On Sunday morning 13th April, Fr Kieran Fitzsimons OFM came out publicly as gay, in a BBC radio interview on Radio Essex. On the evening of the same day, Brentwood cathedral was due to host a Mass with a special welcome to LGBT people and their families: in preparation for the Mass, Radio Essex, which covers much the same geographic area as the diocese, invited lgbt Catholics to join a radio discussion during the station’s breakfast show. Fr Kieran volunteered to join that discussion, and was duly interviewed as a priest of the diocese, and as an openly gay man, As Fr Kieran noted in the interview, his family and friends have known and accepted this for years, but this was the first time he had stated his position publicly. During the interview, Fr Kieran also referred briefly to an earlier time in his life, before entering the priesthood, when he had lived with a male partner.
You can listen to the interview at BBC Radio Essex, followed a little later in the program by an interview with Fr Dominic Howarth, who delivered the homily for the Mass that evening. (You need to scroll into the link to 1.11.24 for the interview with Kieran Fitzsimons OFM and then to 1.23.44 for the interview with Fr. Dominic Howarth).
In both these interviews, I was struck by the prurient interest of the interviewer, who repeatedly tried to reduce the discussion to one about Church doctrine and homosexual acts – but how both Fr Fitzsimons and Fr Howarth refused to fall into that trap, talking instead about the value of relationships and love, and of looking at the whole person. It was also noteworthy that the interviewer reported incredulously that until that morning, he had never met a gay Catholic priest, and asked rather naively if there were others. He received the obvious and important answer that of course there are many, many more, as there are in any group of people, but they do not disclose their orientation out of simple fear (just as years ago, in many other occupations men were wary of disclosing their gay orientation, for fear of meeting hostility, discrimination, or worse).
Shortl after coming out himself as both gay and partnered, the Vatican theologian Msgr Krysztof Charamsa made an impassioned appeal to his brother priests to follow his example. Indeed, in recent years examples of priests coming out have become increasingly common, but it remains an act of great courage, much more so than for ordinary lay Catholics.
I have known Fr Kiearan for a number of years now, first as a fellow participant in the Soho Masses, when they were still held in Warwick Street, and later participated with him in a “Next Steps in LGBT Ministry” workshop facilitated by Frank DeBenardo of New Ways Ministry. I recall that at the conclusion of that workshop, Kieran’s personal commitment was to become more actively involved in ministry, for example by leading retreats and Masses. I have watched with interest as he has indeed done so, working with several Quest groups around the country, and also accompanied the first Quest pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, in 2014. At that time, the director of the shrine was Fr Alan Williams SM. Reports I had from those attending the pilgrimage, were that Fr Williams had been extremely supportive of this group of LGBT pilgrims. Since then, Fr Williams has been appointed Bishop of Brentwod – and so, is now Fr Kieran’s diocesan bishop.
It strikes me that coming out publicly has been a very natural progression for Fr Kieran – but saying so, is not to underplay the enormity of the courage that will have been demanded.
I am delighted to know Fr Kieran as a personal friend – and to thank and salute him for his valuable ministry, and for his courage in coming out publicly.