“The God who loves me is not the sole property of a Church that rejects people like me, LGBTQ people. That god would be too small, a god not worth praying to”, a gay man rejected by the Jesuits has written.
– Disappointment at betrayal of dream to be first openly gay Jesuit priest in good standing
Benjamin Brenkert is the author of a new memoir – A Catechism of the Heart: A Jesuit Missioned to the Laity – in which this Long Island native, a lifelong devout Catholic with social work studies, sets out his 10-year-long experience in the Society of Jesus preparing himself for the priesthood.
What makes Brenkert’s story special is that he was always open with the Jesuits about his sexuality, and about his desire to be the first openly gay Jesuit priest in good standing.
Even despite his confession, the Jesuits accepted him into formation – only to tell Brenkert after nearly a decade of study that if he wanted to be ordained in the end he would have to keep quiet about his sexuality.
Brenkert took that gag order as a betrayal. Not only because there are many secretly and not-so-secretly gay priests – Jesuit and otherwise – but also because the time of Brenkert’s final steps towards ordination coincided with a wave of dismissals of LGBTQ people in the US Church, and the would-be priest wanted to stand in solidarity with his fired brothers and sisters.
Brenkert knew there was only one way forward for him in good conscience – to leave the Jesuits.
With that painful decision he said goodbye to the dream of the Jesuit priesthood he had nourished for hours on end with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, but he said hello to a new ministry – to witness to his deep faith as a gay Catholic and to help all, gay or not, to find their true selves “for the greater glory of God”, as the Jesuit motto has it.
– Don’t settle for anything less than a “fully affirming” Church
One could forgive Brenkert if his difficult experience of Jesuit formation had turned him bitter and unbelieving. But on the contrary: right from the outset, his memoir is suffused with hope, peace and a sense of profound self-acceptance.
In his own words, this self-described “son of Ignatius of Loyola” – still, and despite everything – hopes that his book “will present readers with an opportunity to affirm their true selves in the eyes of their God or no God at all, and if they are Roman Catholic, an opportunity to know thyself and to make an election… like me and to dare to leave the Church of one’s youth for another that is fully affirming – one that does not couch acceptance on reconciliation and celibacy”.
Not that there aren’t, in A Catechism of the Heart, moments of searing denouncement, too, but they come across as prophetic rather than bitter:
“My decision to write a memoir about those years [with the Jesuits] is not done to hurt anyone. It is to [tell] the truth about my years as a Jesuit, an order that in the end rejected me because I am a gay man who refuses to hide in a closet. My desiring to be an openly gay Jesuit priest was one that frightened my Jesuit superiors, many of whom are gay themselves”.
That mix of hope-filled resistance to the Church’s treatment of LGBTQ people is at the heart of Brenkert’s memoir, as he himself explained to Out:
“God does not create us gay and bad, no, quite the opposite: God creates humans that want to flourish and be in right relationship with self and others…
“I would tell younger and older queer people of faith that they can enter into a discernment about where they should call their faith-home. Don’t be complacent or anxious. Staying put is not faith in action”.