The Rev. Robert F. Hummel, a Catholic priest who declared recently that he was homosexual, has been suspended by the Catholic Diocese of Richmond, church officials confirmed yesterday.
The rare move to defrock Hummel, 33, a Georgetown University graduate student, follows an interview published Sunday in The Washington Star in which Hummel "Came out of the closet," telling how he coped with harassment and a life of uncertainty.
He said in the story that students at Georgetown University called him "faggot" and "queer" as he walked across the campus. Hummel said he has known he was homosexual since he was 14. "If every gay priest stood up, the church would have to close an awful lot of churches," he added.
In a statement issued Tuesday evening, Bishop Walter Sulivan, who heads the Diocese of Richmond, said, "By choosing a homosexual life style, he has, in effect, withdrawn from active ministry as a priest of the church. All priests have made commitments to lives of celibacy and have freely chosen to be bound by the church's discipline."
Hummel, who had served as associate pastor of St. Patrick's Catholic Church in Richmond, said he was "disappointed" by the bishop's decision.
"The celibacy thing is just a smoke screen to clud the issue of gay priest," Hummel said.
The Rev. Dennis Sweeney, an associate chancellor in Richmon, said yesterday he had no knowledge about Hummel's sexual behavior. He said Hummel was suspended because he was "an avowed homosexual."
"The church does have limitations on whether the homosexual can practice in the ministry," Sweeney said. "Hummel is a case in point. As long as he had kept it to himself, he could have gone on practicing ministry, but now he raises questions that are difficult to answer."
Sweeney said the Catholic Church made a distinction between "being a homosexual" and "leading a homosexual life style."
"Just based on the statistics, I'd be willing to say that many homosexuals are celibate. I'd be willing to say the church would look benevolently on those people," Sweeney said.
Sweeney said Hummel's suspension was indefinite, but that it could be lifted. "He's still a human being. He's still Catholic," Sweeney said.
Hummel could not say yesterday if he would appeal the action. An appeal would amount to a request from Hummel to Bishop Sullivan to lift the suspension.
Hummel, who grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., attended Sacred Heart Monastery in Pikesville, Md. He was ordained a priest six years ago.In 1973, be began graduate work, studying medical ethics at Georgetown University.
Later, he became active with two groups that counsel homosexuals and provide social activities for their homosexual members.
One group, called Dignity, was started by Catholic homosexuals in 1969 to press for rethinking of the church's opposition to homosexuality. There are about 150 members in the Washington chapter of the group.
The other group, Gay People of Georgetown, has about 30 members, Hummel said.
"If a priest stood up and said, 'I lead a heterosexual life style,' he would not be suspended. That just goes to show the presumptions that are made about gay people," Hummel said.