Citing Anti-Gay Stance, Outspoken Priest Quits

By Susan Evans
The Tribune-Democrat
April 11, 2006

LILLY — Even after a priest sexually abused him when he was in high school, John Nesbella of Lilly came back to the church.

And when Nesbella became a priest, and his strong stance against homosexuality in the priesthood drew venomous mail from his colleagues, he kept the faith.

But now, at age 43 and after being banned for the past year from publicly performing any priestly duties, the outspoken and controversial Cambria County priest is taking off his collar.

John Nesbella of Lilly was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 2002 but was placed on leave in 2005 by the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese for protesting diocese policies.
Photo by the Robert Paul/For The Tribune-Democrat

John Nesbella has resigned from the priesthood.

"This is the end of a sad tale of how wicked so-called Catholic priests and bishops drove me and a few other priests out because we dared to speak up about the corrupt brotherhood of homosexuals in the priesthood," he said.

Officials at the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese declined to comment on Nesbella's resignation.

"It's a personal decision," diocese spokesman Rob Egan would only say.

Nesbella has been a conservative standard-bearer and a favorite of conservative lay leaders in the diocese.

In 2005, Nesbella was the second Altoona-Johnstown priest in three years to be placed on a leave of absence for protesting diocese policies.

Before him, James Foster, an outspoken Ebensburg priest who often locked horns with Bishop Joseph Adamec on the issue of homosexual priests, was placed on leave in 2003.

Nesbella was placed on leave after suing the diocese, claiming abuse by a priest who is now deceased. That lawsuit is still pending.

His resignation from the priesthood follows more than four years of turbulence in the diocese over allegations of sexual abuse of minors by gay priests.

Since the sex scandal erupted nationally in January 2002, the Altoona-Johnstown diocese has settled 13 lawsuits for $3.7 million. More than a dozen sex-abuse suits are pending.

Before that, the diocese's single major sex-abuse scandal was the 1994 trial of since-defrocked priest Francis Luddy, who was accused of sexually abusing young boys.

But Nesbella sees homosexuality in the priesthood as more than a financial liability.

He calls it "the immoral mess we have in our church" and says he warned Bishop Adamec.

"Last year I met with him and said, 'You're wrecking the church,' " Nesbella said in an interview Tuesday with The Tribune-Democrat.

"He sat there quietly, listening. And I hoped he'd take it seriously, but he has not," Nesbella said.

Now, the former priest says he remains in Lilly but is looking for a job and considering eventually going into ministry with the Eastern Catholic Church, which is more conservative than the Roman Catholic rites.

Nesbella traces his disillusionment with the church back to his high school years, when he says he was abused by a priest.

"This drove me out of the church for 10 years, but I came back and decided to become a priest," he said.

"Then I went to seminary in Baltimore and found myself surrounded by openly homosexual priests. It's something I didn't think was there, and it really shocked me," he said.

That is the root of Nesbella's differences with Adamec and other American bishops.

"The pope has come out and said that homosexual men are not to go to seminaries, but a whole bunch of American priests don't care what the pope says and keep ordaining them," he said.

"They are part of the church's sex-abuse scandal," he said.

"I come forward and say I was abused, and I say that homosexuals should not be ordained as priests, following the pope's instructions, and I get kicked out."

Perhaps the most hurtful moment for Nesbella since he was ordained in 2002 came the following year, when he was one of three Altoona-Johnstown priests to receive hate mail from a self-described "priests federation" that demanded an end to "harassment of homosexual clergy."

"So after I'm ordained, I get this hate mail saying other priests are pro-gay and they don't want men like me who are traditional," Nesbella said.

"So this is a thread that goes back 20 or 30 years," he said.

"The underlying problem is that bishops disobeyed the church, and seminaries became filled with homosexual men. Now these men are in their 60s and are church leaders," he said.

"They have brought ruin and chaos to the church."

Nesbella blames Vatican II and the resulting liberalization of Roman Catholic rites and customs.

The Eastern Catholic Church is one of 22 different rites under the pope, and Nesbella is eyeing a future there.

"Their liturgy and Mass are different. It's more focused on God, and the Mass is much more beautiful," he said.

For now, Nesbella wants to stay in Lilly while he looks for a job, but then will probably leave the Altoona-Johnstown area.

"When I went into seminary, if someone would have told me what I would find there and later inside the church itself, I would have said they were nuts," he said.

"But eventually the others drove me out of the priesthood. They didn't want me there because I was too traditional. The way I look at it is that they got what they wanted."

Susan Evans can be reached at 471-6778 or


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