Priest says his sexuality is the reason he was rejected by the Catholic Church
A 57-year-old man who recently applied to become a Catholic priest believes his application was rejected because he is gay.
After the death of his lifelong partner, Seamus Mac Ghille Aindrais – who had studied in a Catholic seminary for several years after completing his studies but left before being ordained – wanted to join the priesthood. However, his candidacy was rejected.
After the response from the Catholic Church, he contacted the Open Episcopal Church and was ordained a priest there in a ceremony in Belfast last weekend.
The Open Episcopal Church follows similar teachings as the Catholic Church, but says it is open to “everyone.”
As part of his ordination, Fr. Mac Ghille Aindrais adopted the Irish version of his name, Jim Anderson.
In recent years, at least two men older than Father Mac Ghille Aindrais have been ordained priests in the Catholic Church in Ireland following the death of their wives. He says this supports his belief that his candidacy for the Catholic priesthood was rejected because he is gay.
After leaving the seminary in his youth, Fr. Mac Ghille Aindrais shared his life for 30 years with his partner Kevin Carruthers and they both lived as “devout” Catholics.
Kevin died in 2017 at the age of 49. After his death, Father Mac Ghille Aindrais said he heard Kevin’s voice in his head telling him “go be the priest you always wanted to be”. In October 2020, he wrote to the National Vocations Office at St Patrick’s College in Maynooth and was asked to write to each diocese.
Fr Mac Ghille Aindrais, originally from Belfast but who has lived in Donegal for 20 years, wrote to seven of Ireland’s 26 Catholic Dioceses.
In the current system within the church, each diocese has the authority to nominate persons for the priesthood.
In his correspondence with the dioceses, Fr Mac Ghille Aindrais described his “life story” and explained why he wanted to become a priest. He informed the dioceses that he was gay, but stressed that he was ready to take on all aspects of the priesthood, including a vow of celibacy.
Shortly after contacting the dioceses, he overheard two of them, Raphoe and Armagh, tell him that they would not follow up on his request. After seven months he received a similar response from the Diocese of Dublin.
A spokesperson for the Diocese of Dublin told him that they did not consider anyone over the age of 50 for the priesthood.
The response from the parish of Raphoe, in which Father Mac Ghille Aindrais lives, said parish officials believed that a priesthood appointment should “arise organically from within the community.”
“The recognition of a possible vocation to serve as a priest in our diocese would arise from years of activity engaged in a parish framework where the person was already in contact with the priests and the local people”, declared a representative of the diocese to the P. Mac Ghille Aindrais in an email.
The response from the Diocese of Armagh wished him luck but said they would not be able to nominate him for the priesthood. He has yet to receive a response from the four other dioceses he has contacted: Derry, Clogher, Kilmore and Elphin.
Father Mac Ghille Aindrais said he was saddened but not surprised at the response.
“I was honest with my story. My attitude was ‘it’s me, take me or leave me’, ”he said.
“But I’ve been inside the mechanics of the Church before and I knew my candidacy would be rejected because I’m gay.”
The Independent Sunday contacted the Catholic Church regarding the comments of Father Mac Ghille Aindrais. A Church spokesperson noted that Father Mac Ghille Aindrais had received responses from three dioceses and said they had no further information on the matter.
The debate over the attitude of the Catholic Church towards same-sex relationships has resurfaced in recent times.
A study published in May this year called for an “urgent” change in Catholic teaching on such relationships.
The study was endorsed by 60 academics, including former Irish President Mary McAleese, who sharply criticized the church’s stance towards homosexuals.
Father Mac Ghille Aindrais said the Catholic Church has suffered a massive drop in the number of young men showing up for the priesthood. If the Church does not change its attitude, he said, this decline will continue.
“Times have changed completely and it is time for the Catholic Church to change. Love is not a sin. A man who loves a man is not a sin. God is love, and the love that someone has for another person comes from God.
“The love that Kevin had for me and the love that I had for him, it comes from God and no one can say that it is a sin. I would ask the Church to think for him, but she won’t. I already know it won’t.
Father Mac Ghille Aindrais and Kevin met when they were both young students for the priesthood in Northern Ireland.
However, as the Troubles continued, they both felt a call for reconciliation work and left the seminary in 1990 to form a cross-community group in Belfast.
Throughout this time their friendship grew stronger, but they both struggled with their growing love for each other.
“None of us would have considered forming a relationship because of our faith,” said Father Mac Ghille Aindrais.
“Our relationship developed slowly because of what the church taught us. This is how much our faith mattered to us. We were both very devout Catholics and we couldn’t allow our relationship to destroy our faith. “
Even after becoming a couple, the two men lived a “private and quiet” life together. It wasn’t until their late thirties that they came out to their family.
“When we told them they all laughed and said ‘of course we’ve known that for years’,” he said.
While he was talking to Independent Sunday in his home near Dungloe, where he hopes to set up a retreat center as part of his new vocation, Father Mac Ghille Aindrais said he was sad at the way he was treated by a church that has always been important to himmr.
“I have a real love for my faith, for this Catholic tradition, and now I can always bring it to the Open Episcopal Church as a homosexual.
“I am free as a priest to marry even another man if I want to and the church supports that completely because they have the attitude I have – God doesn’t care about your sexuality.
“I can now be the priest I always wanted to be.”