Questions & Answers

Aug. 31-Sept. 6,06
Questions & Answers
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch , SUN file photo
Father Fred Daley talks about his controversial dismissal from CRS

Father Fred Daley, the former pastor at the now-closed St. Francis de Sales Church in Utica, recently drew national attention when he was dismissed by Catholic Relief Services from volunteer service in the African nation of Lesotho. While on retreat in New England, Father Daley agreed to a question and answer session with The Catholic Sun via telelephone.

C-SUN: What explanation did Catholic Relief Services give you when its officials dismissed you from its program?
FFD: The explanation was that they felt I was too high profile as an openly gay priest and I was therefore too controversial for their program and I might endanger their mission with the church in Lesotho.

C-SUN: Was that a satisfactory explanation?
FFD: Not at all. The CRS staff in Baltimore had led me to believe that my high profile and controversial status as an openly gay priest was an issue with the church in Lesotho. To my surprise, I was later informed by the staff in Lesotho that they had no reservations about my coming there. Both the bishop of Lesotho and the CRS staff in Lesotho were very disappointed when they were informed of my rejection. Later, CRS executives acknowledged to me that indeed the CRS staff in Lesotho and the archbishop had no problem with me coming there and were disappointed with the CRS decision. In fact CRS Lesotho saw my background including my sexual orientation and the struggle accompanying that to be an asset. In fact, from the start of the process, the archbishop of Lesotho said that if the bishop of Syracuse had no problem with it then neither did he and then he offered me an opportunity to stay in residence at his home. Secondly, although CRS insists that they are not homophobic and they are not rejecting me because I’m gay, but because of my controversial status, but, in the eyes of CRS, the only thing that’s controversial about me is that I’m an openly gay priest. The word controversial is their word. They determined that I’m controversial.

I’d like to point out that CRS is doing tremendous work and it is an organization that we as Catholics should be proud of. The central identity of CRS is a commitment to Catholic social teaching. They consider that Catholic social teaching is the umbrella of their organization. The first principle of Catholic social teaching is embracing the dignity of every person. It seems to me that if we put the Catholic social teaching into practice, it’s bound to be controversial. To oppose capital punishment is controversial. To oppose the war in Iraq is controversial. In our world and, unfortunately, in our church, to recognize the dignity of the gay and lesbian person in our culture is to be controversial.

It would seem to me that if they’re afraid to accept someone that’s controversial, then certainly Jesus Christ would not qualify for CRS’ overseas volunteer program.

C-SUN: How would you classify the dismissal? Would you describe it as an anti-gay response?
FFD: It’s not my place to judge anyone at CRS as homophobic or whatever. What I do feel has happened is CRS has caved in to the fears and misunderstanding regarding sexual orientation in our culture and in our church. Rather than standing up for what is right, they are caving in to fear and ignorance and I think that this is very unfortunate. We are truly “church” to the extent that we stand up for what is right no matter what other people think. Unfortunately, this decision supports the status quo rather than creating something new. I think there’s a real distinction there. I’m not judging any individuals at CRS.

C-SUN: What was the manner in which CRS informed you of your dismissal?
FFD: I received a telephone call from Michael Weist, the COO of CRS, and also this David Piraino [CRS vice president of human resources] on July 18 informing me of the decision. At the time I was informed that the decision was made in consultation with Bishop Robert Lynch. Bishops Moynihan and Costello attempted to appeal the decision but I received another phone call on July 27 from Michael Weist that the original decision held. I went to Baltimore on Monday, Aug. 7 to meet in person with Michael Weist and this David Piraino. I felt it was an opportunity to share our differences concerning the decision.

C-SUN: How did the decision make you feel?
FFD: I certainly was saddened. I really felt this would have been a wonderful opportunity not only for me but also for the Syracuse Diocese. It’s another example of how fear and ignorance stifle the proclamation of the Gospel. It’s another example in which the church comes across as un-Christlike. I certainly hope and pray that this becomes a teachable moment for the executives at CRS.

C-SUN: Why did you want to go to Lesotho?
FFD: I did not choose Lesotho. I was assigned to go there by CRS. I would have gone anywhere there was a need and I made that very clear to CRS. I was under the impression that my experience at St. Francis de Sales in central Utica and my work with people suffering from AIDS and HIV would have been a good background for the work in Lesotho.

C-SUN: When were you first aware of your sexual identity?
FFD: Actually, it became clear to me a couple of years after my ordination.

C-SUN: Has that ever hampered your ministry as a priest in the Roman Catholic Church?
FFD: Certainly the journey to acceptance of my orientation and embracing who God made me to be was a painful journey since the culture and church that raised me had given me the opposite message. As I grew to accept myself I was less and less comfortable in the closet pretending to be someone I wasn’t. That had a negative effect on my ministry. Since my place of sharing my sexual orientation it has enhanced my ministry in many ways. Many people have felt comfortable coming to me for counsel regarding this issue. I’ve found that my own struggle toward acceptance has made people more comfortable coming to me with their own struggles whatever they may be. My own orientation is just a part of who I am. Ministering to and accepting gays and lesbians is just a part of my ministry to those who are on the margin and excluded. My struggles helped me be more faithful to the Gospel of Jesus.

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