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Removal of gay altar servers is a church matter, parishioner contends

By Valerie MacDonald, Northumberland Today

The 12 Cobourg Catholic parishioners and diocese bishop named in an Ontario Human Rights Tribunal complaint over an accusation of discrimination due to sexual orientation filed a response to the complaint by today's deadline.

Essentially, the response filed with the Commission was that the issue is "not a human rights problem but a church matter," Reg Ward of Cobourg, one of the 12 parishioners at St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church, told Northumberland Today in an interview yesterday.

Grafton resident Jim Corcoran filed the Human Rights Tribunal complaint recently following his removal last April as an altar server at St. Michael's because, he says, his removal was based on his sexual orientation. He also said it was part of an ongoing vendetta against Father Allan Hood of the Division Street church. It was Hood who had asked Corcoran and his life partner to take the necessary training to become altar servers.

In his complaint Corcoran, who owns Ste. Anne's Spa, states that "this group (of 12) had threatened to go public with their complaints if the (Peterborough Diocese) Bishop (Nicola De Angelis) did not remove the two gay servers from the altar."

This parishioners' complaint letter was among the most recent in a series about Hood, according to Corcoran's official complaint with the Tribunal.

The complaint also states: "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 with (a church official)."

Corcoran said the bishop refused to meet him after directing that Hood ask Corcoran and his partner, who did not file a Human Rights Tribunal complaint, to no longer be altar servers.

"I am not married to my same sex partner but I do not hide my sexual preference or my relationship," Corcoran also wrote in the document.

In an interview, Corcoran described himself as being "chaste for many years" and denied the accusations he says have been made against him by fellow parishioners.

The others, in addition to Ward, named in the complaint by Corcoran are: Bishop De Angelis, Jean Amelia, Joan Mowat, Jack Vollering, Gerald Lawless, Melvin McPhee, Hilda McPhee, Arthur Champagne, James Keeler, Joe O'Grady, Agnes Marchand, Huguette Keeler and the Catholic Archdiocese of Peterborough.

Corcoran is seeking a $20,000 penalty against each of the 12 individuals (which he says will be donated to charity) plus legal costs up to $25,000 by the Diocese of Peterborough. He also wants the bishop to preach a sermon at the Cobourg church on the "consequences of practicing discrimination and the slanderous spreading of rumours, hate and innuendo". Corcoran says he'd also like to be restored to the position of altar server. In addition, Corcoran is asking for an article published by the bishop on the "rights of persons with same sex attractions to practice their faith within the Catholic Church without fear of threats, recrimination or discrimination. And that the Archdiocese of Peterborough develop and publish policies supporting human rights of all people in the church.

In the complaint, Corcoran agrees to mediation before a full hearing, should the Tribunal decide it has jurisdiction.

Ward maintains the Tribunal does not. He referred this newspaper to Toronto lawyer Ryan Breedon who could speak further on the response, but Breedon did not reply to the telephone inquiry.

Father Joseph DeVereau spoke on behalf of the bishop when this newspaper sought comment from him.

"Because a legal process has been started we can not make any comments to the media," he said.