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HUGS EAST

(Continued from page 3)
a time of crisis of confidence among the faithful regarding church goverance and hierarchical leadership as allegations of priests’ sexual abuse of minors—and of a decades-long cover-up on the part of the church—spread across the country. Some conservative Catholics and church official have blamed "militant homosexuals" among the clergy for this scandal, branding them "a true plague on the priesthood." In The Wall Street Journal on March 26, for example, a religious studies professor from Penn State, Philip Jenkins, wrote about the American Catholic church’s infiltration by "activist, feminist, and gay groups" in the past 40 years. But this current crisis is not, in fact, rooted in the gay clergy.

 Let me offer my own perspective—one based on more than 25 years of faith and life as a Roman Catholic convert—a perspective I suspect is not so different from that of many other Catholics, gay and straight alike. First, I have never encountered any Catholic church culture characterized by, as one Boston Herald columnist put it, "priestly homosexuals run amok with no fear of condemnation, secure in the knowledge that no one dares criticize the love that once dared not speak its name."

 The reality is significantly more boring.

 My nearly ten years of experience in four Catholic academic institutions—my home town Catholic high school, two American Catholic universities, and now the Weston Jesuit School of Theology—bear witness to some of the very best pastoral care that American-style Roman Catholicism has to offer, including pastoral care to me as a gay man.

 Sister Mary Eudes, for example—my colleague on my hometown Bishop McCort High School faculty in Johnstown, Pa.—poured tea and served up cheerful, prayerful Irish wisdom and spirituality as we commiserated, prayed, and rebounded together from conflicts with a difficult high-school principal. At the University of Notre Dame, several priests encouraged my undergraduate life, academic as well as spiritual. One of them was Father Charlie Sheedy, a holy cross priest who was more aware than I was of my wrestling to reconcile the rambunctious male sexuality of my emerging gay identity with my newly found faith. His pastoral counsel was compassionate and affirming.

 The same experience of pastoral support was true at Georgetown University during my graduate work in business school, when I began to come out of the closet to a small circle of friends and faculty, most of whom were supportive both of me and of my emerging academic interest in gay rights in business and politics.

 Still, it was not until I arrived in Cambridge, Mass., nearly 15 years ago, that my spiritual desolation over the conflict between my sexual identity and my religious conviction found true consolation. The catalyst for that life-saving personal transformation began when a bright and theologically astute Jesuit priest and pastoral counselor became my spiritual director.

 He listened. He listened. And he listened. Over time, I broke the silence of my anguished pilgrim’s journey and my struggle with homosexuality. He understood that I carried with me the heavy baggage of church teaching, those deeply wounding, soul-shaming words from the church’s Catechism—"objective disorder," "intrinsic evil"—that pathologize homosexuality and its loving sexual expression.

Through the respectful, nonjudgmental listening
and guidance of spiritual direction and through
richer encounters of God’s grace in the
sacraments, therapy, and prayer, I came to
experience the unconditional love of God. I now
feel, to the core of my being, that God loves me—
embraces me, if you will—along with all my
quirky postmodern, American but very human
strengths and vulnerabilities.

 I have reflected at length upon these years of
journey in the Catholic Church. Some of the
priests were Jesuits. Others belong to the
Congregation of the Holy Cross. In my
hometown parish of St. Andrews, as my family
faced the reality of their only son’s gayness,
supportive priests were diocesan: one an old-
fashioned Irish-American monsignor, the other
a down-to-earth intellectual and liberal German-
American. Their pastoral message to my family
was the same—that of Christ’s unconditional
love.

 During my late 20s and early 30s, chapters of
Dignity/USA in San Francisco, Washington,
D.C., and Boston provided a safe haven. Lay
ministers and priests in Dignity/San Francisco,
for example, cared for me during a particularly
hard time, the break up of a same-sex
relationship, with all the associated pain of a
tender young and broken heart. Dignity/USA is
the oldest gay, lesbian, bisexual, and
transgendered American Catholic organization,
still serving thousands of gay American Catholics
even though it has been barred from church
property for more than 15 years here in Boston
and nationwide.

 Deep gratitude is my response for all the
religious men and women, lay ministers and
priests, counselors and spiritual directors—gay
and straight alike—whose professional pastoral
care and witness of personal integrity have
supported and continue to support me and
countless others. Any number of these ministers
for the Church, many of them straight, threw me
critical lifelines at pivotal moments in my spiritual
life.

 I have not found these nuns, brothers, and
priests to be "angry," as some suggest. Rather,
they are compassionate, bridging between the
gifts of the Catholic tradition they love and the
needs of the particular human heart. I have not
found gay priests a plague on the priesthood.
Rather, they have been miracle workers, bridging
 between the challenge of God’s call to authentic
 discipleship and God’s creation of me as a gay
man.

 Our Church needs to learn compassionate
listening. It needs to let go of its refusal to hear—
that silencing that is, in fact, the very root of our
current crisis. For the church to listen, we must
share our experiences: my experience of God’s
spirit at work in me and others’ experience of the
action of God in their lives—and our stories need
 to be taken seriously. Church leaders need to
hear about the experience of people of Catholic
faith over the full range of issues now touching
the life of the Church, including issues of
sexuality and gender, and they need to learn.

 Then, God’s good grace may well have a
chance to work its miraculous redemption—not
just in each human heart, but also in the Church.

 Chuck Colbert, “In defense of gay priests.”
29 March 2002: Online. Available:
http://www.advocate.com/html/stories/860
/860_colbert.asp

HUGS     §                  HOPE            ¤       UNDERSTANDING            ¤       GIVING         ¤      SUPPORT                 §     HUGS

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Last modified:  September 08, 2002