Since the launch of my book "Hidden Voices, Reflections of a Gay Catholic Priest" on the eve of my 15-year anniversary to the priesthood and since my announcement, two questions keep coming up: "Why now?" and "What now?" They've been asked in emails, at the book launch and by reporters.
The first time a reporter asked the question "Why now?" it came with a bit of investigative questioning that caught me off guard. She asked, "Why now? Are you dating someone?"
"Of course not," I replied. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. When the headlines read, "Openly Gay Priest," it does give the impression that my issue is celibacy.
It is not!
The fact is, I am not dating anyone. Celibacy has not been my issue as a gay catholic priest. My issue is with the church's teaching on homosexuality and the way it's being implemented by members of our hierarchy which I believe is causing harm, especially to our LGBT youth and especially when 30 percent of all successful teenage suicides in this country are attributed to sexual identity issues. Our hierarchal positioning on this issue is communicating to our LGBT youth that they are wrong, defective, disordered or have a disease like alcoholism.
In January 2011, The 8th Day Center for Justice, a Catholic organization staffed by 30 congregations of nuns, priests and brothers issued a statement saying, "the teachings of the Church and the behavior of some members of the Church hierarchy have added to an atmosphere of bullying and intimidation." They go on to say that "despite claims to the contrary ... people of differing sexual orientation are not welcome in the Church. Moreover, such discrimination contributes to an atmosphere in society which promotes bigotry and violence toward the LGBT community."
It is my belief that the hierarchal hostility has only gotten worse, not better. So, why now? Why not now? In so many ways I wish I would have spoken sooner. If I have any guilt at all, it is because I've waited this long to speak up. It is abundantly clear to me from the hundreds of emails I've received from people all around the world, that we have caused a great amount of harm. One young man, after telling me his story of repeated rejection by his Catholic church because of his orientation, writes: "I beg you to pray for me." His plea for prayer has in fact moved me to prayer, for him and for all those who are made to feel less than by their church or church leaders. Saint Catharine of Sienna once wrote, "Speak the truth with a thousand voices. It is silence that kills the world." And so I now speak -- the truth, the truth that God has given me to speak -- the truth about love, acceptance and what it means to be a gay Catholic priest.
What next? I don't know exactly. I do know it will involve advocacy for the LGBT community. If there is a way to remain a priest in ministry while advocating for the LGBT community -- I'm in. To that end, I have started a website that captures the Rising Voices of Faith who believe in the inherent dignity and equality of all people regardless of who they love. In a recent study from the Pew Research Center, it is clear that the attitude among the faithful towards the LGBT community is changing for the better. This changing attitude is also evident by the hundreds of emails I've received supporting and affirming my decision to speak publically about what I believe.
It is my belief that these voices need to be heard. They need to be heard, not for me, but for those who are made to feel less than by others because of their sexual orientation. Rising Voices is an opportunity to let others know they are loved and accepted -- just the way they are. I will remain a full time student in the Master of Counseling program at the University of Missouri Saint Louis. Beyond that, who knows? I do know, however, that in the meantime, I am surrounded by family, friends, supporters and a God of infinite love -- not bad surroundings if you ask me.