Bishop Supports Gay Priests in Writing
Clark Asserts in Weekly Column That Diocese Still Welcomes Them

By Marketta Gregory
Democrat & Chronicle [Rochester NY]
November 15, 2005

While the world awaits a controversial Vatican document that could ban gays from the priesthood, Bishop Matthew Clark assured gay priests and seminarians on Sunday that they are welcome in Rochester's Roman Catholic diocese.

"We deeply value your ministry," Clark wrote in his weekly column in the Catholic Courier, referring to priests who are gay and dedicate their lives to service. And to gay men considering becoming priests: "We try to treat all inquiries fairly. You will be no exception."

Clark was at a meeting of bishops in Washington, D.C., and couldn't be reached on Monday, but his column, which is distributed at parishes throughout the 12-county diocese, was apparently sparked by his concern over two recent events: Vatican officials visiting seminaries to study how students are being prepared for priesthood and a life of celibacy; and the soon-to-be-released Vatican document that deals with whether gay men should be allowed to become priests.

The content of the Vatican document has provided grist for the rumor mill. Some media reports claim the document, which was years in the making, dissuades gays from joining the priesthood; others say it gives bishops authority to look at each applicant on a case-by-case basis. Regardless, people in the pews are talking about it.

"I was really stunned that the bishop is basically saying that he is going to defy the Holy See," said Andrew Dick, a parishioner at St. John the Evangelist in Rochester who believes the document may state that gays can't be priests. "(The bishop is) obligated and all Roman Catholics are obligated to follow the directions of the pope. The thing that really struck me is he's pretty much saying, 'I'm not going to do that.'"

Jamie Fazio has a different interpretation of what the pope wants.

"I think what the pope wants is good priests," said Fazio, a Catholic who worked with an openly gay priest in Utica — a priest he and his wife thought enough of to choose as their daughter's godfather. Fazio is now a campus minister at Nazareth College and pastoral associate at Blessed Sacrament in Rochester.

"A gay sexual orientation only adds an ability to serve a wider group of people," Fazio said, adding that many people who are gay feel alienated by government, families and church. "I think (the bishop's column) was very much needed."

The content of Clark's column doesn't come as a total surprise to those who have watched his ministry for years. He celebrated a Mass with gays and lesbians, something he is still criticized for years later. He defended the Rev. Charles Curran, a priest whose writings on abortion and homosexuality drew attention, and eventual censure, from the Vatican — in particular from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI. Also in the mid-1980s, Ratzinger's office ordered Clark to remove his imprimatur from a book, Parents Talk Love: The Catholic Family Handbook About Sexuality, saying that it differed from the church's teachings by adopting a more tolerant attitude on homosexuality, contraception and masturbation.

"When I first read (Sunday's column), I can't say that I was shocked," said Mary Burke, a parishioner at St. Jude the Apostle in Gates, "but I was very sad to have read that particular insight into what is going on in our diocese."

In the past few years, several priest abuse scandals have been uncovered and some of those, particularly the ones involving older boys, are linked to priest homosexuality, Burke alleged.

"I can't speak against the bishop because he is our bishop," Burke added. "He has to answer to higher authority. If the Holy Father has come to the conclusion that there have to be changes in regard to gay priests, then he should be obedient."

The column speaks for itself, said Doug Mandelaro, spokesman for the diocese. "The bishop writes from his heart. ... He is trying to be Christ-like and live out the words of Christ's commandment to love God with all your heart and to love your neighbor."

That pleases the Rev. James Schwartz, pastor at St. Joseph's Church in Penfield and director of seminarians for the diocese.

"I know Bishop Matthew and I know his genuine pastoral care for everyone," he said.

"We really need to speak pastoral support to people who are gay. We need to affirm them and not to do otherwise."