Two incidents made headlines in the UK this week, which stress the reality that even in places where there is legal recognition of marriage equality, the Catholic Church’s need for renewal is still great.
Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth told a conservative Catholic website that Communion should be denied to Catholic members of Parliament who supported England’s recent passage of marriage equality and called it an “act of mercy.” The Tablet reports Egan told the interviewer:
” ‘When people are not in communion with the Catholic Church … in terms of the teachings of the Church on marriage and family life – they are voting in favour of same-sex marriage – then they shouldn’t be receiving Holy Communion….I personally would be in favour of saying that somebody should not be receiving communion.’ “
He also added that any action should be carried out in consultation with the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. A Conference spokesperson denied that the country’s bishops would follow Egan’s suggestion and discuss the issue.
Meanwhile, legislators from both leading parties criticized Egan and there was no support for the bishop. Marriage equality was supported by 47 of 82 Catholic members of parliament last year. Conservative MP Conor Burns called Egan’s statement a “tragedy” and said “this bishop appears not to have noticed that we have a new gentle shepherd preaching a Christ-like message of inclusivity, love, tolerance, and forgiveness” in reference to Pope Francis. Even MPs who voted against equal marriage rights, like Labour’s Stephen Pound, criticized Egan’s position as “wholly disproportionate.”
The Tablet also reported that a Catholic priest has been suspended from ministry after it was revealed he had entered into a civil partnership with a man several years ago. Fr. Donald Minchew was part of the Ordinariate, which caters to converts from the Anglican Church, and entered a civil union with Mustajab Hussain in 2008 while still in his former position with the Church of England. The article reports further:
“Fr. Minchew, 66, told The Mail on Sunday his civil partnership to Mr Hussain, 32, was ‘the only way I could see of getting him in the country’, adding that he and Mr Hussain had not seen each other for ‘donkey’s years’.”
Hussain is a Pakistani immigrant who is married. He initially stated the civil union was a formality to bypass immigration laws, but later suggested he and Fr. Minchew had been in a romantic relationship. Both men are now facing charges for breaking immigration laws.
In both incidents, the hierarchy’s opposition to marriage equality remains harmfully influential. Bishop Egan’s proposal to deny Communion to MPs months after marriage equality was legalized is not unique. There are other instances where Catholic leaders have sought to punish those supporting LGBT rights, like a priest in Virginia who kept Boy Scout funds after the national organization allowed openly gay scouts.
As for Fr. Minchew, it is a less clear situation given the contradictory accounts and lack of details in media reports. However, priest’s suspension is, at some level, likely related to entering a same-gender partnership, and he might not have been treated similarly had he entered marriage with a woman. Prayers are needed for all involved in what seems to be a troubling situation.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry