Father Tony

Just Tell Mama

Filed By Father Tony | February 19, 2009 12:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: hypocritical Christians, outing priests and nuns, roman catholic church

Message: I have worked for the Catholic Church most of my life. I have seen many relationships that were hushed. I do find that the Church is a safe place for the clergy to be a couple, or carry on the relationships. I know of one couple who are Fathers, that have spent every free moment with each other as a couple for the past 40 years. Be it that they are not married but they are a couple. The Church defines relationships as man and wife, but allows the gay relationships to flourish in the shadows. I was told while working for a parish that the church does not have an open opinion of the gay life style,I was also told that the Catholic Church in the southern california region was 66 percent Gay, this was from a minister in a seminary. How could they support the proposition against gay marriage when they are 66% gay? I think it's talking out of both sides of their pulpits. What can we do to bring these truths to the parishoners so they are aware? We need to make a change to make it right for the gay clergy that are forced out of the church for speaking up about this.
From: JesuitJack

Dear JesuitJack,

I've edited your letter to focus on the core issue: What should we do when we know that specific religious leaders whose organizations consider the LGBT lifestyle sinful are living semi-secret LGBT lives?

Most often, these folks are silent about LGBT issues. Only a small minority are flamingly ranti-gay as are certain famously outed evangelical preachers, for example. Most often, they have a private collection of reasons for remaining in institutions that would condemn them if their private lives were made public. Most LGBT readers here have no sympathy for their reasons that might include the following:

  • I have never personally preached against the LGBT community.

  • I am privately supportive of any LGBT person who comes to me seeking counsel or comfort.

  • I am too old to leave my church and try to start a new career.

  • I wrestle privately with my guilt over being gay.

  • My private life is no one's business but mine. It doesn't impact my ministry.

  • I stay out of politics including any discussion of LGBT rights.

  • I have done the best I could to work things out balancing my personal sexuality with the teachings of my church. The LGBT community needs to respect the personal boundaries I set for myself.

  • I do not believe in "outing" anyone, including myself. Nobody but God knows the heart and soul of another person.

  • I lead a life of extreme community service and generosity. Isn't that enough?

I have, dear JesuitJack, heard all these arguments come from the mouths of my fellow Catholic priests, some of whom were so damn likable and respectable in every other way that I would not have dreamed of blowing the whistle on them. (I am not saying I was right about feeling this way.) I am thinking of one priest who was secretary to our archbishop. He had a life partner, a local funeral director. Everyone in the town where they shared a home, knew they were close friends, but only a few of us among the clergy knew the extent of their relationship.

In one parish I worked for a pastor, an old theater queen whom I called Trixie, who kept his young lover, a decorator, in a nearby town where he was not so well known. Over dinner at their table, I began to feel for the first time in my life, a skin-crawling revulsion at the prospect of "playing house" with someone on the down-low a few days a week. It didn't help matters that I knew Trixie was skimming the weekly Bingo revenue in order to pay for his suburban love nest. In his mind, taking a cut of the collection to support his lover was his little way of striking back at the homophobia of the Catholic Church.

In the simple retelling of all this, I am flooded with the unpleasant feelings that drove me to leave that business and shake the dirt of that church off my shoes. No, I did not expose the gay clergy to the strong light of public disclosure. I wanted to quietly put it all behind me. To wash it out of my hair. To move on to a better life. That is why men like me are not whistle blowers, even though we probably should be.

So my answer to your question about what to do is to approach those men who are leading preposterous lives and demand that they step out into the light in strong support of their LGBT brothers and sisters and that they drag their friends out with them. In other words, you and I should stop enabling their insincere lifestyles. When speaking with other people who know them, you might make a point of identifying them as gay. Take the lid off pious denial. When you encounter a church lady in the supermarket who mentions that Father Jim went on vacation to Palm Springs with his friend, correct her by saying "You mean his homosexual lover don't you?"

After I was out to my mother who was a parish secretary which meant she held first rank among all Catholic church ladies, I used to take particular delight in doing that whenever she would mention the name of a gay priest. Eventually, she stopped being shocked and had to rethink her conviction that all these lovely men, myself included, were destined for hell.

