Priest Comes Out, Only to Be Barred from Celebrating LGBT Welcome Mass

May 2, 2016

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.

Fr. Kieran Fitzsimons, OFM

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

 


British Catholic Leaders Support Marriage Equality Legislation

August 13, 2012

The Times of London, England, has published a letter to the editor today from 27 prominent British Catholics expressing support for the United Kingdom’s proposed legislation to legalize same-gender marriage.  (It is not possible to link to the text on the Times’ website because a subscription is required to access letters to the editor.)

The 27 signatories include James Alison (theologian & priest), Tina Beattie (theologian), Mary Grey (theologian), Bernard Lynch (priest), Martin Pendergast (Chair, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality).

The text of the letter reads:

“Sir,  Not all Catholics share their hierarchy’s stated views against proposals to extend civil marriage to same-sex couples. Nevertheless, the submission by the Catholic Bishops of England & Wales  to the Government’s equal civil marriage consultation indicates a growing understanding about legislating for same-sex unions, compared with its 2003 position, when it firmly opposed civil partnerships.

“It seems  to us, as Catholic laity, theologians and clergy, important to uphold some key pastoral care principles used by the Catholic Church in England & Wales. Its 1979 guidelines stated that the Church has a serious responsibility to work towards the elimination of any injustices perpetrated on homosexuals by society.

“In 1997 Cardinal Hume wrote that love between two persons, whether of the same sex, or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected. This respect demands that such loving relationships be afforded social recognition according to social justice principles. He proposed three criteria for considering issues of social policy: are there reasonable grounds for judging that the institution of marriage and the family could, and would be undermined by a change in law? Would society’s rejection of a proposed change be more harmful to the common good than the acceptance of such a change? Does a person’s sexual orientation or activity constitute, in specific circumstances, a sufficient reason for treating that person in any way differently from other citizens? We suggest that it is perfectly proper for Catholics, using fully informed consciences, to support the legal extension of civil marriage to same-sex couples.”

The full list of signers:

James Alison, Theologian & priest
Ruby Almeida, Chair of Quest (LGBT Catholics)
Tina Beattie, Theologian  
Mike Castelli, Educationalist
Mark Dowd, Journalist
Michael Egan, Chair, Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement
Maria ExallChair, Trade Unions Congress LGBT Committee
John Falcone, Theologian
Eileen Fitzpatrick, Educationalist
Kieran Fitszimons, Priest
Mary Grey, Theologian
Kevin Kelly, Theologian & priest
Ted Le Riche, Retired educationalist
Bernard Lynch, Priest
Gerard Loughlin, Theologian
Francis McDonagh, Lay-person
Patrick McLoughlin, Priest
Anthony Maggs, Priest
Lorraine Milford, Lay-person
Frank Nally, Priest                                                                                                                                                                                                       Martin Pendergast, Chair, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality                                                                                         Sophie Stanes, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                                       Joe Stanley, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                                   Valerie Stroud, Chair, Catholics for a Changing Church                                                                                                                                Terry Weldon, Editor, Queering the Church                                                                                                                                            Matias Wibowo, Lay-person                                                                                                                                                                           Deborah Woodman, Clinical Psychologist

Congratulations and many thanks for this thoughtful piece.  Let’s hope and pray that Catholic leaders in other countries, particularly the United States, will speak out as clearly and forthrightly.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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