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The “authentic self” vs. the crucified self

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.”

(Christoph Schmid @topf52/

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.

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About Robert A. J. Gagnon 4 Articles
Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon is the author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice and professor of Bible at Houston Christian University. He holds a BA from Dartmouth, an MTS from Harvard Divinity School, and a PhD from the Princeton Theological Seminary.


  1. Your reply is more scholarly and elegant, but I think we say the same thing here (my reply to this priest’s theologically ignorant article was posted on FB today):

    The leftist media is gaga over a Roman Catholic priest who, for inexplicable reasons, confessed to his congregation that he ‘s “gay”, and received a standing ovation from people who do not know the Gospel and need a teacher of it. To his credit, he stated that he is celibate, although that is just like a footnote in the article (and people rarely read the footnotes!) Here is my answer to him:

    I’m glad that this priest wants to be celibate. His announcement was spiritually wrong. He should’ve known that there would be people in his congregation that would cheer and that his message of celibacy would be drowned out by the cheers. He should’ve known that his message would also be cheered by the leftist media, and he would get more than 15 minutes of fame. He also is buying into identity politics. The only identity he should have is that he is a Christian and a priest.

    If he insisted on announcing something about himself (In a hypothetical world, where announcing something like this is not absolutely a terrible idea) it should have been something like this:

    “I’m your pastor, and I’m also a sinful man. If I tell you to struggle against your sins, then I must also struggle against mine. We are not defined by our passions unless we choose to do be defined by them. As a Roman Catholic priest, of course, I am unmarried. This personal status is both a gift and also a battleground.

    I have been afflicted with same-sex desires for most of my life. Of course, these desires are forbidden by God. We should not be afraid of saying this. God also forbids anger, and hatred, and slander and all other impurities that come out of a sinful soul. Since I’m a Christian I strive to obey God. I do not identify myself with my sins. I do not identify myself even by my sinful inclinations. I’m a Christian, and I struggle against all passions in my soul.

    So I wish to tell you, my dear congregation, that I am not gay. I am a man who struggles against the same-sex orientation. I recognize that orientation as sinful, and therefore I pray and I fast and I struggle to do good works and I beg the help of the saints and especially of the mother of God who lived a life of perfect purity to help me to be pure in all of my thoughts and my desires and my actions.

    As a priest, I am a healer, but because I’m a sinner, I am a wounded healer. We should have a collaboration in our mutual ministry for one another. I will try to help you, and I will pray for you, and I will try to lift you up when you are weak. I ask the same from you. I ask your prayers and your help.

    I want to say one more time emphatically I do not identify as being gay. That is a political word, and it gives people license to do things that are not clean. It is not possible for people who have same-sex desire to be married. The Scripture and the church are very clear about this. Outside of marriage is fornication, no matter what the genders of those who are fornicating with each other. Therefore, as an unmarried man, I have only one option if I am to obey God, and that is, to keep sexual purity and celibacy. This can be a struggle and I ask your help in the struggle.

    Do not buy into the identity politics of our of our age. You should identify yourself only as a Christian, and acknowledge that you are a sinner. There is no sin that you are justified in doing. God is merciful, and he will help you if you struggle against your sins. Struggle against your sins, and never make excuses for them. When you sin, come to confession, so that you can receive grace from God to struggle against your sins successfully.”

  2. Cannot really add anything to Priest Seraphim Holland’s comment….it says it all.

    That parish is very pathetic….an ovation for desire before truth; they certainly weren’t clapping for the “chaste” part. And the priest knew that before his revelation.

  3. Wow! A sad day indeed for that congregation whose journey just became a whole lot more complicated. But sadder still is the priests delusion that partnership with fame has robbed him of his eternal fortune!

  4. An absolutely brilliant article Dr Gagnon.

    It is indeed a sad day that priests like Greiten are totally lacking in comprehension as to the logical conclusions of their statements. A mind given over to sin is indeed clouded for the wisdom being with fear of the Lord.

