I came out as a gay, Catholic priest on the Feast of the Annunciation

(Images: Wikimedia Commons, iStock/Composite: America)(Images: Wikimedia Commons, iStock/Composite: America)

March 25, 2004, the Feast of the Annunciation, felt like the longest day of my life. That evening, I was being honored by the United Way for my parish’s ministries to the poor and marginalized in the community. Shortly before the ceremony, a young reporter from the local newspaper interviewed me. She noted that I had been outspoken on many social issues and particularly supportive of the L.G.B.T. community. I knew this was the moment to come out publicly as a gay, Roman Catholic priest.

The journey to that moment was a long and often painful one. I knew I wanted to be a priest since I was in junior high school. Because priests are called to celibacy, I must have repressed my full sexuality through high school, seminary and the first years of priesthood. Society and the Catholic Church taught me that premarital sex was sinful and homosexuality was abominable.

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From the moment I was ordained, I felt fulfilled in my vocation and loved all the aspects of my ministry: presiding at liturgies, visiting the sick, teaching children and enjoying parish life. I was blessed to have a pastor who taught me that serving the people was the heart the priesthood.

The journey to that moment was a long and often painful one.

After a few years, however, I began to notice an ache within me. This ache deepened as I recognized the emergence of a sexual energy that I had tried to resist for so long. Soon, the ache became dread. As I began to admit to myself my same-sex attractions, that dread became horror.

While on a retreat, I shared the truth about my sexuality for the first time with the Jesuit priest assigned as my spiritual director. I prayed that he would help me get back on track. I wanted to learn how to repress these impure thoughts. Instead, Father Paul explained that my sexual orientation is part of who God created me to be. I was and am wholly loved by God.

Little by little, with the help of some counseling and spiritual direction, I began to accept myself and, eventually, love myself as a gay man. I finally understood the true sacrifice of celibacy. Although I never acted on any of my desires, I needed to consciously recommit myself to this way of life in order to live as a priest with integrity. Gradually, I told a few close friends and family that I was gay. But for the most part, I remained in the closet.

Father Paul explained that my sexual orientation is part of who God created me to be.

This inner journey to self-acceptance dramatically changed my relationship with God. I experienced the unconditional love of God in my soul, in my gut and in my head. This love for God poured into love for my parishioners. My capacity for friendship and empathy deepened profoundly.

But I also grew increasingly frustrated that being closeted prevented me from sharing my story in a way that could benefit others. I wanted to accompany and minister to the poor, the excluded and those marginalized in church and society, and this included ministry to the L.G.B.T. community.

Then, in 2002, the sexual abuse scandal broke in the United States, and a number of church leaders began scapegoating gay priests as the cause of the crisis. I knew this was not true. I concluded that if I were to live with integrity and preach the Gospel without compromise, I needed to publicly come out of the closet. It was not an impulsive decision. It was preceded by prayer and strengthened by consultation with my spiritual director and the auxiliary bishop. I trusted in the Holy Spirit to show me the right moment to come out. The interview on the Feast of the Annunciation turned out to be that moment.

I shared with the reporter that in my years accompanying members of the L.G.B.T. community, I recognized in their deep pain my own struggle of self-acceptance as a gay man.

A number of church leaders began scapegoating gay priests as the cause of the sexual abuse crisis.

I waited for the newspaper the next morning with a bit of fear and trembling. Would the writer report what I said accurately? Would I be suspended by the bishop? Would my parishioners reject me? Would I be hurting people who do not understand?

The headline on the front page read: “Father Daley Reveals That He is Gay.” Meanwhile, “Father Daley Receives the United Way’s ‘Real Hero’ Award for his Work with the Poor” was relegated to an inner section of the paper.

That weekend I shared my story at the parish liturgies. I was met with standing ovations. One of my concerns in discerning whether I should come out or not was a fear that I would be hurting or confusing parishioners who might not understand. An elderly, very traditional Irish parishioner—she hated “those damned guitars at Mass”—relieved my fears. Mary always counted the offertory collection after the 8 a.m. Sunday Mass. Holding my breath, I knocked on the parish office door. Mary got up from her chair, gave me a hug and said, “Don’t worry, Father, I like men, too!”

I received hundreds of letters from around the country offering support. A few folks sent negative letters expressing concern for my homosexual soul going to hell—but even they assured me of their prayers. My bishop at the time and his successor have respected me and supported my ministry.

“We tend to be compassionate to the extent that we have suffered the Passion in our own lives.”

Many folks ask me if I think other gay priests should “come out.” Taking this step is a very personal and sacred decision for each person. I would only ask my brother gay priests to pray for the grace to reflect deeply on the question. I can say that, for me, coming out was and continues to be a blessing. Folks who are facing personal struggles perceive me as more approachable because they know I have had personal struggles, too. Any illusion of being on a clerical pedestal has thankfully melted away.

