Rev. Daley Discloses He's Gay

By Krista J. Karch
Observer-Dispatch [Utica NY]
March 26, 2004

The Rev. Fred Daley, longtime pastor at St. Francis DeSales Church on Eagle Street, trusts the community will continue to accept him after his acknowledgment that he is gay.

He made the disclosure during an interview with the Observer-Dispatch Thursday. The interview was in advance of Daley's "Real Hero" award, which he accepted from the United Way of the Greater Utica Area Thursday evening. The award was in recognition of his social ministry on Hospitality Row, where many of Utica's poor are served.

"I'm the same person today as I was yesterday," he said. "My expectation and prayer is that people will continue to love and respect me."

Daley said he shared this information with the bishops of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse as well as a few close friends and family members.

Celibacy is a "charism," or a gift for some people, he said.

"I myself am gay, and I am committed to living a celibate life," he said.

Despite a tremendous amount of fear and anxiety about coming out publicly, Daley said he feels called by God to do so and is ready to accept whatever "rejection or misunderstanding surrounding this."

Daley's decision to come out occurs at a time when both the Catholic Church and the nation are grappling with changes in society that have led gays to seek greater acceptance.

As recently as 2002, Vatican officials considered barring men with "homosexual tendencies" from seminaries, The Associated Press reported.

In September of that year, the Rev. Andrew Baker, an American staff member of the Congregation for Bishops, wrote an article for Jesuit magazine that said gay men "should not be admitted to holy orders, and (their) presence in the seminary would not only give him false hope but it may,

in fact, hinder" the therapy he needs, the AP reported.

Danielle Cummings, spokeswoman for the Syracuse Diocese, said priests have an obligation to celibacy, whatever their sexual orientation. A priest's homosexuality does not result in dismissal from the priesthood.

Cummings said Thursday evening she was not aware of contact about this issue between Daley and the bishops.

Other diocesan leaders were unavailable for comment Thursday night.

St. Francis DeSales is one of three Utica Catholic churches working on a plan to integrate and become one parish under one priest, with three campuses, by July 2006. Daley is nearing the end of a second, six-year term as pastor of St. Francis, and he hopes to stay in Utica even after completion of that obligation.

"I respect the bishops of our diocese, and I know they respect me and my ministry," Daley said.

Daley said his decision to come out stems from what he views as the scapegoating of gay clergy over the sexual abuse crisis within the Catholic Church.

"There are many gay priests committed to celibacy, living a celibate life, and doing a beautiful ministry for the church," Daley said.

Daley was at the center of controversy two years ago, when he was asked to step aside as main speaker at a 9/11 memorial event because there were plans for St. Francis DeSales to host a gay and lesbian Mass. Local firefighters, who were deeply involved in the execution of the event, insisted that Daley be removed.

"All these other issues and crusades should not cloud what this one day is all about," Assistant Fire Chief Russell Brooks said at the time. "Sept. 11 is supposed to be a day of uniting and healing. I think it's very inappropriate for (Daley) to bring this to light on that day."

Utica Mayor Tim Julian said the main speaker should not be someone who speaks out on controversial issues.

"If it was Gay Pride Day, then Father Daley would be very fitting," Julian said.

Utica Common Councilman Bill Phillips attended the Mass in support of Daley. He said he would do the same thing again now.

"Whatever his sexual preference is, it really doesn't concern me," Phillips said Thursday night. "I will say he is one of the greatest humanitarians that I have ever met."

The controversy spurred a community debate that led to the publication of more than 100 letters to the editor in the O-D.

Friends of Daley believe he may face negative reactions, but that those who truly know him will be supportive.

"Like the New Testament says, you judge a person by the fruits of their labor," said Michael Crinnin, a longtime friend of Daley's and executive director of AIDS Community Resources. "He has nothing to show for himself but an incredible number of good works."

Sister Betty Giarrusso, C.S.J., has worked with Daley for the past 10 years at St. Francis DeSales. She said the "Real Hero" award has always been appropriate for Daley, but particularly now that he has opened up publicly about his sexual orientation.

"I think any time we live from our truth, we don't know what those consequences will be," Giarrusso said. "If others have a difficulty accepting who we are or how we're trying to live, there's a sadness to that. But to betray oneself is the greatest sadness of all."

Daley hopes his public acknowledgment will ultimately educate people about homosexuality, and help others who are struggling to come out.

"I know that some people will not understand and it may add to confusion on the part of many, but in prayer I felt that in the long run, the truth -- this truth -- will help many," he said, adding that homophobia is the result of ignorance. "I'm being faithful to myself and the Gospel of Jesus."