Nine months after quitting the priesthood, a gay man who served the Roman Catholic Church for a quarter of a century has written a revealing, positive, and forward-looking reflection on where the church is headed and why it needs to change direction toward, not away from, LGBT people.
Despite rumors and innuendo that the church or the Vatican shields and manages gay priests, Bill Dickinson wrote in The Daily Beast:
“There is no infrastructure within the Church to support me as a gay man. And the Church is not at her best when speaking to and about people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), or even questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Before leaving, I had a unique role in priesthood in that I provided leadership training, development, and consulting primarily for bishops and priests throughout the country. I served them, I assisted them, and I coached them.
“Because I thought I had a credible relationship with bishops, in particular, I invited them to seize an opportunity regarding the LGBT community and the recent Supreme Court decision on marriage equality and October’s Synod on the Family at the Vatican, in which bishops and cardinals will discuss a range of issues related to family and evangelism.
“The Church, and the bishops who lead it, have an opportunity to more thoughtfully and sensitively understand who we are as LGBT persons—and to use language that is responsible and respectful when speaking to us and about us. So, this past April, I reached out to the bishops I knew and offered my counsel.
“Alas, only one of the 82 bishops I contacted has chosen even to respond. I found the non-response to be a great disappointment."
Dickinson, who served the Diocese of Cleveland and is vice president of the Catholic Leadership Institute, offered four proposals to the church that will improve its relationship with LGBT Catholics without changing dogma or church teaching on sexuality:
First, reflect and be silent, he suggested: “Pause the public statements that deny LGBT people’s experience of themselves, that fan the flames of fear regarding religious freedom in America, and that perpetuate misunderstanding.”
Second, Dickinson recommends a meeting of top officials in the American Catholic Church: “organize an ad-hoc committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) that seeks to understand the LGBT community and persons — hopes, contributions, concerns, and self-identifying language.”
Dickinson also suggested edits to pastoral documents, including a letter Pope John Paul II wrote to U.S. bishops: “Gay persons are not persons who have 'homosexual inclinations,'” he wrote, referring to John Paul II's terminology. “To refer to our expression of sexual love as 'intrinsically disordered' is neither helpful nor useful.”
And finally, he recommended education to help gay and bisexual priests and bishops live a life of self-acceptance. Most, he said, remain “quietly closeted, even amongst themselves.”
Dickinson said his purpose is not to change the church but to “be of service,” and he called this time a “unique opportunity.”
If the church does what he called “the right and responsible thing to do, as aa act of leadership … everyone benefits,” he wrote.