We need your help to continue and expand the Outreach ministry.

I’m a Catholic priest. When I came out as gay, my parishioners applauded.

Views Rev. Aidan McAleenan / May 9, 2024 Print this:
The Rev. Aidan McAleenan celebrates Mass at St. Columba Catholic Church in Oakland, Calif. (Photo courtesy of Aidan McAleenan/St. Columba Catholic Church)

In June 2005, as I laid on the floor of St. Patrick’s Church during my ordination to the priesthood in Banbridge, a town in Northern Ireland, I knew that deep down, in every fiber of my being, I was called to serve as a priest. In that sacred space, I had been baptized, received my First Communion, served as an altar boy, run the youth group and participated in the funerals for my family members. It was not simply a part of me that was being ordained; it was my whole existence.  

Life came full circle when I was privileged to concelebrate my first Mass at Christ the King Parish in the Diocese of Oakland, Calif. At that Mass, I told the congregation I had just been invited by the chancery to participate in an “accent-reduction class.” I also told the parishioners that I would not be going to the class and that I was perfectly happy with my Irish accent. When they cheered loudly, I knew I was home.

Over my 20 years of ministry, I have made a point to schedule an appointment with each of the four men who served as my bishops to tell them my story. Each bishop, in his own way, would ask the same question: “Why are you telling me this?” My reply was the same: “Because I don’t want you making decisions about my life as a priest in the diocese based on any one aspect of who I am.” 

I needed my bishops to understand my whole story. I needed them to see and hear me.

I told them I was a gay man who, before joining the priesthood, had been in an 11-year relationship. I needed them to understand my whole story. I needed them to see and hear me. My brother priests in my support group thought I was crazy. But there was some part of me that didn’t care, and I knew deep down it was important to be honest and open.

The parish in which I have served over these last 15 years is primarily Black, and places a strong emphasis on anti-racism, social justice, servant leadership and activism. It is very much a post-Vatican II parish in the Black spiritual tradition. I love the people and I know they love me. The doors of our church are open wide to welcome all who walk in. And I mean all!  

For the last number of years, we have hosted an LGBTQ preaching series in June. While on a four-month sabbatical, I received an email from a former coworker at Catholic Charities in San Francisco. In it, he referred me to a book that reminded him of my life story. He mailed it to my home for me to read. I read the book, I Came Here Seeking a Person by William D. Glenn, and quickly understood why my friend thought I would relate to it.

I called William, the former president of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, and asked if he would preach at our parish speaker series. He agreed. On the eve of his preaching, he called me, sick with Covid-19, and apologized. There was nothing else for me to do but to preach myself. 

Like anyone else making a big announcement to a group of people whom you’ve come to know and love, I was concerned with the very human fear of rejection.

After all, I was presiding at the Mass, and I have occasionally felt like a sacramental vending machine when I am not preaching, even though I love to hear other voices at the ambo. I explained to the congregation what had happened with William—and then I publicly came out. 

I told the community: “I am Aidan. I love you and serve you, and I am every bit the same person who has been serving you for 15 years. I have used every fiber of my being in that service. I do not regret a moment of my life experience. All of it taken together has made me a more human, compassionate and loving minister of the Gospel.”

Rev. Aidan McAleenan, who was ordained in 2005, at St. Columba Catholic Church in Oakland, Calif. (Photo courtesy of Aidan McAleenan/St. Columba Catholic Church)

Like anyone else making a big announcement to a group of people whom you’ve come to know and love, I was concerned with the very human fear of rejection. But the congregation had come to love me, as myself. Deep down, I had a real sense that “all shall be well,” as Blessed Julian of Norwich said.   

After I made the announcement, I looked into the congregation, and there were many LGBTQ people in tears. At the end of the homily, the congregation rose in rapturous applause.  

What changed after my homily? Honestly, nothing changed in the life of the parish. 

But with time, I saw how my announcement had actually increased the bond between the parish and myself. And it allowed us all to be more welcoming.

I saw how my announcement had actually increased the bond between the parish and myself. And it allowed us all to be more welcoming.

After the publication of “Fiducia Supplicans” last December, when the Vatican allowed church ministers to bless same-sex couples, my coming out made this process easier in our parish. That day we all cried tears of joy and love. 

I had a spring in my step and a deeper sense of freedom. I absolutely love being a priest and a pastor, and I continue to feel at home in my own skin. In the end, I think it serves us all to be authentically ourselves, just as God has made us. 