Someday, all of this nonsense will be over. None of us should expect to topple centuries of church hypocrisy on our own, but if we each remove just one stone from the wall....

Rome was not unbuilt in a day.

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The emperor has no clothes, yet everyone admires the workmanship of the tailoring. In this case the voice of one will not do; it is up to the clergy and parishioners to stand up and speak the truth, which includes God's acceptance of all. It will have to happen in numbers to be effective, and I see the possibility of a rolling start right now. Realistically, the voices most likely to be heard will be those of straight men. Where are they who know and understand the nature of God's love?

So often we cry, "Why doesn't somebody do something?" Each of us is somebody. Do something.

What does that make us? The Visigoths?

All that chest hair and leather sounds like fun to me! Go Alaric!

behindTheCurtain | February 19, 2009 2:27 PM

And what if a priest goes with a friend to Palm Springs? Is it necessary to out either? The old judge not lest ye be judged aphorism might have one of its few applications here.

Living with one's truth in an open way is admirable. In this society, millions don't. It takes courage even now to just be who you are. Some aren't so courageous. Some won't run into a building without regard for their own lives to save the children and dog.

Some won't even stop by the side of the road to help a broken down motorist. We praise those that do. Should we now condemn those that don't? Who are we to make that judgment, instead of keeping our own promises and trusts to the world?

I find your 'outing' statement to be disingenuous. Let people live their lives-- you live your own. One will be viewed differently at St Peter's Gate.

Dear BehindtheCurtain,
As you see in my response to JesuitJack, I have not always taken my own advice in this matter so there must be some part of me that agrees with you although the other part is a loud and convincing protestor. I think we need the courageous to lead us where we know in our hearts we should go.

It is tempting to see all this as reflecting two conflicting sides in which one is the side of truth and the other the side of falsehood. But I think it helps to see everyone here, regardless of their position and actions, as a victim of a sort, willingly or unwillingly. Those who have struggled to a life of integrity and to public self-disclosure are to be commended, but they are nonetheless victims of homophobia. Too often, their life's journey is cobbled by the external pressures and residual internal conflict. Often, their victimization has required them to relinquish all thought of God or real spirituality, because those who presume to speak for God have been so hateful, and any substantive spirituality that they know of has been tied to the agents of hate. Those on the other side of the dilemma are also victims. Their insincere and mendacious lives take an incredible toll on them. They may or may not inflict a heavy price on others by giving aid and comfort to the haters, but they have internalized a self-hatred that punishes them far more than any forced public outing could. However, a forced public outing could easily result in their going over the cliff into one or another form of self-destruction.
This is a true moral dilemma, in which no solution is pure, clear or uncomplicated. Unfortunately, it is the sort of moral dilemma that moral theologians never discuss, or even notice

I only find one of the reasons you listed -- men who are too old to leave the church and start a new career -- at all compelling.

No doubt you're right about not enabling closeted clergymen, and I suspect that in almost all of these cases, especially the guys under fifty-five or so, you'd likely be doing the cleric in question a favor -- in the long run. But there's something very unsavory about outing people, and I'm not sure that an abstract notion that I was doing the right thing would make me any more comfortable with the idea of causing that much upheaval in someone's life. Gay-bashing evangelists and politicians, yes; otherwise decent clergymen, no. The difference may only be one of degree, but sometimes degree matters.

And that, Ted, is certainly and exactly the dilemma. So we let this situation go on, and in the process, people are denied rights, so the courageous among us (like Jesus himself) get feisty and inconvenient. What to do. What to do.

The church has throughout history been a safe refuge for gay men. Mother church was the gay man's beard. It was one of the few if not only vocations where a man did not have to make up excuses for not being married or suffer the pains of a loveless marriage.

The bingo thief was in the wrong, but a blind eye is turned to preserve the "family secret". The breaking of vows is unsettling, but between a priest and his confessor. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

I have plenty of sympathy for the ones who are struggling, with their sexuality and/or with the delusion that only the Roman Catholic Church has a lock on God.

