Two Sundays ago, Bondings 2.0 reported on a homily given at a London-area Mass to welcome the LGBT community during the Year of Mercy. Since that posting, some new information has been brought to our attention concerning another aspect of that Mass.
Thanks to Martin Pendergast, a UK Catholic advocate for LGBT people, we’ve learned that on the morning of the Mass, a Franciscan priest who had been scheduled to concelebrate at the liturgy came out publicly as a gay man on BBC radio during a segment about the special liturgy. After his announcement, Fr. Kieran Fitzsimons, OFM, was told by the dean of the Brentwood Cathedral, the host of the liturgy, that he would not be able to concelebrate the Mass.
The Tablet (March 17, 2016) reported on the incident (though the story about it is behind a paywall, so we cannot link to it). The news article explained the decision of the dean:
“Fr Martin Boland, said he asked Fr Fitzsimons not to concelebrate ‘because of the nature of him coming out on radio that day’ and because he didn’t want him to detract focus from the Mass. ‘He was playing a very public role and the whole focus would be very much on him and that’s not what these Year of Mercy Masses are about.’ The Dean said he ‘could not imagine’ Fr Fitzsimons not being invited back to celebrate Mass, but ‘he needs to speak to Bishop Alan [Williams] and his Superior.’ “
Fitzsimons response to the decision expressed disappointment at the decision, but also affirmation of the Cathedral’s outreach:
“When word leaked out somehow, I was asked by the cathedral administrator not to concelebrate. I’d routinely concelebrated at two previous Masses as part of the Year of Mercy. I challenged him, but I was obliged to accept the situation. I was not surprised, but I was disappointed. It gives a mixed message.
“However I want to endorse what the diocese and cathedral administrator have done with this Mass. They are good people at the cathedral and I applaud what they are doing.”
Boland’s worry that Fitzsimons’ presence would have made the Mass a media circus seems a bit unwarranted. The evidence is that Fitzsimons’ announcement of his sexuality did not make headlines in other publications. It is good to hear that Boland would invite the Franciscan back to the Cathedral to celebrate Mass, but it is curious that he said approval from the local bishop and community superior would be needed. Why would a priest in good standing, who had previously been welcome to celebrate Mass at the Cathedral, now need special permission because he announced that he is gay? That is another very mixed message Boland is sending.
Boland’s judgment error may have been caused by the time pressure he faced and the uniqueness of the situation. Yet, he can correct that error by inviting Fr. Fitzsimons to return to the Cathedral to be the main celebrant at another Mass for LGBT people. How inspiring and welcoming it would be for the LGBT Mass participants to see one of their own serving openly at the altar!
In the BBC interview, Fitzsimons commented on the fear that many gay priests–as well as many lesbian nuns and LGBT lay workers in the Church–face:
“In recent history there was a fear of being identified in society, workplaces and communities and there were negative repercussions, and I think the same sadly has applied to the church and there is a fear of what may or may not happen.”
At the Queering the Church blog, Terence Weldon commented on Fr. Fitzsimons’ dedication to ministry with LGBT people. He offered the following memory about him, which also indicates that the local bishop may indeed be supportive of the Franciscan:
“[Fr. Fitzsimons]accompanied the first Quest [Catholic LGBT pastoral care organization in UK] pilgrimage to the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, in 2014. At that time, the director of the shrine was Fr Alan Williams SM. Reports I had from those attending the pilgrimage, were that Fr Williams had been extremely supportive of this group of LGBT pilgrims. Since then, Fr Williams has been appointed Bishop of Brentwod – and so, is now Fr Kieran’s diocesan bishop.”
It seems like the stage is set for a wonderful moment of reconciliation and welcome for Fr. Fitzsimons and the LGBT community in the Brentwood diocese. With a supportive bishop, and a cathedral which has already offered a welcoming gesture, it seems like welcoming Fr. Fitzsimons to celebrate another Mass for the LGBT community is a logical and pastoral next step.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry