Friday, 13 January 2012

A Gay Priest’s Journey, From Exile to Reconciliation

Coming out is almost always a challenging experience, for priests (of any denomination) more than for the rest of us.  The Rev. Canon Albert Ogle of San Diego is not a priest of the Roman Catholic Church, but a priest all the same. He has written of his personal difficulties and journey in a book due for publication  . Some of the story is told in a post at San Diego Gay and Lesbian News.

Starting out in the Church of Ireland at a time when homosexuality was still a criminal offence, he soon found himself fired by his church, without even time for a proper farewell to his congregation, and with no transition plan.

From exile to reconciliation: The remarkable journey of a gay clergyman 


In 1980, I was fired for being a gay priest. It was a long time ago but it was very difficult, and an example the results of a "Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell" policy practiced by both church and state.

In the early 1980s it was still illegal to be gay in Ireland; and there was a stigma which the Church strongly endorsed through its interpretation of Scripture. My partner Frank and I were young and naive, and we didn’t really know what we were dealing with in terms of the culture of the Church of Ireland, which was still very homophobic.

At St. Bartholomew’s Church in Dublin, my rector, John Neill, when he discovered I was gay and in a relationship, suspended me from all duties and even from saying goodbye to parishioners. This hurt me personally, but it also profoundly hurt the congregation. Even worse was the impact this decision had on the whole Church of Ireland. The story of what happened circulated for many years after my departure and was cited as an example of the church’s poor handling of gay and lesbian clergy.

via San Diego Gay and Lesbian News.

Denied any prospect of ministering in Ireland, he and his partner moved across the Irish Sea, to start again in London, where he found work in community services - but once bitten, was careful to remain deeply closeted. Later, he cross the sea again - the Atlantic, to the USA and California. Along the way, the trauma had devastating impact  on his relationship, culminating in the loss of his partner.

In the light of some recent posts and comments here about the value or harm of Gay Pride Parades, I was interested to note the circumstances around the start of his rehabilitation in the Church - at his first gay pride parade (on vacation in LA), where he met the president of Integrity, who was actively looking for an openly gay priest:

I had heard about how progressive the American Episcopal Church was becoming, and on a vacation in Los Angeles in 1982, I met Marsha Langford at my first Gay Pride parade. As president of Integrity, the Episcopal Church’s LGBT advocacy organisation, she was looking for an openly gay priest to begin a ministry with the hundreds of runaway gay youth that flocked to Los Angeles every year, as refugees from homophobic Middle America. I moved to L.A. later that year and began the ministry at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center.

He tells much more of his own journey, which you can read in full at SDGLN, but I want to focus here on a key lesson that he points to, himself.

While he has been through what he calls a "profoundly healing experience", and while things are undoubtedly much easier in some denominations at least than they were twenty or thirty years ago, there are still profound difficulties remaining. One strategy of resistance that he recommends is one that I have been promoting since I began this site, three years ago: we must tell our stories.

It is my belief that the authentic spiritual journey begins in exile (the Garden of Eden story affirms it) and being fully healed as an LGBT person, we are gently encouraged to return to the place of the wound. The sacrifice that is being made by LGBT people on a global scale, on altars of certainty and righteousness is a daily occurrence. “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us” takes on a new meaning when one’s own spiritual journey follows a pattern of crucifixion, death and resurrection.

Canon Malcolm Boyd, one of the great openly gay mentors for the church who I came to love and respect in Los Angeles, once told me “Albert, for every one of us who have survived, 10 have not.” I think of the many gay and closeted clergy I know from the Church of Ireland who either committed suicide, drank themselves to death in a bid to numb their alienation, or were shipped off to London as I was. The toll is devastating and the waste of God-given gifts is a great blight on the church’s stewardship of creation in all its diversity.

What thousands of blessings have been withheld from the church as a result of the rejection faced by clergy like me? Yet many lives, mine among them, have experienced healing and reconciling love thanks to dioceses, parishes and nonprofit organizations conscious of the needs of LGBT people.

We now have the opportunity to tell our stories, and there are thousands more to tell. Integrity and the Diocese of Los Angeles welcomed me and took me in, broken and afraid and humiliated, and surrounded me with the friends of God. They believed in me when I could not believe in myself. As I come up to my 35th year of ministry, I realize that my move to the United States allowed me opportunities that most gay clergy are not given.

For anybody who has a story to tell, as clergy or laity, gay, lesbian, trans or other, but does not know where or how to tell it - this site will always provide a space to speak. Write to me at

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