Paul Edward Murray, Ph.D., was born in the early 1950s to H. Paul and Verna H. Murray and raised in Arlington County, Virginia. His parents were native to the Washington, D.C. area. His father, an insurance salesman, had been raised in a stern Southern Baptist household and reacted against that with Paul and his sister Reba (Rebecca) by being more lenient and playful. However, politically he was firmly anti-Communist in post-World War II America, even flirting with the John Birch Society.
Paul attended Nottingham Elementary School and Williamsburg Junior High school. The family participated in St. George's Episcopal Church where Paul sang in the senior choir as a boy. Paul was overtly religious as child. He sought and received a calling to the priesthood in summer camp at age 14. Paul's theology and worldview was quite conservative and traditional at this time. His growing desire for transcendent spiritual experience drew him toward Roman Catholicism. At the age of 17 he became a member of St. Paul's Church in D.C. where worship was more "high church" with solemn liturgy and Mass.
In high school Paul cultivated interests in writing and in the arts. He engaged in occasional sexual play with other boys. But he also recognized that he did not fit in well with groups of boys; while not harassed, he felt excluded from the masculine world of his male peers.
After high school, Paul enrolled at Bard College in the Catskills, north of New York City. There he develop close, even intense, relationships with a few men. He became increasingly rigid in his approaches to spirituality and doctine. He sought out nearby Holy Cross Monastery as a place to make confession regularly. At his father's suggestion, he connected with L. Brent Bozell, leader of a group of journalists who had broken off from William Buckley's National Review and formed a Catholic conservative monthly, Triumph. Bozell espoused traditional Catholic principles as the best economic and political foundations for society. Paul described himself at age 20 as a "Gordian knot of paradoxes: Bard free-spiritedness, political authoritianism, Anglo-Catholic piety, and intellectual ambition woven around homosexuality."
During this period Murray transitioned to the Roman Church. He also developed a bad case of "scrupulosity"--obsessively anxious about remaining in a state of grace, making a good and thorough confession and strictly observing Catholic teaching and discipline. Furthermore he started feeling detached from academic and social life at Bard. He eventually decided to quit school and move home with his parents and work as an editorial assistant at Triumph.
In early 1969, Murray was accepted into the priestly formation program of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. That September he enrolled at Christ the King, a Franciscan seminary at St. Bonaventure's University in western New York. In seminary there he found himself longing for more academic challenge so he decided to complete a thesis at Bard while also carrying out his seminary studies. He graduated from both St. Bonaventure's and Bard.
Back in D.C. during the summer of 1970, Paul discovered and became involved in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal movement. He found spiritual authenticity and connection in these Pentecostal experiences. Thereafter he was selected to study at the North American College in Rome, historically a training ground for U.S. bishops. While in Rome he engaged with the charistmatic prayer group, Lumen Christi, and connected with Ralph Martin, the founder and leader of the Word of God Community in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He visited there in the summers of 1973 and 1974.
Murray was ordained deacon in Rome by Bishop James Hickey on May 9, 1974. That summer he interned at the Sacred Heart Parish in Bowie, Maryland. He found himself grappling with feeling called to serve the church in an unconventional way, not as a parish priest. Yet he was ordained as a priest in 1975, along with 350 other men, in St. Peter's Basilica by Pope Paul VI.
Father Murray returned to the Diocese of Washington, D.C., under Cardinal William Baum. He was first assigned as an assistant to St. Jane Frances de Chantal Parish in Bethesda. Paul found parish life there lonely and depressing. He started exploring gay life in Washington, D.C., visiting clubs and bars. He also went to Mass at Dignity. Increasingly he was juggling living in two worlds--the institutional church and the gay community. During this time he came out to his parents who did not respond positively. Through reading and prayer he slowly grew into self-acceptance as a gay man.
In 1979, he was moved to the Cathedral of St. Matthew in downtown D.C. In spite of working in a more cosmopolitan parish, he found his duties limited and mundane--not fulfilling. He sought and received permission to begin studies in anthropology at the Catholic University of America. In September 1986, Murray returned to Rome to conduct field research for his graduate program. The following month the Vatican issued its infamous pastoral letter on homosexuality. In June 1987, Bishop Hickey (who succeeded Cardinal Baum in 1980) expelled Dignity from Georgetown University. Murray found himself caught up in this foment over homosexuality in the church and feeling compelled to speak out.
In 1988, he completed his masters degree and began thinking about life and work beyond the parish. As he was leaving St. Matthew's, he gave homilies on two Sundays affirming the importance of church's ministry with gay persons. He received media attention locally for speaking out. He was moved to St. Andrew's Parish and soon thereafter to St. Stephen back in central D.C. During this time he reconnected with Dignity which he had left 10 years before, noting that it "felt like coming home."
Growing in confidence as a gay man, Murray decided in 1992 to begin a ministry that that provided a refuge for gay persons in crisis--Among Friends, Inc. With limited resources the group provided transitional housing, counseling and job search support. In these years Murray struggled with part-time work in a parish that was trying to ease him out while working full-time as a volunteer with Among Friends and completing a doctorate at Catholic University.
Finally, in 1997, Dr. Murray left the parish ministry and became Catholic chaplain and Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion back at Bard College. He thrived in this setting as a scholar, an openly gay man anda mentor to young persons in their spiritual quest, while remaining a Catholic priest. In 2004, the Bishop of Washington, Kevin Farrell sent a letter to Murray accusing him of heresy. The subsequent correspondence is included in Murray's 2008 memoir, Life In Paradox: The Story of a Gay Catholic Priest (published by O Books). Murray was never put on trial for heresy. He died on January 31, 2009.
(This biographical statement written by Mark Bowman from information provided in Murray's book Life in Paradox: The Story of a Gay Catholic Priest.)
Biography Date: August, 2014
Catholic (Roman) | Dignity | Author/editor | Clergy Activist
“Rev. Dr. Paul E. Murray | Profile”, LGBTQ Religious Archives Network, accessed February 25, 2024, https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/paul-e-murray.