Priest speaks of 'secret agony' over being gay and how it has nearly driven him to suicide
A gay priest in Northern Ireland says he has considered killing himself because of society's attitude towards his sexuality.
He also told how he feared being thrown out of the Catholic Church and disowned by his parents.
Speaking about his "secret agony" on Stephen Nolan's Radio Ulster show yesterday, the cleric said society's attitudes, the stance of the Church and what politicians and the public say about gay people had made his life hell for the past 15 years.
"I really struggled with my sexuality and I still do to some extent," he said. "For someone to say it's a lifestyle choice is nothing short of a disgusting slur," he added in an 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," he said. "Because the gay community attends church - I minister with it."
The DUP said Mr Kerrigan's comments were his own views and didn't reflect the party's.
The priest 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.
"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."
The priest 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 (right) 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 to accepting a gay priest."
The Archbishop of Armagh addressed homosexuality in the priesthood a number of weeks ago, saying: "It's not a problem for me." In a broadcast interview, Primate Eamon Martin said there were priests who have gay tendencies in the same way priests have heterosexual tendencies, but he added that they all have made a commitment to remain celibate.
During a pre-recorded interview yesterday, the gay priest said he had honoured the vows of the Church, even though it was "destroying him", and added that he wanted to speak out and tell his story to reach out to others who felt like he did.
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."
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.
"I know of a priest who came out to his congregation in Dublin and got a standing ovation," he said. "But I think people in the Republic are more socially tolerant. I am fearful of parishioners (not) accepting me for who I am. If I got a standing ovation, that would mean a lot."
If you feel any of the issues raised affect you, contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.