Fr Mac Ghille Aindrais believes the church turned down his bid to be ordained because he is gay
A 57-year-old man who recently applied to become a Catholic priest believes his application was rejected because he is gay.
Following the death of his lifelong partner, Seamus Mac Ghille Aindrais — who had studied in a Catholic seminary for several years after finishing school but left before being ordained — wanted to join the priesthood. However, his application was turned down.
After the response from the Catholic Church, he contacted the Open Episcopal Church and was ordained a priest within that church at a ceremony in Belfast last weekend.
The Open Episcopal Church follows similar teachings to the Catholic Church but says it is open to “everyone”.
As part of his ordination, Fr Mac Ghille Aindrais has taken on the Irish version of his name, Jim Anderson.
In recent years, at least two men older than Fr Mac Ghille Aindrais have been ordained as priests within the Catholic Church in Ireland following the death of their wives. He claims this supports his belief that his application for the Catholic priesthood was rejected because he is gay.
After leaving the seminary as a young man, Fr Mac Ghille Aindrais went on to share his life for 30 years with his partner Kevin Carruthers and they both lived as “devout” Catholics.
Kevin died in 2017 at the age of 49. After his death, Fr Mac Ghille Aindrais said he heard Kevin’s voice in his head telling him to “go be the priest you always wanted to be”. In October 2020, he wrote to the National Vocations Office at St Patrick’s College at Maynooth and was told to write to individual dioceses.
Fr Mac Ghille Aindrais, originally from Belfast but who has lived in Donegal for the past 20 years, wrote to seven of Ireland’s 26 Catholic dioceses.
Under the current system within the church, each diocese has the authority to nominate people for the priesthood.
In his correspondence with the dioceses, Fr Mac Ghille Aindrais outlined his “life story” and explained why he wanted to become a priest. He informed the dioceses he was gay, but stressed he was willing to take on all aspects of the priesthood, including a vow of celibacy.
Shortly after contacting the dioceses, he heard back from two of them, Raphoe and Armagh, to say that they would not be taking his application forward. After seven months, he received a similar response from the Dublin diocese.
A spokesperson for the Dublin diocese told him that they did not consider anyone over the age of 50 for the priesthood.
The response from the Raphoe parish, in which Fr Mac Ghille Aindrais lives, stated the parish authorities believed a nomination for the priesthood should “arise organically from within the community”.
“The recognition of a possible vocation to serve as a priest in our diocese would arise out of years of committed activity within a parish setting where the person was already in a relationship with the local priests and people,” a representative of the diocese told Fr Mac Ghille Aindrais in an email.
The response from the Armagh diocese wished him well but said they would not be able to put him forward for the priesthood. He has still to receive a reply from the four other dioceses he contacted — Derry, Clogher, Kilmore and Elphin.
Fr Mac Ghille Aindrais said he was saddened but not surprised by the response.
“I was honest with my story. My attitude was ‘this is me, take me or leave me’,” he said.
“But I have already been inside the mechanics of the Church and I knew my application would be rejected because I am gay.”
The Sunday Independent contacted the Catholic Church in relation to Fr Mac Ghille Aindrais’s comments. A Church spokesperson noted that Fr Mac Ghille Aindrais had received replies from three dioceses and said they had no other information concerning the matter.
The debate over the Catholic Church’s attitude towards gay relationships has resurfaced in recent times.
A study released in May of this year called for an “urgent” change in Catholic teaching on such relationships.
The study was endorsed by 60 academics, including former president of Ireland Mary McAleese, who has been a strong critic of the church’s stance towards gay people.
Fr Mac Ghille Aindrais said the Catholic Church has suffered from a massive decline in the number of young men coming forward for the priesthood. If the Church does not change its attitude, he said, that decline will continue.
“The times have changed completely and it is time for the Catholic Church to change. Love is not a sin. A man loving a man is not a sin. God is love and the love that someone has for another person comes from God.
“The love that Kevin had for me and the love that I had for him, that comes from God and no one can say it is a sin. I would ask the Church to consider its place, but it won’t. I already know it won’t.”
Fr Mac Ghille Aindrais and Kevin met when they were both young students for the priesthood in Northern Ireland.
However, as the Troubles continued, they both felt a calling to reconciliation work and left the seminary in 1990 to set up a cross-community group in Belfast.
Throughout this period, their friendship became stronger but they both struggled with their growing love for each other.
“Neither of us would have considered entering into a relationship because of our faith,” said Fr Mac Ghille Aindrais.
“Our relationship grew slowly because of what the church taught us. That is how much our faith meant to us. We were both very devout Catholics and we could not allow our relationship to destroy our faith.”
Even after becoming a couple, the two men lived a “private and quiet” life together. It was not until they were in their “late 30s” that they came out to their families.
“When we told them, they all laughed and said ‘sure we’ve known that for years’,” he said.
As he spoke to the Sunday Independent at his home near Dungloe, where he hopes to create a retreat centre as part of his new vocation, Fr Mac Ghille Aindrais said he is sad at how he has been treated by a church which always meant so much to him.
“I have a real love of my faith, of that Catholic tradition, and now I can still bring that through in the Open Episcopal Church as a gay man.
“I am free as a priest to even marry another man if I want to and the church supports that completely because it has the attitude that I have — God does not care about your sexuality.
“I can now be the priest I always wanted to be.”