Being a public person, I have many opportunities to counter the homophobic prejudices that still exist in our church and society. One of my favorite spiritual themes comes from the writings and teaching of the Rev. Henri Nouwen, who said, “We tend to be compassionate to the extent that we have suffered the Passion in our own lives.”

As I look back on those days when I was in the closet, I am so grateful that, through the gift of the Spirit, that closet door was broken open. Through that gift, I could become the person God intends me to be. Do I have any regrets? Not a one! For the past 14 years, I have looked forward to March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, as the day an angel whispered in my ear: “Fred, ‘Be not afraid.’” On that day, love conquered fear in my relationships with God, my neighbors and myself. Often, with gratitude I reflect on the words: “We are as sick as our secrets.”

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Dante Inferno
2 years 3 months ago

I don't know why any of this madness surprises anyone. This is what happens in a false, imposter church. You have a sick man-made, anti-Catholic religion currently occupying Catholic buildings. Take this sick cult out of the buildings and parishes and it would look no different than a wacky protestant sect. It is certainly not Catholic. This is all punishment from Almighty God because men have rejected the love of truth. The world today chooses to believe lies so God sends them operation of error. "...because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. Therefore God shall send them the operation of error, to believe lying". 2 Thessalonians 2:10

Novus Ordo members are nothing but boiled frogs. If you throw frog into hot water it is shocked and immediately jumps out saving its own life. If you place frog in cool water and very slowly turn up the hit - the frog doesn't immediately feel what is happening and stays in the water eventually being boiled to death. This is what has happened in Catholic Church. Satan knew very well it would never get true Catholics to give up their Catholic faith so it infiltrated the Catholic church with communists, modernists, homosexuals and perverts to destroy and change it from within. Slowly over the past 50 years the church has changed into an ape of the true Church (turning up heat to boil the frogs). And what we have today is an anti, imposter Church run by homosexual, perverted demons. True Catholics left a long time ago recognizing what was happening and continue to hold and live the true Catholic faith - they just have lost the buildings to the modernists. Those who remained in the sect were those who quite simply rejected the truth and preferred to believe lies. Preferred to form the church into what they thought it should be like. Dancing, clapping, ecumenism, women priests and all that feel good social justice crap. All the while Truth and God's Justice was ignored. So Almighty God has given them the false desires of their heart. Has allowed them to remain in a false church. The result is a man made church based on lies filled with boiled frogs.

Anthony Noble
2 years 3 months ago

Dante is confusing our present day Purgatorio with an Inferno and ignoring the Paradiso on the horizon. The disorientation some Catholics feel following Vatican II sometimes breeds conspiracy theories. Dante states "Slowly over the past 50 years the church has changed into an ape of the true Church". Hence the post Vatican II timeline. This lacks a historical perspective that involves many troubles within the Church: the acceptance of slavery, killing heretics, burning witches, the Great Schism with 3 concurrent popes, the fake Donation of Constantine where the popes asserted political dominance over Europe, selling bishop posts and even the papacy to the highest bidder enabling unqualified and greedy men to steal while neglecting the faithful, denying the earth revolves around the sun, and so on. As Jesus said, Satan will never destroy the Church. Even though the human institution of the Church has been involved in sinfulness, the Holy Spirit is always prevailing in inspiring it's faithful to reform itself to become a more perfect manifestation of God's Kingdom on Earth. All of the above sins have been purged from the Church by its faithful and we continue this journey. To stand still at one point in time and not move forward is to fossilize and reject the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit inspiring God's living Church. Involving laypersons in the Church's ministry brings the Body of Christ closer to God and should encourage clapping and dancing in the joy of God's Love. The Bible demands that the Church remain as one Church and ecumenism is attempting to accomplish the Bible's directive. As the Bible states "Judge a tree by the fruits it bears". Jesuits are getting gang members off the streets in California, providing job training and life skills leading to reformed lives, 30% of health care in Ghana is provided by the Church, Redemptorists in Thailand bring crippled beggars off the streets and provide physical therapy and job training leading to self-sufficiency and high paying jobs in the tech industry, parishes took in Vietnamese boat people and Cuban exiles integrating them into American society, and so on. Any troubles that the Church is working on resolving cannot overcome the overflowing Love spreading over the world.

Robert Lewis
2 years 3 months ago

Wonderful comment, sir! Thank you for it!

Dante Inferno
2 years 3 months ago

“Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: Neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers: Nor the effeminate nor liers with mankind nor thieves nor covetous nor drunkards nor railers nor extortioners shall possess the kingdom of God. And such some of you were. But you are washed: but you are sanctified: but you are justified: in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God. " 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. And since I'm sure you will answer to reinterpret and explain this passage away, I would direct you to 2 Peter 3:15 - the unlearned and unwise shall interpret the scriptures to their own damnation.