The "helping professions" attract their share of guilt-ridden, repressed people - "wounded healers", to use the cliche - who have difficulty addressing their own problems and "use" the service of other people's needs as an avoidance technique. I gather that use of religiously neutral client-centered psychotherapy is not particularly well received by bishops and other bosses.

I wouldn't be interested in outing "wounded healers" - I'd want to help them give up the belief (at whatever level) that those who leave the RCC permanently are doomed to hell. Point them toward the Episcopal, UCC, MCC, Old Catholic, and other denominations that welcome gays.

Gee.... I'd talk to them also. Except where I grew up in the Catholic Church most of the "sexual trespassers" were definitely heterosexual in the Hoosier Hinterlands. Though there was the group my mother was in that went to Hawaii in the late 1970s. It included an associate pastor from our parish church who on the return trip talked my mother into a three day lay-over to see San Francisco.

Yep.... my mother in a gay night-club watching a drag show in the Castro. The priest talked her into going with him..... luckily, mom never got to a bathhouse.

And I've never been to San Francisco!@*&#^%&! And when I came out to a Catholic priest at the urging of my psychologist it had to be my cousin (actually 2nd cousin, once removed, we count them deep here in Indiana). Fr Bob gave me the Catholic Company line about the "lifestyle." Thing sorta went downhill for me and the Church from there.... though when he died a couple of weeks after my 'confessional' I sorta felt bad about burdening his heart like that.

I tried to talk to a guy who as in a seminary in northern Illinois and interning that summer in our parish before taking any vows. The guy was a real flamer. I think the trouble was, I was so subdued (and still closeted like him.... jeesh, could he really be closeted or did no one else have my gaydar?) that we didn't connect intellectually as well as otherwise.

Something tells me the way things are going we're not going to have this "problem" in the Catholic Church for long...... and I have some swampland I'd like to sell you also.....

I loved the last line. It make me giggle.

gay_catholic | February 20, 2009 9:48 AM

There is something very unpleasant about outing people.. I couldn't do it, especially not with the huge ramifications, not when the stakes are so high. Most of these people are doing the best they can. I live in constant fear of being outed and losing my own position in ministry. (DRE / YM)

Nancy says, "I have plenty of sympathy for the ones who are struggling, with their sexuality and/or with the delusion that only the Roman Catholic Church has a lock on God." and suggests that those who stay with the RCC do so out of the mistaken belief that those who leave are somehow destined for hell.

I don't think that's necessarily true. I don't think the RCC has a lock on God. I do, however, believe in the true presence in the Eucharist. I do believe that the RCC makes God present in a way no other church does. Despite my struggle with their moral teaching, I have no domatic issues with the church.

Where is someone like me to go? I can't leave-- not for fear of hell, but because the creed, the fundamental beliefs of the church draw my back and hold me close.

Dear Gay_catholic,
But surely you know that the creed, the fundamental beliefs of the church will always be yours. They are in your heart. If you leave the church, they go with you, like parting gifts on a quiz show. Now you can play the home version of the game. (Sorry to have gotten sidetracked with that metaphor). Seriously, this is really "don't ask don't tell" for Catholics. I understand your anxiety, but from my side of the fence, I can tell you that I have never felt more strongly Catholic than I do now. The church is in me finally and honestly and authentically. Those that condemn me are nothing more than the howling of an ill wind. Theirs is clearly not the voice of God.

The DADT policy is no good, I agree--- but I'm not convinced that the way to change it is by outing priests. I sincerely hope that no one ever thinks the way to change the DADT policy is to out me.

Yes yes, the beliefs of the church will always be mine, even if I leave the church-- but tell me this, do you ever miss saying Mass? Do you miss hearing confessions?

I love my church. She is flawed, I understand that all to well, but I love her nonetheless. I just don't see leaving as an option for me.

(This post has struck a chord with me, because it is something I have been really thinking aboutand praying about recently, how to merge my professional and persona life. But I think the decision should be mine- not a parishioners.)

