A Priest's Tale: Autobiography of a Gay Priest

Excerpt: The Agony

During that black year I was involved in the University Choir as was Bruce. Each year the Choir did one major concert. That particular year we performed a gala concert at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre-the combined University Choir and the Vancouver Bach Choir with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. The work was Verdi's "Requiem". Bruce and I were nowhere near each other in the risers as I sang tenor and he, bass; but I was abundantly aware of his presence. My emotions during that performance have remained vivid in my memory ever since.

I was constantly depressed at that time; overwhelmed by what I believed was a completely hopelessness situation. Thoughts of ending my life obsessed me from time to time and seemed an immediate and irrevocable way to stop the confusion and pain. I thought I was the only person on the face of the earth who had these desires. The utter loneliness was a constant burden. My life seemed worthless-would never include any dimension of love or intimacy. My attempt at 'normal' life-my brief relationship with Gaye-had of necessity been aborted. Moreover, for all that Bruce continued to be extremely compassionate regarding my feelings for him, the knowledge that he could never return my ardour had settled like a weight in my heart.

The theatre was packed. The music was overwhelming-spiritual and lush. I was quickly caught up and remember thinking to myself, "This Requiem is for me. I am dead and have passed into God's grace". The familiar Latin texts had an uncanny affect, casting the whole experience in a surreal light. The turmoil within me collided with the music enveloping me. I felt a tangible union with the performance, and yet at the same time, a sense that I was the disembodied spirit for which the requiem was being offered. This was perhaps the most vivid experience in my life of being torn between what I perceived as two opposing forces-the spiritual and the carnal.

When I listen to the Requiem today, my mind is transported back to that performance and that moment in time although my thoughts about it are now pleasant-the old fears having been long since expunged. I love the Verdi Requiem immensely-perhaps even more so because of the passion I experienced while performing it.

The burden of my continual depression finally forced me to muster the courage to speak to my psychology professor. He was very practical and matter-of-fact about the whole thing. He was unfazed by my confession and simply gave me the name and telephone number of a psychologist at the University Hospital who specialized in counselling students with similar concerns. I made an appointment and began a series of sessions with him.

I went into these sessions with the unambiguous notion that I simply wanted to be cured. I suppose I truly believed that I had been unfortunately born with a handicap like a disease or deformity. I yearned to be like everyone else and enjoy the same things others enjoyed, however I had no presuppositions about how this might be achieved. I was prepared for anything-aversion therapy, surgery, medication-and I poured this all out to the doctor. Imagine my surprise when he bluntly stated that those things were not practical or even possible; that I would simply have to come to terms with and accept my sexuality.

In the year of my birth, 1937, Sigmund Freud had written, "Homosexuality is assuredly no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness." However, it was not until 1975 that the psychiatric community officially acknowledged this position. I look back now and realize how fortunate I was that the psychologist who dealt with me was far ahead of his time.

The counsellor didn't think I needed to change and explained that if I really was attracted to men nothing could be done to change that. It was not the 'norm' perhaps but it was no less a valid lifestyle. He counselled that I should accept my situation and adjust my thinking to take into account my desires. He even spoke about a Dean of Canterbury Cathedral-current at that time I believe-who was apparently known to be gay and lived with his lover. The doctor had obviously done his homework and knew exactly how best to approach me in all of this. But still, it was not that easy for him to convince me.

I was sunk deep in my depression and resisted what he was saying for many months. The counsellor encouraged me to accept myself. He may even have said in so many words that I was not alone. Homosexuality might not be the dominant persuasion, but it certainly wasn't a disorder to be treated. It was a slow process. Today, I shudder when I hear Christians talking about homosexuals as being sick, sinful, and abominations or making wrong choices. It is particularly offensive that the Catholic Church in the 21st century persists in using the term disordered to describe us. One assumes that would have direct implications for the One who orders all things; and that assertion begs the next and obvious question, "Why ever would He do that?"

The sessions eventually ended although the details of how that came about are now lost to me in the mists of time. Afterward, I needed considerable time to digest all of this new information. It is a process that has been unfolding through all the years of my life as I've met more and more couples, gay and straight, and seen first hand how much they have in common; how what defines a happy relationship is not the gender of those involved, but how they treat one another.

There was something of an immediate reaction, however. During the last part of that academic year, the wise counsel of the doctor seemed to be taking an actual hold on my perception. My depression began to subside, and I was able to begin eliminating some of the debilitating ideas that had unfortunately become a part of my psyche. I started to see that life was not as dreary or as lonely as I had thought. The slowly maturing realization that I was not alone, that my life might unfold in a productive way, began to emerge from the darkness in which I had existed. Life is a process of growing and learning which never ends, or at least should never end.

As I began to think more about my life-or the idea that I actually had a life-my thoughts turned once again to entering seminary and moving seriously toward ordination. What had seemed for several years the final, bleak act of my life was thankfully just a brief layover in hell.