A Catholic priest in training came out as gay on Friday, saying his sexuality shouldn’t define him before God and calling for the Church to be more welcoming to outsiders.
Damian Torres-Botello, who, like Pope Francis, is a member of the Jesuit order, published an essay in the Jesuit Post this morning entitled “This I Believe: Created in God’s Image.” The article, which was reportedly approved by Torres-Botello’s superiors, describes his initial struggles with discerning a call to ministry, noting that his friends and family expressed concerns he could face obstacles as a person of color and “would be forced into the closet after seventeen years of accepting myself as gay.”
But Torres-Botello said he doesn’t feel his sexuality should keep him from God.
“Yet here’s the truth I know and believe: I am created in God’s image and likeness, just as God creates us all. It is actually that simple,” he wrote.
Torres-Botello also argued that Catholics shouldn’t use difference as an excuse to turn people away, saying it makes some feel like the “Church is not a welcoming home for them.” He cited examples of Catholic school teachers fired for being openly gay as well as other groups who have felt excluded by the church, such as people of color, women, divorced Catholics, and children with disabilities.
“That’s the truth that sits within each of us: God made us all in his image and likeness,” Torres-Botello wrote. “To embrace all that we are – and to embrace each other with that love – is to embrace that image and likeness; it is to embrace God. 36 years of life and my short time as a Jesuit have confirmed that truth. And so I pray as a Church we discover tender compassion for each other to love the God that dwells in us all.”
Although Torres-Botello’s public profession of his sexuality is highly unusual for a priest in training — especially with the consent of church leadership — it’s not necessarily a direct violation of Catholic teaching. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “homosexual tendencies” are “objectively disordered,” but also asks LGBT people to remain chaste — just like priests. In addition, Torres-Botello’s call for a more welcoming church reflects other aspects of the Catechism, which says “Every sign of unjust discrimination [against LGBT people] should be avoided.” And while the post makes broad appeals for acceptance, it doesn’t recommend any specific policies or changes to Catholic teaching on sexuality.
Still, his post does highlight a marked — and very recent — shift in how the Church grapples with homosexuality and gay priests. Pope Benedict XVI, Francis’ predecessor, published a formal “instruction” in 2005 that recommended banning men from the priesthood who “practise homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture’” By contrast, when Pope Francis was asked about gay priests in 2013, he responded by saying “who am I to judge?” Francis’ words appear to have emboldened some ordained Catholics: a priest in Dublin, Ireland told his congregation he was gay in January, and reportedly received a standing ovation.
The post also comes at an awkward time for the Catholic Church in America, which is currently engaged in several battles over LGBT issues across the country. Several Catholic institutions have stirred controversy for firing people over their sexuality, and thousands of Catholics in San Francisco are participating in ongoing protests against an archbishop who is threatening to institute a policy allowing him to fire parochial school teachers who are publicly LGBT.