A priest by the name of Fr. Gregory Greiten received a standing ovation from his parishioners at St. Bernadette Parish in Milwaukee when he told them that being “gay” was his “authentic self.” In an article in the National Catholic Reporter he writes:
Since my days in high school seminary in the 1980s, I was taught that homosexuality was something disordered…. During my senior year, a friar led an inquisition seeking to identify and discipline sexually active students…. I would like to apologize personally to my LGBT brothers and sisters for my part in remaining silent in the face of the actions and inactions taken by my faith community towards the Catholic LGBT community as well as the larger LGBT community…. I promise to be my authentically gay self. I will embrace the person that God created me to be. In my priestly life and ministry, I, too, will help you, whether you are gay or straight, bisexual or transgendered, to be your authentic self — to be fully alive living in your image and likeness of God. In reflecting our God-images out into the world, our world will be a brighter, more tolerant place.
… The church itself robs [gay youth] of hope by rejecting them, by not listening to their stories, by scorning them for who they are and who they were created to be, by telling them they are not invited or welcome at the table of the Lord…. I have lived far too many years chained up and imprisoned in the closet behind walls of shame … because of the homophobia and discrimination so prevalent in my church and the world. But rather, today, I chart a new course in freedom…. First steps in accepting and loving the person God created me to be. ‘I am Greg. I am a Roman Catholic priest. And, yes, I am gay!’
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki met with Greiten before he “came out” and issued this statement:
We support Father Greiten in his own, personal journey and telling his story of coming to understand and live with his sexual orientation. As the Church teaches, those with same sex attraction must be treated with understanding and compassion. My preference would have been not to publicly announce this because it can be confusing for some people as to whether someone with same sex attraction can minister as a priest. However, as priests who have made a promise and commitment to celibacy, we know that every week there are people in our pews who struggle with the question of homosexuality. Fr. Greg’s own story reminds each of us of God’s call to continue to grow in understanding and to live holy, chaste lives.
What’s the problem in all this? Put simply, the priest has attacked the very core of the gospel of Jesus Christ. If it were only a matter of Greiten acknowledging his faithful struggle with unnatural attractions, there would be no issue demanding correction. If he recognized that these desires were part of an inauthentic old humanity that needs to be put away, there would be no problem. Unfortunately, it is apparent that he has a different view of homosexual attractions.
One’s “authentic self” does not consist in the sum total of one’s biological urges (especially those oriented toward what God expressly forbids) but rather in one’s conformity to the image of Jesus Christ, which includes taking up one’s cross, denying oneself, losing one’s life, and following him (Mk 8:34-37). Being “gay,” “bisexual,” and “transgendered” is not one’s “authentic self” any more than being “polyamorous” or attracted to one’s long-lost sibling. Orientation toward the sinful passions of the flesh is not part of the “authentic self.” It is that part of the self to which one must “die” so that one might be oriented toward “living for God” in gratitude to Christ for his life-giving, atoning death.
Consider these words from the Apostle Paul’s words: “For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:19-20). Again: “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would. … And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Gal 5:16-17, 24).
This priest appears to challenge the Catholic Church’s clear teaching (see paragraphs 2357-59 of the Catechism, for instance) that same-sex attractions are “disordered” and that persons with same-sex attractions should not be “sexually active” outside the bounds of lifelong marriage with someone of the other sex. The priest even appears to argue that this position is part of “the homophobia and discrimination so prevalent in my church.” Yet the Apostle Paul speaks of homosexual desire and relations as “dishonorable passions” and a “dishonoring of their bodies,” respectively (Rom 1:24, 26). It is self-dishonoring activity because it falsely treats oneself as only half-male or half-female, in need of completion through union with someone of the same sex.
Fr. Greiten presupposes that God “created” people to be “gay,” “bisexual,” and “transgendered.” But God did not create anyone to live out of sinful desires, which are a result of the Fall of humanity. What is God creating? God is creating something new to replace the old humanity. According to Ephesians, we are to “put on (or clothe ourselves with) the new human (self) that was created according to God (i.e., God’s likeness) in true righteousness and holiness” (4:24; authors trans.). That new human being is to put away the sexual “impurity” and “deceitful lusts” of the past life (4:19, 22). God does not call us to sexual identities incompatible with God’s intended design of the body.
Archbishop Listecki’s statement is, I think, confusing. He both commended and did not commend the priest’s action in saying, “We support Father Greiten in … telling his story of coming to understand and live with his sexual orientation. … My preference would have been not to publicly announce this because it can be confusing for some people as to whether someone with same sex attraction can minister as a priest.” He reminds hearers to treat “those with same-sex attraction … with understanding and compassion,” and says his story “reminds each of us of God’s call … to live holy, chaste lives.” Is the reference to living “holy, chaste lives” a subtle rebuke the priest’s misunderstandings? Or is it suggesting, as Fr. Greiten does, that committed homosexual relationships are “holy” and “chaste”? Why leave so much unclear? Why not correct a number of false teachings by the priest under his care? Why not caution a congregation that in its ignorance applauded the priest not just for the courage to admit to homosexual attractions but also for the distorted understanding of them as created by God and part of his authentic self to be celebrated?
I suspect that if Fr. Greiten came out in a similar affirmation of any number of other desires at odds with God’s revealed will, reactions and responses would have been both quite different and more direct. Should husbands come out to their wives as having been created by God to desire other women and affirm their authentic polyamorous self? Should businessmen “embrace” their greedy desires as part of God’s good creation and affirm their desires to cheat and steal? Should politicians professing to be Catholic “personally oppose” abortion but vote for the killing of the unborn? It is an unfortunate truth that far too much that passes for “authenticity” today has so little to do with truth, clarity, and authentic charity.