Andrés Gioeni, a 41-year-old Argentinian man, served as a priest in Mendoza, Argentina, for more than two years before giving up the cassock. Now working as an actor, director and writer of children's plays, he lives with his boyfriend of more than nine years, Luis, in Greater Buenos Aires' San Isidro. He recently wrote an open letter to Pope Francis via Facebook asking him to help the gay community to discover how they “can go forward in their faith” without renouncing their “experience of love.” Here, Gioeni tells his story and shares excerpts from his note to the pope.
As a child, I studied in a Marist school. I told myself I would never be a priest. My family was Catholic but not too religious. I became involved with a group of missionaries, and we volunteered in a poor neighborhood of Mendoza, 1.1 kilometers from Buenos Aires.
At that time, I was dating a girl named Carmen. We had plans to marry and move to Africa to work as missionaries. People in this neighborhood were telling me that the area badly needed a priest, so although I had been studying to get into medical school, I changed directions and decided to enter the seminary.
When I began, there were 12 seminarians, though only four became priests in the end. And of those, only one remains a priest.
I spent eight years at the seminary. I never felt lonely because I had a family there. But when I became a priest at age 27, things became difficult. I realized that it was not so easy, that I had big responsibilities and that I was on my own. Yet I enjoyed celebrating mass.
It was then that I became aware of what was happening to me, something that seemed unnatural to me. I was condemning myself. At the seminary, the question of homosexuality was only mentioned in a few lessons. It was taboo in everyday life.
Looking back today, I see that I was vaguely aware I was gay during my seminary days, but I was denying it. If I noticed that I was attracted to someone, I would restrain and question myself.
There were two fellow seminarians who expressed interest and wanted to date me. I thought this was crazy and rejected their advances. They eventually left the seminary, while I stayed on. It wasn't until I was already a priest that I could finally admit to myself that I was gay.
I liked to anonymously enter gay chats. I would later repent, swearing to myself that I would never do it again. One day, I met a man I had known from a chat. We talked for five hours, and I didn't say a word about being a priest. We ended up having sex.
It was a beautiful experience. But the next day, I started to think I would be condemned to hell and felt like the worst sinner in the world. I prayed and cried — a lot. I went to confession without disclosing that I was, myself, a priest. I told myself, “It's over. It will pass, but it can't happen again.”
But it didn't pass. I started to wonder if it was something temporary or if it would last forever. When I realized it would be forever, I severed ties with the Church.
I moved to Buenos Aires and started a new life. I was asked to do some nude photo shoots for a gay magazine. Then I spent a year working as a waiter in a gay nightclub. It was very difficult to admit, for me. For 30 years I was told that what I was experiencing — being gay — was seen as a grave sin in the eyes of God.
But my God was not like this. He kept on loving me and following me, regardless of my homosexuality.
I have been living with Luis for more than nine years. We would like to officialy get married, but adopting children is not in our plans.
I keep believing in God, but not the one the Church presents, not the one who condemns. I was happy when Bergoglio became Pope Francis. He is an open-minded person, and when I heard what he said while coming back from Rio de Janeiro, I realized it was time for me to write to him. I posted something on Facebook and asked my friends to share it and help me make the letter reach him. Here is some of what I wrote:
“I dare to speak on behalf of a large portion of people who belong to the gay community. And simply, humbly, ask you to firmly encourage, stimulate, promote and accompany a deepening in sexual moral theology about homosexual people.
I do not ask that the Church change its catechism overnight on this subject. I simply ask you not to stigmatize those theologians and pastors who dissent in response to an unsatisfactory pastoral doctrine for many of us.
I'm not asking you to oppose the extensive tradition that speaks of sins against nature, but I ask you to revise and expand the concept of nature.”
The catechism can no longer say that being gay is an abberation. I know that changes do not take place in only one day. But I hope that 30 years from now, a boy will be able to openly claim he is gay without fear.