The Double Lives – And Second Lives – Of Gay Priests

Peter Priller was a Catholic town chaplain in Germany until he fell in love with a male parishioner, and was subsequently excommunicated. Though many closeted gay Catholic priests live in “secret societies,” Priller says there are other choices.

Members of the Rosa Alter group at a rally in Germany
Members of the Rosa Alter group at a rally in Germany
Ingrid Hügenell

MUNICH -- Peter Priller is a priest. He's also gay. For a long time he assumed he could reconcile the two by leading a celibate life. So in 1991 he was ordained and became a chaplain in the Bavarian town of Bad Tölz. Soon after, however, he realized it just wasn't going to work.

"I was conducting 11 o'clock mass one morning when I noticed this guy with a mustache," he says, laughing wistfully. The man was Josef Hanfstängl, who became the young chaplain's life partner in 1992. They were still together when Hanfstängl died in 2009.

By that time, Priller, now 50, had long ago parted ways with the Roman Catholic Church. The couple kept their relationship a secret for three years before Priller outed himself to Cardinal Friedrich Wetter. "Within his framework, he tried to find a solution," Priller recalls. There were attempts at building "a golden bridge" by asking questions such as: "Is it really a sexual relationship? After all, there's nothing wrong with platonic friendship between two men."

Asked how often Catholic priests out themselves to their superiors, the Archdiocese of Munich had no information to impart. Every case was handled individually, their press spokesperson said, and concrete figures were not available.

In the Roman Catholic Church a culture of silence appears to surround this issue: gay priests keep quiet, and their superiors look the other way for as long as they can. Because the resulting secrecy is hard to deal with, gay priests meet at Pastorosa in Munich. "It's a kind of self-help group for gay priests trying to come to terms with their extremely conflicted, tense situation," says Michael Brinkschröder.

The Catholic theologian and sociologist, who is an assistant professor at the University of Munich, is a member of a working group of gay theologians. He knows many gay priests throughout Germany who have organized themselves into groups resembling secret societies.

Priller is also aware of the groups, and knows that if he'd been willing to quietly hide the sexual nature of his relationship, he could have stayed a Roman Catholic priest. But neither he nor his partner wanted to conduct their relationship in secrecy. Priller was excommunicated.

God wanted me this way...

The small man with his round rimless glasses quietly relates how he lost his job, and his church, because of his sexual orientation. But he says that God not only made him this way, God wanted him to be this way. "I'm fortunate to be alive at a time when I can survive being the way I am," he says.

But the sexual morality of the Catholic Church disturbs him. "The axiom that any sexuality outside marriage is a sin is absolute nonsense," he says. "All it does is give people a bad conscience so that the Church can have more power over them."

But Priller managed to live not only his love and his sexuality, but his calling as priest – the latter albeit within limits. In 1996, he converted to a religion called: Old Catholicism. Despite the name, Old Catholics are not particularly conservative. In Old Catholicism, celibacy is not mandatory, homosexuality is accepted, and women can be ordained. What primarily distinguishes Old Catholics from Roman Catholics is that they do not recognize the validity of the dogmas of the 19th century First Vatican Council – which among other things means they do not accept papal infallibility. Priller had found his home.

Old Catholicism has only about 20,000 members in Germany, including 600 in the Munich area where Priller's pastorate of some 100 people is located. His work as a priest is, however, unpaid, so to earn a living Priller has always worked a second job. The first was in Bad Tölz, at a day center for the mentally ill. However when his partner died in 2009, he made fundamental changes in his life that included changing jobs – and his new position turned out to be ideal.

Priller works at the "Rosa Alter" counseling service, founded in 2009 to help older gay, lesbian and transgender folk whose felt identity as a man or a woman does not match their biological identity. Priller says that older homosexuals are often reluctant to go to conventional help centers: "They're embarrassed," he says. "They fear discrimination, or being treated with condescension."

"Rosa Alter", which is supported by various public and private sector entities and also works with Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe, offers all the services that other counseling centers do. Priller and his lesbian colleague help visitors fill out forms and deal with issues such as care for themselves or an aging partner, or what to do if financial circumstances mean no longer being able to afford present living conditions.

At 50, Priller himself is part of the "Rosa Alter" target group. He says: "Being gay and getting old is an interesting process." He also says that "finding the people who need Rosa Alter" isn't easy. Men particularly -- who until 1969 lived with the fact that their sexual orientation could actually land them in prison in Germany -- are reluctant to this day to publicly acknowledge being gay. And while he himself, as an openly gay man, was twice elected to the Bad Tölz city council, Priller says that even today in small communities and villages, coming out can still be as hard as ever.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Rosa Alter

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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