How To Be A Gay Jesuit
The following is from an internal document recently distributed by the US Jesuits to all members of the religious order. According to the prefatory comments, every year the Jesuits ask their members to consider a case study in how to handle a matter involving sex and sexuality. Below, directly from the document, is the set-up and a transcript of the video the Jesuits are watching together in 2015:
Chris is very disturbed by a recent experience. He feels hurt, angry, and betrayed by a homophobic comment that was made publicly at the community social regarding his attendance at the annual Gay Pride parade. Chris is not open publicly – at least not in the community – about his homosexuality. He is meeting with his spiritual director, Father Jim, whom he has seen for direction over the past 4 years.
Chris: Hi Jim.
Jim: It’s good to see you. How’ve you been?
Chris: Well, not so good lately, Jim. I had an awful experience last week at the community social, and I am still reeling from it. I’ve prayed over it for the past week, and I am still so filled with anger.
Jim: Really – what happened?
Chris: Well, you probably weren’t paying much attention to this, but the other week was Gay Pride Sunday, and I went down to the parade with some friends. We had a great time, and I posted some pictures from the day on Facebook. So, last week at the community social, one of the curmudgeons belts out, “Hey, Chris, did you and your friends have a good time last Sunday at the fag parade?” I was mortified. How did he know where I was? And more importantly, what right did he have to use that kind of language to shame me before the whole community?
Jim: You’re right. You certainly don’t deserve to be shamed that way, Chris. In the past, you’ve spoken about how you are not open about your sexuality in the community, so I really get how embarrassing this must have been for you.
Chris: I appreciate your sensitivity, Jim, but as a straight man, you will never know how it feels to be so publicly humiliated about your sexuality.
Jim: That’s probably true, Chris, but straight Jesuits also face challenges in living celibacy that you don’t have to deal with as a gay man. For gay Jesuits, you can easily go out to socialize publicly with intimate male friends; but for straight Jesuits, people don’t necessarily give us permission to do the same with intimate female friends. You know, sometimes, I envy the freedom you have to find and express intimacy openly.
Chris: Yes, I’ve heard that before. But I don’t think that freedom compensates for the difficulty of simply being myself as a gay man in the community. I am so tired of concealing my need to spend time socially with gay friends, Jesuit and lay. Like any minority, we need to spend some time exclusively in the company of gay people.
Jim: You know Chris, that’s hard for me to accept, and the reason actually is this. I’ve lived in communities where the gay Jesuits became a clique that took over the rec room in the evening. It’s certainly not consistent with my idea of religious community.
Chris: I see your point, Jim. And you’re right. I know that can really fracture the community and cause some to feel alienated and unwelcome.
Jim: I guess the real issue here, Chris, is with fostering the kind of mutual respect in community that builds us up rather than seeds exclusivity and division. And, let’s face it, sexual orientation is one of those issues that can really divide us. In your experience last week, you were made to feel like an outsider, an alien, less than a brother deserving of respect. That’s what homophobic comments – like ethnic or racial slurs – do to people: they wear away at self-respect and they certainly compromise the cohesion of community life.
Chris: So am I supposed to acknowledge my homosexuality stealthily and only with a few people, and continue to hide it from my local community?
Jim: Chris, I think there are two extremes that you are presenting here: either you conceal your homosexuality entirely, or else you show it off in a public parade. Chris, there must be some middle ground here.
Chris: But I didn’t advertise my participation in the parade to the community, just to my friends on Facebook.
Jim: Chris, I think you know a lot more about social media than I, but even I know there’s really no such thing as privacy on the internet.
Chris: I suppose you have a good point there, Jim. I should have thought about that.
Jim: I think it’s ultimately a question of living with integrity.
Chris: I can’t imagine surrendering my own privacy entirely.
Jim: Well, think about this. Perhaps you are being invited to invest more of yourself with others in the house. You certainly won’t want to begin by coming out to everyone, of course, but by sharing a little more personally with some others in the community, and then see how that feels to you and where that takes you.
Chris: I’ve always thought it’d be really supportive to have some group in the community to talk with about our experience of living this life – – the ups and
downs of living the vows in community, especially as we age and face diminishment in numbers.
Jim: I think that would be really good, and it seems very realistic, rather than
expecting the entire community to be a safe place to share personal struggles.
Chris: That makes sense to me.
Jim: Chris, let me ask you this. How does your relationship with God affirm and
support you and your sexual orientation?
Chris: I really see my Lord as my friend, my companion. As you know, God has
always assured me of his unconditional love, and I know that he accepts me as a gay man so I’m fine.
