The whole…Catholic Church thing

[UPDATE: Mbrandon8026 from the Freedom Through Truth blog has some additional commentary on this that I think you should check out. Also, I’ve provided a link to the editorial in the Calgary Herald. ]

I know, I know, I said I’d comment on Jim Corcoran’s complaint simply ages ago. I mean, it’s already filtered down to the editorial pages of the Calgary Herald, so it’s old news, by blogging standards. But I still thought I’d give my two cents ( or five cents, or ten cents ) worth.

The sum of those cents is, essentially, this: Jim Corcoron seems like a nice guy, but I think he made a terrible mistake. That’s it. Jim Corcoran’s not the devil. He doesn’t seem like a grievance-monger; one of those people who waits for life to give them a wrong turn so that they can somehow profit off of their own misery and depression. No, those sorts of people seem to give off their own particular vibe, and that’s not Jim Corcoran’s vibe.

In fact, if you read Jim’s account of things, he comes across as half-gallant:

It appears as though there was a small group of parishioners that were not in favour of Bishop DeAngelis’ decision to appoint Father Hood to this parish. Catholics will know that this is not unusual. What makes this case a little different is that this group became very vocal and actively started making their feelings known to the Bishop. They accused Father Hood of misappropriation of funds from the restoration fund to complete the repairs to the chapel and the rectory. In fact, when Father Hood took over the parish, there was no money in the restoration fund, despite the claims of those who were charged withit’s care. Instead, funds from the general fund were being diverted to the restoration. Perhaps this was the initial spark that ignited the feud between this small group of parishioners and their new pastor. However, since this issue could easily be cleared up by the year end financial audit (and in fact it was, but the group of 12 and 45 dismissed the results of the audit as hard to understand), the group decided to create a series of new complaints against their new pastor; that Father Hood had his 92 year old mother living in the rectory with him, claiming that this represented grave financial liability to the parish. They complained about the new organist and the volume of the organ at weekday mass, about Father Hood’s decision to pay the girls choir a small stipend to encourage them to attend mass and practices, they complained about the vestments that he used, the way he celebrated the liturgy and the changes he made to the adoration chapel. Their complaints were not confined to minor grumblings and gossip that sometimes take place when a new pastor is appointed – they were put in writing and widely circulated in the form of a petition. These people felt that they were more qualified to run the church than the pastor, and ultimately more qualified to runthe diocese than the Bishop. That is not the Catholic model. In January, the Bishop decided to address the tactics of these parishioners in a letter to all parishioners that accompanied our year end financial report. The Bishop called upon this group to stop their malicious attack of Father Hood. The group was not persuaded by the Bishop’s letter and they continued their campaign of slander and libel against Father Hood. In the period leading up to Easter, they started to include fellow parishioners in their attacks. This is where I came into the picture, as they objected to my appointment as an Adult Altar Server because of assumptions they made about me and my lifestyle from reading my blog. This, along witha rehash of the original complaints about Father Hood, was put in a letter signed by a group of 12 parishioners and sent to the Bishop which was then presented to the Bishop, the Archbishop of Kingston, and eventually the Papal Nuncio. Their letter included a threat to cause a public scandal if the Bishop did not take action on their complaints. The Bishop decided not to respond to this letter, other than to order Father Hood to dismiss me from the position of Altar Server. I think he felt that this would placate them. I spoke to the Bishop the day after Father Hood dismissed me, to try to convince him that by taking this action he was responding, and his response would only embolden this group. The Bishop asked me to leave it withhim, and to stay close to and support Father Hood. By this time, Father Hood was starting to show signs of stress, both physical and emotional. As the owner of a healthspa, I could recognize these signs. I could only imagine how he would have felt trying to preach to his congregation, knowing that a small minority was continuing to wage a campaign to have him removed from his job, his livelihood and his vocation, while spreading lies about his integrity. The group broadened their attack. They circulated a new petition to 45 people, many who did not even attend this church, reiterating all of their previous complaints against Father Hood. This time the Bishop did respond with a very strongly worded letter to the 45, he told them that their accusations were unfounded, their actions were