The crisis over sexuality in the Catholic Church goes beyond abuse. It goes to the heart of the priesthood, into a closet that is trapping thousands of men.

By Elizabeth Dias
Photographs by Gabriella Demczuk
New York Times

MILWAUKEE — Gregory Greiten was 17 years old when the priests organized the game. It was 1982 and he was on a retreat with his classmates from St. Lawrence, a Roman Catholic seminary for teenage boys training to become priests. Leaders asked each boy to rank which he would rather be: burned over 90 percent of his body, paraplegic or gay.

Each chose to be scorched or paralyzed. Not one uttered the word “gay.” They called the game the Game of Life.

The lesson stuck. Seven years later, he climbed up into his seminary dorm window and dangled one leg over the edge. “I really am gay,” Father Greiten, now a priest near Milwaukee, remembered telling himself for the first time. “It was like a death sentence.”

The closet of the Roman Catholic Church hinges on an impossible contradiction. For years, church leaders have driven gay congregants away in shame and insisted that “homosexual tendencies” are “disordered.” And yet, thousands of the church’s priests are gay.

The stories of gay priests are unspoken, veiled from the outside world, known only to one another, if they are known at all.

Fewer than about 10 priests in the United States have dared to come out publicly. But gay men probably make up at least 30 to 40 percent of the American Catholic clergy, according to dozens of estimates from gay priests themselves and researchers. Some priests say the number is closer to 75 percent. One priest in Wisconsin said he assumed every priest was gay unless he knows for a fact he is not. A priest in Florida put it this way: “A third are gay, a third are straight and a third don’t know what the hell they are.”

Two dozen gay priests and seminarians from 13 states shared intimate details of their lives in the Catholic closet with The New York Times over the past two months. They were interviewed in their churches before Mass, from art museums on the weekend, in their apartments decorated with rainbow neon lights and between classes at seminary. Some agreed to be photographed if their identities were concealed.

Almost all of them required strict confidentiality to speak without fear of retribution from their bishops or superiors. A few had been expressly forbidden to come out or even to speak about homosexuality. Most are in active ministry, and could lose more than their jobs if they are outed. The church almost always controls a priest’s housing, health insurance and retirement pension. He could lose all three if his bishop finds his sexuality disqualifying, even if he is faithful to his vows of celibacy.

The environment for gay priests has grown only more dangerous. The fall of Theodore E. McCarrick, the once-powerful cardinal who was defrocked last week for sexual abuse of boys and young men, has inflamed accusations that homosexuality is to blame for the church’s resurgent abuse crisis.

Studies repeatedly find there to be no connection between being gay and abusing children. And yet prominent bishops have singled out gay priests as the root of the problem, and right-wing media organizations attack what they have called the church’s “homosexual subculture,” “lavender mafia,” or “gay cabal.”

Even Pope Francis has grown more critical in recent months. He has called homosexuality “fashionable,” recommended that men with “this deep-seated tendency” not be accepted for ministry and admonished gay priests to be “perfectly responsible, trying to never create scandal.”

Recently Pope Francis will host a much-anticipated summit on sex abuse with bishops from around the world. The debate promised to be not only about holding bishops accountable but also about homosexuality itself.

“It really never was my shame. It was the church’s shame. They’re the ones that should have the shame for what they have done to myself and many, many other L.G.B.T. people.”


“My family does not know that I struggle with this. I’ve never told them. I believe the church’s teaching on marriage, sexuality — just trying to understand what it means for me. It may sound kind of strange. I feel like, what I struggle with, I hope I can help other Catholics not lose their faith.”

“This is my life,” a parish priest in the Northeast said. “You feel like everyone is on a witch hunt now for things you have never done.”

Just a few years ago, this shift was almost unimaginable. When Pope Francis uttered his revolutionary question, “Who am I to judge?” in 2013, he tempted the closet door to swing open. A cautious few priests stepped through.

But if the closet door cracked, the sex abuse crisis now threatens to slam it shut. Widespread scapegoating has driven many priests deeper into the closet.

“The vast majority of gay priests are not safe,” said Father Bob Bussen, a priest in Park City, Utah, who was outed about 12 years ago after he held Mass for the L.G.B.T.Q. community.

“Life in the closet is worse than scapegoating,” he said. “It is not a closet. It is a cage.”

“You can be taught to act straight in order to survive.”

Even before a priest may know he is gay, he knows the closet. The code is taught early, often in seminary. Numquam duo, semper tres, the warning goes. Never two, always three. Move in trios, never as a couple. No going on walks alone together, no going to the movies in a pair. The higher-ups warned for years: Any male friendship is too dangerous, could slide into something sexual or could turn into what they called a “particular friendship.”

“You couldn’t have a particular friendship with a man, because you might end up being homosexual,” explained a priest, who once nicknamed his friends “the P.F.s.” “And you couldn’t have a friendship with a woman, because you might end up falling in love, and they were both against celibacy. 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 1980, the church often recruited boys to start in ninth grade — teenagers still in the throes of puberty. For many of today’s priests and bishops over 50, this environment limited healthy sexual development. Priests cannot marry, so sexuality from the start was about abstinence, and obedience.

