A Gay Priest’s Second Life

Jim Burroway

February 3rd, 2008

In 1997, the U.S. Catholic Conference issued a pastoral message, “Always Your Children,” with statements like “homosexual persons who are living chaste lives should have opportunities to lead and serve the community” and “homosexual orientation cannot be considered sinful, for morality presumes the freedom to choose.” That pastoral message was strongly opposed by conservative Catholics, who felt that these statements amounted to a step towards tacit approval to homosexuality.

But all of that changed after the clerical sex scandals, in which the actions of a very small percentage of priests cast a long shadow of suspicion that all priests felt — especially those who were gay but leading celibate lives. They fell under a particularly harsh microsocope, exemplified by the 2005 Congregation for Catholic Education’s instruction concerning gay men entering holy orders. This instruction, which barred gay men from entering the seminary unless they had “overcome” for at least three years, led to a virtual witch hunt within many seminaries.

One Mesa, Arizona priest, Fr. Leonard Walker, found he couldn’t endure the Church’s growing hostility to homosexuality. During his last year at Queen of Peace parish, he commonly told his friends and fellow priests that he felt like “a a Jew wearing a Nazi uniform.” He wanted to leave quietly in November 2005, but when diocesan officials told him he couldn’t celebrate a final Mass at Queen of Peace and that his health insurance would be cut off immediately, Fr. Walker made his resignation public.

That was more than two years ago. The Mesa-based East Valley Tribune published a follow-up yesterday, reporting that Walker is living quietly in Kingman with his partner and is working as a chaplain at a Mojave County hospice. On leaving the priesthood, Walker says:

“I have no regrets,” he said. “I discovered my integrity, and that is worth everything. Being able to go into (hospice) ministry made all the difference in the world.

“I did not resign the priesthood as some protest or some political stunt to get the church to recognize me as a gay individual,” he said.

But his church “increasingly and aggressively became anti-gay,” he said.

Walker said Church policies needlessly maligned extraordinary priests and led “gay youth and struggling adults” to suffer depression, self-hate and suicidal thoughts. He credits his work at the hospice and the welcoming community in Kingman for helping him work through the grief of leaving a vocation he loved for more than thirty years.

William

February 3rd, 2008

Yes, but the Catholic Church is clearly better off without this man, whatever his positive qualities may be. I mean to say, you simply can’t have gay priests – particularly if they have the effrontery to come out and to suggest that there’s nothing wrong with being gay and that gay people should be treated as decently as normal people.

Now if he’d merely been engaging in some minor naughtiness, such as molesting the altar boys or the girls in the Confirmation class, then that would have been a different matter entirely. He could just have been discreetly shifted to another parish, and shifted again if necessary, and perhaps yet again and ….

Ben in Oakland

February 3rd, 2008

A man does not become a priest merely because he wants to. He must have a vocation, literally a calling to God, which is a charisma, a gift from God. Without this, he CANNOT be a priest. The church goes through a lengthy process to ascertain that candidates do have a genuine vocation, because many do not. The candidate must go through a tremendous amount of religious and psychological evaluation. And only after that may he be ordained.

We must conclude then that God is calling gay men to the priesthood, men considered by the church to have “an inherent tendency towards moral evil.” God does not apparently share the church’s view on homosexuality. As the Church itself is certifying that these people have the calling from God, to then condemn gay people as “intrinsically, morally disordered”, not worthy to receive the sacrament of marriage to another of God’s children, let alone be free of the Church’s disapproval and animosity, is either rank hypocrisy or stupefying blindness.

Probably both.

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