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Being Gay and Catholic

Sat 16 Aug 2003 In: Features

Representatives of the Catholic Church, particularly recently, have been very vocal in the media with their condemnation of same-sex marriage, same-sex families, and human rights legislation that protects gays and lesbians - at least internationally. It was all started by the release of a Vatican-approved document entitled "Considerations Regarding Proposals To Give Legal Recognition To Unions Between Homosexual Persons" which has sparked worldwide controversy. The document includes some harsh and hateful language, and is targeted mainly at bishops and Catholic politicians. In recent weeks, the document prompted the Archbishop of Ottawa to threaten Catholic Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien with eternal damnation if he continued to push gay marriage legislation. Priests in Ireland were warned they could face prosecution under hate speech laws if they distributed the document, and bishops in the UK and Australia have made public statements on it. Yet in New Zealand, despite some local MPs condemning the document and the Church as a whole, there doesn't seem to be any representatives of the Church in New Zealand making public statements regarding it. Catholic Communications spokeswoman Lindsay Freer says that a submission will be made to Parliament when the Civil Unions Bill is eventually introduced, but until then it seems that it is business as usual. But what is business as usual if you're a gay or lesbian Catholic in New Zealand? How do you reconcile your faith and your identity with the letter of the Church's law? Lindsay Freer believes that this is a question that all Catholics, heterosexual and homosexual, struggle with and that it is a subject that will always be debated. "[The Church in New Zealand] tries to balance its duty for pastoral care with its official teachings, which do say that homosexual acts are inherently wrong, but that doesn't mean being judgmental of people as individuals." Perhaps it is easier in a smaller society to treat people as individuals. Fr Peter Murnane certainly believes so. He is the chaplain for a group specifically for gay Catholics in Auckland, known as Ascent, which is based at the St Benedict's parish in Newton. "Ours is a very compassionate parish, we have a lot of people in it who work in justice areas," says Fr Peter. "We're also a Pax Christi group, an international Catholic peace movement." Ascent began in Auckland roughly ten years ago, and was informally approved by then-Bishop of Auckland, Denis Brown, who said Mass for the group on a number of occasions. The current Bishop, Pat Dunne, has also been known to say Mass. It has been difficult for the group to advertise in local parish newsletters around the city, as many parishes have not wanted any association with the group, despite its tacit approval by the Bishop of Auckland. Until now, Ascent has had to rely mainly on being listed in directories in the gay media and at LGBT support centres. Lindsay Freer says that Ascent is not listed as an official organisation in the Catholic directory, but this is probably more to do with the group's informal nature rather than for any other reason. When asked if there were any Catholic ex-gay groups in New Zealand, she said she wasn't aware of any, and seemed to find the notion of such groups rather quaint. "I'm sure there are a number of Catholics that are homophobic, but it is the Church's duty to minister to everybody, and that includes gay and lesbian people," she says. Fr Peter believes the purpose of a group like Ascent is to make people feel welcome in church. "A lot of gay men and women might feel alone, isolated, some won't even come near a church. Every Christian deserves a community to worship in, and we have a good praying community." Ascent meets on the third Wednesday of every month for Mass in St Benedict's Church, Newton, Auckland, at 7:30pm. New members are always welcome. Chris Banks - 16th August 2003    

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Saturday, 16th August 2003 - 12:00pm

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