As someone who was born and educated Roman Catholic, I've thought it important for people like me who learned our catechism by heart and also understand how the church functions to speak up against the hierarchy when its members act hypocritically or in a bigoted manner and/or when they're not in touch with the laity in some of its doings and/or when they're just plain wrong. The day of blind or ignorant acceptance of all that they preach is over viz-a-viz the developed world and I am convinced--with respect to God in so far as practicing Christians venerate Him--a hierarchy that is fully accountable to an educated, informed people would be much more in keeping with His intentions.
The obverse side is that when people within the church--whether in the laity or hierarchy--are doing good then that, too, must be acknowledged and lauded. So I am very pleased to bring you an interview with a Brother whom I had the good fortune to come across as a result of word of my novel going farther and farther ashore--in this case to Papua, New Guinea via Australia.
Because he is still in the process of coming out to some members of the Order to which he belongs as well as having a desire to afford them privacy, the Brother wished to remain anonymous and I respect that. I feel you will find this as educational and interesting as I did. As he reads my blog, feel free to leave comments for him via if you feel inclined to so do.
DMN: Can you tell me about the area where you grew up in Australia?
ANS: I grew up in the Western Suburbs of Sydney in an area that would be described as working class. My family is very close and very large. I am one of 11 children, two of whom have died. In reality I am classed as the eldest because the one born before me died shortly after birth. My education was totally in Catholic schools and many of the Brothers and Nuns who taught me were Irish, a feature of Australian Catholic life at this time. I attended the Convent School from Kindergarten until Year 3 and the following year, Year 4, advanced to the ‘Brothers School’ where I completed my
education up to Year 12.
DMN: Were you close to your parents? Were they very religious Catholics? Are they immigrants to Australia?
ANS: I was closer to my mother. My father was a good man who loved us, looked after us and provided what we needed. In many ways he was a very private person and looking back it was hard to get to know him at least that was my experience. I realize now (he died in 1984) that there were many things about his own family he never told us. Much I have found out from my research into the family history. My mother was always the one at home and having given birth to so many children she had to be there, so for me she has always been the one I found it easier to talk to.
I don’t think I would describe them as overly religious Catholics. They took us to mass every Sunday, confession occasionally and we attended all the Easter ceremonies in our parish church and dad was a member of the St Vincent De Paul Society. We took our turn at the family rosary statue that came around the parish but not too many of my brothers and sisters enjoyed that compulsory exercise.
Both my parents were born in Australia.
DMN: Did you go to university and, if so, what did you study?
ANS: No I did not go to University. I went straight from school into the Brothers and when it came time to undertake my professional studies I went to the Teachers College where I trained as a Primary School teacher. I therefore have a BEd and also now have a BTh and Mth.
DMN: Have you always been religious?
ANS: I went to Mass and did the things that were expected of me as a Catholic but apart from that I wouldn’t describe myself as always being religious.
DMN What made you decide you wanted to devote your life to the church?
ANS: I did not join the Brothers with any big ideas of wanting to devote my life to the church; I simply wanted to be a Brother like those I knew and admired. That may sound naive and at the age of 19 when I joined it was probably not a good reason for joining a Religious Order. Having said that I did join and I still remain to this day, quite some years later. I am convinced that although one’s initial reason for joining a group may be immature or unclear, over time one refines that initial call and the reasons why one remains. A call to me is something that unfolds as the life journey we are on continues. I would describe it as a journey into authenticity and faithfulness.
DMN: Are you a priest or a brother?
Why did you decide to enter as a brother as opposed to becoming a priest?
I am a Religious Brother. The Religious Order to which I belong does not have priests. Despite the men who taught me being tough enough in school, outside of class there was an ease in relating to us that I was drawn to. It was never a choice between being a Brother or a Priest. I always wanted to be a Brother.
DMN: Please explain the difference between the two.