Anthony Noble
2 years 3 months ago

Dante, I think you're still stuck in the Inferno. I suggest reading the original Greek or the NRSV, which is the best technical translation. I prefer the Jerusalem Bible. Anyway, "the effeminate nor liers (sic) with mankind" does not appear in Greek or any translation I know of. The only reference to homosexuals in the list involves male prostitutes. The sinful items regarding sexual activity, such as adultery, fornication, and male prostitution are consistent with St Paul's advocacy of celibacy for all Christians. I agree sex outside of marriage incurs sin, thus the Catholic Church needs to embrace same sex marriage.

Robert Lewis
2 years 3 months ago

Civil unions yes, marriage no. "Marriage" for gay folk is theologically impossible, because Catholic "marriage" is not the same as the "marriage" of the Protestant or secularist majority in America; it figures Christ's "marriage" to his "synagogue," consummated on the cross, and in a Catholic "indissoluble" marriage, the vows are made as much to Christ as they are by the two spouses to each other. In the stupid "culture war" that the bishops in America have allowed themselves to be drawn into, they have forgotten that, in a theological sense, their "sacramental marriage" is entirely different from what the majority in this country do, and is in no way any more threatened by "gay marriage" than it already has been, for centuries, by the Protestant "companionate"--and eminently "dissoluble"--marriage, which, compared to the Catholic sacrament, ALREADY IS nothing more than a "civil marriage" (which is why it hardly ever lasts, in America!) On the other hand, the Catholic Church can, and should, bless vows of "sacred brotherhood" (and "sisterhood") for the same-sex-attracted, with the tacit assumption that those unions be chaste, so that gay folk need not live lonely lives. As Alan Bray proves, in his book "Friends," both the Catholic and the Anglican Churches did do this once, and for centuries. The theological reason that the Church cannot extend the sacrament to gay folk, however, is that their union cannot give life, and thus cannot "image" Christ's giving of life to His Church, by shedding His blood on the cross. The symbolic and sacred aspect of the heterosexuals' marriage cannot be enacted in a "gay marriage." Gay Catholics should accept this, and clamor for the right thing, which is in the Church's tradition--"sworn brotherhood."

Anthony Noble
2 years 3 months ago

Actually, the sacramental nature of marriage flows from the Love of God though one member to the other. The priest or deacon is an ecclesial witness but not the instrument of conveying the Sacrement as in baptism. Gay marriage, once approved by the Catholic Church, have the same sacramental properties as heterosexual marriage. As with straight sterile spouses, the unitive love and potential adoption of children with whom they would raise in the faith are the same. Even without having children, such as with postmenopausal women who marry, the mutual love, stability, and expression of the sexual gift from God, create an overflow of Holy Love that extends to the community as a whole. Marriage, like Reconciliation, are sacraments that have evolved over time. Confession was originally done only once while marriage orginally was organize by family's father following Roman tradition. A priest became required in the Middle Ages since the practice of secret marriages was producing societal problems. Since we today realize that a gay orientation is not a choice, it logically follows that gay marriage be officiated within the Church, which also supports the insoluble nature of the relationship. As you rightly mention, the dissolution of so many straight marriages in society is a sin against God and neighbor. Jesus did condone divorce when there is adultery, and I would think abuse as well. Otherwise, our society of easily disposed objects, self-centeredness, and an anathema to sacrifice assigns spouses on par with yesterday's style of sneakers. Gay marriage is much needed in a society which values all marriages less and less. The Holy Spirit may be blessing gay marriage as a sign that the sacramental union of two loving spouses remains an important manifestation of God's love on Earth.

Robert Lewis
2 years 3 months ago

Then some theological work in the area called "Christology" has to be conducted before this development takes effect. I suggest that it might be started by re-evaluating the work of medieval mystics who described the "maternal" or "feminine" side of Christ's nature.

MelodiesAboutMe .
2 years 3 months ago

We all are looking for acceptance from our communities. Your sexuality is not a choice....it is how you are born. It not a moral issue to be gay or straight...it is no different than being born with blond hair or brown....it's genetics. And it's helpful and good for society to have gay people (diversity of a species is key to its survival!). I couldn't speak to the true motives of the man who wrote this article...perhaps he wants to do what he can to shine a light on the deep horrible pain that many in the gay community have experienced as a result of being rejected/persecuted for who they are. "He who is without sin....."

