Priest who spoke against gay marriage ban suspended

Pledges to continue to work to defeat California Proposition 8

Fr. Geoffrey Farrow, a California diocesan priest who criticized church leadership for supporting Proposition 8, a ballot measure that would make it unconstitutional for same-sex couples to marry, has been suspended by Bishop John Steinbock of Fresno, Calif.

Speaking by telephone, Farrow said that his attorney, who is both a civil and canon lawyer, received a letter from the bishop Friday, Oct. 10, indicating Farrow’s suspension from “governance and faculties as a priest.”

“So I am no longer pastor at St. Paul’s,” Farrow said.

The move comes five days after Farrow delivered a homily at Mass sharply critical of church teaching on homosexuality, as well as the California bishops’ foray into the politics of the marriage ban. “I realized that saying what I said would cost me my priesthood, obviously, and to say that to a congregation, I knew -- and was told – [that] people will be on their cell phones before you get out of the sanctuary, calling the bishop. But I felt it had to be said.”

For the time being, Farrow is staying with friends and family in southern California. He said he is “living out of a suitcase” and not “knowing how I will pay next month’s bills.”

He also said that from now until Election Day, Farrow will be working with various statewide organizations to defeat the ballot measure. He has set up a Web site ( where the priest says he will continue to speak out.

“If Proposition 8 wins, it won’t stop in California,” Farrow said. “The opposition will target weaker states, going after domestic partnership laws, and adoption of children by gay and lesbian couples, and non-discrimination employment laws.”

“I want my message to get out and not to die in Fresno,” he said.

Farrow said that supportive e-mail messages have come to him from Amsterdam, the United Kingdom, Germany and Sweden. “I am stupefied by the magnitude this story has taken on stateside and in other parts of California. That tells me this is a bigger story because it deals with people. Every family has a gay or lesbian member.”

A diocesan priest for 23 years, Farrow said that awareness of a gay identity first surfaced in 1984 while at St. John’ Seminary in Camarillo. Calif. Then a deacon, when Farrow’s spiritual director “challenged me on it, I stormed out of his office,” he said, only to return the next day to apologize.

Still, Farrow wondered: How did he know? “For starters, no straight man would react the way you did” the director said, advising him “until you come to peace with this, you will not be able to be of service to anyone in ministry.”

A spiritual director’s challenge, Farrow said, “was the genesis of my wrestling” with homosexuality and began “a process of dealing with this. But I was still very closeted,” he said, “until 1993 when I actually spoke to other clergy, they were supportive.”

Along the way to self-acceptance, Farrow came out to his parents, a brother and sister-in-law, and their family.

His mother already knew by the time Farrow had come out to her.

“Who knows you better than your mother?” he said.

His father was equally accepting, saying, “You are my son and I love you.”

Farrow’s nephew made a point recently of telling him how proud he was of the Oct. 5 homily challenging the bishops.

Still, for Farrow over all those years, a pastoral challenge arose in ministry -- counseling people coming to terms with homosexuality, their own or family members.

“Basically, I said what were taught to say: To love gay and lesbian people and not to be prejudiced.

“Yet homosexuality is never to be condoned and tolerated.

“But you read something like that, and what are you supposed to do if you are a mom?”

Farrow continues, “What does that kind of guidance say to a gay or lesbian adolescent? The traditional answer is pray a lot of rosaries, join a 12-step [abstinence] group like Courage, and buy a dog. How can a person be expected to live like that?”

Before speaking from the pulpit, Farrow said that he did not consider talking to his bishop. Another diocesan priest attempted to speak with Steinbock about the marriage ban, Farrow said. “The bishop just walked briskly past him and didn’t want to talk about it at all.”

The bishops’ over reaching rhetoric also prompted Farrow to speak out. “I am flabbergasted by some of the sweeping statements bishops make that have no foundation in history or fact,” he said, referring to, for example, “marriage has always been between a man and woman from time immemorial.

“I guess they forgot about King Solomon.”

Equally bothersome, Farrow said, is the bishops’ mobilizing to get people out to vote “Yes” on Proposition 8, specifically organizing the Knights of Columbus and the Hispanic women’s group Guadalupanas.

“There’s a difference,” Farrow said, “between “entering the political arena to make moral statements and offer guidance” and going out and to organize politically and operating like a political action committee.”

What does Farrow hope to accomplish? “My message is registering and resonating,” he said, because homosexuality “is a national and international issue for the Church. I hope that my action engenders discussion that begins to change minds and hearts, even among the hierarchy.”

(Chuck Colbert, a frequent contributor to NCR, writes from Boston.)

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