un-Christian, and their claims about the liturgy were not worthy of a response. His letter essentially ordered these people to stop attacking Father Hood and gave them the option of attending another church if they weren’t happy. Despite receiving this letter, the group was undeterred in their campaign against their pastor. It was at this point that I decided to consult a lawyer who specializes in civil litigation. My lawyer reviewed the facts and told me that Father Hood certainly had a very strong case against this group for defamation and libel. He told me that my case was just as strong since they had included me in their attack against Father Hood. However, he suggested that the public perception of a priest suing his parishioners might not be very positive, regardless of the actions of the defendants. In my case, he suggested that I had two options. One was to sue the 2 ringleaders of the group, the other was to file a human rights complaint. I opted for the human rights complaint. In my complaint, I have argued that this group of 12, by threatening the Bishop, have recklessly trampled on my rights as a human being, and my right to respond to my calling in the church. As such I have asked for the Bishop to reinstate me, and to preach a sermon on the ills of spreading rumour and innuendo. I have also asked each of the 12 parishioners to make a donation of $20,000 to a charity of my choosing. Finally, I have asked the diocese to cover my legal expenses, up to a maximum of $25,000. However, if I am successful, I will donate whatever costs the diocese is required to pay, back to the church. I am not motivated by money or to punish or convert these people. The Bishop asked me to serve on the Altar, and so I did. The Bishop also repeatedly asked these people to stop maligning their priest, they have not stopped. I am only holding this group of 12 people up to the same public scrutiny that they have held me, Father Hood, and Bishop DeAngelis to through their threats, petitions, gossip and letter writing. The church has enough trouble attracting new men to the priesthood, let alone if they are expected to endure this kind of abuse. Same applies to lay members who are called to serve – they too should not be abused freely by fellow parishioners. If the Bishop had given in to this groups demands to have Father Hood dismissed from his role as pastor, or if Father Hood had resigned out of frustration or if his healthhad continued to worsen as a result of the stress associated withsuch an attack, imagine the damage that would have been done to him, his livelihood and to his reputation. Having been dismissed as an altar server, imagine what speculation is going through my community as to why I was dismissed. I did nothing wrong. I am a Catholic practicing my faithwithin the doctrine of my church. Father Hood has done nothing wrong, other than to bring order and dignity back to a parish that had long been divided and controlled by a small group of malcontents. I am not looking for financial gain in this matter, but I do think that groups of people who publicly attack the clergy and their fellow parishioners in writing should be held accountable. Unfortunately, I had to name the Bishop as a respondent to this complaint, only because he is the one with the authority to reverse the decision that he was forced to make by the threats of the group of 12 rabble rousers. The Human Rights Commission is a by product of democracy in Ontario. It is an organization that, through mediation, makes best efforts to bring the parties together for discussion and resolution. In this case, I think there is a role for the Human Rights Commission to play in helping to resolve the issues that have been brought out into a public forum by this group of people, especially as they have affected my rights as a human being. Where did I get my facts from? Sadly, much of what I have said here has become public knowledge in the Parish of St. Michael’s. The group of 12 tried to bring more people into their fold who did not support their cause or their tactics, and those people have been great friends and supporters. One thing you can say about Catholics – they like to talk.

( Read the whole thing here. )

Indeed, the only part of that which isn’t gallant is the method by which Jim’s gallantry was performed. Namely, the OHRC, whose rather over-whelming spectrum of smothering bureaucratism has coloured this whole issue to the point of repugnance. Imagine Barbara Hall, the woman who would have held the definition of the Canadian news-weekly to the scrutiny given a hate criminal for its editorial pages; the woman who has proposed a national press councilto put in effect the censorship that she herself was unable to inflict upon that species of hate-monger, the Canadian mainstream publication. Barbara Hall has proven herself unable and even unworthy of being able to police anything whatsoever, by her methods of investigation ( and by this, I mean the methods of the investigators within her commission, as she obviously does not investigate or over-see every case within her jurisdiction ), and by dint of her seeming disregard for property or ownership rights.