“I was in my 50s when I came out. I entered the seminary at 18, a young, enthusiastic, white, male virgin who doesn’t know anything, let alone straight or gay. 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.”


“When I was in the eighth grade, there were three things I could do. I could be a truck driver like my dad. I could be a doctor, I wasn’t smart enough for that. 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. “You can be taught to act straight in order to survive,” he said.

“I can still remember seeing a seminarian come out of another’s room at 5 a.m. and thinking, isn’t it nice, they talked all night,” the same priest said. “I was so naïve.”

Priests in America tend to come out to themselves at a much later age than the national average for gay men, 15. 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.

“There will be a time in your life when you will look back on this and you’re going to just love yourself for being gay,” Father Greiten remembered this man telling him. “I thought, ‘This man must be totally insane.’”

But he had discovered the strange irony of the Catholic closet — it isn’t secret at all.

“It’s kind of like an open closet,” Father Greiten said. “It’s the making of it public, and speaking about it, where it becomes an issue.”

One priest, whose parish has no idea he is gay, remembered a backyard cocktail party a few years ago where fellow priests were saying “vile” things about a gay bishop. He intervened, and came out to them. He lost three friends that night. “I broke the code by announcing to them that I was gay,” he said. “It was a conspiracy of silence.”

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.

“This is not the whole story of who I am. But if you don’t want to know this about me, do you really want to know me? It’s a question I’d invite the people of God to ponder.”


“I was probably 40 when I came out to my family, and to some lay friends. Before then, I was out to certain classmates. I realized this is not a me issue. This is a human rights issue. If I were outed, I wouldn’t lie. 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. “I fell in love several times with men,” he said. “I knew from the beginning it wasn’t going to last.”

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. They share books like Father James Martin’s groundbreaking “Building a Bridge,” on the relationship between the Catholic and L.G.B.T. communities. 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. Occasionally, a priest may even take off his collar and offer to unofficially bless a gay couple’s marriage.

Some may call this rebellion. But “it is not a cabal,” one priest said. “It is a support group.”

Just over a year ago, after meeting with a group of gay priests, Father Greiten decided it was time to end his silence. At Sunday Mass, during Advent, he told his suburban parish he was gay, and celibate. They leapt to their feet in applause.

His story went viral. A 90-year-old priest called him to say he had lived his entire life in the closet and longed for the future to be different. A woman wrote from Mississippi, asking him to move south to be her priest.

To some church leaders, that outpouring of support may have been even more threatening than his sexuality. Father Greiten had committed the cardinal sin: He opened the door to debate. His archbishop, Jerome E. Listecki of Milwaukee, issued a statement saying that he wished Father Greiten had not gone public. Letters poured in calling him “satanic,” “gay filth” and a “monster” who sodomized children.

“We have to get it right when it comes to sexuality.”

The idea that gay priests are responsible for child sexual abuse remains a persistent belief, especially in many conservative Catholic circles. For years, church leaders have been deeply confused about the relationship between gay men and sexual abuse. With every new abuse revelation, the tangled threads of the church’s sexual culture become even more impossible to sort out.

Study after study shows that homosexuality is not a predictor of child molestation. This is also true for priests, according to a famous study by John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the wake of revelations in 2002 about child sex abuse in the church.

The John Jay research, which church leaders commissioned, found that same-sex experience did not make priests more likely to abuse minors, and that four out of five people who said they were victims were male. Researchers found no single cause for this abuse, but identified that abusive priests’ extensive access to boys had been critical to their choice of victims.

The notion that a certain sexual identity leads to abusive behavior has demoralized gay priests for decades. Days after one man retired, he still could not shake what his archbishop in the 1970s told all the new priests headed to their first parish assignments. “He said, ‘I don’t ever want you to call me to report about your pastor, unless he is a homo or an alchie,’” he said, referring to an alcoholic. “He didn’t even know what he meant when he said homo, because we were all homos. He meant a predator, like serial predator.”

This perception persists today at prominent Catholic seminaries. At the largest in the United States, Mundelein Seminary in Illinois, few ever talk about sexual identity, said one gay student, who is afraid to ever come out. Since last summer, when Mr. McCarrick was exposed for abusing young men, students have been drilled in rules about celibacy and the evils of masturbation and pornography.

Classmates will say, ‘Don’t admit gays,’” said the student. “Their attitude is that it is gay priests who inflict abuse on younger guys.”

Priests across the country are wondering if their sacrifice is worth the personal cost. “Am I going to leave the priesthood because I’m sick of that accusation?” asked Father Michael Shanahan, a Chicago priest who came out publicly three years ago. “Become more distant from parishioners? Am I going to hide? Become hardened, and old?”

Blaming gay men for sexual abuse is almost sure to be a major topic this week at the Vatican, at a much-anticipated four-day summit on sexual abuse. Pope Francis has called the world’s most powerful bishops to Rome to educate them on the problems of abuse, after high-profile abuse cases in the United States, Australia, Chile and elsewhere.

“Why stay? It is an amazing life. I am fascinated with the depth and sincerity of parishioners, the immense generosity. The negativity out there doesn’t match what is in my daily life, when I see the goodness of people. I tune into that, because it sustains me.”