Tim O'Leary
2 years 3 months ago

Melody - Beyond the decisive binary biological classification of male and female (in every cell of one's body, the only one compatible with normal reproduction, etc.), it is impossible to know if sexuality is not a choice, especially given the broad definition of gender promoted by LGBTQIA+. For example, does a bisexual have a choice? Does a Q or a T have a choice? What about I or A? Many people only "discover" their same-sex attractions later in life and only derive the history through retrospective arguments. The reigning theory of sexuality in the LGBTQIA world is fluidity, not genetic hard-wiring, and no biological science I know of is attempting to correlate the different letters of the acronym to specific genetic patterns.

There is no doubt that same-sex attractions or gender dystopias are real experiences. But, they still do not force one to define oneself by that sexual appetite or feeling. They do not force one to do any particular acts. Even for so-called heterosexuals, abstinence and celibacy are possible and required for much of one's life. So, self-definition and sexual expression are parts of the moral decision process, with moral consequences. The Christian life requires subordinating many passions to the moral life taught by Jesus, in the Scriptures and in His Church. Compassion and realism are integrated parts of our faith (love and truth), and each without the other is not real.

Robert Lewis
2 years 3 months ago

You cannot provide any kind of reasonable argument for why an individual would CHOOSE to be a member of what was, for thousands of years, a persecuted, despised and ostracized minority. On the other hand, there are multitudes of examples of individuals who tried to deny and suppress, in the interest of conformity, their natural and God-given erotic desires and impulses, and either found they could not or killed themselves. "Conversion therapy" has almost always failed. But your heart is turned to stone against these folks. Again, I insist that on these threads you deny reality, obfuscate, prevaricate and twist logic, in the interest of your brutally homophobic agenda.

Anthony Noble
2 years 3 months ago

Mr O'Leary,
Let's face it - you don't want to understand the LGBT community but make juvenile and homophobic remarks. How come you you have this need to be dehumanizing. Sexual orientation is not a choice, an emotionally romantic attraction to a guy or a gal just come about naturally. The scientific verdict points to hormonal bathing of the fetus during pregnancy. Any confusion or realization at an older age are byproducts of societal homophobic which both St John Paul & Pope Francis have identified as sins. They have even apologized to the LGBT community for the Church's sins against them. Perhaps you should take a cue from them.

Tim O'Leary
2 years 3 months ago

Anthony and Robert - you make so many unsubstantiated statements and claim scientific proof when it is not there. Hormonal bathing of the fetus is just an unproven theory. Yet, even that would suggest an defective imbalance as the cause, since the chromosomes in every cell remain male or female. I do not deny that choice can seem far away or even impossible when dealing with fantasies and attractions. But all our actions are choices, unless we are slaves to our emotions. There are just too many late-in-life switches, too many intermediate situations, that do not fit the forever gay-straight binary. The only scientifically biologically documented binary we have is male and female. Everything else is speculation, as the Catechism says (#2357) about homosexuality: "It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity..." You pretend the Church teaches something other than the Catechism and won't address whether the Catechism meets your definition of homophobic because either way it undermines your positions.

Take the case of a bisexual. Is it the "God-given" nature of a bisexual to want to have sexual relations with members of both sexes? If this is good (and even blessed, as you say), does it require polyamory to be naturally fulfilled? Or, does is require a choice, where one choice (heterosexual) follows the natural structure of the human body and can result in progeny, and the other doesn't? In the trans cases, isn't surgical castration the most violent form of conversion therapy? For the Q, what is the natural end?

I know you and many who use the homophobia mantra do not even want to consider these questions. You don't really care about understanding or dissecting the LGBTQIA+ acronym. Only Robert feels confident enough in his theories to bring in the underage part of this (see above). The investigation itself is too unsettling. Better keep it political and keep repeating "four legs good, two legs bad."

Greg Wood
2 years 3 months ago

Father, thank you.

J Jones
2 years 3 months ago

Fr Daley,

As I read these comments, my heart hurts.

During the season of Lent, when we are each called to focus on our OWN short fallings and struggles, responses to your article are full of ugly words and endless chastisement for the sins of others (many of them imagined, as is the nonsense that it is a sin for gay men to enter into holy orders).

I myself am struggling to remain focused on my own judgment of commenters responding in these ways. These comments are almost a "near occasion of sin" for me, so great is my reactivity to these comments, even though I am straight.

In my judgment, I spend hours frustrated and angry as I imagine that many commenters here may understand their comments as "the spiritual work of Mercy" in which we "chastise the sinner".

I experience the exercise of that particular work, as exhibited here, as an excuse for savaging others with prejudice, calumny (by way of insinuation), and endlessly hectoring lectures.

On Holy Thursday, the homily given in my parish called me to address THAT, my judgment of those who speak so harshly and, often, fancifully.

Continuing to listen to the Lenten call of Christ is difficult. It calls us as individuals to restrain and repent our judgment of others, full stop.

Thank you for this opportunity to come closer to Christ in our OWN lives, rather than by focusing on others, be that "Other" you or another sister or brother here or elsewhere.

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