QUEER FLAME OF LOVE
“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.
I experienced a sense of ‘call,’ a 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, it meant a real end of a whole chapter of public identification with the Church…because now certainly to work in 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 the World’s 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 at an early age, but his emerging understanding of his attraction to men and of the impossibility of repressing the sexual energy in his life 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 until he felt called to come out as a gay man, which ended his 19-year career in Catholic education.
In the years following coming out publicly, Michael focused his energies on successfully completing his doctorate. His dissertation was titled: “Queer Flame of Love: re-imagining the Christian mystical tradition in light of the experience of contemporary gay men.” Michael created a YouTube channel to host a series of videos under the title, “The Erotic Contemplative: Reflections on the Spiritual Journey of the Gay/Lesbian Christian.” His writings were also collected and published in 2007 as an anthology: Seduced by Grace: Contemporary Spirituality, Gay Experience and Christian Faith.
Although Michael died of cancer in November 2020, we were in touch one last time after he was diagnosed. He had so much wisdom still to offer us. I am challenged to think of anyone who contributed so much.
I never understood how, in this time of religious upheaval and world conflict, an institution such as the Catholic Church prevents people from serving because of an outdated understanding of who is worthy and who is not. Michael Kelly had the heart and mind of Christ himself and, like Christ, he served humanity regardless of the circumstances and consequences. We all owe a debt of gratitude to all of the Michael Kellys in our midst.