“When I first came to my parish, I remember thinking, if I were to come out now, this would be the kind of place I could. That is far from my mind now. Obviously to my friends, it’s nothing I hide. But the climate we are in, I’d never self-identify as a gay priest.”

The event has worried gay priests. A few years after the 2002 scandal, the Vatican banned gay men from seminaries and ordination. When the abuse crisis broke out again last summer, the former Vatican ambassador to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, accused “homosexual networks” of American cardinals of secretly working to protect abusers. And this week, a sensational book titled “Sodoma” in Europe (“In the Closet of the Vatican” in the United States) is being released that claims to expose a vast gay subculture at the Vatican.

A group of gay priests in the Netherlands recently took the unusually bold step of writing to Pope Francis, urging him to allow gay, celibate men to be ordained.

“Instead of seeing increased accountability on the parts of the bishops, it could become once again a condemnation of lesbian, gay, transsexual people within the church,” John Coe, 63, a permanent deacon in Kentucky, who came out last year, said about the summit.

Sitting in his parish’s small counseling room, Father Greiten reflected on it all. He wished he could talk to Pope Francis himself. “Listen to my story of how the church traumatized me for being a gay man,” he asked, into the air.

“It’s not just about the sexual abuse crisis,” he said, his voice growing urgent. “They are sexually traumatizing and wounding yet another generation. We have to stand up and say no more sexual abuse, no more sexual traumatizing, no more sexual wounding. We have to get it right when it comes to sexuality.”

For now, Father Greiten was getting ready for his 15th trip to Honduras with doctors and medical supplies. A shadow box hung on the wall behind him. It displayed a scrap of purple knitting, needle still stuck in the top. He calls it “The Unfinished Gift.”

“What if every priest was truly allowed to live their life freely, openly, honestly?” he asked. “That’s my dream.”

Elizabeth Dias covers faith and politics from Washington. She previously covered a similar beat for Time magazine. @elizabethjdias


This is a very good article with gay priests speaking about their own lives and experiences.

Gay men are called to priesthood and many of them make excellent priests.

The real issue to be sorted out is compulsory celibacy – for both gay and straight men.

Celibacy should be optional.

Both gay and straight priests should be allowed to have a partner when their lives are typified by love, committment and integrity.

The Church should bless living gay unions.

What is NOT acceptable is the orgiastic lives of people like McCarrick, Gorgeous, Derwin, King Puck, JP and others who treat sex as recreational matter resulting in drugs, rape, sexual assault and abuse.

It’s a pity the men above did not say what type of sex/love lives they thought priests should have.



Pat, you ruined the entire article by once again slamming priests or seminarians who have proved abusive, power hungry or dysfunctional or who, in your eyes are crap!! This is a very good article and I’ve read some of the stories before. The article deserves intelligent considerations and should not to be used as a sledgehammer to smash “wayward” priests. The entire reality of celibate priesthood needs complete rethinking. I know gay priests who are very dedicated in ministry but who struggle. I have no doubt that the obligatory celibacy requirement ultimately can destroy our humanity unless we are truly honest about our sexuality. But sadly, there is a crushing condemnation against gay priests leading to further emotional damage. Let us have an honest debate without recourse to further belittling those who have fallen already and who have endured public ignominy and humiliation. We know the unacceptable behaviours of some which have caused grave scandal but we must redefine priesthood, ministry, inclusivity and the true meaning of Church. Name calling or singling out individuals is not productive to meaningful debate.


Do you approve of priests and seminarians attending orgies, having multiple sex partners, preying on younger men, BDSM, rubber, fisting, rape, sexual assault, ect.

Straight answer please!


Don’t forget daisy-chains, chain-gangs, floral-arrangements, link-sausages, chickens-on-spit, lucky-Pierre(s) as well, Bp Pat.


9.04: Your question Pat is a giveaway as to the direction you want your blog to travel tiday. Of course I don’t approve of such errant and outrageous behaviour in any relationship, gay, straight or experimental. These practices to me are dangerous and destroy the integrity of sexuality. No, I don’t accept such behaviour. You seem to know all the terminology. Quelle surprise.!! Now, if you are genuinely interested in intelligent debate about TRUE REFORM and RENEWAL of priesthood, ministry, Church, stay with the salient, relevant points for discussion.


Thank you for making your position clear. These activities are the ones that prevail in Maynooth etc. Gay priests and seminarians are not the problem. The problem is that under cover of priesthood these men live the orgiastic lifestyle.


Pat’s new favourite word “orgiastic”. It is very easy to make general sweeping statements when there is no one to back them up or discredit them.


Most gay men in my exerience are AGAINST rape, assault, preying, but not judgmental about promiscuity, bdsm, etc.


I have been to satanic retreats like the one mentioned at the beginning of the article. They knew what they were organising, and why.


This is a never ending issue going on 40 , maybe more years now.
I do not believe every homosexual is a predator but there are predatory homosexual priests. They are erotically attracted ephebophiles or pedophiles.
There are also heterosexual
Predatory priests as well. Neither should be forming exclusive relationships with
20 and below girls and boys.
No trips, restaurants alone, beach houses, ski chalets,
Movies, Operas, Theater or


This article could be abridged as ‘systemic dysfunctionality’. And it wouldn’t be an exaggeration for the institutional Romanist Church.

