National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  August 15, 2003

At parish for gays in Montreal, reaction to Vatican’s document muted

By Mary Durran
Catholic News Service

At the Church of St. Peter the Apostle in central Montreal, the priest and parishioners process into Mass with the distinctive rainbow flag of the gay community, which they pin to the ornate pulpit of the baroque church.

En route, they walk past the Chapel of Hope, a small chapel decorated by more than 100 plaques, a tribute to parishioners who have died of AIDS.

St. Peter the Apostle is the parish of Montreal’s gay village in the city center, an area that is the second-poorest of the metropolitan area. Some 250-300 Catholics -- mainly gay men, some lesbians -- come from all over the island to worship at the parish.

On Aug. 3, the Sunday after the Vatican issued its document urging politicians to work against legal recognition of same-sex unions, the only sign of protest in the church was a minute of silence, when the organ music stopped abruptly after Communion.

Pastoral worker Gerard Laverdure described the momentary silence as a “way of showing our protest at recent events.”

“Let’s not sink into despair, let’s keep hope that things will change,” Laverdure told the congregation.

In contrast with the flamboyant protests against the church since the Vatican document was issued July 31, the protest at the parish was muted.

“For this community, such a rigid position by the church hierarchy is nothing new,” says Laverdure. “They (parishioners) are used to living on the margins of society.”

“Why would gays want to get married anyway?” asked Mass-goer Daniel Moreau. “Even straight people don’t want to be tied down any longer,” he said, referring to Quebec’s low marriage rate.

Parishioners at St. Peter the Apostle try to welcome all those who feel excluded by the church, in particular gay men and lesbian women, as well as divorcees.

“We have to remember that just like heterosexual people, gay men and women do not live in a perpetual state of sin,” says Father Denis Livernois, a parish priest. “Sexual orientation really is not an issue. Both gays and heterosexuals are called to develop in faith and follow the Gospel.”

In Canada, Parliament will vote on legislation that will legalize same-sex marriage when it receives a ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada on the proposed bill’s constitutionality. A decision is not expected for at least a year. The legislation protects the right of churches to opt whether or not to celebrate such marriages.

Meanwhile, gay and lesbian couples are free to marry in Ontario and British Columbia.

When Bishop Frederick Henry of Calgary, Alberta, suggested that Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, a Catholic, risked “his eternal salvation” if he made same-sex marriage legal, the statement incensed many in the nation’s gay community and raised the hackles of many politicians, who believe the church should not interfere in political affairs.

“In my view, the bishop is mistaken,” said Father Livernois, who described Bishop Henry’s warning to the prime minister as an “inappropriate outburst of emotion.”

“Personal salvation is related to an individual’s relationship with God,” the priest said. “How can a bishop make such an affirmation?”

Priests and workers at St. Peter the Apostle are not the only Catholics to have spoken out against the Vatican document.

“As a Catholic priest, I disassociate myself from this uncalled-for condemnation of a sector of society that is refused the right to exist because of its sexual orientation,” Father Raymond Gravel, priest at St. Joachim in La Plaine, north of Montreal, wrote in the Montreal newspaper La Presse Aug. 4. “To reaffirm today that homosexuality is a serious depravity and deviant behavior amounts to ignorance of human nature and complete disregard for scientific studies on the topic.”

Even before the Vatican document, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops voiced its opposition to same-sex marriages. In June, Ottawa Archbishop Marcel Gervais said Catholic priests officiating at the marriages of same-sex couples would be suspended.

In March, Msgr. Peter Schonenbach, secretary-general of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, wrote Parliament that the bishops “support the continued recognition of marriage as the union between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.

“Should you see fit to address the concerns of other adult interdependent relationships, we ask you to do so in a way that respects their human dignity but does not radically redefine and thus void the vital and irreplaceable social institution of marriage,” Msgr. Schonenbach said.

National Catholic Reporter, August 15, 2003

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