Bishop Accountability

As You Were Saying
Leaders of Catholic Church Must Listen to All the Faithful

By Chuck Colbert
Boston Herald
March 17, 2002

Clearly, the Catholic Church in Boston is in crisis. Some blame "militant homosexuals" among the clergy, branding them "a true plague on the priesthood." Is the crisis, in fact, rooted there?

Let me offer another perspective—one based on more than 25 years of faith life as a convert. First, I have failed, somehow, to encounter any Catholic church culture characterized by "priestly homosexuals run amok with no fear of condemnation."

The reality is significantly more boring.

I’m guessing, but I suspect my experience is not so different from that of many other Catholics.

My nearly ten years of experience in four Catholic academic institutions bears witness to some of the best pastoral care that American-style Roman Catholicism has to offer.

Sister Mary Eudes, for example, my colleague on the high school faculty, poured tea and served up cheerful, prayerful Irish wisdom and spirituality, as we commiserated, prayed, and rebounded together from conflicts with a difficult principal.

At Notre Dame, several priests encouraged my undergraduate life, academic as well as spiritual. At times, they were more aware than I was of my troubled wrestling to reconcile an emerging gay identity with a newly found faith.

At Georgetown University, during graduate school, I began to come out of the closet to a small circle of friends and faculty, most of whom were supportive both of me and of my emerging academic interest concerning gay rights in business and politics.

Still, it was not until I arrived in Cambridge 15 years ago that my spiritual desolation over the conflict between my sexual identity and my religious conviction founds its positive counterpart: consolation.

The catalyst for that life-saving, personal transformation began when a bright and theologically astute Jesuit priest became my spiritual director.

He listened. Over time, I broke the silence of my anguished pilgrim journey and its struggle with homosexuality. He understood that I carried with me the heavy baggage of church teaching, those deeply wounding, soul-shaming words from the Catechism, "objective disorder" and "intrinsic evil," that pathologize (and objectify) same-gender love and its sexual expression.

Through the respectful, nonjudgmental listening and guidance of spiritual direction and through richer encounters of God’s grace in the sacraments, therapy, and prayer, I came to experience God's unconditional love.

I now feel, to the core of my being, that God loves me (I suspect you) along with all my quirky postmodern, American, but very human, strengths and vulnerabilities.

I have reflected upon these years of my pilgrim journey in the Catholic Church. Gratitude is my response for all the religious men and women, lay ministers and priests, counselors and spiritual directors, gay and straight
alike, whose professional pastoral care and witness of personal integrity supported me and countless others.

Any number of these ministers for the Church, many of them straight, threw me critical lifelines at pivotal moments, in crucial times of my spiritual trial and tribulation.

I have not found these nuns, brothers and priests to be angry. Rather, they are compassionate, bridging between the gifts of the Catholic tradition they love and the needs of the particular human heart. I have not found gay priests a plague on the priesthood. Rather, they have been miracle workers, bridging between the challenge of God’s call to authentic discipleship and God’s creation of me as a gay man.

Our Church needs to learn compassionate listening. It needs to let go of that effective silencing that results from a refusal to hear. That silencing that is, in fact, the very root of our current crisis.

My experience of God’s Spirit at work in me, and in the experience of others of God's action in their lives, needs to be taken seriously. Church leaders need to hear about the experience of Catholic people of faith over the full range of issues now. Our leaders must learn.

Then, God’s good grace may well have a chance to work its miraculous redemption—not just in each human heart, but also in the Church.

Chuck Colbert of Cambridge writes often for The National Catholic Reporter. He is studying for a master's degree in divinity at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology. "As You Were Saying" is a regular feature of the Boston Herald.


Original material copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.