How can this institution, so corrupt and immature and fearful of the 21st century (and at war with it …with itself, for heaven’s sake!) and so hating of God’s LGBT children, be in any fit psychical state to offer moral and spritual guidance to others, never mind make REASONABLE claim for the authority to do so?

I am amused by the dilettantes who proof-text Scripture here in support of unconditional and unqualified apostolic authority for Romanist bishops, but who don’t realise that these texts presuppose openness to God’s spirit and guidance. Judas Iscariot’s heart was closed to his master, so too, therefore, was a mind that could have learned the nature and the wonder of the one he purported to serve and the purpose of his real mission. But his mind was darkened by his disloyalty. If this applied to an apostle, it applies also to their putative successors, the Romanist bishops. And history is haunted by the ghosts of their wilfully rejected opportunities to follow Christ in one way or another, and filled with their often (and in the darkest meaning of the word) evil consequences.

If Jesus ‘bestowed’ authority on whom he chose, he did not say that it would never be abused: no one has authority to teach in his own name. Nor was this authority delegated, as if an individual (pope, for example) or collective (synod, or ecumenical council) could weild authority of his or its own volition, that is, indepently of God. Jesus remains ‘the way, the truth, and the life’; he remains also the sole and supreme builder. Any loss or reduction of unity with the supreme head of the Church (not the pope, but Christ himself through the Holy Spirit) issues in a corresponding loss of authority to teach and mentor others

Pope Francis is not a reliable authority in his statements on LGBT people, because of his inconsistency about them; it is not of God to discriminate against others on account of their nature. Francis discriminates against LGBT folk by, for exampe, endorsing Pope Benedict’s overreactionary ban, issued in 2002, on admitting gay candidates to seminary.


And just when you all thought I had finished, I should add that there isn’t necessarily anything sexual about spending an ‘all-nighter’ (and I do mean ‘ALL’ , occasionally anyhow) in another seminarian’s room: I did at Maynooth.

So to the American priest who said … ‘I can still remember seeing a seminarian come out of another’s room at 5.00am and thinking, “Isn’t it nice? They talked all night.” I was so naive.’ … sometimes it is because nothing but talk ocurred. Really. 😕



A lot of “sewerage” comments appear on the blog between 11 pm and 3 am every night, many from gay priests and seminarians.

Delete, delete delete…….


That’s your opinion. MC does have a hatred for RC priests I dont share and I never use his language.


Tis not a closet Tis a cage to be sure hi. How many of these “prisoners” are willing detainees Now it’s coming back to bite them on the bumpety bum bum. Butt hi what about the casualties of war the lost sheep of the Lord


I imagine there are organizations in America that help former pulpit pooves come out and resettle in society. But what would be the point, for example, for the sixty-two-year-old when old age starts at 30 in the gay community.


You know, it would pay the Church to have a scheme where a priest who was upper middle age or older who decides that he cannot continue with lifestyle hypocrisy, to be able to leave and be supported by the Church. Yes, it would cost, but it probably would cost a lot less than the collateral damage done by priests who live hypocritical and compromised lives. Of course, if the Church had a decent salary / remuneration / pension system, this would be much easier because priests would have accrued some resources that they could access. As it is a priest in this category currently just carries on because there are few practical options to help him make a move, and continues to lives a life that is unhealthy for him and for the Church.



If privileged, indolent, too-self-important-actually-to-work-for-a-living, parasitical, scrounging, sponging, mooching, Romanist priests were financially self-supporting, the situation you mentioned would not exist for most of these…’men’.

In my experience, the majority of these contemptibles are not needed for full-time ministry and could, therefore, be in full or part time salaried employment, enabling them to buy or rent their own homes. This would in turn free them from petty-but-‘holy’ episcopal vindictiveness when a priest challenges his bishop publicly and openly… should that priest discover that ‘balls’ does not refer just to a part of his genitalia. 😕


Universal Credit or State Pension for these unworthy so called clergy.

Maybe they have good doctors and get Personal Independence Payments.


I love the brutal frankness of your comment at 09:21 am! No point in giving the poor old sods false hopes, when all that’s left to look forward to is gin and Hollyoaks – a programme which Damien Thompson observed some years ago in his Telegraph blog has a considerable following among the clergy owing to an excess of fit young men.


1. If the Church insists on compulsory celibacy for its priests, then its priests having undertaken that with free will should be expected to conform to it.

2. If the Church still insists on a theology of sexuality that diminishes homosexual orientation and practice, then it has the freedom to do so.

3. If a seminarian does not want to accept 1 or 2, then that seminarian should not go forward to ordination.

4. If a priest does not want to live his life in conformity with 1 and 2, then he should have the integrity and honesty to step aside and leave the ministry and find another way of life and work.

5. Points 1 and 2 are simply a statement of the reality of what the Church teaches and says. It does not mean that the Church is right, or that there are other ways of developing a theology of sexuality.

