The Rev. Gregory Greiten of St. Bernadette Catholic church here said he was breaking the silence of gay men in the clergy so he could reclaim his own voice.
"I am Greg. I am a Roman Catholic priest. And, yes, I am gay!" he told worshipers Sunday. He received a standing ovation.
While gay men do serve as priests, rarely does priest to come out to his parishioners in this way. In his column, Greiten shares an estimate from The Changing Face of the Priesthood of 8,554 and 21,571 gay Catholic priests in the United States.
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Church theology teaches that acting upon homosexuality is a sin. All priests take a vow of celibacy.
In announcing his identity as a gay man, Greiten chastised the Catholic Church for its stance on homosexuality.
By choosing to enforce silence, the institutional church pretends that gay priests and religious do not really exist. Because of this, there are no authentic role models of healthy, well-balanced, gay, celibate priests to be an example for those, young and old, who are struggling to come to terms with their sexual orientation.
This only perpetuates the toxic shaming and systemic secrecy.
Greiten wrote that he stands with the "few courageous priests who have taken the risk to come out of the shadows and have chosen to live in truth and authenticity."
In 2015, the Rev. Warren Hall, who came out in a Washington Post story a year after the incident, was removed as campus minister at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., when he supported a Facebook group that advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and racial justice. He was reassigned to a Hoboken, N.J., parish, but The (Bergen County, N.J.) Record reported that the Newark, N.J., archbishop suspended him in September 2016 after Hall expressed support for a Catholic school staffer and girls basketball coach who had been fired for being in a same-sex marriage.
"The problem is that we have an archbishop who doesn't believe you can be gay and Catholic," Hall wrote in an email to Religion News Service after the suspension. On Dec. 8, 2016, the Vatican's Congregation for Clergy reiterated a decision from 2005 that men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies" shouldn't become become seminarians, the first step on the path to priesthood.
The Rev. Steve Wolf, pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Clarksville, Tenn., led a retreat last month for gay Catholic clergy and congregational leaders in Racine, Wis., coming out beyond his own diocese in a September blog post to promote the conference.
Whether Greiten will face any consequences for his admission likely will depend on Milwaukee's archbishop, the Most Rev. Jerome Listecki. Before talking to his parishioners publishing his column, Greiten made a point to meet with Milwaukee Listecki to tell him what he planned to do, an archdiocese spokeswoman said.
In a statement Monday, Listecki backed Greiten's decision to share his sexuality with his parish.
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"We support Father Greiten in his own, personal journey and telling his story of coming to understand and live with his sexual orientation. As the Church teaches, those with same-sex attraction must be treated with understanding and compassion. As priests who have made a promise to celibacy, we know that every week there are people in our pews who struggle with the question of homosexuality," Listecki said in the statement.
Greiten described the experience of concealing his identity as exhausting, instead wishing all that energy could have been used to building up communities of faith. He echoed words from Pope Francis last year when he urged the church and other Christian communities to apologize to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities along with "other groups it has offended throughout history."
"Greg’s own story reminds each of us of God’s call to continue to grow in understanding and to live holy, chaste lives," Listecki said.
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For years, Greiten had been told homosexuality was something to be punished, he said. He admitted to himself while on a five-hour drive back to seminary at age 24 that he was gay.
He celebrated his 25th year as a priest in May and now has pledged not to live in the "shadows of secrecy."
I promise to be my authentically gay self. I will embrace the person that God created me to be.
In my priestly life and ministry, I, too, will help you, whether you are gay or straight, bisexual or transgendered, to be your authentic self — to be fully alive living in your image and likeness of God. In reflecting our God-images out into the world, our world will be a brighter, more tolerant place.
I have lived far too many years chained up and imprisoned in the closet behind walls of shame, trauma and abuse because of the homophobia and discrimination so prevalent in my church and the world. But rather, today, I chart a new course in freedom and in integrity knowing that there is nothing that anyone can do to hurt or destroy my spirit any longer.
First steps in accepting and loving the person God created me to be: 'I am Greg. I am a Roman Catholic priest. And, yes, I am gay!'
Contributing: Meg Jones, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow Sarah Hauer on Twitter: @SarahHauer