I have often wondered, during the past few weeks, what this whole discussion on same-sex marriage must be like for priests who themselves are gay. One man, who wishes to remain anonymous, sent me the following:
On my journey to some level of self-acceptance, like many another person, I’m sure, I did a lot of questioning, agonizing, worrying, dealing with shame and guilt, fear, and confusion. I grew up in a traditional Irish family, and was very drawn to mystery and faith. It wasn’t until my later 20’s that I began to come to a more real sense of myself, and a halting and confusing awareness of difference. I was beginning a long journey which led to my realizing that I was gay. I wrestled deep and long before accepting this fact. I prayed deeply. I lived with fear and shame for years. I read voraciously, especially in the fields of psychology and theology. I consulted authorities. I spent years examining Catholic Church teaching, and commentaries on these teachings. I eventually came to believe that my Church is seriously wrong in its teaching about homosexuality. I noticed a pattern in much of my Church’s teaching in which it avoided at all costs the lived experience of glbt people, their love and their experience of God. I recently welcomed Pope Francis’s comment “Who am I to judge?” It felt like a breath of fresh air. I dared hope a little.
In the lead-up to the Referendum on Marriage Equality I find our Irish Bishops to be moderate, for the most part, in their statements. But I personally find their statements stale re-statements. I have read some of their letters and was struck by the fact that they invited us to think carefully before making up our minds as to how we would vote. I was disappointed that they did not engage theologically with the voices and writings of men and women who genuinely challenge many of the elements and foundation stones on which the Bishops are basing their teaching. That does not strike me as a real invitation to reflect. I find it disappointing.
I have friends gay and straight who are considering voting “No” in the Referendum. I deeply respect their consciences and their convictions. At times I have lost the cool with some of them, who have shown little evidence of having engaged with the issues. In my mind I have sometimes concluded, right or wrong, that they were just fearful of change, or were, in fact homophobic. With many others I was convinced that their convictions were solid even if they differed from my own.
Sometimes I have told people close to me, who are going to vote “No” that I want them to know that if the result of the Referendum is a “No” I am going to feel deeply rejected as a gay man. I tell them that I realize that they may not be rejecting me in fact, but I want them to weigh seriously that this will be the way I will feel, intended or not. I feel that way when I listen to the teaching Church, however it assures me that it is not passing judgement on me or my love.
I have been impressed with Christians, lay, religious, and priests who have declared that they see no contradiction between their firmly held Christian belief and their intention to vote “Yes” in the Referendum. I particularly admire the courage of the priests who do this because I believe they are more likely to suffer consequences for speaking up. The consequences may not be obvious, and I will be delighted if they do not suffer for speaking, but I remain to be convinced. I have practically never experienced my Catholic Church ever showing real interest and respect for contrary views or beliefs or welcoming serious reflection which challenges the status quo, especially in this area of Catholic teaching.
I too am a priest and I have found the lead-up to this Referendum to be excruciating. I have tried to listen to both sides argue their case in the media, in articles, in church statements, and in general conversation. I sometimes feel like a coward for not speaking up more publicly. I fear that I may be abandoning my glbt brothers and sisters in not having the courage to speak up. I fear that I may be failing to honour the truth in not speaking up. Yet I haven’t up to now. I don’t think, at my age, that I have the strength to cope with the attacks that I fear would come.
Earlier today I told a friend of mine whom I regard highly for his own integrity and faith – who is weighing things up and leaning towards voting “no” – how torn I am about lacking the courage to speak the truth as I see it. He asked me why not write and withhold my name? He said he respected me and my own integrity and he thought it would be a real loss not to put into words my own struggle and convictions. I had frequently thought of doing this but it was only with his encouragement that I am writing this.
So, to sum up, I am a gay priest in full-time ministry. My family, friends, some fellow-priests, some bishops, and some of the people I minister to daily, know that I am gay. My journey to acceptance of being loved by God as a gay man has required much grace and wrestling. I have come to believe that the Catholic Church is flawed in its teaching about homosexuality. My story has enabled me to look at life from the perspective of an often-persecuted minority. I believe my Church is unjust and untruthful in the way it regards and treats women. I believe that many in leadership levels in the church are deeply afraid of women and that this rationalization leads them to pronounce on women’s ordination, using such rationalizations such as “complementarity”. I don’t believe Jesus was afraid of women, or, of men. I want to be more and more a disciple and friend of Jesus. I want young people who are glbt to be encouraged to be themselves, to live fully, and to love deeply, and to serve justice. Many good people, church people, and non-church people, are making the world a safer place for these young people. Some are making the world more and more unwelcoming for them.
Over many years I have met countless families, of all shapes and sizes. I love children and want the very best for them. I admire deeply the love, sacrifice, and dedication of those who provide a home and family environment where children are safe to grow and thrive. Most families have problems and limitations. I find my Church to frequently talk in idealistic ways about families. This kind of talk may be fine for ivory towers but not for day to day living. I do believe that the current reputable research, together with people’s testimony, and my own experience of families with glbt parents, points out that children in these households can thrive as well as in households where parent or parents are heterosexual. I don’t believe the Referendum is about children, but I also know that I would never do anything that would prevent any child from growing up safe and loved.
And, finally, a word on marriage, not from the perspective of civil marriage but marriage as a sacrament. I know this is not what is being voted on in the Referendum, but I still would like to take this opportunity to state my conviction about this. At its core I believe a sacrament is something precious and holy. I believe it celebrates and deepens God’s life and love. It also reveals and proclaims God’s presence. If, for example, two men, or two women, love one another deeply, their love, in my belief, comes from God, and proclaims daily, the presence of God. The celebration of this truth, and life-long commitment, in a church marriage, for me, is sacramental. It doesn’t jump through all the hoops and requirements Church law lays down which prevent it from being seen as a sacrament, but I believe in the eyes of God, sacrament it is! I hope and pray for the day, probably well beyond my life-time, when our Churches will come to recognize this truth.