Gay priest tells Nolan he contemplates killing himself over attitudes toward his sexuality
A gay Northern Ireland priest has said he has considered killing himself because of society's attitude toward his sexuality and how he could be thrown out of the church and disowned by his parents.
The priest spoke of his "secret agony" on the BBC's Stephen Nolan radio show this morning.
He said society's attitudes, the stance of the church and what politicians and the general public say about gay people had made his life a sheer hell for the past 15 years.
"I really struggled with my sexuality and I still do to some extent.
"For someone to say its a lifestyle choice is nothing short of a disgusting slur," he said in a pre-recorded interview voiced by an actor to protect his identity.
"There are times I wish I wasn't gay, so that dismisses the whole theory it is a lifestyle choice - it isn't for me."
The priest mentioned the attitudes of politicians, in particular those of DUP councillor Thomas Kerrigan who said gay people could be cured.
"For him to say gay people are that way because they don't pray and don't go to church, I despair of that.
"Because the gay community attend church, I minister with it."
The DUP said the comments of councillor Kerrigan were his own and did not reflect those of the party.
The priest continued: "For people to refer to gay people as not natural, that they have chosen to be that way, basically sickens me.
"Many gay men and woman have taken their own lives because they feel demonised by such terminology and language.
"They say to be gay is like a deformity, a sickness or disease. And that's what makes people in the gay community feel the way we do.
"People can't comprehend what that does to a person physiologically."
He said he felt that if he were to come out, the church would throw him out and his parents disown him and he was "totally sure of it".
"And I'm sure I'm not the only one in Northern Ireland that feels that way."
He added: "There were great expectations from many in the church that Pope Francis would take a much softer approach and show compassion, but the result was there was no change.
"It says one thing, but does another. It speaks of accepting gay people, that you shouldn't discriminate but I think it is very hypocritical when it comes accepting a gay priest.
"It shows when heterosexual priests who have had relationships with women or even fathered children are allowed to stay."
The priest said he had honoured the vows of the church, even though it was "destroying him".
But wanted to speak out and tell his story and reach out to others who felt like he did.
He described being on a long stressful journey that had taken its toll on his health.
He said he had been driven to alcohol and spent days in bed "locking out the world" and not communicating with people.
"I had been driven to contemplate suicide and recently I had felt in that position and it has taken its toll on my mental health and there are others who feel the same," he said.
"Because they would be rejected, not only by family, but by society as a whole."
On feeling suicidal, he said: "I felt the burden was getting too much and I was struggling every day.
"It does weigh heavily on my mind.
"I am not saying I will go through with it, I am saying I will contemplate it."
He said there were some of his fellow clergy who knew he was a gay man.
"I know there are many gay priests in the church," he said.
"A lot of gay priests use it as cover as priests obviously don't marry, so perhaps it's a convenient way of dealing with it.
"I'm friends with a few who are not out and some who are in relationships.
"It is equally difficult for them.
"I wanted to bring it to the forefront that celibacy is not an easy thing to adhere to and some don't and it's something the church needs to address.
"[It needs to address] The issue of celibacy and also of gay priests in the church. I'd like them to take a more compassionate view."
The man said he felt he could not contemplate leaving the priesthood as he had dedicated so much of his life to it.
"Why should I leave because of who I am?"
He continued: "Even though I do support same-sex marriage, primarily this is about me being gay, being accepted.
"I don't see acceptance and don't think it will come anytime soon given the recent comments by politicians and people in general.
"We need to see gay people as being equal within society, not seeing gay people as unnatural or being an abomination, as some people use the term.
"But to treat gay people with respect as human beings, not as sub-human species.
"But to give some understanding. They are not to be demonised but treated as equal and for people to be careful in the language and terminology they use.
"We know the pros and cons of Biblical language. It is not an interpretation of the Bible I would subscribe to that they use, but we are all equal."
The priest said he was happy in his role with the church, although he was not sure how his parishioners would deal with knowing his sexuality should he come out.
"I know of a priest who came out to his congregation in Dublin and got a standing ovation.
"But I think people in the Republic are more socially tolerant.
"I am fearful of parishioners accepting me for who I am. If I got a standing ovation, that would mean a lot, but the jury is still out on if they would."
If you feel any of the issues addressed by this priest affect you, contact the Samaritans or call 08457 90 90 90.
Alternatively, if you or someone you know is in distress or despair, call Lifeline on 0808 808 8000. This is a confidential service, where trained counsellors will listen and help immediately on the phone and follow up with other support if necessary. The helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can also access the Lifeline website .