In essence, Barbara Hall could very well be the Catholic Church’s worst nightmare. This was Jim Corcoran’smistake: he unleashed one of the worst forms of bureaucracy upon a religious institution. When two spheres ( religion and government ) collide, the results are very rarely pretty; when the players on one side include Barbara Hall and the OHRC, the province of Ontario versus, well, God, then the problem is only compounded.

Now, let’s take a look at the complaint itself, shall we? ( Thanks to Wally Keeler’s fine efforts at Cobourg Of All Things ):

This is the text of Mr Corcoran’s complaint:
“In the fall of 2008, after Sunday mass, I was approached my my parish priest, Father Allan Hood. He told me that he was planning to launch an Adult Acolyte Guild at St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Cobourg, and he invited me to join. I enthusiastically agreed to serve as I had been feeling a recent renewal of a strong, life long calling to a vocation in the Catholic Church. Along with several other adults, I attended practices and was fitted for a cassock and started serving mass in December of 2008. Just after Holy Week 2009, Father Hood asked to see me. He was clearly agitated and under duress. He told me that a group of 12 parishioners had been conducting a letter writing campaign to the Bishop (Nicola DeAngelis) objecting to many of the changes Father Hood had implemented since taking over St. Michael’s parish in the summer of 2008. In their most recent letter to the Bishop this group had threatened to go public with their complaints if the Bishop did not remove the 2 gay servers from the altar. The Bishop called Father Hood to a meeting on Monday morning, April 20th, 2009 at which time he presented him witha letter signed by 12 parishioners objecting to a number of things that Father Hood has done since being appointed to this parish, one of which was allowing 2 openly gay men to serve on the altar. Father Hood summarized the content of this letter during our meeting, but did not give me a copy as the Bishop had instructed him not to. Apparently this group had written to the Bishop on this topic on at least one previous occasion. In their letters the group has tried to establish that I am married to my same sex partner, that I am an active homosexual leading an openly homosexual lifestyle and they implied that I may be in a relationship withFather Hood. Based on the group’s letter, the Bishop told Father Hood to inform me that I was no longer to serve on the altar. He also told Father Hood that he would be happy to meet withme to discuss this matter. I called the Bishop at his office on Tuesday morning, April 21st, 2009 and asked him to meet withme to discuss his order. He declined to meet with me, and told me that I should follow the advice of St. Paul and abstain from doing something that others found offensive. I also asked the Bishop how he would respond if I were to pursue a vocation within the Catholic Church, and he told me that there is a process for this, but felt I should know that in his diocese applications for a vocation from persons over the age of 30 are not accepted. This seemed strange to me as most deacons are ordained in the latter part of their lives. I feel that my human rights have been violated by the 12 parishioners, by the Bishop and by the Catholic Archdiocese of Peterborough, exclusively on the basis of my sexual orientation. By threatening the Bishop withpublic scandal, this group of 12 parishioners have used their distaste towards homosexuality to limit my right to serve my church and deepen my faith by serving on the altar, and to pursue a vocation within the Catholic Church. They have also caused me embarrassment in my church community by circulating petitions to fellow parishioners containing accusations pertaining to my lifestyle. By not responding to this group of 12 parishioners on this issue, and by directing Father Hood to tell me that I am no longer welcome to serve on the Altar, and by discouraging me from pursuing a vocation, the Bishop has endorsed and enabled the hateful and discriminatory will of this group of 12 people towards me, undermining my rights as a human being.”Mr Corcoran has asked the Ontario Human Rights Commission for the following Financial remedy: “I feel that a penalty of $20,000 paid by each of the 12 parishioner towards a charity of my choosing will serve as a deterrent to each of them from slandering the reputation of and trampling on the human rights of others. I would like my legal costs related to this application to be covered by the Diocese of Peterborough, to a maximum of $25,000.”

