On Saturday, hundreds of young Catholics gathered to give Pope Francis a piece of their minds.
They called for a more transparent and “authentic” church, one with a bigger role for women and more wisdom about the benefits and challenges of technology. They called for more flexibility, too, arguing that “unreachable” moral standards should not be the only way to live an authentically Catholic life.
These findings were part of a 16-page report assembled by 300 young people at a week-long conference sponsored by the Vatican. It drew, too, on online submissions from 15,000 others.
“We, the young church, ask that our leaders speak in practical terms about subjects such as homosexuality and gender issues, about which young people are already freely discussing,” the report said.
It was less clear how the group wanted the church to reframe its message. The young people, ages 16 to 29, did not find consensus on issues like contraception (artificial birth control is banned for all Catholics, even married couples), cohabitation before marriage (frowned upon) or abortion.
The report also pushed the church to find ways to connect to young people, who often feel “indifference, judgment and rejection” from the church.
Throughout, the report called on the church to incorporate women more fully into church leadership. Women cannot serve as priests, which means they’re absent from the church’s upper ranks. Young female Catholics said they feel alienated as a result.
“Some young women feel that there is a lack of leading female role models within the church, and they too wish to give their intellectual and professional gifts to the church,” the report found.
The report also called on the church to accept that technology is a way of life for young people. The focus should not be condemnation, they wrote, but rather guidance on how to combat online addiction and use technology responsibly.
At the beginning of the conference, Pope Francis urged the young people — selected by their national bishops’ conferences, universities or church movements — to be honest. That is reflected in the final report, which notes that young people are leaving Catholicism because of “indifference, judgment and rejection.” It also called on the church to more fully acknowledge its mistakes, such as the clergy sex abuse scandal.
“Some mentors are put on a pedestal, and when they fall, the devastation may impact young people’s abilities to continue to engage with the church,” the report said.
The document will be incorporated into an October synod of bishops, focused on how to better incorporate young people into the church.
It isn’t clear what that will entail. But at a Palm Sunday service on Sunday, Pope Francis urged young people to keep shouting and not allow the older generations to silence their voices.
“The temptation to silence young people has always existed,” he said in his homily, delivered to an audience of thousands in St. Peter’s Square. “There are many ways to silence young people and make them invisible. Many ways to anesthetize them, to make them keep quiet, ask nothing, question nothing. There are many ways to sedate them, to keep them from getting involved, to make their dreams flat and dreary, petty and plaintive.”
“Dear young people, you have it in you to shout,” he told young people, urging them to be like the people who welcomed Jesus with palms rather than those who shouted for his crucifixion only days later. “It is up to you not to keep quiet. Even if others keep quiet, if we older people and leaders, some corrupt, keep quiet, if the whole world keeps quiet and loses its joy, I ask you: Will you cry out?”
“Yes,” the young people in the crowd shouted. “Yes!”
On Dec. 17, the Rev. Gregory Greiten shared a secret with parishioners at the St. Bernadette Catholic Parish: “I am gay.” Greiten was then greeted with a standing ovation, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The next day, Greiten wrote a column in the National Catholic Reporter. As someone who now uses the descriptor “recovering Catholic” to answer questions about my religious identity, was once approached for the priesthood, struggled with reconciling my faith with my sexual orientation, and just finished writing about these experiences and more in a book called I Can’t Date Jesus, much of what Greiten wrote felt all too familiar.
“Each time I had a great desire to speak out I was challenged by other priests and leaders,” he wrote before breaking down the various responses—all of which can be tied under the bow of the sentiment “Keep your sins to yourself.” The advocacy for his continued silence was centered on the belief that to come out as gay would result in damages to his ministry at least, and expulsion from the church at worst. While it might have been wrong to call upon Greiten to deny who he is in a space where people go to seek answers about God and themselves, their fears were aided by precedent.
Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest who has written a book called “Building a Bridge,” about L.G.B.T. Catholics, said that between 20 percent and 30 percent of Catholic priests are celibate gay men and that a larger reason they have not been public about their sexuality is homophobia in the church.
It is no wonder that Greiten laments about the “heavy burden” he carried with him. I know that burden, despite not being a member of the clergy. If you find yourself the child, brother, son or friend of a religious person with rigid ideas of what’s right and wrong, then you, too, will find yourself told to be silent, purportedly for the sake of your own good.
Like Greiten, I was taught that homosexuality was something “disordered, unspeakable and something to be punished.” I thought I was going to go to hell for every thought I had, every touch I contemplated, each time I gave in to temptation. It’s a haunting, shameful feeling that eats you inside. You become so accustomed to guilt that even if you dare to be truthful about who you are in all settings, you may still find yourself having to learn to shake off old habits, like guilt. Religions in general tend to make their believers feel guilty about their misdeeds, but Catholics are particularly adept when it comes to guilt.
That’s why it matters so much that Greiten has stepped forward and gained national attention. There are many more like him. Just how many is unclear, but none of them should feel compelled to linger in the shadows.
