From Luxury To Living From Paycheck To Paycheck: The Life Of An Ex Jesuit

 

Two summers ago I signed papers to leave the Society of Jesus. As such, I ended my decade of formation to become a Roman Catholic Jesuit priest. I left in good standing. I wasn’t dismissed by my superiors. There was no scandal, just heartbreak and heartache. 

            The Jesuits did not prepare me for the world; they did not prepare me to be autonomous. I freely took a vow to obey them. I didn’t think about myself, or work for food or pay bills or establish credit because all those things were taken care of.  I was kept in the child mold, “just do what you’re told.”  I opted out of such a life because essentially they didn’t accept gay people because the Church doesn’t recognize gay people and considers their lifestyle sinful.  It’s ironic because the current Pope is a Jesuit priest and the most famous Catholic writer in the world is gay.  What would happen to him if he came out? Would he be accepted or would he be expelled?  Would the Pope be compassionate, and would he allow him to be an out gay priest?

           Sadly, I remain the only seminarian or priest-in-training (in the world) to resign over the firing of lesbian and gay Church employees and volunteers. Since my departure, the Church under Pope Francis has done nothing to recognize, never mind praise or celebrate the contributions of the LGBT community. Even after the Orlando Gay Massacre, they remain a community (sic a people) non grata. (A family member didn’t even want my husband to attend our nephew’s confirmation on Long Island.)

            As for me, I went from professing a vow of poverty and living in the lap of luxury to trying to recover financially from a decade of not earning an income. During my years as a Jesuit, I couldn’t save any money; it was contrary to our Constitutions/Rule. However, when I signed the paperwork, and accepted the $15,000 “severance package,” I could not have envisioned the difference between my vow of poverty and my living from paycheck to paycheck.

            My Jesuit provincial (or chief executive officer) gave me roughly $1,500 per year, including my years spent examining the “Jesuit way of proceeding” as a candidate (ten in total). Had I had the counsel of a canon lawyer I might have known my rights – I might have argued for more money. More importantly, I felt that I was taking the moral high ground, defending the community I belonged to in an act of solidarity while, for example, other influential gay Jesuits, e.g., college professors and pastors, lived rather worldly lives. 

            Who is more in sync with our founder St. Ignatius’s ideals? The more “Jesuitical” me or the famous gay Jesuit priests in hiding, Fathers W, X and Y, who speak widely and often about their and others sexuality, but who have remained closeted lest their public career end as a result of their coming out. These priests are smart enough to veil themselves in the closet. 

            In the past, my stories about gay sex within the Jesuits have sold well. But the real issue is the Church’s continued refusal to accept gay men. There is no disputing this: one need only read the Catechism of the Catholic Church. While the sex stories sell, somehow the truth doesn’t, that’s what editors at leading media outlets informed me. Many book publishers are afraid to lose their Evangelical readership; hence they feign disinterest in my memoir about being a gay Jesuit. Most tell me “get this story published!” What are the afraid of!

           Recently, “Tornado Francis” compared gender theory to nuclear arms, thereby offending the entire LGBT community. Ideological Colonization. Once again, he did not take an opportunity to validate or praise the LGBT community for their contributions – for example, how many of the gay or lesbian parishioners have given money to renovate the Jesuit parish on 16th street in New York City, St. Francis Xavier? The renovation required millions of dollars.

            Two years after my departure from the Society of Jesus, I am happily married to an immigrant from Ecuador. I celebrate my years as a Jesuit, and know well and continue to practice St. Ignatius’ meditations on discernment. Living from paycheck to paycheck is different from my life lived in the lap of luxury. 

            And when my husband asks me about my life as a Jesuit, I tell him the truth.

            I remember the many summer vacations spent with other gay Jesuits at one of our million dollar villas in Cohasset, Massachusetts, or on Lake Cazenovia in Cazenovia, New York, or in Green Hills, just outside Saint Louis. These mansions and homes rivaled the immense communities we lived in, in New York City, San Jose, Boston, Berkeley, Toronto, and on and on. At times, it seemed our residences could rival those of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby.