 

Mr Corcoran has further requested the following: “I would like the group of 12 parishioners to be held accountable for their un-Christian actions, in front of their peers in a public forum, by the Bishop or the Bishop’s superior. I would like the Bishop to preach a sermon at St. Michael’s Church on the consequences of practicing discrimination and the slanderous spreading of rumours, hate and innuendo. I would also like the Bishop to publicly restore my role as a server at St. Michael’s church, and to apologize for the injustice caused to me, my friends and family.”Mr Corcoran requested the following ‘Public Interest remedy’: “I would like the Catholic Archdiocese of Peterboroughto publish an article written by the Bishop in the regularly published diocesan news magazine on the rights of persons withsame sex attractions to practice their faith within the Catholic Church without fear of threats, recrimination or discrimination. I would also like the Catholic Archdiocese of Peterborough to develop and publish policies that support the human rights of all people within the church.”

 

Hmm…that’s a pretty extreme reaction, wouldn’t you say? Between the fines, the public de-frocking, the public article in the news-letter professing comfort with homosexuality – well, that last one just seemed a bit vindictive, I’m sorry to say. I don’t think that Jim Corcoran is in this for his own monetary satisfaction, and not wishing to put thoughts into his head which aren’t there, but one can’t help but wonder whether an opportunity to score a couple of points home didn’t prove too tempting? Or am I being unfair?

After all, on the other hand, let’s focus a little on these twelve parishioners. Their complaints may seem rather far-fetched – I mean, seriously, can anybody be that annoying and aggravating and petty? But the thing is, I’ve been involved in the church ( Anglican, not Catholic, with a background in Lutheranism ) enough to know that people like this do exist, and that they can take the meaning of ‘petty’ to a whole new level.

And really, I think we’ve all run into people like this. Anybody who’s worked in any sort of charitable or religious organization has probably run into them (and it really seems to be non-profit organizations that  bring out the worst of this behavior in some people ). If they like you, well then that’s great. But if they don’t like you, well, you’re not going to have an easy time of things if they can help it. You’ll find yourself on the receiving end of a constant and unceasing and blistering scrutiny, every move held up to that of a god and found wanting – every petty stupid little thing madeinto an issue. I parody, but to some extent such people exist, and to that extent, and to the extent that I’ve had to deal withsuch people, I sympathise with Jim Corcoran, and with Father Hood.

( By the way, none of the twelve respondents had responded to the complaint as of the 15th of July. )

But that sympathy comes to an end, really, over what would seem to be the most innocuous of the terms of Jim’s complaint. Namely: the screed from the bishop in the diocesan magazine on the acceptance of gay people within the Catholic Church. I’m not against gay people being in the Catholic Church, really, and I’m certainly not against anybody writing in favor of such a thing, but I find it rather alarming whenever a thought is forced into a publication, be it a newspaper, or a newsletter. I’m O.K. with the fines, as although they did seem a bit steep, I can’t help but wonder how truly intolerable those twelve have been to deserve such a response. I’m fine with the public de-frocking – again, that seems understandable. I’m more uncomfortable with the forced public apology, because it smacks too much of a Stephen Boissoin redux. But it’s the diocesan magazine article which gets to me, and which makes me wonder as to the motive behind this complaint, whether it wasn’t just good intention, or whether good intention was left by the wayside for just a minute in favor of personal gratification.

But what matter? The complaint has been filed. The dogs of bureaucracy have been loosed. Were Jim Corcoran’s intentions in filing this complaint good? I think so; his reasoning doesn’t seem as grievance-mongering-oriented as that of others; the wording of his complaint seems directed more toward stopping those trouble-makers within his church than for any personal benefit. Some of the terms of his complaint raise the eyebrows, though, and I can’t help but feel – indeed, I very strongly feel – that a very grave mistake has been made in raising this complaint. But for all the problems with this complaint, most of them seem to stem from the objects of the complaint, and from the over-seer of the complaint, while the complainant himself seems, if not an innocent bystander, a rather more passive player in these events.

But maybe that’s my fatalism talking. It’ll undoubtedly settle in more as my age starts to get to me.

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