Greiten explains the necessity for more visible gay priests to step forward:
There is no question there are and always have been celibate, gay priests and chaste members of religious communities. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, in 2016, there were 37,192 diocesan and religious priests serving in the United States. While there are no exact statistics on the number of gay Catholic priests, Fr. Donald B. Cozzens suggested in his book, The Changing Face of the Priesthood, that an estimated 23 percent to 58 percent of priests were in fact gay. It would mean that there are anywhere from 8,554 (low) to 21,571 (high) gay Catholic priests in the United States today.
By choosing to enforce silence, the institutional church pretends that gay priests and religious do not really exist. Because of this, there are no authentic role models of healthy, well-balanced, gay, celibate priests to be an example for those, young and old, who are struggling to come to terms with their sexual orientation. This only perpetuates the toxic shaming and systemic secrecy.
In 2013, Pope Francis shocked many Catholics when he answered a question about gay priests by saying, “Who am I to judge?” Francis has gone on to appoint archbishops and other senior church leaders who are more embracing of LGBTQ Catholics. However, in 2015, I wrote that while the pope deserves some kudos for his remarks and actions, much of the praise lavished on him is unwarranted. After all, the church continues to tolerate gay people more so than truly embracing them. The church continues to collectively hold archaic, bigoted views about transgender people. Moreover, the Vatican relentlessly clings to needless positions about women on issues like contraception that contribute to their subjugation around the world.
And for those reading this who might be thinking to quip that there aren’t that many black Catholics, think again. In November, The Atlantic published “There Are More Black Catholics in the U.S. Than Members of the A.M.E. Church.” The piece largely focused on the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ decision to create a new, ad hoc committee against racism in light of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Although that is important work, I can’t help thinking about priests like Gregory Greiten and wondering why so much of the Catholic Church’s leadership continues to ignore what’s either hiding plain in sight or now demanding recognition.
Greiten went on to write about his own role in perpetuating the stigmatization of LGBTQ people and the silence it has spurred in many of its members:
As a priest of the Roman Catholic Church currently serving in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, I would like to apologize personally to my LGBT brothers and sisters for my part in remaining silent in the face of the actions and inactions taken by my faith community towards the Catholic LGBT community as well as the larger LGBT community. I pledge to you that I will no longer live my life in the shadows of secrecy. I promise to be my authentically gay self. I will embrace the person that God created me to be. In my priestly life and ministry, I, too, will help you, whether you are gay or straight, bisexual or transgendered, to be your authentic self — to be fully alive living in your image and likeness of God. In reflecting our God-images out into the world, our world will be a brighter, more tolerant place.
It would behoove the church to listen to him. I hope it will inspire more to step forward. The church should have priests who are women; chastity should be options; LGBTQ people should be able to join the priesthood if they feel such a calling. Everyone should be loved and embraced rather than merely tolerated, and as long as they aren’t seen as whole. Many of us have already been run out of the church because of its unwillingness to change. My mama may not be able to get me back to Mass, but perhaps Greiten and others like him can keep other kids from fleeing in the future.
A Roman Catholic priest in Milwaukee has come out as gay, writing that he will no longer live in the shadows of secrecy and plans to be authentic to his gay self.
The Rev. Gregory Greiten disclosed his sexual orientation on Sunday to the St. Bernadette Parish and was greeted with a standing ovation from his parishioners, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported . He also wrote a column that was published Monday in the National Catholic Reporter.
It’s rare for a priest to come out. Greiten said he revealed his sexual orientation because he wants to be a role model for others. He said he’s helping to break the silence of gay men in the clergy so he could reclaim his own voice.
“I will embrace the person that God created me to be,” Greiten wrote. “In my priestly life and ministry, I, too, will help you, whether you are gay or straight, bisexual or transgendered, to be your authentic self — to be fully alive living in your image and likeness of God.
Greiten wrote that has decided to stand with the “few courageous priests who have taken the risk to come out of the shadows and have chosen to live in truth and authenticity.”
The church’s silent stance on gay priests perpetuates toxic shaming and systematic secrecy, Greiten wrote. The church needs healthy role models for priests who are struggling to come to terms with their sexual orientation, he said.
Greiten met with Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki before coming out, according to an archdiocese spokeswoman.
“We support Father Greiten in his own personal journey and telling his story of coming to understand and live with his sexual orientation,” Listecki said in a statement Monday. “As the Church teaches, those with same-sex attraction must be treated with understanding and compassion.”
A Catholic church in Cambuslang has earned the admiration of thousands after issuing a strong public statement on its stance on homosexuality.
St Bride’s Roman Catholic Church in the town’s Greenlees Road took to its social media page on Sunday afternoon to insist that “all gay Catholics are accepted and welcomed in this parish.”
Endorsed by the head of the parish, Father Morton, the statement added: “Every single human person is loved by God and created to love by Him; this is a fundamental belief of our faith. No one is ever excluded from God’s love or his concern or his care or his plan for them.
