Listen to the full interview starting at 20:46 in our podcast player. (WTMJ Radio's news team contributed to this story.)
"A deacon that I know said to me 'Never underestimate the power of your words.' "
That realization from Fr. Gregory Greiten of St. Bernadette Parish in the Milwaukee Archdiocese of the Catholic Church has come in spades after he announced both to his congregation and to a nationwide audience that he is gay.
"When I came out this past weekend, there were three words, when I said 'I was gay' that have totally transformed my life even more," Fr. Greiten told WTMJ's "Wisconsin's Morning News."
On Sunday, Father Greiten says he told his congregation that he is gay. A day later, Greiten announced it to the world in an article on the National Catholic Reporter. He ended the article saying, "I am Greg. I am a Roman Catholic priest. And, yes, I am gay!"
Father Greiten is a priest of the Milwaukee Archdiocese and a pastor at St. Bernadette Parish who was ordained in 1992. With support from spiritual mentors, he explains in the self-written article that he realized that he no longer could hide and pretend to be straight priest in the Catholic church.
"I can only imagine that day in our church when we are accepted for who God created us to be and no longer fearing that we might be dismissed from active ministry," Greiten said.
Greiten apologized to the LGBT community for staying silent for so long. He vowed in the article to live the life that God created him to live, and encouraged all to be their authentic selves.
Greiten went to enjoy the Marquette basketball game Monday night with an intense weight lifted from his shoulders.
"I feel like a new person," Greiten said. "I will tell you today, I just feel liberated. That kind of liberation comes when you live with that kind of honesty and integrity."
The feedback he has received has been 99.9 percent positive, Fr. Greiten said.
"To hear people's stories. I opened one not too long ago from Australia, Scotland...people are just responding and telling me their stories," he explained.
"Many times, (it's) people's pain and struggle, whether their family, church community or just in a work environment, the difficulty in their own lives. It's certainly opened the dialogue."
Fr. Greiten says he's known he was gay since he was 24 but kept it a secret. Those closest to him always knew, but he was living a dilemma as a member of the clergy and a gay man. But he no longer feels that way.
"Whether you're a gay priest or a straight priest, it doesn't make a difference," Greiten said, as all priests take a vow of celibacy that bans any sexual relationships.
"It's the same in the priesthood. There are priests with a gay orientation but many live in a secretive life. In the sense of hiding it and staying in the closet."
He says he wasn't living his truest life before. He now feels he can be an honest and openly gay man with his parishioners.
"I want people to know, in my own life, I've been a loving and caring priest," Greiten said. "We need healthy role models to be out there to be able to say, there's nothing wrong with being gay and who we are and to reflect that out to others. That's important to have those positive role models because it just hasn't been there."
Homosexual clergy in the Catholic church remains a subject of intense debate among its members. In 2016, Pope Francis told Catholics to be more accepting of gays and lesbians, though he has not changed any official doctrines on the matter.
"People have viewed Scripture in many different ways and tried to turn that - some - into a message of hate," he told WTMJ Radio.
"I come back to the realization that we're all created from the very beginning in God's image and likeness. Why I don't understand the fullness of what has happened to me, why this is a part of my own life, my own development, the fact of the matter, it is. Somehow, this reflects the greater image of who I am and who I was created to be. Me, just being honest like this, can have this kind of effect, dialogue and openness in people's lives, I will continue to speak out."
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki was unavailable for an interview, but sent the following statement to TODAY'S TMJ4:
“We support Father Greiten in his own, personal journey and telling his story of coming to understand and live with his sexual orientation. As the Church teaches, those with same sex attraction must be treated with understanding and compassion. As priests who have made a promise to celibacy, we know that every week there are people in our pews who struggle with the question of homosexuality. Fr. Greg’s own story reminds each of us of God’s call to continue to grow in understanding and to live holy, chaste lives.”