  5. This is a good response. But I think you left out one other very important point. His homily is also incredibly selfish and lacks serious prudential insight into its effect on the young children present. What about the young children who came to that Sunday mass and sat through that homily? Don’t parents have a right and duty to act as first teachers for their children, especially on sex and morals? Is it fair to authentic Catholic parents, who after sitting through this homily, had to go home and answer questions from their confused children on issues they would have preferred to discuss later and in a more private environment? That the priest and the archbishop both fail to consider and mention the effect of this action on children should force everyone to consider whether the deep lessons from the “long lent” of 2002 have really been taken to heart by clerics in our Church. Do they really have the best interests of young Catholic children high on their list of priorities? They should, they are the future of the Church!

  6. As a priest this is very sad. The lay faithful are looking for Holy-Spirit filled priests who strive for holiness and encourage their brothers and sisters along the way, not by lowering the standards but by striving to reach them.

    This is all a great example of the exact opposite of what St. Paul prayed for in Romans 12: “Do not be conformed to the thinking of this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind that you may know what is good and pleasing to God.”

    To the faithful remnant out there (which is growing smaller) don’t be discouraged. Pope Benedict XVI gave a prophecy on the future Church in 1969. A special outpouring of the Holy Spirit awaits those who are committed to the path of holiness so ask the Heavenly Father for it. He will not fail his little flock and will give us everything we need to reach the finish line.

    It is sad when the shepherds are lost and confused but I have met many faithful Catholics in my 20+ years as a priest. My bookkeeper is part of a new group called “The Family of the Gospel” which started in Assisi, Italy. They gather weekly for a Holy Hour, prayer, and reflection, and support each other. We need more groups like this to stay strong for the Lord. The Enemy wants to scatter us and pounce on us (cf. 1 Peter 5:8). The Eucharist is our lifeline and Jesus is so close to us in this remarkable gift!

    Our Lord told us: I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33).

    I thank God for Catholic World Report and Dr. Gagnon’s great article. The Lord has never failed to surround me with great spiritual friends in time of adversity. May He help all of us fulfill our vocations and may the joy of the Lord be our strength! And I am praying for Fr. Greiten’s conversion and for all priests to remain faithful.

  7. Here we go again. Sex and the Catholic Church. Once I read this piece I knew I would struggle with the rest… “a friar led an inquisition seeking to identify and discipline sexually active students…”. I do recall the Spanish Inquisition. Was that when the church became obsessed with the sin of sex? I thought that was when the Catholic hierarchy became obsessed with heretics. When Spain’s Queen Isabella ordered Jews and Muslims who would not convert to Catholicism to leave Spain. However, she and King Ferdinand had a higher expectation as they waited for Columbus to return from his voyage to the new world with boatloads of pilfered gold and Taino, (Island of Hispaniola) men for slaves.

    If, as the church says, homosexuality is DISORDERED God could only be responsible for that condition. Evangelists Marcus and Michelle Bachmann operate a “clinic” in Minneapolis using the motto “Pray the Gay away”. That clinic is run under the auspices of their faith which promotes the conversion of Gays.

    Does the church encourage all Gays to come out?

  8. Gregory Greiten’s performance is another exhibition of a clergy class eviscerated of supernatural faith in Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity, and in His Holy Gospel.
    Thus bereft, what else to they have to proclaim but themselves – and their own notions – in their desperate search for personal relevancy. That a bishop would provide approbation for such a display is an unconscionable act of pastoral malpractice.
    The Greitens, Martins and Listecki’s – the legion they represent – need find other means of providing for their sustenance.
    Psychological screening for the priesthood and the religious life has been amply proven counterproductive at this point.
    What is required is the sieve of faith.
    Given that authentic and accurate catechesis was deliberately aborted fifty years ago it is miraculous there are responses to the call of Jesus Christ at all.
    It appears the “new” evangelization need be directed toward the lads in collars.

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