“In God’s house, all are welcome and are the blessed and loved children of God. There should be no place in our language or our attitude which allows for prejudice or exclusion.”
Reaching out to anyone who is gay and wishes to speak with Father Morton, St Bride’s has urged them to head along for a talk.
“We must do everything we can to redress the harm that has been done in the past by the negative stance we seem to have taken up. We must join with others who are seeking to build a more inclusive society,” the statement added.
Father Morton’s message comes just two months after he issued a similar one in which he acknowledged how gay people feel “excluded” from the Catholic Church.
He added at the time: “We wish to emphasise in the strongest terms that we are a welcoming and inclusive parish.”
Yesterday’s message has gone down a storm on social media and is continuing to gather praise and positive reactions both at home and further afield.
“Fr Morton is such an amazing man. Lucky parish to have such a wonderful priest,” said one follower, while another added: “What a courageous statement. Hopefully others will follow this Christian lead. Time to stop burying our heads in the sand. Well done Fr Morton.”
The statement comes as religious leaders in Glasgow spearhead gay rights in the UK.
The Provost of the cathedral, the Very Rev Kelvin Holdsworth, said: “I want to live in a world where same-sex couples can feel safe walking down the street, hand in hand, and in which they can feel joy walking hand in hand down the aisle of a church too.”
Two years ago Cardinal Vincent Nichols asked me to be his liaison and chaplain to the Farm Street LGBT group in central London. That same week I was invited to be chaplain to the London chapter of Courage, an international support group. My work includes one-to-one spiritual guidance, helping with reflection days and accompanying both groups as an official representative of the Church.
Ministry to homosexual Catholics (transgenderism would need a separate article) takes place in two main contexts. First, groups like the Farm Street group set up by gay people themselves or their relatives, where everyone knows they are welcome, whatever their situation, and issues can be openly discussed. Such groups often later seek the support of their local bishop and priests.
Secondly, bishops or priests can set up groups themselves, and even obtain Vatican recognition, provided they are explicit in their adherence to Church teaching. Courage is such a group, set up by Fr John Harvey in America with the support of bishops there, and now present in several countries. Members describe themselves not as gay but as “experiencing same-sex attraction” and aim at lifelong sexual abstinence – but not at changing their sexual orientation.
Pastoral care of homosexual people is essentially the same as all ministry: seeking to communicate the unconditional love of Christ and his Church, and to accompany people on their journey towards holiness. But in practice this particular ministry encounters powerful feelings of pain and anger which can cause difficulties.
LGBT people often feel hurt by the Church, either because of the way its teaching comes across, or through concrete experiences of rejection, or both. Those from non-Western cultures are sometimes even in danger of their lives, while some other Catholics seem threatened by the very existence of gay people and react angrily towards attempts to accommodate them within the Church.
There is also a wide range of attitudes, experiences and behaviour among gay Catholics themselves. Some long for a permanent relationship, while others admit that relationships are not important for them, and they simply want sex. With the availability of gay websites and apps, and well-known pick-up spots, most gay people in our society can easily have sex whenever they want.
We sometimes meet men who had a lot of casual sex but came to realise it did not make them happy. They may then seek help in leading a chaste life. Courage provides them with a supportive group, modelled on twelve-step programmes, in which personal sharing enables exploration of the relationship between sexual desires and other aspects of life, and so helps mitigate the compulsive element which can easily affect sexual behaviour. Others are looking for a long-term relationship, but may go through several sexual partners in the search, sometimes remaining good friends with them after the sexual relationship has ended.
But one thing is common to virtually all LGBT Catholics today: they will not take the Church’s teaching on trust, but must learn from experience. Even those who hold a very traditional attitude have likely arrived at it through many experiences.
This being so, ministers to gay Catholics need two main resources: a moral theology that can face the critical scrutiny of life experience; and a well-grounded spirituality of discernment. These can help LGBT Catholics look honestly at their behaviour, see where it is leading them and discover alternatives where indicated.
The moral theology I have found most helpful in this ministry is that of the Belgian Dominican Servais Pinckaers, who shows that from biblical times to St Thomas Aquinas, Catholic moral theology was essentially based on the search for true happiness, on earth and in heaven, and on the cultivation of virtues leading to it – a happiness deeper than mere pleasure, and consisting above all in communion with God and his holy people.
A theology based on observing rules was a later distortion, and led by reaction in the 1960s to an equally unhelpful liberalism.
In Pinckaers’ perspective, moral theology does not just define what one is allowed to do, or the minimum one must do, but joins hands with spirituality in promoting the search for holiness through loving God and neighbour to the uttermost. Ignatian discernment of spirits is the obvious spiritual partner for such a theology.
Thus the most important gift the minister can offer LGBT people, after unconditional love and welcome, is encouragement to a deep spiritual life of friendship with Christ, based on the traditional practices of Mass, Confession, Adoration, Lectio Divina and the rosary. Without this, discernment loses itself in subjective states of mind; with it we begin to see which path leads to heaven and which to hell, and to marry personal experience with the wisdom of the Church.