Some years ago — at least 10, I think — two of our diocesan priests told me that they are homosexual. They came in separately and, as far as I know, neither of them was aware of the other’s visit. I do recall that each said his decision to come out to me was prompted, at least in part, by something I had written in “Along the Way.”
In that particular column, I had referred to a priest from another diocese who told me he had finally told his parents that he was gay. He was elated that his parents took that occasion, so sensitive to him, to reaffirm their love and support of him. I wrote that this man — whom I had known for years — had never told me before that he was gay. Telling me that he had told his parents was the man’s way of telling me!
In any case, the two priests of our diocese told me that they are homosexual, and I am glad that they did. It seemed a great relief to them that their bishop — to whom they are so closely bound in priestly identity and ministry — should be aware of this important aspect of their personal reality. I know that I was deeply gratified that they entrusted me with that information. I had come to know and admire them through years of shared ministry. Their simplicity and honesty with me only deepened my regard for them.
In the years since, a few other priests — religious and diocesan priests, here and elsewhere — have chosen to tell me the same thing. In each case, I have admired their honesty and felt enriched by their trust and confidence.
Lately, I have thought a lot about these friends and prayed for them in a particular way. I have also prayed for priests who are gay but who are not ready or feel no need to tell me about their sexual orientation.
I have thought about and prayed for these men because I know that two recent developments have caused them a lot of pain. One is the Vatican-sponsored Seminary Visitation program now in progress. The other is a long-rumored document from the Congregation for Catholic Education about the admission of gay men as candidates for the priesthood.
Allow me to offer observations about some of the themes and concerns the confluence of these related but distinct elements have raised. My intent is not to deal with all of the questions that could be addressed. That would be impossible here. I wish only to encourage all to be patient with the process of the visitation and fair in the reading of the rumored document, if and when it is published.
1) The priests to whom I referred above love Christ, the church, their ministry and the people they serve. They take seriously their priestly obligations including that of celibate chastity. To read reports in the press, however unsubstantiated those reports may be, that homosexuals will be declared unacceptable as candidates for priesthood is a source of great pain for them and for all of us who know and love them.
2) The Instrumentum Laboris or guiding paper from the Seminary Visitation speaks about the role each bishop has vis-√†-vis his seminarians: The bishop will ensure that the seminarians form mature and balanced personalities, are capable of establishing and maintaining sound human and pastoral relationships, are knowledgeable in theology and the living tradition of the church, have a solid spiritual life, and are in love with the church.
3) This wide range of goals or challenges for priestly formation applies to any candidate for priesthood, whether homosexual or heterosexual. The fundamental concern of formation for a life of celibate chastity is for sexual maturity, not sexual orientation. Good seminary formation needs to provide an environment in which both heterosexual and homosexual candidates can grow to commit themselves wholeheartedly, even joyfully, to chaste and faithful celibacy.
4) Critically important as it is, we should remember that formation for a life of celibacy is not the only, or even the primary, issue here. The task of seminaries is much wider than that. Their task is to form candidates toward intellectual, emotional, psychosexual, spiritual and pastoral maturity, regardless of the sexual orientation of the candidate.
I hope that these comments will be helpful to:
* homosexual priests who spend themselves each day in faithful, loving ministry to God’s holy people. We deeply value your ministry.
* to gay young men who are considering a vocation to priesthood. We try to treat all inquiries fairly. You will be no exception.
* to all who may have been confused or misled by premature and narrow reporting of the visitation and rumored document. It is always better to deal with fact than with rumor and half-truths.
Peace to all.