“I had wanted to be a priest since I was 3…If you’re interested in religion, spirituality, prayer, you probably are going to be a priest. And if you’re going to be a priest, you ought to be able—almost as a matter of course—to be able to repress the sexual. And if you can’t there’s something wrong with you. Now I look at that and see the absurdity and the cruelty of that, the insanity of that.
(Then) I experienced a sense of ‘call’, really deep spiritual call to come out publicly as a gay man and I knew that would be the end of my career. I was being interviewed by a local newspaper about the issues that gay Catholics face. I had the option of being named or not named in the article. After a lot of prayer and discussion I decided to be named. And that really changed my life, that really meant a real end of a whole chapter of public identification with the Church. Because now certainly to work any form of ministry or chaplaincy or education, particularly religious education as a publicly gay man – it’s not going to happen.”
I got to know Michael Bernard Kelly when I attended the Parliament of World Religions in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia. Michael organized and led a panel discussion about new Christian approaches to the integration of sexuality and spirituality, grounding this message in the gospel and in the practices of Jesus and his disciples.
Michael is a man who felt called to the Roman Catholic priesthood as early as three years old, but his emerging understanding of not just his attraction to men but of the impossibility of repressing the sexual energy in his life eventually led to him leaving the seminary and seeking other ways to live out his vocation. Michael poured his heart and soul into a variety of lay ministry and religious education roles. That is, until he felt called to come out as a gay man, which effectively ended his 19 year career in Catholic education.
Michael is truly a spiritual warrior and one of the most resilient people I have ever met. He continues to serve in any way he can. In recent years, his energies have been focused on completing his PhD which he did last year. His dissertation was entitled: “Queer Flame of Love: re-imagining the Christian mystical tradition in light of the experience of contemporary gay men.” He is also in the process of creating a website for a video lecture series with similar themes (“The Erotic Contemplative: the spiritual journey of the gay Christian”). Michael’s earlier writings have been collected and published as an anthology entitled “Seduced by Grace: Contemporary Spirituality, Gay Experience and Christian Faith” (Clouds of Magellan, 2007).
I never understood how in this time of religious upheaval and world conflict that an institution such as the Church prevents people from serving because of an outdated understanding of who is worthy and who is not. Michael Kelly has the heart and mind of Christ himself and, like Christ, is serving humanity regardless of the circumstances and consequences. We all owe a debt of gratitude to all of the Michael Kellys in our midst.