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Commentary

Dear Holy Father

/ 04:24 AM January 15, 2015

I write to you as a wayward son assured of paternal indulgence because such foolishness is an outpouring of sincerity, warts and all. When I decided to pen this letter, I cast about for the appropriate way to address a fatherly figure to all, yet a remote name for me. So I chose the singular path of vulnerability.

If memories contain our woundedness, the time I cried inside the theater is an apt recollection. I was 14 when “Priest” was shown in movie houses. Before it was denounced and pulled out, I had the lucky chance to watch it. I sat surreptitiously as though it were a guilty pleasure. I didn’t cry because I heard moviegoers’ invectives against two men kissing. Of course, it hurt me. But tears streamed during the last scene when the parishioners refuse to receive communion from Fr. Greg Pilkington. Only Lisa, the molested child, approaches him. I wept, not for myself, but for a character who didn’t resemble anyone I knew yet. I felt sorry for an imaginary person.

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Never did I realize that the Father Greg I cried for was my future self. In 2004, I went on a discernment retreat to a monastery. Ready to renounce a job and a meticulously planned career track, I expressed my intent to join the community. The journey of a lifetime began. Going through discernment and purgation of ulterior motives for years, I knew the sacrifices demanded of monastic life. I had experienced the vapid freedom the world jingles, and it was time to listen to silence.

The vocation director met me at the guesthouse and began the interview. At the bottom of the list appeared the ultimate question: Have I had any homosexual experience? Since I had already reconciled with my sexuality, I could candidly answer as a mature applicant.

The next day, I was informed that the community had decided against my application. Though I was free to cut back on my stay, I asked permission to remain for two more nights. I couldn’t believe I failed the interview because I admitted to be gay. I hoped against hope. This time I cried for myself.

Thank you, Holy Father, for your openness at the synod. Though gay marriage wasn’t discussed as an issue, a more democratic atmosphere was observable because of the questionnaires distributed prior to the synod. Thank you for warning our pastors of the temptation “to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners.” Compared to the rest of the world, the Church’s acceptance of homosexuality is slow-paced. And any lobbyist would be disenchanted. Yet your gesture marks a new epoch in Church history which follows the “natural law” of evolution, not revolution.

I understand that the acceptance of affectively mature gay candidates is still hindered by the 2005 instruction on the admission of gays to the seminary and holy orders. While it reiterates that “every sign of unjust discrimination in their (gays’) regard should be avoided,” it also categorically forbids entrance of applicants with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies.” Tokenism won’t assuage the persistent criticism against the Church’s homophobic attitude which clings to a reductionist idea that homosexuals suffer from “disordered” affections. Though gays are invited to “fulfill God’s will in their lives,” their sexual orientation excludes them from a fuller obedience to a call to consecrated life. These undulating statements, combined with local implementation, serve up a balmy brew of ambivalences.

Holy Father, what graphic configuration to Christ Crucified would compare to an applicant questioned for his sexual orientation? Of course, we empathize with the Church as she controls the damage of sexual scandals. The inquisitorial feel after a self-incriminating-yet-psychologically-sound admission of an applicant’s homosexuality won’t be a constructive solution to weeding out gays in the priesthood. Instead, it sends a message of fear and inevitable dishonesty about one’s sexual struggles. From the beginning, gays are treated suspiciously and their probity as future priests stands trial. Their healthy self-image as sexual persons brands them as billy goats on the loose. Hence, the “respect and sensitivity” that the Church extends to gays merely extend to the text—when the stones of tradition inter the Spirit.

Ten years ago, I was offered a choice: integrity to the inner truth of my frail humanity or obedience to a call to contemplative life. Painful as it was, I chose to stay true to my truth. If I were to respond to God, I couldn’t start with a lie and expect it to end up right. On hindsight, perhaps the community was correct. My opinion (that a homosocial relationship—imperfect it may be—partakes, to an extent, in the sacramentality of an ideal union between God and his people) could have stirred up a hornet’s nest. Maybe the community required an efficient farmhand, not a muckraker.

But I think I was presented skewed alternatives. If integrity and obedience are not mutually exclusive, then to choose one over the other offers a false dichotomy. One can be a self-professed gay religious—rid of ego-dystonic homosexuality—and stay faithful to the vows, too. Holy Father, let’s not push our promising priests to the closet. It would break my heart if future consecrated persons are denied their vocation because they put on brindled humanity.

Many of us stand at the outskirts of the Church. We still overhear “It’s a long way to Tipperary.” But we’ll stick with her. How can’t we? The Servant of God Dorothy Day captures our sentiments in a remark: “Though she is a harlot at times, she is our Mother.”

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Cyril Belvis teaches literature at De La Salle Araneta University and takes postgraduate studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

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