When I wrote about this incident in the Netherlands earlier in the week, it was just a quick and unconsidered relaying of some not very informative news reports. An important comment by Phillip Clarke showed me that there was a much more serious side to this than I had initially recognised. A report today from Ekklesia gives a better report on last Sundays proceedings, and also shows that the situation on the ground is escalating. The BBC has reported that hundreds of protesters disrupted Mass today.
To recap briefly:
Last week's events
In the city of Den Bosch, in the Catholic south of the country, an openly gay man was elected Carnival Prince- an office which usually results in the Carnival Prince leading the Communion service for the Mass which follows. The local priest stated in advance that he would not serve communion to an openly gay man. A number of gay supporters let it be known that they would be attending the Mass in sympathy and protest, whereupon the priest cancelled the entire Mass.
Phillip's concerns (extract):
This is quite discouraging, and to be honest, extremely frightening for me as a gay Catholic.
I’ve contemplated this dismal prospect on numerous occasions. First, I’ve seen the repercussions that sometimes have been exhibited towards gay Catholics who actively protest the Church’s stance on homosexuality; who are usually just outrightly denied Holy Communion.
However, those who are gay, but don’t raise much fuss with the Church, except when their conscience urges them to, usually don’t get punished nearly as severely. In fact, most pastors probably allow them to receive anyway because ultimately, in less they are making a public declaration that they’re gay and that they don’t agree with the Church’s rules, there’s really no way to prove that they aren’t living in accordance with the Church’s teachings.
But for those of us who are dedicated to enlightening the public both in and outside of the Church on this issue and the misinformed substance of the Church’s arguments on the matter, this is indeed both alarming alarming and deeply saddening.
(For Phillip's thoughts in full, see the comments thread following my original post)
Large numbers of gay Roman Catholics in the Netherlands are expected to attempt to participate in mass today (28 February) at St John’s Cathedral in the city of Den Bosch.
The attempt follows controversy over Church decisions to exclude people in same-sex relationships from receiving the bread and wine in the sacrament that lies at the heart of Catholic worship.
A later report from the BBC makes it clear that this did indeed occur, with the bishop, Anton Herkmans, presiding:
Hundreds of activists in the Netherlands have walked out of a Sunday Mass in protest at the Roman Catholic policy of denying gay people communion.
On this occasion, the church, in Hertogenbosch, had already decided not to serve communion, so the protesters left, shouting and singing.
Phillip was right: this development is depressing, even scary, and needs to be taken very seriously indeed. I was quite wrong to post it last week so cavalierly, without proper consideration of its import.
The fact that Mass on this occasion was disrupted by the protest will no doubt be met with a great deal of tut-tutting and shaking of heads at the "disgrace" of protest disturbing the sanctity of the Mass. This has always been the argument against the methods of the Rainbow Sash movement: that by drawing attention to themselves, they are turning the Eucharist into a political confrontation, in which the presiding priest is left with little choice but to comply. This is a view with which I have tended to agree up to now, but have been starting to change my viewpoint. When the Westminster diocese authorised the move of the Soho Masses into a Catholic Church, there was a clear and strong message that these should be strictly "pastoral", and never "campaigning" for any change in teaching. This sounds reasonable: but in the absence of any structures to meet with us to discuss the theology or our grievances of the Church, what else are we to do? My experience of the Church's Justice & Peace work in South Africa showed me clearly that there are times when the political becomes pastoral. This may be one of them.
I suppose that I have never been too bothered personally by the prospect of being denied communion because it has never seemed a real prospect. I have always worshipped in parishes where either there was a strong welcoming culture, or where I was sufficiently anonymous not to draw attention to myself. I have also worked on the principle that if I was ever refused, I would simply seek out a more welcoming congregation. However, these last two options are increasingly distasteful to me. I have a growing sense that integrity demands that I should not seek acceptance by anonymity. I will not draw attention to myself, but I do not wish to receive communion under some kind of deception.
