Catholic Priest In Wisconsin Gets Standing Ovation After Coming Out As Gay

"I will not be silent any longer; the price to pay is way too great. I must speak my truth."

The Catholic Church hasn't always been so kind and accepting towards members of the LGBTQ community, but when a priest in Wisconsin recently came out as gay, he received a standing ovation from his parishioners.

The Rev. Gregory Greiten, who serves as the pastor of Milwaukee's St. Bernadette Parish, came out during his December 17 sermon. According to USA Today, Greiten told his congregation, "I am Greg. I am a Roman Catholic priest, and, yes, I am gay!" He followed up that liberating declaration with a more in-depth first-person column in National Catholic Reporter.

"Today, I break the silence and emerge free from the shackles of shame placed upon me at a young age," Greiten wrote. "There is so much to speak about, to repair and to heal — much beyond the limits of these words in print. I am gay."

After growing up in a "secretive environment," Greiten explained he finally admitted to himself he was gay when he was 24.

 "It felt more like a life sentence than freely embracing my true sexual orientation," he wrote of the realization. 

But he chose to get ordained and become a priest, and recently celebrated a quarter century of priesthood. Still, because church theology teaches that acting upon homosexuality is a sin, Greiten often wondered if his congregants would treat him differently if they knew the truth about his sexuality. "Would they pull away?" he asked. "Who else could I serve if I accepted my true self? Am I limiting my ministry by hiding in shame and fear?"

Over the past year, Greiten came to the realization that he could "no longer live the lie of masquerading as a straight man in the priesthood," and made the decision to come out, noting that according to the book The Changing Face of the Priesthood, an estimated 23 percent to 58 percent of priests are gay.

"By choosing to enforce silence, the institutional church pretends that gay priests and religious do not really exist. Because of this, there are no authentic role models of healthy, well-balanced, gay, celibate priests to be an example for those, young and old, who are struggling to come to terms with their sexual orientation," Greiten wrote. "This only perpetuates the toxic shaming and systemic secrecy." 

Greiten even referenced Pope Francis in his essay, and noted that the religious leader has exhibited overwhelming tolerance and acceptance towards the LGBTQ communiity, even urging the Catholic Church to apologize to said group for mistreating them in the past. Pope Francis has also previously called for respect towards "every person regardless of sexual orientation."

Still, even with the unofficial endorsement of the Pope and encouragement from his own congregation, Greiten's reveal didn't sit well with all of his parishioners. Shawn Govern, who is opposed to same-sex marriage, told National Catholic Reporter. "He made a choice to walk in Christ's shoes, because he's not going to be accepted by everyone." 

And though it remains to be seen if Greiten will face any church-based repercussions for his decision to come out, he seemingly has the support of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, and doesn't regret his choice. "The difference for me now is I get to live a life that's open," he explained to local NBC affiliate TMJ 4. "It is honest and it's full of integrity, and that's what's most important to me." 

In the conclusion of his powerful essay, Greiten wrote, "This fire burning deep inside my heart, I will no longer contain. I will not be silent any longer; the price to pay is way too great. I must speak my truth. I have lived far too many years chained up and imprisoned in the closet behind walls of shame, trauma and abuse because of the homophobia and discrimination so prevalent in my church and the world. But rather, today, I chart a new course in freedom and in integrity knowing that there is nothing that anyone can do to hurt or destroy my spirit any longer. First steps in accepting and loving the person God created me to be."

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