The major difference is the role we play within the Church and the life we lead. Priests are very much involved in the sacramental life of the people. We are not; we don’t celebrate Eucharist, hear confessions or marry people, or dispense any of the other sacraments of the Church. My vocation is to live out my calling in a community of like minded men who try to imitate Christ and base their lives on Gospel values. We also follow a particular ‘charism’ or spirit given to us by our Founder. It can be argued that this is the call of all Christians and that is so. The thing about me is that I have chosen to live out my Christian calling in the Religious Order to which I belong, trying all the time to deepen my relationship with the God who called me initially.
DMN: Describe an average day in your life and the type of responsibilities you have in your vocation.
ANS: I live in Papua New Guinea. An average day for me at the moment is a follows. I rise at around 5.30 am. Things start very early in the tropics and that isn’t all bad. I am not by nature an early riser so it is sometimes hard to get up that early. I begin the day in private prayer followed by community prayer with the other Brothers with whom I live. Mass follows and after breakfast the day of ministry begins. Having only been in my new posting for a little less than two months I am still settling in.
Basically I am involved in the teaching of young men who are in various stages of training and commitment as Brothers. I teach them about Prayer, our Religious Life, Scripture and all manner of other topics relevant to our life and life development in general. In the New Year I will be responsible for those in a particular stage of their training called Novitiate. That is a period of two years before the person commits themselves to our life by the vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. At the end of the working day we gather in community for prayer and then our evening meal which we take turns to prepare. I love the morning and evening as they are the coolest part of what is generally a very hot and humid day. The cool of the evening gives the chance to sit and enjoy the particular beauty of the area in which I live. We have a lovely view of the coconut palm dotted coastline. People would pay a fortune for such a view in Australia.
DMN: When did you first realize you were gay and how long did it take for you to accept it?
ANS: This is the six million dollar question and also what has been at the heart of my own journey over the last year. My earliest memory of my same sex attraction would be around the age of 8 or 9. Obviously I would not have attached the word gay or homosexual to those feelings but they were there as I look back. My knowing I was gay continued to unfold as I got older but around my early teenage years I definitely knew I was attracted to other boys of my own age. There is a very big difference between knowing and accepting. I was going okay until towards the end of my High School. I was in Year 10 and 16 years of age. We were told by our Principal that we were to have a visit from a particular priest who was going to tell us some very important things about sex and other matters young men of our age should know. I remember thinking this was funny as we had already been told the facts of life in Science class some two years previously and I wasn’t sure what this priest could add. I don’t remember all he said but I am very clear on the tirade he gave us about homosexuality. That really threw me and I was too scared to go and talk to anyone about it. I was totally confused. Up until then nothing bad had come to my attention about my feelings. That was suddenly all changed. When I ‘gave in’ to those feelings I went to confession and thought it was all okay but the feelings were still there and I struggled very much. Throughout the last two years of my High School I was very aware of my attractions to other boys but despite having some very good men teaching me there was no way I was going to raise the topic with them. At this stage I began to become aware of the views of the wider society on homosexuality and they were as bad as the church so I shut up and said nothing. So began the journey to not accepting the truth about myself.
When did I finally accept this truth? Only this last year, in what has been a most difficult, personal and spiritual experience but one I am pleased I have been through because of the end result. I would not wish the agony on any one but believe me there was light at the end of the tunnel and with the help of an excellent counselor and an excellent spiritual director I came through. The agony was around finally believing that it is good to be gay and that one is loved very much by God for being gay.
DMN: Was it difficult to accept your upbringing as a Catholic with being a gay man?
ANS: I suppose that was what my journey was all about. Both the Church and society continually sent messages that to be gay was something akin to having a life threatening disease. I had to finally confront the reality of this belief in my own life and that was difficult. I thought I had succeeded in blocking out all the negative messages and was okay especially as I was not living in a homosexual relationship, but one can only fool oneself for so long. Eventually the truth has to be faced and the truth was that many within the Church and society for that matter still think it is wrong to be gay. When I accepted that reality I then had to face what I really thought myself about being gay.
DMN: How did your family (immediate and extended) react when you told them? Did any of them reject you as a result?
