12/03/2015 05:28 pm ET Updated Dec 03, 2016

The Catholic Church Should Shine a Spotlight on LGBT Issues


As a former Catholic priest, I chose to see the movie Spotlight on my own. I was conflicted, sorrowful, and somewhat ashamed as I bought my popcorn and then settled into the movie theatre. As I waited for the movie previews, I couldn't help but reflect on my own wonderful but challenging priesthood of 25 years. And, I was humbly aware of the outing and purging that came with the Boston Globe's ground-breaking story on the hushed and systemic clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of Boston; indeed, in countless dioceses around the world.

I am a proponent of strong, integral leadership. And, clearly the Church, and her leaders, did not lead during this dark time of denial and cover-up. I am sad. And, I am acutely aware of countless victims who were abused, ignored, and denied. This makes me even sadder.

Now as 2015 comes to close, I'd like to believe the Church is at a better and stronger place as she protects our children with vigilant systems and safeguards to prevent any and all forms of abuse. Indeed, we all have a responsibility to promote and defend the dignity and security of one's personhood and the human family. All of us are made in the image and likeness of God.

As one who came out as a gay man, last year, in the Fall of my lifetime, I am also aware that the Church is still very quiet, if not hushed, when it comes to the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender community. Here, too, a lack of leadership is evident from within the Church hierarchy. I sense, that the bishops of the United States feel it is "safer," less threatening, not to exercise leadership or pastoral sensitivity when it comes to LGBT persons and their families; indeed, society. The less said the better?

Over the past couple of years, in particular, the bishops have remained on the sidelines in any relevant conversation that addresses inclusion, care, and respect for the person who is LGBT. No, don't misunderstand me, I know they are quick to condemn same-sex marriage; but they are also too hushed when it comes to addressing their dignity, value, and contributions to the Kingdom of God and society at large. This is not leadership, nor exemplary pastoral care.

What concerns me, as well, is that if the bishops remain quiet, again, like they did with the sexual abuse crisis, her ministers will continue to be quiet and likely live in a variety of forms of shame or fear. As I believe most of us know, when one cannot be honest or integral, it takes its toll on our personal sense of self-worth. And, one cannot be truly whole, or even free to serve. And, unfortunately, a different kind of spotlight reveals itself.

There are estimates that range from 10 percent-60 percent that Roman Catholic priests are gay. And, and as one who has been there, I know there are very few structures or systems to support one's sexual identity or preferences within the priesthood. Again, this cannot be healthy, minimally for the priest who is gay, let alone for the parish community's they serve?

I would suggest that if you were to poll the bishops of the United States very few would have provided any forum or facilitated conversation that would enable their priests to express themselves about their sexual identities or preferences? And, I think this is especially true for celibate men. Safe expression of one's thoughts, concerns, hopes, and preferences is essential to wholeness and ministerial and personal integration. It facilitates charity, authenticity, and priestly fraternity.

In addition, when I was a priest, doing a national ministry, I rarely, if ever, experienced a bishop hosting a forum or educational opportunity that exhorted their priests to better understand and minister to LGBT persons. And, this is a missed opportunity in more effective ministry for the person who is LGBT, their family, or the larger church community. Indeed, there are a few national organizations that represent or serve Catholic LGBT persons such as Courage or Dignity USA, but I also know they are not highly utilized as a resource.

So imagine, the leadership opportunity that is before the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops, if they stepped into the market place, the day-to-day lives of its people--including those who are LGBT? I would propose that a greater commitment to understanding the stories, concerns, and hopes of the LGBT community would enable the bishops to not only model effective, relevant ministry; but also, provide the needed insight to minister, more authentically, to their own brother priests (or one another) who might be gay or bi-sexual.

A closet is too small for any community or meaningful conversation--whether ordained or not. And, a spotlight is needed to illuminate and call forth more proactive leadership from those who are expected to lead with and for us, the Roman Catholic bishops of the United States.