Former Catholic Cleric Predicts Gay Exodus from Priesthood

c. 2005 Religion News Service

RIDGEFIELD, N.J. _ He left the Catholic priesthood in 1998, he said, because he was tired of shielding his identity as a gay man from a church that condemns homosexuality.

The Rev. Mariano Gargiulo, now an Episcopal priest in the Newark diocese, said he believes Tuesday's (Nov. 29) Vatican edict banning most gay men from entering the seminary also will force many priests from the clergy.

Gargiulo, who said he remains friends with dozens of gay Catholic priests from his days in the Archdiocese of Newark, predicted the ruling will heighten tensions within the church even though it doesn't apply to current priests.

``It will push many of them away,'' Gargiulo said of the document, which was leaked to news outlets and widely distributed before the official release Tuesday. ``The Vatican ... says that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered, and how many times can you be told that before you start to say, `Hey, maybe I should go somewhere else.'''

Older priests are less likely to leave, Gargiulo said, because they will need the Catholic Church to support their retirement. ``They're going to hide,'' he said. ``They're going to put themselves deeper in the closet because it's a comfortable lifestyle.''

From his office at St. James Episcopal Church in Ridgefield, Gargiulo spoke of his experience as a possible template for what many other gay priests _ especially noncelibate ones _ may do now.

Gargiulo's remarks were based on reports (which proved correct Tuesday) from an Italian news service, Adista, which said last week that the Vatican would ban from seminaries men with ``deep-rooted homosexual tendencies'' or gay men who support ``gay culture.'' Qualified men who have ``overcome ... transitory'' homosexual tendencies for three years could be admitted.

Though current priests would not be affected, the policy probably will add fuel to divisive church debates over homosexuality and over whether the church, with its declining number of priests, can afford to keep gay men out of seminaries.

No one knows how many Catholic priests are gay, but estimates vary from one in 10 to more than half. A report released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops last year said a ``homoerotic culture'' and a ``gay subculture'' took root at the nation's Catholic seminaries in the 1960s.

Gargiulo said he was not part of any gay scene at the archdiocesan seminary, Immaculate Conception in Mahwah, N.J., which he attended in the late 1970s. He said he previously sensed he was gay but did not fully realize or ``deal with it'' until 1982, the year after he was ordained.

Gargiulo, 51, said he is not active in gay political circles, but open about his sexuality.

His own estimate of the percentage of priests who are gay is on the high end _ more than half, he said. He said he quickly learned, as he was coming out himself, that gay priests were common in the church.

In the mid-1980s, Gargiulo said, he broke his priestly promise of celibacy six times, most of the time with other Catholic priests. Still, he said, he had planned to remain a Catholic priest.

``I was coming to grips with the fact that I was human and would have slips or mishaps,'' he said. ``But then, as you understand yourself more and more ... you begin to realize, this is not right.''

He said that when administering marriage vows he felt like a hypocrite for breaking his celibacy promise.

``This is not right,'' he would tell himself, he recalled. ``I'm asking these people in front of me to be faithful to their marriage vows. ... And am I being faithful?''

In the late 1980s, he took leave from the archdiocese to work with AIDS patients.

And because of his sexuality, he began exploring ways to leave the church. He looked into other denominations: Baptist, Methodist, United Church of Christ, Orthodox, Presbyterian and Episcopalian.

``I always came back to the Episcopal Church. The United Church of Christ at that time was the only Christian denomination that ordained openly gay and lesbian people, but it wasn't sacramental enough for me.''

The Episcopal Church commonly accepts gay priests and has no celibacy requirements.

Newark's Episcopal bishop at the time, John Shelby Spong, urged Gargiulo to meet with his Catholic archbishop before leaving Catholic ministry.

Gargiulo met with Theodore McCarrick in 1998. He told the archbishop he was gay and in a five-year relationship with another man.

Gargiulo said McCarrick told him he wanted him back as a priest, but that he would have to be celibate. Gargiulo told McCarrick he would not return.

``I said to him, `I have to tell you that my partner is in the outer office, and if you'd like to come and meet him that would be fine, and if you don't, I understand that completely.'

``He said, `Oh no, I'll come out and meet him.' He came out, he shook his hand, he was very nice. He said, `Mariano's worked very hard for us for many years, and you take care of him. And God bless you both.'

``I have to say, he's a gentleman. He truly is.''

Gargiulo was then shocked, he said, by a letter he received three years later from McCarrick's replacement, John J. Myers, in response to a letter from Gargiulo saying he had decided to become an Episcopal priest.

Myers' letter told Gargiulo he was classified as a schismatic and thus automatically excommunicated. (James Goodness, a spokesman for Myers, said the excommunication had nothing to do with Gargiulio's sexual orientation.)

Gargiulo showed the letter to Jack Croneberger, who had recently become Newark's Episcopal bishop. A month later, as Gargiulo was received into the Episcopal Church, Croneberger stunned Gargiulo by doing something a Catholic bishop would never do.

``He invited (my partner) up, and he had us on each side of him, and he grabbed both our hands. He said, `I want to thank you for being an example in the church of what a gay couple can be and how a loving gay couple can be part of the church community.'''


(Jeff Diamant writes for The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J.)

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