On the eve of 2014, I can't help but reflect upon what an incredible year 2013 was.
It's been just over six months since I announced that I am the author of Hidden Voices, Reflections of a Gay Catholic Priest, and a lot has happened. The book was released on May 23rd, 2013, and led to a series of television, radio and newspaper interviews. Many of these interviews can be found on my website, but to be honest there were too many to capture -- I did the best I could.
My book has generated a lot of interest and literally thousands of emails and correspondences from people all over the world. Of those I've received, only a few have been negative. The rest are a combination of affirming supportive emails and emails from those who have been hurt by the Catholic Church's teaching on homosexuality. It saddens me, that a church I love, can be so hurtful to so many of its' members -- good and loving people. I've heard from seminarians, priests, a few bishops, LGBT youth and their parents, and LGBT allies -- all of whom are desperately trying to reconcile what they believe about homosexuality with what the church teaches. If I've learned anything in 2013, it's that the level of hurt we have caused is deeper than I could have imagined.
I got an email from a mother of a child in a catholic grade school who is trying to reconcile her beliefs with her school's decision to expel the boy scouts from the premises because of their 'new gay policy.' She wrote, "Do I really want to belong to an institution that won't allow gays on the premise?" A straight man wrote, "It has become increasingly more difficult for me to continue going to mass knowing that my gay friends and their spouses are not welcomed at the altar." A grandmother wrote, "My grandson is gay and is getting married in a few months and I don't know what to do. I love my grandson and I love his partner -- and I love my church. Do the bishops realize the position they're putting us in?" A gay priest in his 60's wrote, "A little piece of me dies each time I pick up the newspaper and read more anti-gay rhetoric coming from the catholic bishops. I feel trapped. Trapped into remaining silent or I will lose my income, my retirement, my health benefits -- everything."
I recently had lunch with Sr. Jeannine Gramick, SL co-founder of New Ways Ministry and Mathew Myers, Associate Director. They asked, "What can we do to encourage other gay priest to come out?" To which I replied, "Priest won't come out as gay because they're afraid. But I suspect they're more afraid of losing their livelihood (income, retirement, housing, food, etc.,) than of being rejected. If my story is any indication of what people believe, it seems people are willing to accept gay priest. It's fear of losing everything else that's scary."
The most upsetting emails have come from anonymous adolescents who 'hint' at 'ending it all,' torn up inside because they believe they are flawed, disordered, diseased or defected in some way. I can only imagine the courage it takes for a teenager to secretly compose an email and send it to me. They are in my prayers every day.
In mid-November, I received a letter from the archdiocese of Saint Louis, stating that the Archbishop would like me to "voluntarily request dismissal from the clerical state." The letter went on to say that if I don't "voluntarily request a dismissal, the diocese will begin an involuntary process to remove me from the clerical state." Either way, remaining a cleric is not an option.
I have said from the beginning that I have never doubted my vocation to the priesthood and would return to active ministry if I could speak the truth about homosexuality. For this to happen, the church would have to change or grow its' teaching on homosexuality. Our new Pope has given us hope that we are on our way. I have often responded that I am "cautiously optimistic" about the Popes 'new tone.' Optimistic that one day, the teachings of the church will change and cautious because the teachings of the church haven't changed. In the meantime, Catholics continue to get fired from their jobs and denied the sacraments in our church simply because of who they love.
So, where does this lead me? It leads me to move on and continue speaking the truth -- God's truth -- the truth about homosexuality. The truth that homosexuality is not a cross, not a disease, not a disorder, but a beautiful gift from God. The truth that we are created by love for love -- and the truth that recognizes the inherent dignity and equality of all people regardless of who they love. Saint Catherine of Sienna said, "Speak the truth with a thousand voices, it is silence that kills the world." As 2013 comes to a close, I am looking forward to a new year and a new direction of speaking the truth.
I've been invited to speak at Universities, Catholic institutions and LGBT organizations and continue to get requests saying yes to as many of them as I can. In addition, I became a licensed Social Worker and started counseling in private practice while remaining a full time Graduate Student at the University of Missouri Saint Louis. And finally, I received the Riverfront Time's 2013 Best of Award in the category of "Local Boy Made Good" -- another reason 2013 was an incredible year.