6. So, in the current situation, it is not unreasonable to expect honesty and integrity on the part of seminarians and priests in the matter of celibacy and sexual activity. There are other options available to these men in terms of work and life.

7. The main issue here, not matter whether you think the Church is right or wrong about these issues, is integrity and honesty on the part of those who willingly sign up to these requirements. Sidestepping them, ignoring them, being duplicitous and lying about them and one’s lifestyle, is not healthy or integrated, and is not the basis for building trust. There are other ways these men can live honest and open lives, and be people of integrity and honesty.

8. I was once a seminarian and realised that I could not live a life in conformity with current Church teaching and so I decided to leave, even though I was actively encouraged to continue and to compromise by living a duplicitous life. I am happy in my life. I would not have been happy by living a compromise. It would have damaged me irrevocably. As it does to so many priests who settle for the compromise. That damage is also transferred on to those around them, those they minister to, and to the Church in general.


….Yes +Pat, it’s a good comment.
But I think 9:24 minimises the difficulties facing priests who otherwise might wish to opt out. This is especially true of older priests lacking secular professional qualifications from the practical necessities of housing, finance and employment.
And over and beyond the practical considerations there is the question of personal courage and strength of character necessary to make the break, the demands for this increasing the longer one lives the clerical life.
In relation to this latter point I smile at posters here who deride ex seminarians like Magna as rejects and the like. Where the tone is of vicious personalised comment I often suspect them as the sort who never had the guts to get out now ventilating their frustrations.



My God! Where is that black-and-white, cut-‘n’-dried world you inhabit? The guarantee and reassurance of so much, and complete, certainty is irresistable.

First, it is not, and never was, the ‘Church’ that insisted on celibacy: it was, originally in the Twelth Century, a FEW moral-and-mammon control freaks in the so-called ‘hierarchy’ who imposed celibacy, including on married priests, so neurotic were they about sex even within marriage and paranoid about losing wealth and property through family inheritance.

I generally can’t tell whether I’ll like something until I’ve tasted it. How about you? How the heck, then, can a man, even a well-intentioned man, know whether he can cope with years of celibacy until he has tried living that way for years only to discover that he can’t? What’s your solution? Boot the bounder out of ministry.

And it is not the ‘Church’ that diminishes homosexual orientation, but a FEW within it, likely homosexually repressed homophobes, who do.

If you joined a club whose membership criteria excluded Blacks, Chinese, Irish, Catholics, etc, would you say (as clearly you have about Church discipline and doctrine) rules are rules, by gum, and we have to keep ’em, or leave. Or would you have the balls, the wisdom, for the resolve to stay and declare such rules unjust, unworkable, and undesirable.

Usually, it’s the coward, not the wise person, who runs away.


Frankly I would look at the membership criteria and judge that people wanting to join that club would be raging bigots and I would steer well clear.
Just as I have of the church, because of its membership rules 🤣


One of the many sadnesses of these stories is the feeling of hopelessness, that these men now feel too old and enmeshed to do things differently. It is important, I think, to note that it was not always so. As a student I read a remarkable novel which had just been published in the USA in 1976, “The Fancy Dancer” by Patricia Nell Warren, about a young Mid-Western priest coming to term with his sexuality. Far from being a grim story, it is immensely hopeful and joyful, and an interesting and incisive commentary on the times both in the post-Vatican II Church and wider social changes viz gay liberation. It is a plea for honesty and integrity, which did not seem so far-fetched then when there were bishops such as the remarkable Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle, who forbade discrimination against gay employees in Catholic service providers. Well, he was removed by the vile Ratzinger with the aid of the young and upcoming protégé of the sleazy John, Cardinal Wright, none other than Donald Wuerl. Then along came John Paul II and the imposition of his self-invented Theology of the Body, aided of course by Ratzinger, who saw no contradiction with living with his life-long partner “Gorgeous George” – if that is not a special friendship, then what is?

Once the straight priests had died or buggered off in the mass Exodus of the sixties and seventies, and the closet doors once again slammed shut, there remained three recognizable types – sometimes crossing over like Venn diagrams:

1. Angry, miserable and repressed bastards, who would beat kids, and organize appalling mind games such as would you rather be gay or burned alive?
2. Chancers who played the game both ways and came to dominate seminaries.
3. Repressed and fearful men, though often sincere and well-intentioned, who crippled by their own feelings of inadequacy were of little or no use to anyone, so retreated into daytime TV and alcohol.

Anyone recognize either themself or their parish priest?

As a footnote, I should admit that I was agog and read “The Fancy Dancer” almost at one sitting, then hated both it and myself, and destroyed it.