This brings me back to the Dutch situation. In this case, it was not the Carnival Prince who politicized the issue in the first place, but the local priest, under the direction of the bishop, who decided to put a selective reading of the letter of the law above any kind of sensitivity or plain common sense. It is true that Catholic teaching is clearly opposed to "homosexual acts". It is also true that the same teaching respects the primacy of individual conscience, and that no person is entitled to pass judgements on the interior state of another's soul. It is furthermore true that Catholic teaching is clearly opposed to artificial contraception, but I have never yet seen any suggestion that couples using it should be denied communion. This issue of double standards is one of the factors behind the Dutch anger:
“What annoys me as well is the lack of uniform policy,” explained Vermuelen, “Other so-called sinners - not that I would call them that – do not have this problem”.Several Catholic churches in the country have been accused of adopting a more relaxed attitude to heterosexuals who are unmarried but sexually active, allowing them to receive communion while denying it to gay people.Henk Krol, editor-in-chief of Gaykrant, a Dutch gay magazine, has been particularly vocal in upholding the cause of gay Catholics. He said that he was willing to compromise but that a meeting with the Bishop of Den Bosch had been unsuccessful.“Even the very conservative Bishop of Brussels, André Léonard, has said gay and straight people alike should follow their conscience,” explained Krol. He suggested that priests could make their own teachings clear while allowing gay people to follow their consciences when it comes to mass.
It is difficult to know quite how to respond to young people such as Phillip, for whom the decisions of today have long term implications for his future. He is correct in his analysis that it appears that you can get a measure of acceptance by deception, or if your transgressions of teaching are of the heterosexual variety - but not if you are gay and honest. I cannot tell others, least of all those of Phillip's generation, to be open and damn the consequence. Speaking personally, however, I am reaching that view for myself. I was always taught that the Gospels are about truth (among other things). I am not closeted in the rest of my life, and have no desire to be so in Church. I have recently begun what amounts to a coming out process in my home parish, in which I will also be speaking frankly of my experiences and grievances against the institutional Church.
That is a process I was in any case planning on sharing with you soon: this development in Den Bosch simply makes it all the more more relevant. Watch this space.“What annoys me as well is the lack of uniform policy,” explained Vermuelen, “Other so-called sinners - not that I would call them that – do not have this problem”.
Several Catholic churches in the country have been accused of adopting a more relaxed attitude to heterosexuals who are unmarried but sexually active, allowing them to receive communion while denying it to gay people.
Henk Krol, editor-in-chief of Gaykrant, a Dutch gay magazine, has been particularly vocal in upholding the cause of gay Catholics. He said that he was willing to compromise but that a meeting with the Bishop of Den Bosch had been unsuccessful.
“Even the very conservative Bishop of Brussels, André Léonard, has said gay and straight people alike should follow their conscience,” explained Krol. He suggested that priests could make their own teachings clear while allowing gay people to follow their consciences when it comes to mass.
Antoine Bodar, a priest associated with Den Bosch Cathedral, hit back, saying, “Receiving the wafer is not a right. Most people are not cut out for it in the first place. Someone is looking for a confrontation here.”
However, Vermuelen insisted that he is “not looking to be a poster boy”. His cause is backed by a number of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] rights groups, as well as the Chairman of the Dutch Labour Party.
- An Old Catholic Perspective on the Roman Hierarchy's "Dumbing Down" of the Catholic Church (thewildreed.blogspot.com)
- "Speaking the Truth" on Catholic LGBT Inclusion (queering-the-church.com)
- Queer Inclusion in Church: Evangelicals Ask, "What Would Jesus Do?" (queertheology.blogspot.com)
- San Antonio Archdiocese: No More Gays at Weekly Mass (bilgrimage.blogspot.com)
- Denial of Communion in Minnesota: In Conflict with Church Teachiung. (queering-the-church.com)
- A Letter From A Catholic Mother (andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com)