Priest Rejects LGBTQ Group Seeking to Raise Funds to Help Youth, Seniors

Ernie Klassen of the White Rock Pride Society outside Star of the Sea Church’s hall

A Canadian Catholic priest is standing by his decision to refuse use of a parish community center to an LGBTQ group hoping to fundraise for youth and senior care.

Fr. Glenn Dion, pastor of Star of the Sea Church in White Rock, British Columbia, released a statement defending his decision to bar the White Rock Pride Society (WRPS) from using a parish facility. Ernie Klassen, the Society’s president, said that the group applied for use of the facility for its July 27th fundraiser that will support a local LGBTQ center servicing youth and seniors. The Daily Hive reported further:

“’WRPS was looking for a larger venue to host this year’s fundraiser. WRPS submitted a rental application to the Star of the Sea Community Centre, owned by Star of the Sea Catholic Parish in White Rock, BC,’ said the WRPS, in a statement.

“WRPS says its application was rejected by the Parish ‘on the grounds that the WRPS charity event was not in accordance with the faith and morals of the Catholic Church.’

“‘Our fundraiser gala is to celebrate inclusiveness, equality and diversity in our community,’ said Ernie Klassen, WRPS President, in a statement. ‘We are saddened the Star of Sea Parish is unwilling to accommodate such harmonious festivities.'”

Public support for WRPS, however, has been overwhelming, according to Klassen. He told the Surrey Now-Leader that of the many friends, businesses, and community members who have reached out, the largest segment has been older women and grandmothers concerned that younger generations will not feel welcomed in the Church.

Dion confirmed that WRPS had been denied use of the space and reaffirmed his decision against such public criticism. He said all groups who rent from the parish must adhere to a contract which claims the space cannot be used  “for any purpose which is unlawful or contrary to the practices, or teaching on matters of faith and morals, of the Roman Catholic Church as interpreted by the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Vancouver.” According to the priest, WRPS is “diametrically opposed to the Church’s teachings.” The Archdiocese has refused to comment aside from acknowledging WRPS had been denied parish space.

WRPS has not decided on its next course of action, though legal recourse remains a possibility. But Global News reported that because this case involves a religious organization, the outcome of any discrimination lawsuit is unclear:

“Meghan McDermott, a lawyer with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, described the complaint as a prima facie case of discrimination but there may be an exemption for a religious organization. However, McDermott added, if the parish has rented the community centre to other organizations that don’t fall under the faith and morals of Catholicism, then the parish will have a much harder time defending its case.”

The Vancouver Sun reported on a similar incident in 2003 when the Knights of Columbus refused rental space to a lesbian couple getting married. It explained the intricacies of that case, which could bear on the White Rock issue:

“The couple filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, and it ruled that the couple was discriminated against under the code, but it also said that the code can’t compel someone to act in conflict of a core religious belief. The tribunal said the Knights of Columbus should have met with the couple to explain, apologize, offer to reimburse the couple for expenses and offer to assist them in finding a new venue, ruling those steps would have balanced the rights of both parties.”

Whatever path the Society decides, supporters of WRPS have been vocal about opposition to discrimination in their community. In a letter to the editor, one White Rock resident wrote, “And just where is this archaic thinking coming from in 2019? The hypocrisy here is astounding.” Julie Mahler, the Catholic mother of a gay son, pointed to a new rainbow crosswalk in the town as a sign that the wider community in White Rock is LGBTQ-affirming.There is no reason for Fr. Dion to discriminate against the White Rock Pride Society, particularly when it is performing charitable activities. The Society is not “diametrically opposed to the Church’s teachings.” Indeed, it likely expounds Catholic values like building community, helping people live authentically, and offering support to the marginalized even if not itself faith-based. The silence of the archdiocese on this matter is also troubling.  If the bishop agrees with Dion, he should have the courage of his convictions to say so.

There is plenty of time before late July to rectify this situation by reversing discrimination and welcoming all to Star of the Sea for the cause of youth and seniors’ well-being, which all Catholics can and should support.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 10, 2019

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