A Flawed and Disordered Document
From Rev. Thomas J. O’Brien, SJ – November 29, 2005
I am coming out as a gay, chaste Jesuit priest because it hurts too much not to.
I deeply love the Church and the Jesuits.
I have experienced unconditional love from Cardinal Maida in granting me permission to function as a priest in this Archdiocese.
I have experienced unconditional love from my Jesuit brothers—especially those who know me well.
I have experienced unconditional love from my friends and family.
Being a priest in the Society of Jesus has been a joy for me. I have found it to be life-giving and a vehicle through which I can love God and neighbor. I love the Catholic Church. It is only this issue that disturbs me profoundly and I feel moved by the Holy Spirit to speak out.
I understand that the document concerning seminary visitations is a response to the request of the American Bishops as they try to come to grips with the sex abuse scandal. However, I believe this document will do more harm than good in the long run, and, in fact, is a kind of smoke-screen to say that the official church has “done something.”
First and foremost, some officials of the Church need to apologize to the victims and all the Catholic faithful for this incredible breach of trust. I’ve not heard any apologies coming forth. Indeed, Cardinal Law of Boston was promoted to a major church in Rome.
The group that began in Boston, Voice of the Faithful, seeks to aid victims of sexual abuse by priests, brothers and sisters. The local group here in Detroit has found it very difficult to minister to these victims because they are, understandably, so full of rage at what officials of the Church have done to them. They need and deserve ministry, compensation and an official apology. Having been sexually abused myself by a young man who was a neighbor to me, I have some understanding of how their lives have been so disrupted.
The document “Concerning the criteria of vocational discernment regarding persons with homosexual tendencies in view of their admission to seminaries and ordination” from the Congregation for Catholic Education Instruction, will not help the victims or prevent further abuse. Rather, the document has almost equated pedophilia with being gay. Statistics on the number of gay priests is in dispute. However, it’s clear that the vast majority of gay priests live chaste lives. Pedophiles can be, and in fact have been, heterosexual as well as homosexual. And we know that most sexual abuse occurs in the home.
I find the document flawed in particular ways:
- It requires three years of a chaste life by homosexuals applying
to Catholic seminaries. It says nothing about requiring chastity from
- The document invades the sacred privacy of the internal forum of
spiritual direction. The same sacred confidentiality of the confessional has always been applied to spiritual direction. But the document now wants to insert a specific agenda into this privileged relationship between two people.
- It reaffirms its judgment that homosexual tendencies are “objectively
disordered.” Being homosexual “obstructs (them) from properly
relating to men and women.” There is plentiful evidence that this
is not true. Lesbian sisters and gay brothers and priests have, indeed,
been models of relating to people—especially to the disenfranchised
and excluded of society.
- The document prohibits anyone from “support(ing) the so-called
gay culture.” Does this mean that I cannot support civil rights for
lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender people and transsexual individuals? Jesus taught us that God loves all people. Indeed in his ministry, Christ reached out to those excluded by the Jewish religious leaders of his day. Perhaps the most striking example of this can be found in the healing of the Roman Centurion’s daughter.
- The document declares that it would be “gravely dishonest (for an applicant to a seminary) to hide his own homosexuality.” Given the consequences of revealing himself to be gay, what other choice would there be for someone who wants to be a priest and happens to be gay?
This document re-affirms the teaching of the Church that simply being gay is “objectively disordered.” All Christians believe that, as Psalm 139 says, “God knit us together in our mothers’ wombs.” Many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and transsexual individuals have experienced “being different” from other people at a very young age. The human struggle of coming to terms with their sexuality is common for both heterosexuals as well as homosexuals.
This document reveals a fundamentally disordered view of gender and sexual orientation. It forces many people to hide the fact that they are gay. This is popularly known as being “in the closet.” How many popes have been gay? How many cardinals and bishops have been gay? Since this is such an embarrassing topic to church officials, they simply don’t speak about it. Scholars such as Jeannine Gramick and Thomas Thurston have documented evidence of gay and lesbian church officials throughout history.
I understand with great compassion why gay priests and brothers and lesbian sisters stay “in the closet.” Acknowledging their sexual orientation could carry terrible consequences for such individuals. Those people of courage who have spoken about their sexual orientation have been silenced by church officials.
Thankfully, God is greater than any religion or any church. Thankfully, God’s love for all people is the foundation of Jesus’ teaching and ministry. And, thankfully, organizations such as Dignity have supported, encouraged and deepened the spiritual faith of thousands of people over the years by providing them with a safe place where they can worship as Catholics with others who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and transsexual.
I love the Church. I ardently desire to continue ministry as a priest in the Society of Jesus and in the Archdiocese of Detroit.