Rev. Aidan McAleenan

Father McAleenan is a Catholic priest in the Diocese of Oakland, Calif. He was ordained in 2005.

All articles by Rev. Aidan McAleenan

Outreach is part of America Media. To support Outreach you can make a donation or subscribe to America.

17 Comments
  1. I’m so grateful for your courage and testimony, and declaration that God loves every one, regardless of sex orientation. In my family, there are many gay members, sadly rejected by many in our family and the Catholic Church in Mexico.

    Reply
  2. I am so surprised the Diocese has continued to let you minister. The Roman Catholic Church usually shuns gay people, especially priests. I too, am a gay Catholic priest in an independent jurisdiction. I applaud your courage and you!

    Reply
  3. This was a beautiful essay. Thank you so much for sharing your truth with your parish and with us. Here’s hoping the rest of the Church realizes it’s not the end of the world and that queer folk have a place in the clergy, too.

    Reply
  4. Fr. Aidan, I am so PROUD to know you and to minister with you as my Pastor and friend at St. Columba Parish. I have known you as a seminarian and have watched and walked with you for a long time! Your honesty and integrity shine forth, your compassion and courage you wear as a vestment that we all can see and touch! Thank you for the gift of your true self!

    Reply
  5. Fr. Aidan, I am so PROUD to know you and to minister with you as my Pastor and friend at St. Columba Parish. I have known you as a seminarian and have watched and walked with you for a long time! Your honesty and integrity shine forth, your compassion and courage you wear as a vestment that we all can see and touch! Thank you for the gift of your true self!

    Reply
  6. What a wonderful example of loving one another. Congratulations to you and your congregation for supporting one another.

    Reply
  7. What a wonderful example of loving one another.

    Reply
  8. My respect for Rev. McAleenan is endless. I’m a gay former Catholic who, for many reasons, has no intention of returning to the church. But I’m extremely impressed by the Reverend’s bravery and courage.

    I’m always curious as to why so few gay priests are out and proud if the Catholic Church is supposed to be so “welcoming”. I think we all know the answer to that. But how amazing for Reverend McAleenan to live in his truth. Isn’t that what Jesus calls us to do – live our lives in truth with compassion and kindness for all?

    God Bless you Reverend!!!

    Reply
  9. That was beautiful. God had a plan for you the day William, your speaker couldnt make his appearance. Everyone has the right to live an authentic life. I’m so sad for the past priest who were not able to live with the peace, love and authenticity that today’s priests can. Thank you for being you and opening up doors in our church. You are needed and loved

    Reply
    • Denise
      Thank you!
      You and I know it’s always a good fight to be ourselves.

      Reply
  10. Beautiful expression of your authentic self, Aidan. Congratulations on the relief and peace you must have experienced! Love, Jackie

    Reply
  11. Thank you for this, Father! God bless you and God bless your loving and full-hearted parishioners! You are a beacon.

    Reply
  12. You’re an inspiration to us who have been afraid of being who we are. I’ve grown into being more authentic because of your courage to love yourself. Thank you Father.

    Reply
  13. I was at Mass at CTK , when you chose not to participate in an “accent-reduction class.” I cheered you on along with many of my fellow parishioners.

    St. Columba is such a warm and welcoming parish. I love my frequent visits there!

    Reply
  14. Fr. Aidan, my brother in ministry and dear friend. Thank you for this very moving and powerful reflection. I’m so happy and proud of you. I too learned that I could serve God more honestly and vulnerably after coming out to my church. The Catholic Church Community is blessed to have a dear spiritual leader like you. Your Baptist brother is here to support you in anyway I can. Much love!
    Mark

    Reply
  15. As a mother of a gay son I appreciate your story. The Catholic church was our home while we raised both our son and daughter. We have not lost our faith in Jesus. We have lost our faith in the teaching of the church that excludes some people from the Eucharist. It is like being invited to someone’s home for fellowship, but when it is time to share a meal, you are told “come pray with us, but you cannot eat.” That is not the Jesus I know. The Jesus I know used his beautiful hands to give even Judas the bread of life. We are all unworthy. We are all human. God is the judge of my heart. God alone knows my intentions. Although I am grateful for what the Catholic church has given me, I no longer feel welcome. Your story gives me hope. Thank you.

    Reply
  16. I would love the opportunity to contact Father McAleenan, if this is possible. There are a few questions I have after reading your article.
    Thank you so much.

    Reply
Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *