace. The priest the Holy Spirit led me to talk to after I came out happened to be gay. The priest that my husband and I both turn to when life demands deep discernment is gay. The only time I ever felt that the Sacrament of Reconciliation was a grace-filled experience for me was with a gay priest. When I was fired from a parish position for being gay, gay priests were there for me. The list goes on. (I shouldn’t have to say this – but to be clear, not a single one of these priests ever crossed a boundary with me.)
And so, at a deeply personal level, I find it disgusting, horrific, and absolutely sinful that some priests and bishops in our Church would take advantage of this moment for their own hurtful and hateful purposes and try to turn the pain and suffering of victims as well as the outrage of Catholics against the LGBTQ community generally and against gay priests specifically.
At an intellectual level, their attempt to scapegoat gay priests would be laughable nonsense if it weren’t yet another disgraceful and dangerous instance of bishops abdicating their responsibility to serve the Church, resisting necessary reform, and denying their own corporate role in the abuse and coverups.
In his letter to the Diocese of Madison, WI, Bishop Robert Morlino writes, “The deeper crisis that must be addressed is the license for sin to have a home in individuals at every level of the Church.” He goes on to specify what is really on his mind, “to be clear, in the specific situations at hand, we are talking about deviant sexual – almost exclusively homosexual – acts by clerics” and later adds, “It is time to admit that there is a homosexual subculture within the hierarchy of the Catholic Church that is wreaking great devastation.” At best, this statement reveals an immoral ignorance of the research that the US Bishops themselves commissioned in 2011. That study concluded that gay priests were no more likely their straight counterparts to commit abuse and that historically higher access to young men – not sexual orientation – accounts for the disproportionately high number of male victims. These findings are consistent with other similar studies. The research is clear: rape, molestation, and sexual assault are acts of violence and abuses of power – not expressions of sexuality.
Archbishop Samuel Aquila of Denver who had previously tweeted out an article with the headline “Active Homosexuality in the Priesthood Helped Cause this Crisis” approvingly retweeted Morlino’s statement, writing “Thank you to my brother bishop, #BishopMorlino for his letter of truth! @CHMadison.”
Aquila’s own letterreveals an astounding ignorance (and perhaps fear) of human sexuality – even for a cleric. For Aquila, non-procreative sex acts between consenting adults is the real problem. “When one separates the procreative aspect from sex, one can justify just about any sexual act,” he ridiculously claims. I’ll say it again: rape, molestation, and sexual assault are acts of violence and abuses of power – not expressions of sexuality. Aquila continues, “The sexual revolution occurring in our culture, which essentially says, ‘Anything goes if adults consent to it,’ is not the way of God and only leads to where we are today.” I simply cannot comprehend the sort of mental gymnastics it takes to draw a straight line from consenting adults engaging in sex to someone abusing their power to perpetrate and act of violence against a non-consenting child or adult.
To Bishop Morlino’s credit, he asked for the laity’s help, writing, “I ask all the faithful of the diocese to assist in keeping us accountable to civil authorities, the faithful in the pews, and to God Almighty, not only to protect children and the youth from sexual predators in the Church, but our seminarians, university students, and all the faithful as well.” Let’s take Bishop Morlino at his word and hold these bishops accountable:
1. Direct them to their own study which contradicts their assumptions and prejudices
2. Educate them on the very real distinction between those acts that are expressions of sexuality and those acts that are violent abuses of power
3. Tell them that the Church is a better and holier place because of many gay priests
4. Help them to see that rooting out clericalism – not scapegoating of LGBTQ Catholics – is the way forward.
Their contact information can be found on their statements.
In closing I’d like to say that for today I’m still a Catholic because of the gay priests – and countless supportive lay Catholics both gay and straight – who have shown me what it means to live and love like Christ in ways that Bishops Morlino and Aquila could never even begin to understand. And for today, that will have to be enough.