The NCR noted that “the author no longer lacks the courage to speak in his own name, yet wishes his name be withheld for the sake of others who would be identified by association.”
I share it today because – almost twenty years on – it has lost none of its power, truth, or relevancy.
After years of dark, agonizing pain, I am now coming into my own as a sexual person. The gift of that struggle has been to recognize that I am a gay man. I do not feel shame in saying that.
I have suffered for too long. And I have lived my life with such generosity that I am not willing to have you, Holy Father, or anyone else tell me that I am immoral. You say that homosexual love is a disorder. I reject that prejudice.
I look at the Christian gays and lesbians who have entered my life over the years and I simply do not believe that their lives and loves are contrary to the “creative wisdom of God.” The witness of their lives compels me to believe that their loves are part of God’s creative wisdom.
You have insulted me, Holy Father, with your [June 25, 1992] letter [to the American bishops, in which you urged them to advocate legal discrimination against gays and lesbians under certain circumstances]. You have deeply hurt me. From you, I expect the most basic of what I have extended to others: elementary kindness. But your letter was not kind. Your letter was vile, filled with scorn and arrogance.
Shame on you, Holy Father, for writing such a letter at a time when hate crimes, particularly hate crimes against gays, are on the rise in this country; when the rate of gay teen suicides is proportionally higher than any other group’s. Shame on you for releasing a letter advocating discrimination at the time when medical leaders were meeting at the World AIDS Conference, a conference that could not be held in the United States because of government discrimination against HIV-infected people.
There are so many other letters you could have written. The world needs hope and encouragement; you offer words of contempt.
My parents violated my trust when they suppressed the sexual development of my being. You now violate both my faith journey toward health and the legacy of my ministry by telling me I am disordered and entitled to live with “dignity” only if I hide my sexual identity and live as a eunuch.
I will not let you say that men like me cannot love.
I will not give over to you that power.
I will not live a life of denial, for that would be to live an unnatural and unhealthy life.
Sadly, though, denial is a way of life in our church. And the denial and secrecy is strangling us. All of us.
Holy Father, let me tell you a “secret.” Many, many priests in the American clergy are gay. I am not a sociologist or an anthropologist or even a pollster. I am simply a priest who has lived in a variety of communities and apostolates. At no time did I ever live in a community where gays did not make up at least half of the community. We are everywhere in the church.
. . . They are good men. Some are celibate; others live compromised lives. Without exception, they are men who love being priests in today’s crazy world, and they are men who live in fear and secrecy. They are men who strive mightily to be ministers of healing and hope in a world gone amok but who, in the privacy of their rooms, are wracked with confusion and guilt and aching hearts.
They are men who have struggled to be reflections of God’s compassion in our world but who do not know how to love their own selves. Too few of them are full-grown men, for so many are caught in the traps and the lies perpetuated by a church that takes the verb to love and conjugates it to procreate.
There is so much needless pain because of the secrecy and denial. When we deny the reality that we priests are sexual beings, we become something less than what we are meant to be. Denial leads to destruction.
. . . The American theologian William Stringfellow described “listening” as a primitive act of love in which one gives one’s self to another’s word, becoming vulnerable to that word. Who will listen to our stories? You, Holy Father, have shown yourself to be a man unwilling to listen.
But our stories cry out to God. You write that “the church has the responsibility to promote the public morality of the entire civil society.” Yes. But the church’s first responsibility is to listen with an honest and open heart to the story of its people, however uncomfortable their stories may make the “church” feel.
The American priesthood is in crisis. Much has been written about that crisis. Much has been written denying that crisis. The truth, though, is that much of this crisis rests in our refusal to acknowledge and embrace that we are embodied people. Our basic yearnings to love and be loved are choked by confusion and torment.
Centuries ago, the gentle Jesuit Father Pierre Favre wrote that we magnify God’s strictness with a zeal that God’s self will not own. This is what you have done, Holy Father. You condemn with a shrill voice that of which you know so little.
Your letter surely does not speak in God’s name. I simply cannot believe in a God who would have created men and women with a capacity to love that was disordered.
. . . Let me end with [a story]. Elie Wiesel, a man who listened to the cries of the persecuted and has heard God’s voice of compassion in their stories, believes that when we die and go to heaven, God is not going to say to us, “Why didn’t you become a messiah? Why didn’t you discover the cure for such and such?” The only thing going to be asked at that precious moment is, “Why didn’t you become you?”
Holy Father, in its own perverse way, your letter to the American bishops lays this challenge before all of us who are gay – the challenge to become ourselves.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
• What Is It That Ails You?
• The Pope’s “Scandalous” Stance on Homosexuality
• Listen Up, Papa!
• The Power of Our Stories
• The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
• What the Vatican Can Learn from the X-Men
• The Gifts of Homosexuality
• Homosexuality and the Priesthood
• Vatican Stance on Gay Priests Signals Urgent Need for Renewal & Reform
• Abuse Survivor Says Scapegoating Homosexuality for Sex Abuse Scandal is “Ill-Informed, Ignorant, Corrupt, and Dishonest”
• Weakland and Cutié: Making the Connections
Recommended Off-site Links:
Spiritual Paternity: Why Homosexual Men Cannot Be Ordained Catholic Priests - Paula Ruddy (Progressive Catholic Voice, January 13, 2009).
Homosexual Priests and Spiritual Paternity - Ed Kohler (Progressive Catholic Voice, January 26, 2009).