Then in high school, I went into seminary in the 9th grade. And the system then
was all male. The main thing I remember about relationships was the talks that
we were given about never having a particular friendship--which meant we could
not be on a very intimate level with any other individual person. All your
friendships had to be very widespread, and be part of a group all the time. And
during those years I really didn't know much about homosexuality at all. Except
this talk about particular friendship made me realize that there was some
concern about being too friendly with one other person who would be a male.
Even though I didn't know it at the time, obviously they were giving us these
talks because they wanted to make sure that there was no homosexuality or
homosexual relationships being developed in the seminary. |
And so the whole idea of homosexuality very early on became a very negative
thing. And a very, well, evil thing. And when I learned moral theology in my
major seminary, I only learned about homosexuality as activity. Nobody made a
distinction between homosexual orientation and homosexual activity. And so I
never thought of it except in terms of homosexual activity. And that was
condemned. Wrong. And so I didn't have an understanding as a priest and a
confessor, people coming to me to confess their sins, if they confessed such a
sin I had no idea of how I might help them in any way. Because I felt with a
deep conviction, that this was a simple choice, and like any other choice, we
can choose this or choose that. And so there should be no big problem. And I
would talk that way, which was not helpful to somebody who's coming out of the
situation where their whole human person is moved, in regard to relationships
and affective relationships, toward people of the same sex.
And so I went along with that kind of understanding, and I guess lack of
understanding of homosexuality. Until suddenly in my own family I was
confronted when my brother wrote a letter to my siblings and me and my mother
coming out--saying he is gay and had been all his life--had struggled against
it in various ways as many homosexual people do. Because first of all, you're
taught it's wrong. And so you somehow feel it's wrong. And you're trying to do
the right thing. So you're trying not to be who you are.
And so he had gone so far as entering the seminary at one point, which is sort
of a safe place for a homosexual actually because you do have male
relationships, even though you could be committed to celibacy. So you're in
more of a friendly environment. And you've a very respected role. And nobody
questions why you're not married if you're a priest.
But then quickly he discovered that that was not where he should be, and so he
left. But then he married. Again, in an attempt to say "No, I'm not gay." And
he was married for fifteen years or so and had four children. But could never
shake who he was because you can't--it's something that is part of your person.
So when he came out, I suddenly had to deal with this in a way I never had
before because it was on a very personal level. Do I reject my brother? Do I
despise him because he's evil? And so on. So the first thing I had to do was
deal with my own homophobia. Because I did have very negative reactions when he
...wrote this letter. In fact, I say with some embarrassment and shame
almost--I didn't even read the whole letter. I knew what was coming because my
sister already received it and kind of warned me. So when I received it, I just
kind of threw it aside.
And in a very selfish way I guess it was partly--here I am a bishop, and I have
a brother who's openly gay. What's that going to do, or what are people going
to think about me? I mean somehow, when someone in a family comes out, the
whole family's out. And so I'm involved in this. And I felt it would be an
embarrassment to have to admit that I have a sibling who's gay. So I'm going
through all this kind of turmoil within myself trying to deal with it. I didn't
want to reject my brother and yet I somehow had this feeling I needed to. I
mean, how could I be a Roman Catholic bishop, have a gay brother, and say
that's OK? And so, I had to rethink a lot and re-examine why do I have such a
I began to look into my life and discover how I had been sort of formed in this
way to be negative to homosexuals. And I began to understand that better and
to understand much more about orientation. And since I was studying in the
seminary, there is a lot of development in moral theology about orientation as
opposed to activity, and so forth. And I know that in my own family my siblings
and my mother were disturbed by this, but we never talked about it really.
Which is not very good but it is typical...I think other families might do the
same thing. Some things you just don't talk about.
But it was very troubling to my mother. Although I should have been much more
sensitive to this. But I was still dealing with it too much myself to be able
to feel like I could help her very much. Until finally, one night. She was in
her middle eighties at the time and I'm sure that she was thinking about her
own death and her main concern was that there were nine children in my family
that she had raised. And she was concerned...by the time she died, she wanted
to feel that we were all OK and in our right path.