ANS: My fear has always been that if others knew I was gay they would not want to have anything to do with me. The thought of being rejected by my own family worried me so much I wasn’t prepared to say I was gay. I have always wanted to be accepted for who I was but have been afraid to say it.
I initially shared my journey and my fears with particular members of my family and was so happy with the reaction. I have since shared it with them all and not one has reacted negatively. I have shared it also with some members of my extended family and received the same positive response. Some of my family members have friends who are gay and so it was never going to be a problem for them. It is a similar case with my younger nephews and nieces who live in a more tolerant society and are very much faced with the reality of gay men.
DMN: Why did you decide to tell them?
ANS: In the end I had to, if you know what I mean. When I finally came to the peace of accepting who I was it seemed to be the natural step to share this knowledge with those I loved. It adds integrity to ones life if you are prepared to share the deepest truth of yourself with those you love. The sharing of such truth and the pain of the journey has brought me to a deeper relationship with quite a few of them and that in itself is good.
DMN: Have you informed your order that you are gay?
ANS: I have informed the leadership within my Province and also our worldwide leader. There are also significant others within my own Province with whom I have shared this truth about myself.
DMN: What was their reaction?
A very positive one. No one has any problem with my being gay. In fact the community in Australia which I recently left felt free enough to discuss the matter around the dinner table.
DMN: What do you hope will result from your decision to come out to them?
ANS: First and foremost, an acceptance of the reality that there are gay men already living within Religious Community and doing quite a good job at it. Secondly, to challenge any stereotypes that may exist in the minds of individuals. Thirdly, how does such knowledge challenge them to accept homosexual men and women within the wider society?
DMN: Have any of the brothers changed in attitude toward you since you came out?
ANS: None at all, but then again those I chose to share my truth with are men whom I respect and with whom I have a very good relationship. Some expressed surprise but then realized that being gay didn’t change the reality of the person they already knew.
DMN: How do you feel the Catholic Church treats people who are homosexual,both its clergy and lay congregation?
ANS: This is a difficult and complicated question to answer and what follows is my own opinion. The official teaching of the Catholic Church on homosexuality leaves much to be desired. It can only be and is a source of pain to those who are gay and lesbian and who want to take their rightful place within the Church. I believe it is stuck in a time warp and it is high time it moved out. Bigotry and hatred abound against homosexual people and the Church has to accept her share of the responsibility for this given their only partial acceptance of men and women homosexuals. Many quote the Bible to prove their position but take it completely out of context and with no knowledge of the advances that have been made in Biblical scholarship in recent times. They have also failed to take into account the advances in the behavioral sciences about sexuality in general and sexual orientation in particular. While many within the Church totally accept and minister to the homosexual community the hierarchy itself has a long way to go.
DMN: What changes in attitude would you like to see within the church in this connection?
ANS: Imagine a world where all men and women are accepted fully for who they are!
That is the change in attitude I would like to see. What if the Church stood up and publicly declared that it has been wrong in its judgment of and treatment of homosexual people in the past and they want to change all that. What if the Church espoused a Theology of love that included the love of one man for another and one woman for another and welcomed the living together of two such people in a loving, life giving and committed relationship! It would be a very different world we live in.
DMN: Is Australia tolerant towards gay people?
ANS: Australia is very much like any other country. There is both acceptance and rejection in all its degrees. While Sydney each year hosts the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras and huge numbers attend there is still much violence done to homosexual people. Sons and daughters are still thrown out of their homes for saying they are gay or lesbian; gays and lesbians are still being beaten up on our streets and even killed. So while I would say Australia is a tolerant country it still has a long way to go.
DMN: Is there anything else you would like readers to know about yourself,
ANS: What I have described here is only the tip of the iceberg. The story each of us has to offer has its similarities and differences. It is also very complex and is almost impossible to put down accurately in such a short space. I ask those who read my story to accept it as it is. It is not complete and it still continues. It has validity because it belongs to me. I look upon it as something very special and something quite sacred. I trust you will respect it for what it is and for the truth I have decided to share in these few pages.
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