Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Catholic bishop faces complaint to human rights tribunal for removing gay altar server

BishopNickDeAngelis We are certainly in for an interesting time now.  The National Post reported this morning that a gay man has filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal against a Catholic bishop after he was removed from his volunteer job as an altar server because of his sexual orientation. Here’s the story:

Gay altar server contests firing

By Charles Lewis

A gay man has filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal against a Catholic bishop after he was removed from his volunteer job as an altar server because of his sexual orientation.

The case is the latest involving the human rights tribunal to address whether Church doctrine should be subject to review by a secular body. 

Jim Corcoran, who owns a high-end resort and spa near Cobourg, Ont., was asked earlier this year to step down from his role at St. Michael’s Church after 12 of his  fellow parishioners complained to the Diocese of Peterborough.

“In their letter the group had tried to establish that I am married to my same-sex partner, that I am a homosexual leading an open homosexual lifestyle, and they implied I may be in relationship [with my priest],” Mr. Corocoran wrote.

“[The parishioners] have used their distaste towards homosexuality to limit my right to serve the Church.”

In an interview, Mr. Corcoran said he was told by his parish priest in April that he and his partner would have to end their altar duties.

He said it was Bishop Nicola De Angelis’s decision and the priest had no choice.

Mr. Corcoran added that he and his partner of 19 years have been chaste for years, which makes the decision to remove them even more difficult to comprehend. (Mr. Corcoran’s partner does not want to be named and did not file a complaint with the tribunal.)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says homosexuals “must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. [And] every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” But it adds that “homosexual persons are called to chastity” because homsexual sex is an act of “grave depravity.”

Gerry Lawless, a member of St. Michael’s for 50 years, said he and 11 others signed the letter to the bishop because they believed that having Mr. Corcoran and his partner as altar servers violated Church policy.

“We have been told by someone in the diocese who is in a position to know that homosexual people are allowed to come to the church, that you have to welcome them and give them communion.

“But they’re not to be involved in the liturgy. And based on that we asked the bishop to act, which he did.”

Mr. Corcoran, 50, began as an altar server just before Christmas. He said St. Michael’s did not have altar boys and he thought that creating a group of adult altar servers would help the priest during Mass. Many Catholic parishes have adult servers.

His complaint has caused the Catholic Civil Rights League to send an open letter questioning whether the tribunal has jurisdiction in this matter.

“Without commenting on any individual personnel situation or personalities that are involved in this case, the relationship between the Church and altar servers has none of the attributes that would make it a subject for a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal,” Joanne McGarry, the group’s executive director, wrote on Monday.

“No one serves on the altar as a right; it is at the discretion of the pastor, who in turn is at the service of his bishop. Mr. Corcoran’s role was not unlike that of other liturgical servers, who are part of the overall presentation of the Mass.”

Last year, the tribunal ordered Christian Horizons — a religious social agency that cares for 1,400 severely disabled residents — to pay damages to an employee who was fired for entering into a lesbian relationship.

Even though the woman signed a morals clause agreeing to the group’s beliefs, the tribunal still called it discrimination. The judgment is being appealed. Some observers said at the time that a religious social agency should be able to set its own hiring practices in regards to issues of faith.

Mr. Corcoran said he is seeking $20,000 from each parishioner and $25,000 from the Bishop. He said he wants the money to be donated to a charity of his choice.

The respondents have until July 28 to file with the tribunal. After that it will be decided whether a hearing is needed.

A call to the Diocese of Peterborough was not immediately returned.

I have a problem with this on several levels.  One, I do not believe that church matters should ever be settled by civil authorities (cf. 1 Corinthians 6).  Second, churches have the authority to set their own rules and regulations that are in line with their understanding of scripture. If you don’t like them, leave the church. Third, it is especially not the role of a human rights tribunal to decide such ecclesiastical things.  This is why I so strongly support the separation of church and state; to protect the church from interference by the state! Fourth, this case shows again the blatant unfairness of the human rights system here in Canada.  I suspect that Mr. Corcoran’s lawyer recommended this course of action because the conviction rate for human rights tribunals is much higher than if one to actually go to a real court.  Also, it’s cheaper – Mr. Corcoran, as the complainant, will have all of his lawyer bills paid for by the government while Bishop De Angelis will have to cover all of his own expenses, even if he wins.  Nasty and blatantly unfair.

We’ll certainly be keeping both eyes on this case.  One last note, we still have copies of Ezra Levant’s analysis of the abusive powers being exercised by Canada’s human rights commissions and tribunals (which is why I am so nervous about cases like the one above).  If you haven’t read Shakedown yet, you should, especially if you are a church leader….


Laurel said...

This book is a real eye-opener, and if you haven't read it, you should... I have a friend from Bulgaria that in 1990 told me Canada was more "Red" than Bulgaria.... I laughed at him.... now I'm hanging my head in shame that I have not been paying attention to the slippery slope our country is on. I pray for the courage and wisdom to be part of the solution.

AP said...

Churches had better pay attention to this situation. These are volunteers ... like Sunday School teachers, youth workers, ushers and the rest. Do churches in Canada really have the freedom for churches to "discriminate" when it conflicts with the stated beliefs of the church? The charter claims so, but if this goes through, the OHRT would have over-ridden those charter rights. Time to stop these tribunals who think they are a law unto themselves.


Anonymous said...

Great Decision! The roman catholic and apostolic church, should not have altar servers that openly choose and are in a sinful lifestyle like. It is sinful and the altar server must repent, he is in danger of losing his soul and to receive communion in such a state is a sacrilege.