            I remember how the Jesuits tracked me for clinical social work, and how I hoped to work with our health care team to provide palliative and end of life care to our aging Jesuit brothers.  While the Jesuits trained me for my priesthood, they gave me a profession, even letting me attend New York University’s Silver School of Social Work to receive additional credentialing.

            I have a profound sense of gratitude and deep love for my years as a Jesuit, despite the Jesuits failure to ever contact me. To them, using their all-too-familiar description for someone like me who left the Jesuits, I am, “dead to the Society”―the Society of Jesus, popularly known as Jesuits. 

            Unlike another gay ex Jesuit, I was not sent to law school. In hindsight, I wish they did send me there. Why?

            The New York Times and others recently reported that $100 in New York is roughly equal to $85. When I consider the real value of the $15,000 the Jesuits gave me to set up my life I cringe. The cost of living is high; activities of daily living are not cheap.

            Most of that money was spent setting up my first apartment in the Bronx, with no credit rating I had to give $3,000 as a security deposit. The remainder of the money went to daily needs of living.

            I landed a job in social work, as a fee-for-service social worker in Brooklyn. During my 1.5-hour commute (by bus/subway) I quickly realized that I was losing almost $20,000 a year to client no shows.  My heart sank, how many therapists try to get by on a fee-for-service “salary”. Why has the market created such a system?

            Of course, while my closeted gay Jesuits and former friends chose the protection of the cloister, I was running a crash course on saving money, despite running up a large debt in credit cards. 

            During my years as a Jesuit my superiors never prepared me for investing, or taught me how to turn $100 into $1,000 in the market. That wasn’t our reality. What was our reality? Living off the generosity of gay and straight people who donated their time, treasure and talents to us? 

            These days I am still waiting for my former superiors to reach out to me. I’m waiting for that world famous gay priest and author to come out. I’m waiting to see what the Jesuits might do about my memoir about gay priests.

            Mostly though I live a simple life with my husband. I live paycheck to paycheck, while my former gay Jesuit brothers and friends live in the lap of luxury. I continue to pray for a conversion of their souls, for more gay priests to come out.

            When I remember that final conversation with my last provincial, Father K, I remember him telling me he loved me, that he understood the reasons for my departure. But when he said the Jesuits cannot do anything publicly about the firing of gay and lesbian employees or volunteers from the Church, I knew that the die had been cast. I knew that the Catechism of the Catholic Church could not be trumped, not even under Pope Francis. And Pope Francis has been a huge disappointment to the LGBT community. 

            As I left that million-dollar home, accepting my severance package, I walked past Park Avenue, past Madison Avenue, beyond 5th Avenue to Central Park. I watched men in Brooks Brothers and women driving Mercedes Benz pass me by. I watched mothers hold their children who wore Bermuda shorts. I heard the bells of St. Ignatius of Loyola on Park Avenue toll, but as lovely as it is as a parish, it still does not have any LGBT ministry:  this in the middle of New York City, one of the friendliest gay cities in the world.

            Around me the sparrows sang and children played, but I worried about how I would make it, about how I could turn my life around, without a community, a savings account and a job.

            I am not sure what St. Ignatius meant when he wrote, in the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, that the order must care for the men who depart from it. The Jesuits have stopped checking in on me, am I simply “dead to the Society?” I’m lucky that I have an education; without it I would probably be homeless.  I take that back: my family would have taken me in. 

           My Jesuit family, well to them I am dead.  This breaks my heart for I lived among them for ten years, and I considered them family.  I miss them, but I am not missed.  It is difficult to accept this reality, but I must.

            I hope that my writing and my own actions will someday make it easier for religious gays, to help them accept themselves and to choose love over fear.  Maybe some of my former gay Jesuit friends will meet a lover, and choose what God intended for everyone: to be in love. That’s what a young man from Ecuador, named Angel, taught me: that no one should be alone, and no gay man should elect celibacy because of a catechism. Thank you, Angel, my love.

 

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