This isn't about celibacy but I liked the article for its sane treatment of how gay people can serve in the priesthood.
Matthai Chakko Kuruvila, Chronicle Religion Writer
San Francisco Chronicle
Saturday, June 23, 2007
A Catholic parish in Alameda and its priest fell in love with each other over the past six years, but today they'll say goodbye.
Worshipers at St. Joseph Basilica say Father Rich Danyluk knit them together as a community and gave inspired homilies that forced them to look deeper into their lives. Danyluk, known as Father Rich, says he's leaving to get a year of rest after 31 years in the priesthood.
But the 59-year-old cleric says St. Joseph is the place that accepted him wholly, the place where he was forced to grow. It is also where, in 2005, he told the congregation that he is gay.
The revelation did not rock the church. The parish and its leader, the only gay Catholic priest in the Bay Area who is out to his congregation, grew to love each other even more.
Pope Benedict XVI has called homosexuality "objectively disordered," the Vatican issued guidelines almost two years ago saying gay men should not enter the seminary, and Cardinal William Levada, former archbishop of San Francisco, has said that openly gay priests make it difficult for congregations to see clergy as embodying Jesus Christ.
Still, 1,800 families pack into St. Joseph at five Masses every weekend to hear Father Rich.
"He's the most deeply spiritual person I've ever met," said Sue Spiersch, 62, a lifelong Catholic and a member of St. Joseph since 1972. She said Danyluk made a congregation of strangers into friends.
Said parishioner Dana Haering, 40, a lifelong Catholic: "He finds a way to make you feel God's presence -- as my pastor, as my friend. Isn't that what (a) relationship should be?"
Danyluk says he is merely living out the Gospel.
"Being gay in the Catholic Church means, for me, that all my life I was brought up feeling that I was unworthy and didn't belong and very negative things were said from the church," he said in an interview this week. "Hearing that over and over again, you could almost believe it.
"There's a passage in Scripture that God said to Jesus, 'You're my beloved son in whom I'm well pleased.' I believe God says that to every male, and he says 'You're my beloved daughter' to every woman. Finally, that sunk into me, that I don't need a priest or a bishop or a pope to tell me who I am. I want everyone else to have that same right."
Gay priests illustrate the Catholic Church's paradoxes on homosexuality, said the Rev. Jim Schexnayder, resource director for the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries.
The church's teaching that homosexual acts are grave sins means that priestly vows of celibacy can be a comfort for gay Catholics seeking to keep the faith. But few gay priests are out, fearing repercussions from superiors or their congregations.
"Homosexuality is a third rail," Schexnayder said. "It tends to be so electric in its effect. It causes a lot of anxiety in some circles. ... It creates this reality that people don't want to face."
For most of his life, Danyluk avoided openly facing his homosexuality. He knew he was gay by about seventh grade. In seminary in the late 1960s, he went to the rooms of fellow seminarians, had his first sexual experiences and pretended that they never happened.
"That's sick. That's using somebody," he says now. "It was the acting out."
Within a few years, he began drinking heavily.
"It gave me a little more freedom to do things that I knew were wrong," he said. "It just numbed the senses."
In the early 1980s, he began seeing a counselor to come to terms with his sexual orientation but returned at times to drinking and illicit sex. He was stopped twice for drunken driving while leading a Southern California parish in the 1990s. After the second arrest, in November 1999, he was sent to a rehab center in Minnesota.
That was a turning point in his life. Before leaving for treatment, he told worshipers at his final service about his alcoholism, apologized and asked for forgiveness and prayers. They gave him a standing ovation.
He said he's abstained from alcohol and has been celibate ever since.
Parishioners say Father Rich's influence at the Alameda church since he arrived in 2001 has been powerful in many small ways.
He greets children on one knee so that little ones can meet him at eye level. He created a team of parishioners to give the homilies one weekend a month. He built relationships among parishioners by instituting a weekly snack and chat time after Mass.
But several church members said his words are the real gems. They are found in his midweek e-mail bulletin, his answering-machine message, unscripted moments and his homilies.
In September 2005, Danyluk was angered by the Vatican's proposed guidelines about gay seminarians. As eventually adopted, they prohibit the acceptance into seminary of "those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called 'gay culture.' "
Danyluk thought it was time to speak up to his parish.
Church hierarchy had decided that the theme that week was about accepting, not rejecting. Father Rich told the story of his aunt.
As she lay dying, she cried and told him she was a lesbian. "I'm so afraid I'm going to hell," she said.
"That's not how God works," he recalled for the congregation. He grabbed the Gospel and held it aloft before the congregation. "This is either the good news for everybody or nobody," he said.
That included all gays and lesbians, he said, including those in attendance, to whom he added: "I'm one of you."
There was no backlash from the bishop of Oakland, the Most Rev. Allen H. Vigneron, who Danyluk says supports gay priests. The diocese's top clergy were on a retreat this week and unavailable for comment, a spokeswoman said.
While most parishioners were supportive, Danyluk said two people were upset, including a mother of two children attending the parish's schools who made an appointment to see him.
"I guess you'll be pushing the gay agenda in both schools," she said, but wouldn't tell him what she thought the "gay agenda" was.
"I told her the only agenda I've ever pushed in my life is the gospel of Christ," said Danyluk, who says he has mentioned gays and lesbians only a few times in his homilies. "I said your two children -- I love them, and they love me. I treat them very humanly and very respectfully, unlike what you're doing to me right now."
The woman stayed in the congregation but avoids him when possible, he says.
Other parishioners say Danyluk has transformed their lives.
Haering, 40, said Danyluk visited her and her once-athletic husband every week for many months as multiple sclerosis wasted his body. Before Dave Haering died at age 38 in November 2005, family, friends and Father Rich gathered around him for a blessing.
Danyluk asked them to share what they had learned from Dave.
"Rich has a way of asking just the right question to make you look deeper in yourself than where you knew you could go," Dana Haering said. "My husband was in a coma. He wasn't going to come out of it. And yet what he made us look at was, 'What have we learned?'
"There wasn't a person in the room who didn't realize how blessed we had been to have David in our lives and to have Rich in our lives."