Dear Pope Francis,
In your time as pope, your commitment to poverty has awakened the world to the evils of globalization, capitalism, and materialism. Many now understand poverty to be a structural sin and a social evil. Through your public statements you have sparked the interest of Catholics and non-Catholics, believers and atheists. The world looks to you as a shepherd, a man filled with the joy of the Gospel.
Yet, while you have focused on physical and material poverty, members of my community — lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender and queer/questioning men, women and youth — have been neglected. They remain on the frontiers, the margins, living spiritually poor lives. Some need the voice of cardinals like Walter Kasper to tell them that God loves them. Others know that God loves them, but church leadership rejects them as disordered and disoriented. Your prophetic question “Who am I to judge?” encourages people everywhere to have a nonjudgmental attitude toward members of the LGBTQ community, but being nonjudgmental is not enough, especially when Jesus tells us to be like the Good Samaritan and “go, do likewise.”
But who am I to write you?
As an openly gay man, I’ve spent the past 10 years pursuing the priesthood in the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). I am full of gratitude for this time. I loved being a Jesuit, a son of St. Ignatius of Loyola. This July I left the Jesuits in good standing.
Today I can no longer justly or freely pursue ordination to the priesthood as a gay man in a church where gay men and lesbian women are being fired from their jobs. The last straw for me was when a married lesbian social-justice minister was fired from a Jesuit parish in Kansas City.
Such marginalization is contrary to what many have called the “Francis effect.” These firings negate your emphasis on eradicating poverty because the firings bring men and women closer to physical and material poverty. Firing people because of their sexuality or their right to marry is discriminatory. It is unjust, especially since many Catholic institutions have employment-nondiscrimination disclaimers that state that they are equal-opportunity employers that comply with all federal, state, and local laws that prohibit discrimination in employment based on race, color, national origin, age, gender, religion, disability, marital status, sexual orientation, veteran status, and arrest record.
In my decision letter to my provincial, I noted my awareness of how LGBTQ injustice contradicts the Gospel. Furthermore, I pointed out how anti-gay legislation in countries like Uganda and Russia, and the subsequent lack of action by the church, led me to start questioning my membership in the church. As I pray about why I left the Society of Jesus, because of LGBTQ injustice in the church, I continue to pray St. Ignatius’ Suscipe Prayer:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace; that is enough for me.
Pope Francis, I pray that God continues to give me the grace to fulfill my vows, to respond to the needs of our world, an Incarnated reality that needs an ecumenical church — one that responds to the needs of the physically and spiritually poor together, as evidenced by Matthew 25. I long to not be a safe outsider or a fringe character. Yet I, an openly gay man, was told by my superiors to focus on other pastoral concerns. Why?
As an openly gay man, I sought ordination because of God’s calling me to the priesthood. From the age of 15, I prayed to understand that question. I prayed not to run but to be found. Time and again vocation directors, spiritual directors, and superiors tested my deepest desires, my holiest longing; these men saw me as oriented, not disordered, available to the priesthood for good and holy reasons.
As I entered the Jesuit novitiate, God helped me know myself and see myself as a fully self-loving and integrated gay man. Over time I saw that I had gifts to offer as a sensitive, empathic, joyful, loving, prayerful, articulate, multidimensional, well-educated minister. I understand myself to be priestly despite my humanness and frailty.
Pope Francis, with my vocation evolving, I remain priestly. I write you to help save my vocation, whatever that might be in the future. I ask you to instruct the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to tell Catholic institutions not to fire any more LGBTQ Catholics. I ask you to speak out against laws that criminalize and oppress LGBTQ people around the globe. These actions would bring true life to your statement “Whom am I to judge?”
As I continue my transition as a member of the laity, I am reminded that, like every Jesuit, I am “a sinner yet called to be a companion of Jesus as our founder Saint Ignatius of Loyola was.” And like many of my Jesuit brothers worldwide, gay or straight, I still reflect on the three principal questions of Jesuit and Ignatian prayer: What have I done for Jesus? What am I doing for Jesus? And what will I do for Jesus? For this I am full of gratitude.
As a former Jesuit, I know that at the core of Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises is a meeting of God, others, and self. This meeting takes place in a dynamic way that draws on our human and godly desires for relationship and love. In short, it is a pilgrimage that places Jesus at the center of one’s life. This pilgrimage is open to gay and straight believers. Jesus instructed us all to be good Samaritans, to “go, do likewise.”
With love and affection,
Benjamin Brenkert is a Seminarian, Theologian, Clinical Social Worker, and Gay Rights Activist. This post originally appeared on Bondings 2.0, the blog of New Ways Ministry.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.