10.50am: A good comnent, sharp and deeply cutting but is very insightful. As a priests of 40 years plus, I have long recognised the potential and actual devastation of celibacy with its unachievable idealistic expectations. I have survived reasonably well as a normal, functioning human being but I know the damage done to my human psyche. I have also witnessed the incredible dedication of men who seem to have wonderfully embraced celibacy. They inspire me. Sadly, I’ve seen too much of the negative impact of forced celibacy. Having experienced a personal, traumatic breakdown, it was only through amazing therapy that I regained my humanity, my sense of purpose and meaning. I gave as best I could in my ministry, which mostly brought fulfilment and contentment but I saw the winds of change early in priesthood and began to realise that I required a vision and understanding of life, my humanity, my sexuality, my relationships, priesthood, community and family outside of that given by the Church. I value much of what the Church teaches as the ideal but in our true humanity, life is very different, not black and white but contains many shades in between. I ventured on programmes to explore psychology, psychiatry, humanities and widened my horizons. The new insights I learned were absorbed into my spirituality and theology, aĺl now enriched. But through a personal need for therapy I refound my true self – a human being – no greater or better, no less or worse than any one else – with all its flaws, darkness, idiosyncrasies, with its light, potential and goodness. The excellent therapy has deeply changed my life for the better. I believe we need a new definition of priesthood, ministry and Church, a new openness to all the gifted people among us, of women especially, a new courage and integrity about our true selves, primarily our sexual identity. There is too much obfuscation, hiddenness and secrecy around the lived reality of priesthood which is dehumanizing and spiritually paralyzing. While I derive a sense of fulfilment still in ministry, I believe I have been psychologically damaged in some way. Yet, I trust in all that is best within and act accordingly. When Magna and others comment so viciously, nastily and obnoxiously, their interest is not to effect necessary, radical renewal but to incite hate speech, all of which is counterproductive to more noble and visionary agendas.




What happened to the young priest? 😯

Much of what you gave us was your REACTION to the novel rather than the story itself. 😡

How about a synopsis? 😊

Don’t leave der kinder half fed? 😞

And don’t dare suggest that we buy the novel. 😠


Well, Magna, I appreciate your interest, and would indeed recommend getting hold of a copy. It is not only well-written, but compulsively readable and gives a convincing account of time and place, covering multiple issues and characters. Patrica Nell Warren had converted to Roman Catholicism as a college student and later, after having married, came out as gay. The novel takes place in her home state of Montana, so she writes of what she knows. For your benefit, I will have a go at a synopsis, though bear in mind I haven’t read it since I destroyed my copy – furtively purchased from a sympathetic left-wing bookshop – over 40 years ago.

It concerns a young priest as assistant to the classic grouchy though not unkind old PP in a parish in Montana. The parish has the usual range of stock characters, whom Father Tom Meeker attempts to serve diligently. He comes up against the local wild boy on a motor-cycle, who has part Native American heritage, and is also comfortable with his sexuality, though his tough guy reputation in the town conceals this. Without too much ado they embark on a relationship, which arises suspicion and gossip as people put two and two together. The priest is not run out of town, and I’ve forgotten what his PP makes of the new set up, but my over-riding memory is of a generally kindly and accommodating Church, which is light years away from the current toxic dysfunctional establishment. He is sent somewhere, probably to California, to find himself and gets involved with the recently formed Dignity network, and discovers, unsurprisingly, that he is not the only gay priest in town!

There is a lot of discussion of religious, social and political activism, and the tone is notably positive, upbeat and forward thinking. Remember it takes place not only pre-AIDS but also before the reign of the Polish “saint”. It is realistic enough not to have the two guys living together happily ever after, but each finds himself, accepts himself positively, and moves on. The biker goes off to college, while the priest decides he can do good and be himself as an openly gay priest. Though it seems incredible now, he returns to Montana and continues to work for his bishop in some sort of advisory or co-ordinating rôle.

Sounds highly implausible now, but it was not so in the seventies. In fact its enthusiasm for a Church that could change was one of the factors which turned me against it. It wasn’t so much the pretty mild sex scenes which caused me to clutch my biretta, but the singing and dancing liturgies.



Tom Meeker, tall, blonde and handsome, in his late twenties, is in his second year of the poofhood serving in small-town Cottonwood, Montana. Unaware he was an ol’ ginger, he is at first puzzled over his feelings for the good looking young half-breed drop out Sugar Ray Stump (the Fancy Dancer) who comes to him for confession. The two strike up a friendship as Tom sees there is much more to Sugar Ray than the drunken brawler, despite the disapproval of Tom’s superior Father Amy. But when the inevitable occurs Tom is thrown into turmoil about his calling and his sexuality, and fearful that he will be found out as an ol’ ginger in the small community of Cottonwood.

However, with Sugar Ray’ss help Tom finds help in the form of a group of disaffected former pulpit pooves in Denver who are working to aid other ol’ ginger Catholics. But will Tom be able to remain in the poofthood, and what of the long term prospects for him and Sugar Ray?

The Fancy Dancer is an interesting story, but I had to keep reminding myself that this was written in 1976 to avoid it seeming rather naive at times. Both Tom and Sugar Ray are interesting ol’ gingers, appealing yet very different characters. The other characters are well-drawn and there is a good sense of place. The dilemma’s facing Tom are well thought through, and the story has a very… well, let’s just say, satisfying conclusion.


5.30 & 6.09

Thank you both very much indeed for taking the time, recall, and trouble to answer my request.

‘ol’ ginger, eh? Hmm 😞 I take it that this is slang for ‘gay man’. Yes? 😎

I tried looking it up in the Urban Dictionary, but I might as well have been looking for the Garden of Eden on Earth. 😕



Er, since you mentioned lil ole me …😆

You: ‘I believe we need a new definition of priesthood, ministry and Church, a new openness to all the gifted…’

Magna: Yes. Yes. 😩 All very heady with novelty… were we in the early Seventies.

