A gay man who has been studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood has left the church in protest of recent firings of LGBT employees at Catholic institutions and has written an open letter to Pope Francis on the matter.
“As an openly gay man, I’ve spent the past 10 years pursuing the priesthood in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits),” writes Benjamin Brenkert in the letter, posted on the blog of New Ways Ministry, a group that advocates for LGBT equality within the church. “I am full of gratitude for this time. I loved being a Jesuit, a son of St. Ignatius of Loyola. This July, I left the Jesuits in good standing.
“Today, I can no longer justly or freely pursue ordination to the priesthood as a gay man in a Church where gay men and lesbian women are being fired from their jobs. The last straw for me was when a married lesbian social justice minister was fired from a Jesuit parish in Kansas City.”
As same-sex couples have gained marriage rights in an increasing number of states, many gay and lesbian workers at Catholic churches and schools have been fired after they married, with the latest example being a music director at a church in Minnesota. In many cases, priests and administrators had long known an employee was gay and in a relationship, but church leaders contend that marrying a same-sex partner (or, in the case of the Kansas City woman, publicity about the marriage) amounts to taking a public stand that is in conflict with church teaching.
“I’m asking the pope to really look at the fact that I as a gay man could become a Catholic priest, and reach the highest level of human relationship with God as a celibate priest, while LGBT employees that are seeking marriage and sacramental recognition of their love could no longer be employees because they were delighting in God’s love for them,” Brenkert said in an interview with the National Catholic Reporter. “Is that fair? That’s not for me to say. All I want to do is ask people to identify with my story and to ask the church to be clear about what she believes.”
In his letter, Brenkert says the firings are “contrary to what many have called the ‘Francis Effect’” — the pope’s emphasis on social justice and his conciliatory attitude toward LGBT people, as evidenced by his “Who am I to judge?” comment. Brenkert calls on Pope Francis to order the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to end firings of LGBT employees, and he urges the pope to speak out against laws that oppress LGBT people around the world.
Brenkert is now considering the Episcopal priesthood, he told the Reporter. “It pains me to have to leave the Jesuits,” he added. “I loved being a Jesuit, and I’m extremely grateful for what they did for me.”