Fordham University’s Fr. Bryan Massingale, S.T.D. Responds to Concerns on Retreat for Gay Priests, Brothers, and Deacons

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Fr. Bryan Massingale, S.T.D., Professor and  James and Nancy Buckman Chair in Applied Christian Ethics at Fordham University, responded to concerns about a retreat he will be leading in early October. The retreat, titled “Living in Truth: The Call to Authenticity,” is offered for gay priests, brothers and deacons. It is sponsored by New Ways Ministry, an organization dedicated to justice and equality for LGBT Catholics and will be held at the Siena Center, a retreat center run by Dominican Sisters.

Massingale, a priest of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, was mentioned by Archbishop Jerome Listecki in a letter sent out to parishes in the archdiocese. Listecki wrote that his permission, though not needed, was not sought by Massingale or the sisters. The archbishop further elaborated that he would not have allowed the retreat to proceed even if he was asked. In the letter, he also wrote that the retreat is “not in line with Church teaching,” and emphatically stated it was not endorsed by the archdiocese.

Massingale responded to these critiques in a commentary featured in National Catholic Reporter, titled “A Response to Concerns about a Retreat for Gay Priests, Brothers and Deacons.” Massingale began by addressing the perceived need for permission. He explained that he has led numerous retreats for select groups (even including one for Catholic cat lovers) and has never had to offer “advance notification” for acting as a spiritual leader in these other capacities. He also challenged Listecki’s assertion that the retreat was not in line with Church teaching. Massingale, in the brochure promoting the retreat, explained its aim as patterning ministry and sexuality according to the embrace for truth Jesus calls for in the Gospel of John. Claiming that the retreat is out of line with official Church teaching, Massingale replied, is “at best, unfounded.”

Even though Listceki put forth several concerns, Massingale identified that at the heart of the issue is the term ‘gay’ in the title of the retreat, a word that often conjures both fear and prejudice. He asserts that there is a discriminatory perception that anytime there is a meeting of gay Christians, it is considered “a branch office of Sodom,” where Jesus cannot be found. Massingale says that this implies that gay people (specifically men) are so driven by sex that whenever they meet, sin must result. He believes that mindset is why many have attempted to blame the recent sex abuse scandals in the Catholic Church on gay priests.

Massingale says that not only does this ignore women who have survived clergy abuse, but it is an attempt to blame and misrepresent the many gay people who are faithfully serving the Church. Massingale recently co-authored a letter to theology graduate students with Dr. Patrick Hornbeck, Chair of Theology at Fordham, which stressed that the scandal was not a result of sexual orientation. Rather, they refer to it as a “crisis of sexual violence, systemic dishonesty, and episcopal malfeasance.”

The retreat is focused on living in truth, and Massingale argues that a retreat with this theme is a step towards a healthier Church, one that is both concerned with the well-being of its clergy and the safety of its members.  Massingale noted that he is honored to be the leader of this retreat and believes it will be an “occasion of grace” for the Church and those who serve.

Read the full article at National Catholic Reporter.

Fr. Bryan Massingale is the James and Nancy Buckman Chair in Applied Christian Ethics, as well as the Senior Ethics Fellow in Fordham’s Center for Ethics Education. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Christian Ethics and serves on the editorial board of Theological Studies, one of the premier Catholic journals of theology. He is the author of Racial Justice in the Catholic Church. 

Blog by Emma Wonsil, MA in Ethics and Society ’19

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