Thursday, May 23, 2013

"Hidden" no more

Back in 2011, an anonymous Catholic clergyman published a little book, Hidden Voices: Reflections of a Gay, Catholic Priest. The book's description, taken from its back cover, read simply: "I've written this book to give voice to the thousands of hidden voices in the Catholic Church that feel the way I do and to give hope, albeit just a little, to those who struggle with the Catholic Church's stance on homosexuality. What follows are some of my reflections on what it means to negotiate life as a gay priest in the Catholic Church, to struggle with self and hierarchy, and to move from silence and shame to hope and forgiveness."

The anonymous author deplored how the Church deals with homosexuality and especially its negative effect on gay adolescents:

"...I once witnessed another bishop tell a group of nearly 500 youth leaving for the prolife march in Washington, D.C., that 'gay marriage is one of the most serious prolife issues we face today because it's a threat to the sanctity of marriage.' Do you realize just how damaging that can be to those young people who are struggling with their orientation? It's hard enough to be a 'straight' teenager dealing with the standard ups and downs of hormones and emotions, but to be a teenager with same sex attractions in a community where your spiritual leaders, the people you look to for guidance and affirmation, are telling you that you have a disease like alcoholism and that you're a threat to life -- how can anyone survive it intact? Yet that's precisely the message our Church is sharing..."

And, reflecting on his own personal situation and views, he wrote:

"I know I'm not the only one who believes it's time for a change. But as a member of the clergy, I also know I'm not allowed to publicly oppose these teachings, unless I'm ready to leave active ministry. It's an ongoing struggle of integrity for me -- do I speak the truth in an age when the truth so desperately needs to be spoken, or do I remain hidden, practicing the ministry that God has called me towards as a Catholic priest? It's a choice none of us should have to make, a choice I daily have to make, a choice thousands of priests daily have to make..."

Two years later, with the re-publication of his book, Fr. Gary Meier decided to come out as its author and as a homosexual priest, claim ownership of his words, and resolve the question he asked in the earlier edition. In an official announcement on his website, Fr. Meier declared that "on May 23, 2013, I will be celebrating my 15 year anniversary to the priesthood...I am releasing the 2nd edition of my book Hidden Voices, Reflections of a Gay, Catholic Priest which was originally published in 2011 anonymously. The second edition, now available, has one main difference -- it is no longer anonymous."

And Fr. Meier added this explanation for his decision:

"It has been difficult to remain part of a hierarchy that has been so hostile towards homosexuals in recent years. This is especially true considering nearly 30% of all successful teenage suicides are attributed to sexual identity issues. Our church once stood for and represented the radical nature of God’s love for all people. That is not the true today -- especially towards the LGBT community and therefore I feel compelled to stand in solidarity with those Catholics who have lost their jobs, have been denied the sacraments, have been excommunicated or who have been made to feel ‘less than’ by their church leaders because of who they love."

Fr. Meier served in a number of parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, most recently at Sts. Teresa & Bridget, where he was pastor before requesting a leave of absence in the summer of 2012 for vocational discernment and to pursue graduate studies in counseling at the University of Missouri. The priest has received much recognition for his community service work in the St. Louis area, including a congratulatory resolution from the city's Board of Aldermen which called Meier "a friend and invaluable contributor to the 5th Ward in its continued revitalization and restoration." The archdiocesan St. Charles Lwanga Center gave Fr. Meier its Fr. Ed Feuerbacher Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 for his work with North Grand Neighborhood Services, which he co-founded in 2005, and Angel Baked Cookies, which empowers area youth with the skills necessary to own and operate a small business. Fr. Meier remains president and acting director of NGNS.

In response to all the publicity surrounding Fr. Meier's "coming out", the Archdiocese of St. Louis issued a terse statement explaining that the priest was already on a leave of absence. It offered a counter argument that "the Church does not condemn individuals for having same-sex attraction. It teaches that all people are called to responsibility regarding sexuality -- whether they are homosexual or heterosexual, priest or lay person." And, while neither encouraging nor discouraging Fr. Meier from choosing to continue in the priesthood, it opined that "as a man who experiences same-sex attraction, Fr. Meier has before him an opportunity to be an example and mentor to Catholics in the archdiocese who struggle with the same feelings. Whether he will seize this opportunity to proclaim the Gospel of Life which offers the truth about the beauty and sanctity of human sexuality, is entirely within his control."

Meanwhile, Fr. Meier has written a column in which he says the response to his decision to come forward has been overwhelmingly supportive. He reveals that the decision stemmed from a question a friend of his asked several years ago. "'What is it you really want?' After a moment I replied, 'I want to be out.' My response caught me by surprise because the moment I said it, I knew it was true. I want to be out. It came with such clarity. I want the world to know the truth about who I am."

"In the weeks that followed that conversation, I began to realize that what I really want is the truth to be out. I want the truth about homosexuality to be out. I want others to know that homosexuality is a gift. That you can live and love as God created you to love. We are created by love for love. Homosexuality is not a cross, it's not a curse, it's not an intrinsic disorder; it is a gift, created by love for love. It is a life-giving gift from God that embodies the infinite ways God's love can be manifested in our world. That's what I want. I want the truth to be out. I want people to know, to love and to respect one another by accepting this truth."

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