Living Chastity amid Uncharity: An Interview with a Priest with SSA

Alegoría de la Caridad, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1655.

Care for Persons, Adherence to the Commandments

          In the past year, I received numerous e-mails from both critics and friends, especially in regard to my articles on Priests, and the topic of clerical morale and the reform of the morals of the clergy.  At the same time, I have received mostly positive feedback on my articles about corruption in the episcopate.  There is one subject about which I have been consistently criticized, however: my apparent “laxity” regarding the issue of homosexuality in the clergy.  Let me make a few things clear: I endorse, without any gloss, the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s words in paragraphs 2357-2359.  That includes both the affirmation that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil, as well as the fact that all persons who struggle with same sex attraction should be treated with respect and even special affection on a part of the Church.  I say “special affection” because there is tremendous societal pressure for people with SSA to throw off any restraint and to live as they wish.  The Church in my mind has a special duty, a true pastoral duty, to proclaim both the truth of the purposes of human sexuality, and to proclaim the beauty and dignity of a life lived according to Christian teachings on chastity. 

            In the wake especially of my article The Voices of Misery, a few Priests came forward who were very consoled by words that, from what I have been told, expressed their own mind.  In the outrage and tumult after the McCarrick revelations and what it means, I have seen the troubling development of Priests surrounded both by an unhelpful episcopate and diocesan bureaucracy, and now also by a certain subset of Catholic lay faithful, out for blood.  This is especially true among certain conservatives and traditionalists, who I fear are doing the work of the enemy for us by not distinguishing properly the sin and the sinner, between a weakness of the flesh and a life of corruption and compromise. 

            In late 2018 I received a note from one of my readers who offered, quite out of the blue, to sit down for an interview on the subject, because he thought it would be helpful to people to understand what is going through the mind of a Priest, striving for virtue and for holiness, who nevertheless has same sex attraction.  I will let the good Father speak for himself.  All identifying marks or disclosures which would compromise his anonymity have been excised.

Interview Text

AR: Thank you, Father, for offering to be interviewed, and a Happy New Year to you!  Now, I would usually begin an interview by asking for basic biographical information, but because of your anonymity, may I simply ask you to share with readers a little bit about your vocation story?  How did you come to embrace the love of Christ, and his call to serve him and his Church?

My call was a clear, inner suggestion which I followed.  I have “grown into” the vocation as the years have gone by, so to speak.

AR: At what age would you say you first experienced Same-Sex Attraction?  Was that a distressing experience for you growing up?  Did it ever give you pause when it came to you applying for Seminary, and then going forward with the formation process?  How did you integrate the Gospel call to chastity with your own unique personality and experience of Original Sin as you prepared for Holy Orders?

My first experience was in Middle School, being aroused by pictures of muscular men, but it wasn’t personal.  When I thought of sex, it was with a woman.  I didn’t know better, so it wasn’t distressing.  It didn’t become really “personal”, that is, entering fantasies, until I was in college.  It was in college that the full-blown attraction as most people describe it became clear.  At first I described myself as “bi” but over the years the attraction became exclusively for men.  At first, that was a bit distressing.

I don’t think it was a problem applying to Seminary.  I was afraid to disclose, yeah.  I was concerned as I went through Seminary, too.  I know some chaste SSA Seminarians, as well as being aware that unchastity of Seminarians with other men in and outside the Seminary, happened.  I never intended to be unchaste and never questioned the Gospel.  My concern was more over the actual sins of lust that I fell into than the attraction itself.

Many of the things we were taught about living celibacy in a healthy way were really important in my learning to live chastely as a man with SSA.

AR: Is there anything unique to the experience of Same-Sex Attraction which, in your mind, makes chastity less or more difficult than the average man or woman?

Not in itself.  The difficulty is in working through it.  Those who do not embrace sin are afraid because of how uncharitable otherwise faithful Catholics are.  And because they do not open up, they can’t work through it.

The “closet” makes chastity more difficult in one way.  I’m not saying everyone should “come out” and “identify” as queer or whatever.  If a man or woman cannot talk about what’s going on in his/her heart, even if only to a limited number of people, he/she is going to look subconsciously for a way to express what’s going on inside, and it can get messy.

AR: Does Same-Sex Attraction in your mind present particular difficulties in attaining that “affective maturity” which the Church requires of candidates for Holy Orders?

Yes and no.  If we accept the idea that has been found in a lot of Catholic literature, that there are psychological wounds that lead to SSA, then we should also see that even when wounds heal, the habits that come from them continue.  An example might be a foot injury that causes us to walk a little more heavily on the other side.  Even when the foot heals, we might still lean a bit more heavily on the other side.  Someone who has SSA can have “matured” as he grows, but still have the tendency towards men that developed because of those wounds and (often) was reinforced biochemically through impure images and self-abuse.

Part of me wants to say that, based on my experience of priests, the idea of “affective maturity” is not a standard anyone enforces in seminarians, so why should those with SSA receive any more scrutiny?  But that’s a knee-jerk, emotional response and doesn’t help.

I don’t know that SSA is a particular difficulty, honestly.  Our society, which has been brain-washed when it comes to sex, certainly has made many people think about sex and sexuality in ways that make it hard to want to challenge ourselves to grow in this area.

AR: How does the current discussion of homosexuality within the Church strike you, especially granted the fact that you have lived a life of chastity, and yet see so many hierarchs either watering down Church teaching, or themselves violating the commandments?

