How Do You Shepherd If You’ve Never Had a Sheep?

Rev. Thomas Berg, director of admissions at St. Joseph's Seminary, said he and his colleagues strive to rigorously screen the young men applying for admission, assessing their psychosexual development and emotional maturity. Applicants are asked about their dating history and their level of attraction to other males; Berg believes the process has succeeded in reducing the number of seminarians with same-sex attraction. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

For the New York Times, Elizabeth Dias spoke to two dozen gay Catholic priests and seminarians about life in a church where their existence is both an open secret and a deep shame.

Gregory Greiten was 17 years old when the priests organized the game. It was 1982 and he was on a retreat with his classmates from St. Lawrence, a Roman Catholic seminary for teenage boys training to become priests. Leaders asked each boy to rank which he would rather be: burned over 90 percent of his body, paraplegic or gay.

Each chose to be scorched or paralyzed. Not one uttered the word “gay.” They called the game the Game of Life.

The church controls a priest’s job, his housing, his healthcare, his pension, his life. Being openly gay threatens all of that, even if the priest remains celibate — a requirement that is in itself troubling.

Even before a priest may know he is gay, he knows the closet. The code is taught early, often in seminary. Numquam duo, semper tres, the warning goes. Never two, always three. Move in trios, never as a couple. No going on walks alone together, no going to the movies in a pair. The higher-ups warned for years: Any male friendship is too dangerous, could slide into something sexual or could turn into what they called a “particular friendship.”

“You couldn’t have a particular friendship with a man, because you might end up being homosexual,” explained a priest, who once nicknamed his friends “the P.F.s.” “And you couldn’t have a friendship with a woman, because you might end up falling in love, and they were both against celibacy. With whom do you have a relationship that would be a healthy human relationship?”

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