Dear gay-catholic (I won't use your real name and your IP address which might shock some people, and that alone out to prove that I am not in the business of outing folks),no I don't miss saying Mass. The rules constricting what a creative individual can bring to that text were irritating beyond belief for someone like me. I would love to someday take a shot at revamping the Catholic liturgy. Someday after the fall of Rome, of course. I do miss Confession because it was both humbling for me and very satisfying in that I really felt that for a few hours on a Saturday afternoon I was actually doing some good in the lives of the people I was serving. It was an honor and a privilege, and I did not take it lightly.

Angela Brightfeather | February 20, 2009 11:44 AM

Gee, I wanted to become a priest, but I thought that if I did, it would not last long because I would probably be thrown out of the seminary school due to the underwear that I preferred to wear being to feminine. I always thought that as an alter boy, the only relief I received from that job was being able to wear a cassock and surplus, that in my own mind turned into a dress and blouse whenever serving a mass.

The fact is that so many young boys reject who they are and could never come out about who they are, because of the "front" that was manifested by priests. They could have helped them find their way. I am convinced that had I been able to talk to one priest who undestood me when I was thirteen years old, I would have transtioned many, many years ago, instead of writing this at 63 years old and wondering why I did not try to transition earlier.

Sure, most of that is my fault for being in denial or being to scared to confront the situation at a time when they were taking people like me and giving them electroshock treatments in psych wards, but I actually revered priests back when I was 13 and trusted them. Just not enought to think that they would understand who and what I was.

If back then, or even now, the church had identified one, even one single priest in the entire area I lived as being gay or trans, I would have found my way to him. If they had one nun who identified as a lesbian, I would have found her. I was desparate to talk to someone back then that I thought I could trust and would understand me, but no one was evident and the prospect of being wrong was disasterous.

So the problem as I see it back then and today remains exactly the same. Out of an entire church setting, parish, diocese or ministry, there is no one that can effectively guide and council people who are GLBT and still can stay in or a part of the church. By helping GLBT people they out themselves as being one of them because only by living it can you truly understand the complexities involved and the personal feelings and conflicts that must be addressed. There are just certain things about the way that GLBT people feel and live every day that can only be felt by another GLBT person and in the RC Church, those people are not and never have been there to help. The end result for me has been my deep dislike and mistrust of the RC church over many years and the personal loss of my faith in that religion.

Perhaps the fact that the RC Church basically believes that any GLBT person needs reparative therapy and that no good RC person could possibly be GLBT might be the crux of their problem and our cross to bare?

My hope (and prayer) would be that all those gays priests and church workers would out themselves.

The witness of honesty and authenticity and integrity will do more for them, for us, for all. Fr. Geoffrey Farrow did it. And what a powerful witness he is.

I am a dreamer, I know.

Fr. Tony, how much I appreciate your honesty and witness, and how authentically you address this struggle within yourself. Thanks.

Seems like a pretty good job in this economic meltdown. A cot, three square meals a day, a basic black wardrobe and closeted sex. I would think twice before getting booted out for being openly gay. The only alternative is to come out and form your own church using a new bible according to gay people.
Or just simply admit the truth, there is no god, heaven or hell. Religion is mythology based on death anxiety of the living. There is no resurrection of the dead.

Yeah, I wouldn't be doing the outing either. There's something incredibly arrogant about deciding:

a) what someone else's sexual orientation is based on their current or past lovers
b) to give them an identity marker based on your own understanding of sexuality, which they may not share
c) what's best for these folks (as one commenter above put it: "you'd likely be doing the cleric in question a favor"... I worry about justifications for upsetting someone else's life completely based on "They'll thank me/us some day.")

That said, the silence around the amount of homosexuality in the Church is stupefying. And it's not just the Catholic Church - I think folks like Ted Haggard show that there are a lot of protestant clergymen who like to play with the junk too. The fact that they can/are expected to marry women probably reduces the number of gay men there, but for reasons described by nancyp above I wouldn't be surprised to find out that the percentage of men knockin' boots with other boys in various Protestant clergies was well above the national average.

I think as long as they aren't ranting against the queers, then there's no sense in outing them.