There’s a real lack of reasonable discussion, which is really frustrating.

It makes me angry, because it has a direct impact on the salvation of souls.  Examples are powerful.  Priests who violate the commandments unrepentedly make a mockery of the Gospel and of Christ, and, by extension, the priesthood.  People aren’t going to listen to a “bunch of hypocrites” or “a bunch of perverts”. Of course, Satan is thrilled by all this.

I’m more worried about how this discussion influences our young people who may be experiencing SSA.  Because I sure as Hell would not open my heart to most Catholics who are speaking up on this subject in favor of the Church’s teaching, because most of the public voices in favor of the Church’s teaching come across as jerks.

AR: On the other hand, how does the anger of certain lay Catholics affect you, when you hear that some of them would prefer that anyone with Same-Sex Attraction, ipso facto, should be expelled from the Priesthood, or not be admitted in the first place?

Most of our society makes the mistake of judging a group by some individuals.  So it’s not surprising.  But it really frustrates me.  I am a “good” priest, generally speaking, and most people who are carrying pitchforks and torches right now probably know at least one “good” priest who has SSA.

Whether it’s because of my SSA or not, I am particularly sensitive to criticism, because I know how deficient I am.  It’s taken years (and real success in parish ministry) to heal in that area.  These people who spew highly emotional reactions to these scandals, unjustly lumping all priests with SSA together, need to go back and study Catholic morality and the virtue of divine charity.

AR: How do you feel being wedged between both potentially hostile superiors and a hostile group of lay faithful?  Do you feel they would turn on and reject you, ‘if they only knew’? What about other Priests?

People generally choose with their feelings.  It’s not right, but that’s reality.  It is desolating to think that most superiors will throw their priests to the wolves to satisfy the mob rather than support them.  I think many laity would turn on me, but those would be the ones who already don’t like me.  I think priests just wouldn’t care.  Some would reject me, but many would not. I’m “out” to a good number of priest friends and there’s no issue.

AR: How do you think both Bishops and diocesan structures could improve in helping Priests at the current time?  When they say that they are “there to help”, do you believe them?

Know your priests.  They should be real people and not only the subject of complaint letters.  I’m not a political person.  I just want to be a good priest and save souls.  But I think that the biggest thing that bishops and chanceries could do would be to think that way, too, instead of running a club, focused on numbers: hindquarters in the pews, registrations in the office, and dollars in the collection.

Do I believe that they are “there to help?”  Not a chance.  And they haven’t for decades.  They’re only interested in maintaining a public image.

AR: Is there anything that you think fellow Priests could do to encourage each other in these demoralizing times?

Reach out.  Get to know your brothers.  Be vulnerable.  Pray with and for your brothers.

AR: What would you say to a lay Catholic who says that anyone with Same-Sex Attraction should be laicized or not admitted to Orders, even if they have never acted on that attraction?

Stop just listening to the media.  Look into the issue personally.  And stop treating it merely as a cold, impersonal issue.  These are people you’re talking about, human souls who are wounded.  Yes, there is a lot of sin among priests.  But many of these priests with SSA are good men.  I have several priest friends like me who truly work on personal holiness and love Christ and His Church.  The fact is that many of these people who would call for my laicization are probably fond of a priest with SSA and sing his praises but they don’t know about his cross, because the uncharity of the people of God means that that priest will never self-disclose.

AR: Is Priestly unchastity ipso facto a reason for their removal from the clerical state?  If so, why; if not, why not?

We jump too quickly to call for the removal from the clerical state.  Whatever happened to a priest forever?  A bishop should make a decision, weighing all the factors, including the good will of the priest in question, and should consider other options, first.  There are many ways a priest can live his ministry that lessens his opportunities for unchastity.

AR: What is your understanding of “deep-seated tendency” as it appears in the November 2005 document “Concerning the Criteria for Discernment of Vocations with Regard to Homosexual Tendencies in view of their Admission to the Seminary and the Holy Orders”? 

That’s tough, because I don’t think that phrase is in our theological tradition or psychological parlance.  I understand it to mean that it is a strong tendency which the person is unable or unwilling to address.  By “address”, I mean accept that it is not how our sexuality is meant to function, and to not encourage the tendency, either through actual sexual activity with the same sex, by speaking of the tendency as if it were normal, and not to indulge in lustful looks.  (This doesn’t include acknowledging that someone of the same sex is beautiful, which is objective and true, and therefore nothing to be ashamed of.)

AR: What would you say to a young man or woman considering a Priestly or Religious vocation, yet may have Same-Sex attractions as a part of their make-up?

Don’t let SSA be an absolute obstacle but don’t wait to deal with it.  Definitely get counseling.  Your wounds are not necessarily an obstacle, but they must be addressed.  I know that God has used my wounds countless times to help someone I was ministering to.  Also, it can be difficult to trust formators.  I never did, other than my spiritual director.

I won’t give general advice on who to tell, but I will say that we have ‘got’ to tell someone.  The Devil works in the shadows.  We have to bring these wounds and crosses into the light.  Our true friends should know, as well as our spiritual director.

AR: What is your hope for the Church for the future? 

That she be purified so that she can fulfill the mission for which she exists: bringing all souls, SSA or not, to the true worship of God for their salvation.

AR: Thank you, Father!