Gay Altar Server: Tolerance & Reconciliation?

The headline was encouraging: “Church reconciles with gay altar server: Bishop preaches tolerance to divided parish“.

The bishop’s words appeared to be even more so.

“Nobody has the right to humiliate or slander their brother and sister,” Bishop Nicola De Angelis told the parishioners, some of whom are still calling for the transfer of their priest, Father Allan Hood, to another church over the whole Corcoran affair.

It was a homily that seemed to address the “hateful and discriminatory will” and “distaste towards homosexuality” that, Corcoran alleged in his complaint, was rampant among the 12 men and women who objected to his presence at the altar.

We are all equal in our dignity, but different in our roles,” decreed the Bishop.

The backstory to this, which I wrote on here , is that James Corcoran, who was then new to the parish, had been invited by the parish priest to act as an altar server.  A group of just 12 parishioners, knowing that he was living with a male partner, then began a malicious letter writing campaign, insisting that the priest remove Corcoran from ministry, or they would write to the bishop.  (This letter-writing tactic is drearily familiar. We at the Soho Masses are subjected to it constantly. Our opponents though,  are not content to write only to our local ordinary, but also write directly to the Vatican, making all manner of allegations based on misrepresentations and half-truths.)

When the parish priest responded to these demands by knuckling under to them and removed Corcoran from ministry, he responded by legal action, claiming damages for unjust discrimination. That was when the story hit the headlines. (One of the delicious ironies in this is the complainants’  claim to concerned lest the “scandal” that the parish had a gay altar server might reach the newspapers. What hit the headlines around the world was not the altar server, but their own bigoted campaign.)

It is pleasing then that the bishop has faced down the letter writers and preached to them on the importance of tolerance and compassion.

So why am I still troubled by this story?

The bishop has preached tolerance, but has not practised it. The altar server, James Corcoran, is still barred from serving. The 12 complainants are unrepentant.

Vatican doctrine is clear: although homosexual “acts” are not approved of, homosexual persons are not, and should be fully accepted in the church. Elsewhere, doctrine is equally cleat that we are not to  make judgements about other people. James Corcoran is openly living with a male partner, but insists that the relationship is celibate. Who has the right to assume he is lying? Vatican doctrine clearly states that homosexual acts are not acceptable, but I have never seen any suggestion that this means people who have the homosexual condition should live alone.

We know from research that the overwhelming majority of Catholic adults are in conscientious contravention of at least one aspect of the doctrine on sexual ethics, but most Catholics do not pass judgement on their peers on those issues.

The original complaint was based on the idea that Corcoran was disqualified because he was not “in good standing” with the Church.

In their response to the complaint, the 12 parishioners said they became aware that Hood had knowingly appointed “two homosexual men” as altar servers in April 2009.

“(We) understood that the Catholic Church had a policy that only Catholics in good standing, living in accordance with canonical law, were permitted to participate in the liturgy,” the 12 parishioners wrote to the tribunal.

But what possible grounds are there for suggesting that he is not in good standing, other than naked prejudice and unwarranted assumptions?

The Bishop’s words were about dignity, respect and compassion. His message, though, was gay men are welcome in the church – but only if they hide their orientation and live alone. On the face of it, the only one who has made any “compromise” in the case is the altar server, who has agreed not to serve and has withdrawn his complaint.

But wait, here’s a clue:

Neither party will speak publicly about what led to the reconciliation.

Is this a simple “out of court settlement”?  Has money changed hands to prevent church scandal?

How much simpler it would have been for all concerned if the priest had simply responded to the original complaints with the kind of words that the bishop was finally compelled to preach to the complainants.


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