As a former gay male escort and the man who exposed the hypocrisy of Pastor Ted Haggard, I’m probably less stunned than most about the sensational case of the allegedly corrupt priest, Father Kevin J. Gray.
Last week, Father Gray was brought up on charges that he embezzled $1.3 million from the Sacred Heart Church in Waterbury, Connecticut. He blew the money on ritzy hotels, designer clothes, and the luxury item that caught everyone’s attention: male prostitutes. Gray, 64, allegedly lavished gifts on the young men, using the church’s money to furnish them with credit cards, apartments, and, in one case, a Harvard education.
More than once I was paid for my services with a handful of crinkled ones and fives.
Why am I not shocked? During the 1990s, when I worked as an escort in Denver, Colorado, I estimate at least 15 percent of my clientele were clergy or connected with the church in some way. There were one-timers and there were guys who came back again and again and again, and they were all the same: positively giddy when the encounter began, unable to look you in the eye as they left. The excitement that initially animated them was wholly overshadowed by the despondency and guilt that would overcome them as soon as it was over.
I can’t imagine the guilt they were feeling. Not only were they having sex with another man—a sin punishable by God, in their minds—but I believe many of them were doing exactly what Father Gray did: stealing from their own churches. Maybe not a million bucks, maybe not even so much that anyone would notice. But more than once I was paid for my services with a handful of crinkled ones and fives. I would think to myself, how could they take from their own church’s collection plate? The answer is simple and sad: addicts will do whatever they need to do to support their habit.
I recall one church leader from Nebraska who prayed after an encounter with me, then sent me a religious book in the mail afterward. Another (who became a regular) always talked about the house he shared with a bunch of "buddies." And then there was the client who, after hiring me for sex, I was startled to see standing at the altar one day, presiding over the Catholic wedding of a friend of mine. It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. I felt for my married and religious clients. They were truly unhappy and confused. Some would confess and pour out their hearts with me. Many would cry.
Like Haggard, most of these men don’t use their real names with the escorts they hire, and I’m sure they feel that part of what they’re paying for is anonymity. And for the most part, they are correct – there is an unwritten understanding that all encounters are confidential. I think back to all the clergy, politicians, sports personalities, and actors whose careers I could have ruined, but that was not me and not what I was in the business of doing.
What I also discovered is that there are usually plenty of clues to be found when someone is doing something on the sly, whether it’s sleeping with male escorts or stealing from their church’s coffers. But people don’t want to know that about their religious leaders. Many want to turn a blind eye, even when the truth is staring them right in the face. When I attended Haggard's New Life Church after the scandal broke, I was amazed to see all the explicitly homoerotic statues and paintings—sculptures of nude, muscular men all over the place. I also noticed that all the people on stage where Ted would preach were young men—not a female in sight. I was later told that Ted picked out all the art work and the final decision as to who was on stage lay with him.
Sometimes my clients' attempts to hide in the closet were almost comically inept. For instance, most of them made their appointments with me from a pay phone or numbers that were blocked. But when you're horny and in a hurry, sometimes you make mistakes, as happened to one of my clients the day that he called me from his office and "Church of Christ" were the words that appeared on my caller I.D.
And when they are finally caught, they always ask for forgiveness. Because the endless supply of forgiveness they feel entitled to as men of the church is why they feel at liberty to do what they do in the first place. After the whole sorry affair was over and done with, Ted Haggard talked about how glad he was that I exposed him so he could begin to heal his life. (Personally, I think was just sorry he got caught.) And now that he’s back at the altar, with a brand new, healing-focused church called St. James, Haggard can revel in the repentant-fueled second act that he, as a member of the clergy, clearly feels entitled to.
Time will tell if Kevin Gray will take the same path as Haggard did. When you consider yourself a “victim” of the temptation of homosexuality, it's easy to shed a few tears, confess your sins, and feel confident that all will be forgiven.
Mike Jones, a Colorado native best known as the male escort who exposed the hypocrisy of Pastor Ted Haggard of New Life Church, has appeared on the Today Show , Good Morning America , Nancy Grace , and many other programs. He is the author of I Had to Say Something: The Art of Ted Haggard's Fall. He currently works with senior citizens helping them remain independent with dignity.