Jesuit leaves church after firings

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In light of recent firings of gays and lesbians from Catholic institutions, Benjamin Brenkert has left the Catholic church after 10 years of pursuing priesthood in the Jesuit order.

"I can't be a Jesuit priest because I can't be a member of the Catholic church right now," Brenkert told NCR. "I can't be an openly gay Jesuit discerning priesthood in the Catholic church if LGBT employees are being fired from Catholic institutions."

Brenkert said the last straw for him was when a food pantry worker was fired from St. Francis Xavier Parish in Kansas City, Mo., after her marriage to a woman was mentioned in a local newspaper article.

Upon his decision to leave the church, Brenkert wrote an open letter to Pope Francis, explaining both why he was leaving the Jesuits, and what he wants the pope to do in order to save his vocation to the church.

The letter, obtained by NCR and posted by other religion news outlets online, states, "I ask you to instruct the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to tell Catholic institutions not to fire any more LGBTQ Catholics. I ask you to speak out against laws that criminalize and oppress LGBTQ people around the globe. These actions would bring true life to your statement 'Whom am I to judge?' "

Brenkert told NCR, "I'm asking the pope to really look at the fact that I as a gay man could become a Catholic priest, and reach the highest level of human relationship with God as a celibate priest, while LGBT employees that are seeking marriage and sacramental recognition of their love could no longer be employees because they were delighting in God's love for them. Is that fair? That's not for me to say. All I want to do is ask people to identify with my story and to ask the church to be clear about what she believes."

For Brenkert, the pope's commitment to poverty and clear statements on the evils of globalization, capitalism and materialism have helped the marginalized of society. Brenkert said that the firing of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics can only add to those entering poverty.

"A nonjudgmental tone can sound good. It can sound like a big change, but unless it has a clear and tangible impact, it doesn't mean much," Brenkert said. "What we need is an unequivocal statement of support for LGBTQ people."

Since Brenkert's departure from the Jesuits, he has been discerning priestly formation in the Episcopal church.

"It pains me to have to leave the Jesuits," Brenkert said. "I loved being a Jesuit, and I'm extremely grateful for what they did for me."

A version of this story appeared in the Sept 26-Oct 9, 2014 print issue under the headline: Jesuit leaves church after firings.

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