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Monday, October 11, 1999 Published at 04:55 GMT 05:55 UK

UK: Northern Ireland

'I'm gay' says rebel priest

Pat Buckley practices outside the church hierarchy

A rebel Catholic priest in Northern Ireland has revealed in a Sunday newspaper that he is gay.

Father Pat Buckley who is based in Larne, County Antrim said he had decided to "come out" after he returned from a trip to Lourdes last week.

Speaking on Sunday to the BBC he said he took the decision after considerable soul-searching.

Pat Buckley talks to the BBC about why he has revealed his homosexuality
He claimed that he was sexually abused as a child and that while training for the priesthood he was often propositioned by fellow students and staff.

"I had things to come to terms with and I felt for two reasons I had to go public," he said.

"One, I think it's in the interests of my own emotional health to be more open and honest.

"And secondly, my ministry is more and more to marginalised people and I think I'm going to feel a little bit more upfront with them now."

A priest since 1976, Father Buckley now practices outside the official hierarchy of the church.

Conflict with superiors

He came into conflict with his superiors in the Catholic Church after he began celebrating the marriages of divorced Catholics and blessing homosexual unions.

Father Buckley was later appointed a bishop by another rebel clergyman, but the Catholic Church declared the appointment "valid but unlawful" because it was made without formal approval of the Vatican.

He first made his gay revelations in Sunday's News of the World newspaper, to which he contributes a weekly column.

But he denied he was promoting homosexuality.

He added that he although he was currently celibate, it had not always been that way.

"The way I look at it is, somewhere between five and 20% of human beings are gay," he said.

"And something like 37% of men have a homosexual experience at some stage in their life.

"The sexual graph goes from extreme heterosexuality to extreme homosexuality and everybody is somewhere in between. I suppose I just want to see tolerance and us all respecting each other, no matter where we are on that scale."

Encountered gay priests

He said during his training he encountered a large number of Catholic priests who were homosexual.

He claimed that recent surveys in Ireland had shown that 40% of priests are gay, borne out, he said by his own experience in the priesthood over the last 23 years.

"This is probably the worst kept secret," he said. "We all know from the various studies that come out and the books, that this is a phenomenum in the church.

"I just think that we all have to become more honest. It has taken me all this time to have the wisdom and the courage to say my piece and I hope it will help other people."

Father Buckley currently conducts marriages from his oratory in Larne for people from mixed religions and divorced couples.

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