Jim: Do you think it would be helpful to share this experience of Jesus with others
in the community?
Chris: I like that idea, Jim. To make our communities more open, supportive, and
respectful of diversity – – sexual orientation and otherwise — among our
members. Oh yeah!
Jim: I think your experience with this homophobic comment, Chris, is a learning
experience for all of us in community. I’d like us to keep these conversations going. I know other religious orders are doing something creative with this same issue.
Chris: You know, that sounds exciting. It would certainly turn what was a disaster
into something incredibly more positive. Thanks Jim.
Jim: No, thank YOU, Chris. Let’s be in touch and talk about this idea again.
And here are the study questions in the document, the questions Jesuits are supposed to talk about after watching the above video:
1. What are your reactions to this case?
2. How have issues around sexual orientation played a role in your personal development? In your community?
3. How might you respond to hurtful comments in community about any sexual orientation?
4. Homosexual and heterosexual Jesuits need different types of support. Father Jim and Father Chris expressed diverse opinions on these types of support. How do you view these two opinions?
5. How does the experience of your sexuality enter into your prayer life and your relationship with the Lord?
6. What are the ways a community can offer spiritual and emotional support for men of various sexual orientations?
As my spy said in the letter accompanying the document, “The thing speaks for itself.” Verily.
UPDATE: It turns out that this document is a Rohrshach for readers of this blog. What it signifies (chiefly by what is absent from it) is obvious to some of us; to others, it’s just another sign of a religious conservative being mean. It is telling that when some of you don’t immediately understand why this document is troubling to others, you immediately retreat to “Bigot!”
UPDATE.2: I left out some key context. This exercise is meant as part of the Jesuit response to the child sex abuse crisis. Below, the prefatory comments from the document. The author is Fr. Tom Smolich, SJ. What any of this has to do with sexually abusing minors is anybody’s guess.
For the last ten years, the Catholic Church has taken unprecedented steps in the protection of minors from sexual abuse. While much needed to be remedied, and our efforts have not been perfect, this commitment is now part and parcel of who we are as Church and as the Society of Jesus.
Through the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, male religious in this country developed the Instruments of Hope and Healing, a comprehensive approach of outreach to victims of child sexual abuse and of concrete steps toward its prevention. Included in these Instruments is a requirement of continuing education for all religious in their communities.
In 2009, the Society developed an online questionnaire and four case studies in an adult learning format to meet this requirement for the succeeding three years.
This program and its structure were well received, as they provided the impetus for important conversations among Jesuits on issues we are often reluctant to engage: affective needs, appropriate boundaries, and healthy internet usage, to name a few. This 2009 program serves as the foundation for our continuing education for the next five years. This new program has been christened Conversations that Matter.
As part of Conversations that Matter, every Jesuit working or living in the United States will take a yearly on-line questionnaire which refreshes our knowledge about the problem of sexual abuse of minors and the abuse of power in pastoral ministry. The questionnaire also presents information on changing guidelines in these areas. For example, revisions in Vatican policies now include sexual abuse of vulnerable adults and possession of child pornography as offenses which disqualify a priest or religious from ministry. We need to be up to date on such changes.
In addition, each year, every Jesuit will engage a case study and discussion, and will be asked to increase his knowledge and competency on key aspects of our spiritual, ministerial, and affective lives. By engaging these sometimes challenging realities, we will be building deeper bonds as “friends in the Lord” and better preparing ourselves to be effective and compassionate ministers of God’s love.
This move from an “all at once” program to yearly continuing formation is intentional. We all learn better with regular, ongoing input. Others involved in helping or healing ministries have regular continuing education requirements.
Pope John Paul II’s apostolic exhortation Pastores Dabo Vobis proposed the integration of human, spiritual, intellectual and pastoral development as the foci for ongoing priestly formation. Such integration does not come all at once; it requires engaging issues that are significant and challenging; it requires continuing dialogue and prayer.
Our ongoing response to the scandal of sexual abuse of minors has put us on this path. We can never be complacent on issues of child safety and protection. But we also realize that education and conversation need to be a regular part of our lives as brother Jesuits.
We cannot preach the Gospel to others unless we do our best to live the Gospel with our own brothers. We do that by sharing our hopes and struggles, our questions and graces with one another— during this program and in personal discussions and rec room chats in the days and weeks that follow. Though this can be difficult, God’s presence is never far from us.
Let me thank all those who have made this program possible, particularly St.Joseph’s University and the Saint John Vianney Center. I also thank you for your participation in these conversations that matter.