“Father, I need your help.  I experience same-sex attractions.”

Hearing these words would be a familiar experience for many a Courage chaplain. It is a bit different, however, when the one speaking them is also addressed as “Father”. It certainly was for me, as a priest myself.  But speak them I did – with great shame and desperation – in a time of great need several years ago.


As a seminarian I experienced same-sex attractions, though I never came anywhere close to acting upon them. I knew and firmly believed in the Catholic teaching and wanted to live by it.  Few people knew about this aspect of my life, but I had been honest with my spiritual directors.  In the mid-1990s, in my seminary, it was not considered necessary to bring such information to the external forum, especially if there was no external expression of these desires and the man was committed to living celibate chastity according to the heart and mind of the Church.

After ordination, although there were ups and downs along the way, living with same-sex attractions did not present major problems for me. I knew about Courage, and its resources were very helpful in my struggles. I had even been graced with some very healthy and affirming relationships with other men that had led me to a place where my attractions had lessened significantly in both intensity and frequency. I believed I had it all under control. However, around five years ago, in a ministry setting in which I experienced tremendous isolation, stress, loneliness and depression, I found myself experiencing attractions and fantasies with an unprecedented ferocity, and – in my forties – acting on them for the first time in my life with pornography.

This situation was extremely distressing to me. As a result, the effectiveness of my ministry was suffering, my psychological and spiritual health were shaken, and vocational doubts began to assail me. Knowing what the 2005 instruction from the Holy See said about the admission of men who experience same-sex attractions to formation for the priesthood, I wondered whether it had been a mistake for me to have been accepted to seminary and to Holy Orders. Were my attractions so “deep-seated” that I should not be a priest?  Even though I was not acting out with others, I felt that my experience of same-sex attractions was compromising my priestly life and ministry. I saw myself as the type of person the Church warns against – was I perhaps doomed to be “outed” and so create yet another scandal for the Church? – and wondered if I should perhaps leave the priesthood.

My spiritual director was at a loss with how to help me move through this paralyzing and shame-filled state. I finally had the inspiration, which was affirmed by my spiritual director, to reach out to Courage. When I finally had the guts to call Fr. Philip Bochanski, it was very difficult and painful to say that I was a priest who experienced same-sex attractions – my shame was so deep. While I had assumed I would be received compassionately, it was a great relief to hear that I was not the first to say this, and that it was good for me to reach out. Fr. Philip helped me come to see that it is within God’s providence that I became a priest, that God’s grace is sufficient, and that I needed to reject the lies of the enemy and place my confidence ever more deeply in the Father. I needed to learn that all the things I tell other people in spiritual direction and confession also apply to me.

Conversations continued periodically, amid ongoing ups and downs, until Fr. Philip asked if I would be interested in a new venture: an online Courage group for priests. This was a huge leap for me, the prospect of which was both exciting and intimidating. In just one meeting, the number of people who knew about my experience of same-sex attractions was going to double. It was also a challenge for me to face my fears of inadequacy with other men – other priests – and the danger of not fitting in, of being rejected.  But I needed and wanted this, and, in February 2019, I was one of seven original participants, along with Fr. Philip as our chaplain. We were from various areas of North America, from different dioceses and communities, with a range of ministries, ages and years of ordination; each had his own experience of the challenges of living with same-sex attractions; yet we were all priests of Jesus Christ who desired to be faithful to Him and to His Church, and to live our vocation in holiness.

This group has continued meeting roughly every two weeks, with new members joining over time.  Some participate only occasionally as their life and ministry situations permit. Yet there remains a strong core that is faithfully present at each meeting. While this is my only experience of a Courage meeting, I imagine we are similar to any other group. We work at honesty and accountability; we seek advice and counsel from Fr. Philip and each other; we share joys and victories; we razz each other a fair bit, as brothers do; we pray together for each other and our parishioners and friends; and we share the crosses and blessings of our common priestly vocation. A few of us have met in person, but most have only done so in our virtual meeting room; still, it is a real and graced encounter each time. At times it is not easy for me to join in, especially when shame and self-doubt attack. But I know I need to keep showing up, and I have never been sorry I did.

I am encouraged to know that so many of our lay brothers and sisters are being faithful in their walk with the Lord and each other. We pray for you, and ask for you to pray for our unusual Courage chapter. Pray also for other priests in need to find their way to us, or to wherever the Lord and His Mother want to help them.

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Editor’s Note:  The Priests’ Courage Group meets regularly throughout the year to help members pursue the Five Goals of Courage and to live their chaste celibate commitment with integrity and accountability. Meetings are confidential within specific parameters established by Courage’s board of bishops. Potential members should contact Father Bochanski directly at frbochanski@couragerc.org.

The opinions and experiences expressed in each blog entry in “The Upper Room” belong solely to the original authors and do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of Courage International, Inc. Some entries have been edited for length and clarity.