A Roman Catholic priest in Chicago has come out as gay in an interview with The Washington Post, saying he sees the action as part of his duty to support marginalized people.
"There's a level of witnessing here that's important for me to do," Rev. Michael Shanahan told the Post in an interview published Sunday. "The Christian faith has a lot to say about the underdog, about the marginalized or the leper, the blind, the lame, the ostracized woman prostitute, widow, the little one. I'd like to be one of those priests, who, with great respect for the church's teaching, can say: I'm a human being. I'm a son -- one of six -- I'm gay and I'm a priest, period."
Shanahan wasn't sure he wanted to use his real name in the article but eventually decided it was the right thing to do, and reporter Michelle Boorstein revealed it at the end of the story.
He said he became a priest before he realized he was gay, but he now sees his homosexuality as an enhancement to his ministry, helping him relate to the underdog. He thought about coming out before but worried about repercussions. Recently, though, he decided that coming out would help parishioners who are struggling to accept gay family members, or young people who feel depressed or even suicidal about being gay.
The Catholic Church expects members who are attracted to the same sex to refrain from acting on these attractions, and it expects all clergy members, gay or straight, to be celibate. Shanahan, Boorstein wrote, "doesn't disregard the church's teaching on sexuality, but he tries to emphasize the church's teaching that sexuality is an expression of the divine and encourages people to pray and discern their own place."
Experts on religion and sexuality believe gay men represent a significant proportion of the 40,000 Catholic priests in the U.S., the article notes, although the exact number is not known. Church teaching has kept most in the closet. Pope Benedict XVI had particularly harsh words about homosexuality, saying the church should not ordain men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies." Even with the more welcoming tone struck by his successor, Pope Francis, no doctrine has changed. But some church observers say gay priests are often quietly tolerated as long as they keep their vow of celibacy.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, contacted by local TV station WBBM about Shanahan's coming-out, wouldn't discuss the matter or say if he would be disciplined. It released a brief statement from Archbishop Blase Cupich: "We support all our priests as they live out the promises they made on the day of their ordination."
Nonclergy employees who are gay are often quietly tolerated at Catholic institutions too, but in the past few years, many of them have lost their jobs for marrying a same-sex partner, which is considered a public statement against church teaching. Shanahan admitted he was troubled by the firings, although he noted there could be other factors involved.
"I have a problem with Monday-morning quarterbacking," he told Boorstein. "There's always stuff you don't know about why people are fired. ... "But where do you draw the line? There are all kinds of folks not in line on morality stuff."
Shanahan is pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish on Chicago's north side.