The higher-ups warned for years: With whom do you have a relationship that would be a healthy human relationship? Today, training for the priesthood in the United States usually starts in or after college. But until about , the church often recruited boys to start in ninth grade — teenagers still in the throes of puberty.
Priests cannot marry, so sexuality from the start was about abstinence, and obedience. There were years that I carried this secret. My prayer was not that, would God change me. It was that I would die before anyone found out. I could be a truck driver like my dad. But I was gay, so the only other thing left was, I could be a priest.
The sexual revolution happening outside seminary walls might as well have happened on the moon, and national milestones in the fight for gay rights, like the Stonewall riots, on Mars. One priest in a rural diocese said the rules reminded him of how his elementary school forced left-handed students to write with their right hand. Priests in America tend to come out to themselves at a much later age than the national average for gay men, Many gay priests spoke of being pulled between denial and confusion, finally coming out to themselves in their 30s or 40s.
Father Greiten was 24 when he realized he was gay and considered jumping from his dorm window. He did not jump, but confided his despair in a classmate. His friend came out himself. It was a revelation: There were other people studying to be priests who were gay. It was just that no one talked about it. He reached out to a former seminary professor who he thought might also be a gay man. He intervened, and came out to them. He lost three friends that night. That is a reason many of the men are out to only a few close friends.
The grapevine has taught them which priests in their diocese are gay, whom to trust and whom to fear. Before then, I was out to certain classmates. I realized this is not a me issue. This is a human rights issue. But there is still way too much homophobia in the church. All priests must wrestle with their vows of celibacy, and the few priests who are publicly out make clear they are chaste.
Still, many priests said they had had sex with other men to explore their sexual identity. Some have watched pornography to see what it is like for two men to have sex. They ultimately found more anguish than pleasure. One priest had sex for the first time at 62, no strings attached, with a man he met online. The relationship was discovered and reported to his bishop, and he has not had sex since. Another priest, when asked if he had ever considered himself as having a partner, wondered what that even meant.
He paused, before mentioning one very special friend. Though open, the closet means that many priests have held the most painful stories among themselves for decades: The seminarian who died by suicide, and the matches from a gay bar found afterward in his room.
The priest friends who died of AIDS. The feeling of coming home to an empty rectory every night. So they find ways to encourage one another. Some have signed petitions against church-sponsored conversion therapy programs, or have met on private retreats, after figuring out how to conceal them on their church calendars. Some may call this rebellion.
Just over a year ago, after meeting with a group of gay priests, Father Greiten decided it was time to end his silence. Use a water-based lubricant, such as KY Jelly, instead.
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