And so one night when I was visiting she followed me to the door and we were
talking. We stood there and talked for a few minutes and what she said was
very direct. She said, "Is Dan going to Hell?" I knew I had to answer. And I
wanted to answer honestly and to help her.
And so I did say immediately, " No, Dan's not going to Hell." And I could
assure her that with great confidence because by that time I had thought it
through and I realized that this is the way Dan is. And God knew this from the
beginning of Dan's life. And God doesn't condemn Dan for being a homosexual.
And so he's not going to Hell because of who he is. This is the way he is and
God made him the way he is and in the providence of God, that's Dan's life. And
so I was able to say that to her and it was very reassuring--the fact that I
was a priest and a bishop, and I've helped over the years. My brother was
killed and my dad died. You know, in a sense I was ministering, and within my
And so this was very important to her how I felt about it. More important than
any of my other siblings I'm sure. And so I was glad I could say that with
conviction and with confidence. And with a calmness on my own part. And so it
made it very good for her. And I'm sure it she was able, a couple years later,
to die in peace. Because that problem was settled.
Can you talk about the Church's position on homosexual orientation vs.
homosexual activity and the distinction it makes?
The Catholic bishops of the United States have written a pastoral letter called
"Always Our Children". It's an attempt on the part of the bishops to reach out
with some sort of understanding and reassurance--to the parents
especially--where there's a gay or lesbian person. And to assure them that
these children of theirs are loved by God. Not to be condemned. Not to be
rejected. But to be fully accepted as who they are. And that's a very important
step on the part of the Church and the Catholic bishops of the United States to
do this. And it has been very helpful to many parents.
Now, a few parents of homosexual persons reacted by saying 'don't tell me to
love my child, I'm a parent, I'm going to love my child regardless of what the
bishop said.' And yet the Church has been so strong in its condemnation of
homosexuality--and never making any distinction between orientation and
activity. So that many parents when it happened, were totally confused and
thought they did have to reject their child. And thought that their child
couldn't be loved by God. Even as many homosexual persons had internalized that
same conviction: I can't be loved by God, there's something wrong with me, I
must be despised by God and rejected. And they lead to a very self-destructive
spirit where they begin to reject themselves, and so on. It's something that
demands a tremendous change in people's thinking--the homosexual person, the
family, the parents especially.
So the fact that the Catholic bishops of the United States were able to say
this was important. In that, we follow the teaching of the Church. And I voted
for the letter and I certainly follow it very carefully.
And we point out that the Catholic teaching is that homosexual activity is
wrong. Now there's homosexual orientation--it's not wrong to be a homosexual.
And you can fully love yourself, accept yourself, and so on. But Catholic
teaching says activity is wrong.
Now most homosexual people--who knows how many the percent is--but a very high
percentage of homosexual people find that contradictory and very difficult to
accept. And probably most can't accept it--that I have the orientation but that
somehow I can never act on this orientation. That my life is going to be
deprived of any kind of sexual intimacy at any point in my life, I just can't
Now, what do such persons do? I say to them that you must do what any human
person must do. You must keep struggling to find a way to integrate your
sexuality in a healthy and spiritually good way into your life. And I say that
as a celibate person. I have to learn--and this doesn't happen when you first
make the promise of celibacy when you're ordained--how you can still be a
sexual person and enter into friendships and deep friendships and still
maintain celibacy. You have to learn how to integrate who you are as a sexual
person into your whole life. It has to be a healthy integration and there are
some unhealthy ways to be celibate. That is you can repress your sexuality.
But then of course you act out in various ways that are not healthy, when you
repress a very important part of your whole person. And so you have to learn
how to integrate sexuality into your life, maintain your commitment to
celibacy, and yet grow in a psychologically and spiritually healthy way.
