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Catholic Church dismisses gay altar servers

Celibate man launches human rights complaint against Bishop, parishioners

A gay altar server who was given the boot has launched a human rights complaint, seeking compensation from a Catholic bishop and 12 parishioners, who, he says, launched a smear campaign against him.

“I really thought that the vast majority of Canadians had gotten beyond these issues long ago,” says Jim Corcoran. “I was somewhat taken aback and surprised to see these kinds of feelings hidden so close to the surface.”

Corcoran and his partner began serving last December at St Michael the Archangel Parish in Cobourg on the invitation of the church’s pastor, Allan Hood. Both were dismissed by Hood on Apr 20. According to the document of complaint filed with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, Hood was acting on instructions from Peterborough bishop Nicola De Angelis.

The dismissal was ordered after 12 of St Michael’s parishioners wrote letters to De Angelis complaining about Hood over everything from sermon content to church renovations, asking he be transferred. An Apr 14 letter threatened De Angelis that the group would go public about having gay altar servers if he didn’t take action.

“Now we have a couple, not from our parish, who are openly and publicly involved in a same-sex relationship serving on our altar at Sunday liturgies,” reads the letter, according to a report in the Catholic Register. “This has to be a grave contradiction. What message is being given here?”

Corcoran, 50, has lived with his same-sex partner for 19 years. He says he doesn’t agree with same-sex marriage and that both men follow Catholic teaching that homosexuals are called to celibacy. His partner has chosen not to involve himself in the complaint.

Corcoran launched a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal on grounds of discrimination of sexual orientation in June. He is seeking penalties of $20,000 from each parishioner toward a charity of his choosing and that up to $25,000 of his legal costs be covered by the Diocese of Peterborough. According to LifeSiteNews.com this is the first case related to internal governance of the Church to be accepted by the tribunal.

He has also asked to be reinstated as an altar server and for a public forum holding the group of parishioners accountable, as well as sermons and writings from the diocese on discrimination, hate and “the rights of persons with same-sex attractions to practise their faith.”

Corcoran says he has not seen the letter written to the bishop, but has heard of its contents from speaking with Hood and fellow parishioners.

“In their letters the group has tried to establish that I am married to my same-sex partner, that I am an active homosexual leading an openly homosexual lifestyle and they implied that I may be in a relationship with father Hood,” Corcoran states in his complaint.

The 12 parishioners filed a response stating that the tribunal does not have jurisdiction over church matters. They also state they were not acting out of hate, but rather out of a desire to remove Hood from his position as pastor because of the changes he made to the parish since his arrival in July 2008.

“The parishioner respondents further specifically deny the allegations that they acted ‘hateful and discriminatory’ toward the applicant and that they were ‘spreading hateful innuendo about’ the applicant,” reads the Jul 23 filing.

Corcoran says De Angelis was trying to avoid a scandal by dismissing him from his duties but argues he should have instead confronted the parishioners about involving others in their campaign against Hood.

“Each time he gives in to this group he just emboldens their attack against their pastor,” says Corcoran.

Both sides have opted for a mediation hearing, with a date likely to be set between December and February.

“I would be delighted if it could be resolved through mediation,” says Corcoran. “I’m a huge believer in sitting down and talking things over with people you take issue with.”

No one from the Diocese of Peterborough replied to interview requests. Hood declined to speak, citing diocesan protocol.