The song you sing has never resulted in any concrete change in Romanist priesthood, ministry and … what was that final seventies buzzword?… Church. I always feel I have to crook fingers when saying that word to signify punctuation.

Do you know why nothing has changed? Because, when all is said and done, priests, like you, talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk: you talk change, but don’t actually effect it, because, at heart, you bloody well don’t want it. It might just push you off those broad plinths or comfortable niches you’ve self-occupied for many a self-adulating, self-lionising year. Better the devil you know, eh? 👹

By the by, I do indeed loathe Romanist priesthood and priests; I think they are worse than utterly useless. But I don’t loathe human beings, even Romanist priests. Did you catch the nuance (a buzzword on this blog) here?

If a Romanist priest were starving, I should feed the human being, but not the contemptible, dirty, Romanist parasite. Did-you-catch-the-nuance? 😕


4.35: Magna the Hater, the Rejected One: you used a phrase in your loathsome comment, borrowed from a contributor some time back…” are worse than useless..”. A Freudian slip on your part in using it. It has stuck in your consciousness and when used about someone suggests a malformed human being, a narcissistic self loathing person, uncomfortable with his dysfunctional psyche and who projects his self hatred on all before him. You weren’t flung out of the seminary for exposing your genitalia… but for something infinitely worse: your total unsuitability and bizarre personalities…Indeed… worse than useless.


That’s a very incisive comment by MMM at 10:25 am concerning those who rashly react against Magna: they protest too much. Another variation is from those who claim this blog is obsessed with some cleric who has slid away under a cloud and failed to address the issues raised as to why. The faithful are fobbed off with the usual bull-shit such as “taking a break from ministry” or “further studies”.


Pat yet again references Michael Byrne – who must be the most familiar name on this blog bar Pat himself – as a notorious public sinner, given the crimes in which Pat implicates him. Based only on what I have read on this blog over the last few years, I am not aware Michael has done any of these things, though he does appear to have treated seminary life as an opportunity for some intensive partying. A great many positive things have been said about him, and in the light of today’s postings, I might suggest that he might do a great deal of good by engaging in public debate about the issues of integrity that bedevil and cripple the entire clerical system. I expect to be hit hard by Magna and Pat too for suggesting that Michael might turn out to be a force for good, but I would point out that he has both been open about his sexuality and not failing in courage when challenging for example the absurd Father Francis Marsden.


Personally, I am not interested in Gorgeous whoever he is, I prefer the comments with references to the following:

Vincent Nichols (Elsie, Elsie Westminster, Mrs Alf Garnett)
Eamon Martin (Amy, Amy Turtle, Abp Turtle, Amy d’Armagh, Aul Doll)
Diarmuid Martin (Coddle, Mrs Shufflewick, Abp Shufflewick)
Leo Cushley (Annie Walker)
Bernard Longley (Nursey)

The Lady Abbess of Farnborough (who is she?)


Not much actually to be said for the bishops mentioned, who are all damp squids. Longley is nice and Nichols not, but they have both been taken in, not to say taken over, by the ex Anglicans. E. Martin and Cushley effete and useless. D. Martin probably has the most integrity, but is now past it – not that he was ever any good at running a diocese.

As for Lady Farnborough, I suggest you do a bit of googling and find out for yourself. Amongst other things – and there are a lot of other things – she is an unrelenting proponent of official Church teaching – at least in the petitions to which she has added her signature.


I recall the late Lady St Andrews and Edinburgh was also, latterly, an unrelenting proponent of official Church teaching before she was shamed and disgraced and exiled for the rest of her days.


The Lady Abbess of Farnborough is the Rt Rev Dom Cuthbert Brogan.
When he was a novice a visitation recommended he be dismissed, and the fact he was not has led to endless problems.
If you want to read about him you can find an account on Pat’s old blog.


I imagine her ladyship may feature on the blog at some point. Has she been painted in oils? I wonder.


+Pat has a particular interest in Gorgeous, as he calls him, simply because he is an attractive young man.



You’re Intrigued? That makes two of us, but for widely different reasons.

The thing is: Why the hell is it necessary to create an institute to … what was that? … ‘develop the thought and spirit of JPI’?😕

The guy was pope for a month, barely enough time to brew a good cuppa, never mind ‘develop…thought and spirit’.😩

Someone at the Vatican or in South America must be at a loose end or on the run, respectively.😎


Surely the issue is only about hypocrisy.

Also, the human capacity for self-deception is amazingly deep-rooted.


Why don’t you leave Fr. Sean Jones alone you big bully. He did not do anything to deserve this. You are obsessed with this young man. Do you like obsessing over young men and their alleged sex lives? Grow up! You are an old man. Leave him alone


Actually, Lottie, you’re the one who has drawn attention to him today, not Pat. I hope he is doing great work, but with regard to the theme of today’s posting, he might consider his own views and position, rather than having questions brushed under the clerical carpet.