Well, the same is true of homosexual persons. Over the years of their life they
have to struggle with this. And I tell them you have to take into account what
the scripture say. You have to take into account what Catholic teaching is. You
have to take into account your own discernment of God's will for you. You have
to take into account your consultation with mentors or spiritual guides. And
then you have to struggle to find a way that you as a person grow into a
fullness of personhood, and you integrate your sexuality into your life. And
going along with that is the teaching of the Church, which is very traditional.
That is what we call primacy of conscience--beyond anything else, I must
respond to God for what I do, what choices I make. And within your struggle,
when you make certain choices that you do it in as careful a way as possible
and you're doing this out of your own deep conscience convictions. You're not
condemned by God, you can't be, if you really follow your conscience. And it's
an informed conscience, based on what you discern from scripture, based on what
you discern from Catholic teaching, what you discern from your own prayer life,
and what you discern from spiritual directors and so on.
And you keep on trying to grow into the most complete and healthy person you
can be. And I feel that I can't tell somebody else what is the best way for him
or her to act. They have to learn for themselves, and integrate that into their
life. And if they're following their conscience in a very sincere and authentic
way, they are not condemned by God.
Do you feel comfortable with the Church's teachings on homosexuality?
The Church, over the centuries, has tried to teach about sexuality in single
life, married life, homosexual life, and our teaching has evolved. And that's
true of almost any moral teaching within the Church. As we get new insights,
new understanding, the teaching evolves. Teachings on slavery. 100 years ago in
this country Catholic bishops accepted slavery--said it was perfectly
justified. You would find no person in the Church saying that today.
Look what's happening with capital punishment. A few years ago the Catholic
Church had no hesitation about supporting capital punishment without any kind
of limitations at all. Now the Pope has come to the United States and said that
'No, there's no way to justify capital punishment in the world in which we
And so we have a different understanding of the world in which we live, and so
our teaching adjusts to that understanding. In married life, the Catholic
Church at one time taught married people that you could not engage in sexual
intercourse and not commit sin because you would experience pleasure. Now
people would be astounded at that. And yet that's what we taught. Now there's a
much deeper understanding of the importance of intimacy and sexual intimacy
within marriage as a way to strengthen and build the bond between two people.
And that the sexual relationship is a very important part of the whole married
relationship. Nothing wrong with it. Not any way you can be in a sense tainted
with sin. And so we have a deeper understanding of that.
And what Pope John Paul has himself written about married life is very
idealistic and beautiful, and very supportive. And so that comes out of a
deeper understanding of how sexual intimacy is an important part of married
life. And I don't think we've come to as clear and final understanding of
homosexuality. Even from a psychological or a scientific point
So, personally, what is your degree of comfort with the Church's
Some discomfort is present I think for me in the Church's teaching about
homosexuality. That comes from something I heard a parent say--a father whose
son began to realize he's homosexual. And the father says, 'how can I say to my
son, you're disordered?'-- which is the words that were used in the Papal
I say to myself--if I were a father I couldn't say to my son or my daughter,
'you're disordered, intrinsically disordered.' That's a terrible thing to say
about your child. And I just can't believe it's true. That a person would be so
essentially disordered, in this way.
So I just think those are cruel words and unjustified words and I would never
expect a parent to say that to his or her child.
The Church's rigidity on issues such as homosexuality--how should we view
this in the context of the Church's history over the centuries?
Over the centuries, the Church has struggled to discern the truth and to teach
the truth as revealed to us by God and especially through Jesus. And there have
been various times where the institutional Church and its leadership have felt
that they have the whole answer. And so there have been periods of repression
within the Church of thought and development of thought, and so on.
And so I don't think that any one papacy can be identified as a papacy where
this is the only time that this has ever happened. From the beginning of this
century up until Vatican II which took place in 1962, there were many
theologians who were silenced and forbidden to speak and publish and condemned
even. Yet those very theologians became suddenly the experts at Vatican Council
II and the things that had been condemned were now affirmed.
And so, to me, that shows again that it's wrong for the Church, officially in
any way, to try to stop the development of thought, the development of ideas,
the evolution of understanding about various issues. Because, at some point we
discover the ones that were silenced were actually saying the truth.
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