‘Comfortable being gay’: a priest speaks

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An Irish priest who has come out to many friends and colleagues says that he is ‘happy in his life’ and that the Catholic Church’s teaching on sexuality needs to change

by Patsy McGarry

He asks to be described as a religious-order priest comfortable with his sexuality. He is gay. It is “one aspect of his life”. He doesn’t like the term “gay priest”. Before this interview he pondered whether to let us publish his name. But, he realised, “I don’t have any desire to make a major dramatic statement. It doesn’t define me, and I don’t want to be defined by it. I don’t want to draw huge attention.”

A few years after his ordination he began to tell people about his sexuality. “I began to open up to friends and colleagues. Then it got to the point where I got tired telling. The need went away. Anyone who needs to know knows. It’s not an issue.”

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He has been aware of his orientation since puberty. It played a part in his realising he had a vocation to the priesthood. “Despite the [church’s] negative teaching I never had the sense that God didn’t love me.”

In his teens he “used to call into the church on the way home from school. It was the one place where I could be myself. God knew who I was. My sense of a calling had its seeds there.”

He also realised that priesthood was “a way of doing something worthwhile without declaring orientation”. He feels he was lucky being an order priest when it came to formation. There was “none of the narrow-mindedness” he associated with the seminary in Maynooth. He and fellow students had “more freedom within the self. There was never a negative message. It was very broad-minded.”

While not spelling out issues around their own sexuality, they were encouraged to be “as open as we could be” and “to grow in relationships”. It helped too that he could read the works of contemporary moral theologians who wrote compassionately about homosexuality.

He came to realise some colleagues shared the same orientation but “very few were naming it as gay, but many were and still are, in hindsight.”

He agrees with former president Mary McAleese, who said in a Glasgow Herald interview, published last Tuesday, that significant numbers of Catholic priests are gay.

As a priest he has preached sympathetically about gay people and challenged the church’s teaching on homosexuality and its treatment of gay people. He was called in by a bishop once for doing so. In the main he has experienced no problems from the laity when he does so, apart from a few right-wing Catholics.

Running away
He believes that for some colleagues who share his orientation, becoming a priest was about “running away from sex while having a role and status in life”. Indeed, he felt that “probably a lot of men and women, gay or straight”, who became priests or nuns, “were running away from sexuality”.

But “if that is their primary reason, it is not enough unless you are willing to become comfortable with yourself”. Failure to achieve this comfort is why some clergy became “angry, short [with people], bitter”, he believes.

Accepting himself as he is has contributed positively to his sense of vocation. “I know the margins. I know the edges, the fear of rejection, insult. I know what those experiences are like. If you grow, be honest, be true; that can be positive when dealing with other people on the margins,” he says.

In 1986 in a Vatican document the then cardinal Joseph Ratzinger described homosexuality as “a more or less strong tendency ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil; and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder”.

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