A gay former priest journeys from his secret to freedom.
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“Know that the purpose for which each soul enters a material experience is that it may be a light unto others.” Edgar Cayce
One’s sexual orientation was not discussed in good Catholic families in the 1960s and 70s. It was not discussed in elementary school or high school, and certainly not in Catholic seminary or amongst straight, ordained priests or with parishioners. Yet, sexuality is always a big issue, particularly amongst adolescents, and especially amongst the precocious youth of that era. In “proper” families, sexual orientation, particularly if you were not “straight,” was so beyond “big issue” that it was best kept secret… like a personal fault or shameful character flaw. When added to my feelings of isolation and loneliness in keeping my secret, the expectations of parishioners and of the church hierarchy left me feeling trapped and helpless, so it was not surprising that my spirit was at a point of burnout in 1991 when I asked for a year off. In the past, my spiritual directors and councillors had all asked me to journal; during that break, I discovered a strong need to do so. As Steven Berkoff said, “Writing is an antidote for loneliness.”
Secrets can be dangerous. My secret, maintained throughout a lifetime, could be deadly. Like many of my generation, and many more even today, I struggled with it, and its fallout in serious emotional challenges, lifestyle dilemmas, and impossible spiritual peace. As a Catholic priest, I thought I would find refuge, a hiding place from the expectations of a heterosexual culture, yet the promise of celibacy and the loneliness that are built into the church only magnified all the usual difficulties and condemned me to a life alone, outside the mainstream community. How does one reconcile what is deemed by many to be a culturally and religiously unacceptable sexual orientation? How does one find peace within such a dilemma?
I believe my perspective on maintaining a healthy balance within ourselves, between ourselves, and with our higher power can offer peace, spiritual wholeness, and hope for a fulfilling and contented life. My hope is that my story will offer to others a way of maintaining health, whether they are facing the same or similar challenges that come from being gay, or some other of life’s spiritually and emotionally difficult times.
Yet it is in this loneliness that the deepest activities begin. It is here that you discover act without motion, labour that is profound repose, vision in obscurity, and, beyond all desire, a fulfillment whose limits extend to infinity. Thomas Merton, a 20th century Trappist monk
Having entered into a relationship with the Roman Catholic Church as a priest, while not ‘owning my own truth‘ and keeping it a secret, I was feeling alone, fearing for my security and acceptance; I became co-dependent.
Yearning for a significant other who would also be my soul mate—and realizing this would never be allowed as a Catholic priest—created my experience of loneliness as one of sorrow and pain. When I went into the priesthood, I checked my own truth at the door. Well locked up, I forgot myself. ‘After having left the priesthood, I no longer feel lonely because I have changed my concept of God and began to own my own truth.
About the Author
As a Roman Catholic priest, Ray Buteau’s pastoral experiences led him to the Arctic Circle; ASL studies at Gallaudet College; Peace Corps work in Harlem, New York; a key role in the establishment of Canada’s first Catholic Bible College; and, of course, parish ministry. Using his year in the Arctic as a guide, he published Inuit: The People of Canada’s Arctic in 1978.
After leaving the priesthood in 2002, Ray developed ‘Warrior of the Rainbow,’ through which he offers creative spiritual counseling services in a non-religious context.He is currently a spiritual counselor in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.