Canadian Catholics are seeking apologies after a priest claimed the rainbow flag used to represent LGBT pride was invented by Satan and represents “lawlessness.”
The offending comments were made by Fr. Jerome Lavigne in a homily recorded and posted online until it was deleted after media inquiries. Lavigne, who was appointed vicar of education for the Diocese of Calgary in 2017, gave a homily in February of that year entitled “The Rainbow.” In it, he said the rainbow flag was “sacrilege of unfathomable proportions” and “nothing short of spitting and laughing in God’s face.” PinkNews quoted him further:
“‘And who’s the master behind all of this? It’s not flesh and blood. It’s way too ingenious. . .There is only one who twists truth to this level. Who unleashes unfathomable proportions by means of taking that which exists as a covenant that God established, and completely turning it on its head so that it represents, once again, the very evil from which God’s reprimanding hand was unleashed upon creation in the very first place? His name is Satan. . .’
“‘. . .a priest in his 80s can’t even be seen in public wearing rainbow suspenders without people automatically associating the symbol of God’s covenant with some movement that’s taken root and bore malicious fruit around the entire world.'”
The Calgary Star reported that “The Rainbow” was not Lavigne’s first homily attacking LGBT people, and that in 2016, the priest hosted white nationalist speaker Faith Goldy to participate on a panel about sexual education in schools during which Goldy referred to being transgender as a “mental illness.”
As vicar for education, Lavigne regularly visits church-affiliated schools even though he is not employed by the publicly-funded Calgary Catholic School District. The Calgary Star reported that there is online evidence he worked with students in at least grades 1, 3, and 6. The priest’s role makes his homophobia particularly concerning. Kristopher Wells, a professor on LGBT youth at MacEwan University, said such comments “make it open season on LGBTQ youth.” Wells added:
“‘It’s not fine to bring those beliefs into a public school environment. . .These are the kinds of comments that breed hatred, violence and discrimination. . .We’re talking about a vulnerable community, which has much higher rates of suicide. . .I think the priest’s comments are deeply disturbing and absolutely create an unsafe environment in our schools for (LGBTQ) youth.'”
Still, neither Lavigne nor his bishop, William McGrattan, are apologizing for the priest’s homophobic remarks and the potential negative impacts they may have had. McGrattan, appointed in 2017, has continued his predecessors’ negative record on LGBT issues.
As 2019 commences, we know there is still much work to do in promoting education and building relationships to build a church where all are unconditionally welcome. But the cases of Jerome Lavigne and of the many pastoral ministers who have used similar rhetoric offer a more attainable goal: stopping the use of hyperbolic, nonfactual, and abusive rhetoric to castigate LGBT people. Using discourse which is accurate, contemplative, and well-informed is simply Christian behavior. If a priest sees the smoke of Satan in any pair of rainbow suspenders, we need to question whether he is suitable for ministry.
In this new year, let us, as the Bondings 2.0 community, start by committing to such a goal for this online space we create together, a witness to the wider Church and to the world of the fruitful dialogue that love makes possible if only we allow it to guide our thoughts and our words.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, January 3, 2019