The gay sex parties did reduce after Michael Byrne was removed from Maynooth, even the smell of lube and feces disappeared on the corridor.


Maybe you want it to be true? I mean, don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.


We are talking about a seminarian whose nickname among his fellow seminarians was ‘Gorgeous’ – although judging by their comments here they couldn’t even spell it and referred to him as ‘Georgeous’.
Which bit of ‘shit show’ don’t you understand? The nickname alone should have been enough to get rid of the lot of them.
Nicknames are very telling – the Lady Abbess of Farnborough when she was a novice was referred to as ‘Cuthbotty’, and she lived up to it.
Pat censor this if you feel you need to.


It’s about INTEGRITY, Stupid ! Let’s get to the core of the matter. If you take vows / promises / sign up for something (whether you or others think that what you have signed up for is fair or not) then you keep to it. Or you move on. Simple. That’s the way it works in life. And, please, spare me the argument that it is alright to stay in a culture that imposes unjust and unfair requirements on you, because you can change it from inside. No. All they do is simply carry on pleasing themselves with no intention of changing anything, except to please themselves ! So, it’s all about integrity. If you can’t keep to the promises / vows/ requirements, then move on. Change it from the outside. At least we will be able to take you seriously and know you are honest.

The question as to whether compulsory celibacy or the Church’s theology of sexuality is right, fair, just etc…….well, that’s a completely other matter we can discuss at a later date.



You really do need to take greater care with your posts, not least about to whom they are directed.

If yours is directed at me, then I need to make an immediate correction: substitute ‘simplistic’ for ‘simple’, and we have to a descriptive tee the quality of your posts so far, along with your take on those ‘requirements’ and priesthood.

You probably don’t realise that most candidates for seminary set out with integrity vis a vis the celibacy discipline; only a minority don’t. The latter, of course, are those who should not be allowed to proceed to ordination; ideally; they should leave seminary of their own accord. So we have common ground here, I think.

But we part company when it comes to those who, perhaps years after ordination and years after trying so hard, realise (and not to be simplistic about it😉) that they simply😉 cannot continue to meet that…not a requirement really, but an unnecessary discipline imposed for less than noble reasons centuries ago and maintained by a succession of magisteria for the same, ignoble reasons. Why should these men follow your navel-gazing, harsh judgement and resign? This discipline was ordained not by God, but by extremely shallow and self-interested men; I referred to them in my post at 10.53 am. Jesus did not make celibacy a pre-requisite for discipleship. So your describing as a celibacy a ‘requirement’ by the Church, is a misnomer, isn’t it? Not to mention not a little deceitful itself?😉

You probably don’t know that research conducted by psychotherapist, and ex-Benedictine monk. Richard Sipe, found that at any one time, no less than 50% of American priests are sexually active. It can probably, and safely, be assumed that the same or similar percentages prevail around the globe. Does this mean that these men are morally bad, flawed, and deceitful? I’d prefer to deduce that it shows them as normal, healthy, sexual beings unnaturally constrained by a unnecessary, indeed morally disingenuous, discipline that has absolutely nothing to do with ministry, but with ecclesial neurosis and politics of earlier centuries, not to mention this one.

Celibacy is bad; it is doing incalculable psychical and spiritual damage in the Church, and to the Church. This might not appear so bad were it ordained of God, but it is not. And yet you have made the exercise of Romanist ministry hinge on one, overriding and fundamental non-essential canonical law and discipline: celibacy. Oh! This, and assent to teaching on homosexuality.

As I said, ‘simplistic’. 😩

You don’t penalise a fellow on the basis of bad law; instead, you agitate to change that law.

By the way, I’d be careful about tossing around such words as ‘STUPID’ when referring to other posters, unless you can make comments at least a little wiser than those you’ve posted so far today.


Thank you @6:09pm. Was I correct in thinking that Tom remained in the priesthood in the end with the support of his bishop? And was his grumpy PP really called Father Amy? That didn’t seem as amusing then as it does now.


I’m sat here reading the questionnaire that St Lukes get applicants to fill in prior to seminary training. interesting stuff.


— Hi +Pat —
I have some thoughts to share with you. I have been a consistent reader of yours and I have enjoyed your content but in good conscience I must raise an ethical concern. The more I read your blog, the more I sympathise with M. Byrne. This constant drip of alleged behaviour with no evidence to back it up is tiring and repetitive. It indicates malicious intent and it would appear that someone is constantly harassing this guy and he is using your blog to do it. This only leads me to see Byrne as the real victim in all of this. I would encourage you to do the right thing and moderate this type of malicious content. If an anonymous person has a concern they should back it up.
Thank you for your prayers over the weekend.
B x


That’s sweet of you, B. @10:10 pm. I too have no idea what Michael Byrne is supposed to have done, though there has been a great deal of fantasizing and lubricious wishful thinking. Maybe you and I are innocents abroad in the clericalized jungle, but I should prefer to give him the benefit of the doubt.


4am comment, I will say no more 🙄. Guilt must keep you awake at night with comments like this.

Ps. he would make a kind and caring chaplain to the lgbt community. He does not stay up all night not writing nasty comments about others. I pray you get the help you need 🙏


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