London’s Catholic LGBT Ministry Rallies Around Ugandan Exile

In what is a strong display of Catholic advocacy for the human rights of gay people, the members of LGBT Catholics Westminster have rallied around a gay Ugandan who worships with them to prevent him from being deported to his native land where homosexuality is criminalized.

LGBT Catholics Westminster embers at London Pride.

London’s Tablet reported that the man “faces a very high risk of being killed if he is forced to return to the place of his birth.”  LGBT Catholics Westminster is the official diocesan pastoral ministry in London, approved by Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the head of the Westminster Diocese.

The Tablet provided background about the man at the center of this situation:

“Godfrey Kawalya, a gay Ugandan refugee, LGBT campaigner and a member of LGBT Catholics Westminster, has been living in Britain since 2002. In Uganda, where same sex acts are illegal and punishable by life imprisonment, he says he was expelled from secondary school, sacked from his job and rejected by his family for being gay. He was also an active member of the political opposition to the current president, Yoweri Museveni.

“After he fled from Kampala to rebel-held territories in Northern Uganda, Kawalya said he was attacked and robbed, and a friend who sheltered him was killed. He escaped to Kenya with the help of some nuns and eventually made his way to England.

“In August 2015 the Home Office refused his claim for asylum on the grounds that they did not believe he was gay and because he didn’t disclose his sexuality when he first arrived. ‘I was fearful, it wasn’t easy. I don’t know why they don’t believe me’, Mr Kawalya told The Tablet.

“Several appeals have failed and Mr Kawalya has one final chance to appeal by supplying new evidence to support his case by 17 May.”

LGBT Catholics Westminster has organized a petition for UK citizens to sign, asking the British government to grant Kawalya asylum.  Several Catholic leaders have already signed the petition, including  Vincent Manning, chair of Catholics for AIDS Prevention and Support, Ged Clapson, Jesuit Communications Officer in Britain, and Fr. Tony Nye, a pastor at Farm Street Jesuit Church in Mayfair, London, which hosts the LGBT Catholics Westminster organization.

Martin Pendergast, a leader in the LGBT Catholics group said of Kawalya’s case that “even if he were not (gay), the law takes the view that refugees who are in danger of death or persecution because they are perceived to be gay in their home country must be granted asylum.”

For more information about LGBT Catholics Westminster or to learn how to sign the petition if you are a UK citizen, visit www.lgbtcatholicswestminster.org or email lgbtcatholicswesminster@gmail.com.

When people speak about appropriate Catholic pastoral ministry for LGBT people, I can think of no better example than this story of Catholics using church teaching condemning discrimination against LGBT people to help save a person’s life.

In less than two weeks, Frank Mugisha, the head of Sexual Minorities Uganda, the leading LGBT advocacy organization in that country, will be speaking at New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, April 19, 2017

 

In Wake of London Terror, Remembering How Violence Led to Ministry

As London begins to recover and heal from this week’s latest terror incident two days ago, I was reminded of an earlier terrorist act directed against the LGBT community in that city.  In April 1999, a neo-Nazi activated a nail bomb in the Admiral Duncan Pub, in Soho, London’s gay neighborhood.  Three people were killed then.

That act of terror inspired the local Catholic LGBT community to initiate a pastoral program to the LGBT community.  A priest who supported this initiative was recently interviewed by Islington Now, a London neighborhood news outlet, telling how a terror act inspired pastoral care.

Msgr. Seamus O’Boyle of the Diocese of Westminster (London) told the newspaper:

“After the pub bombing in Soho where people got killed, there was a group of gay Catholic men and women who wanted somewhere to pray. . . .They started gathering together in an Anglican church to have Catholic Mass. That was a bit of an anomaly really, to put it mildly.”

Eight years later Mgr O’Boyle was Vicar General, a senior position in the Church which made him responsible for every priest in London. He had an opportunity to do something.

Mass being celebrated for the LGBT community in London’s Soho neighborhood.

What O’Boyle did was welcome the LGBT Catholic group to use a Catholic parish in the Soho neighborhood for their twice-a-month Masses.  O’Boyle recalled:

“The move was to try and make sure this was happening in a Catholic parish instead, and that it was open to everyone.

“We looked for a church and it was decided that we would use Our Lady of the Assumption on Warwick Street in Soho. I was appointed as the parish priest so I was responsible for what went on, in the sense of having an oversight of what was going on there.”

He remembered both the beauty of the welcome and the challenge of criticism from ultra-conservative Catholic protestors who showed up frequently outside the Church:

“It was a wonderful thing to be able to reach out to that community. It was a very hurt community by the Church, and yet there they were wanting to be part of it. I think we did a very good thing by allowing that to happen, but others didn’t feel that way.

“More traditional Catholics didn’t like it much. There was a group who used to meet outside and protest, saying the rosary. It was just horrendous, really. And then writing every five minutes to Rome to tell them that we were doing this atrocious thing. All kinds of ministry of disinformation, it was awful.

“Sometimes the group didn’t help by reacting in a bad way to some of the criticism and trying to reign them in a bit was not always easy. The group meeting outside was always invited in, you know, ‘come in and see that we’ve not got two heads’. “

The witness of the LGBT Catholics and allies who showed up for liturgy, especially in the face of protesters at the church door, inspired O’Boyle:

“To go to a Mass on a Sunday evening and have 150 people there who wanted to be there and participate in that way was just extraordinary.”

[Editor’s Note:  I had the privilege of worshipping with this community in 2012 when I was in London for World Pride.  You can read my report on my visit to the Mass by clicking here.]

Unfortunately, part of the article incorrectly describes the 2013 decision by Archbishop Vincent Nichols to move the Mass from the Soho neighborhood to a Jesuit parish in the nearby Mayfair section of the city.  While there may have been some pressure on him to end the Masses, as the article states,  Nichols took the opportunity to help the LGBT Mass community to become more integrated into parish life, instead of being isolated from the larger body of the faithful.

Instead of abandoning the LGBT group to Jesuit pastoral care, as the article implies, Nichols has remained very close to the community.  Very soon after their move to the Farm Street parish, he visited the church to officially welcome them.  Indeed, he visited the group to preside at Mass in 2015, and made a call to other bishops in England and Wales to expand pastoral outreach to the LGBT community.  When Nichols was made a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2014, some commenters suggested that his LGBT pastoral outreach was a determining factor in his elevation.

O’Boyle has great optimism for the relationship between the Church and the LGBT community, due mostly to what he sees as positive steps taken by Pope Francis.  O’Boyle stated:

“Pope Francis has given people hope that the church doesn’t seem quite so judgemental or dictatorial about things. . . .

“He’s trying to modernise the church but he’s up against it. He needs to do it, which I think is why he’s right for his time.

“He doesn’t care what he does really which is great – he’s the Pope isn’t he? He can do what he likes.

“I think there are those who would like to stop him doing what he’s doing – the establishment would. Centuries-old structures of bureaucracy are not easy to break down.

“But I think he’s been a breath of fresh air for the Church.”

Catholic London’s outreach to the LGBT community is a great model for other dioceses to emulate.  It is amazing that such a jewel arose from the ruins of a terrorist act.  We pray with all Londoners this week as they stare down terror once again. And we remember that when terror struck the LGBT community in the U.S. last summer in Orlando, the Farm Street community was one of the first Catholic groups to pray in solidarity with the victims and survivors.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 24, 2017

FOUR DAYS LEFT TO REGISTER TO AVOID A LATE FEE!

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org. REGISTER BY MARCH 27th TO AVOID A LATE FEE!