GYMPIE’S Catholic community is mostly “deeply offended and embarrassed” that Christmas mass was used as a forum to lobby against gay marriage.
In a move that caused arguments to erupt between parishioners and a gay couple to walk out during mass, St Patrick’s Church leaders used the celebration of the birth of Christ to push a petition opposing same sex marriages.
The direction was given by Archbishop John Bathersby to all Australian Catholic parishes on December 10 in response to a Federal Parliament motion asking members to gauge voters’ views on how to achieve equal treatment for same sex couples.
It was believed most parishes approached the controversial subject with care, mentioning it briefly in the lead-up to Christmas, but St Patrick’s Parish Council chose to canvass the issue at a time when the church would be full of families.
Parents were alarmed the issue was raised three times during children’s mass on Christmas Eve, the third time while children were gathered at the altar to listen to a special Christmas message.
Many long-standing parishioners said they were embarrassed and mortified such “archaic views” had been expressed by their church in front of visiting practicing Catholics and people who turned up once a year for Christmas.
Brisbane mum Leah Scullen had been visiting her husband’s family in Gympie and attended the children’s mass on Christmas Eve with her family.
After having considered converting to Catholicism for some time, Ms Scullen said she was now against the idea.
“I was disgusted that such discriminatory and hateful comments were expressed at a children’s mass,” she said.
“I don’t want my children to be exposed to that.”
St Patrick’s Parish priest Father Pat Cassidy was sorry he upset so many people but said a message needed to be delivered in order to protect the unique institution of marriage as traditionally understood.
He said he chose Christmas to get the message across to the wider community that he would normally not be able to reach.
“When important issues need to be mentioned, shouldn’t it be at your main meeting place? Christmas is about family and that’s what marriage is about,” he said.
“The Catholic Church values marriage and the scriptures emphasise and outline what marriage is — the divine union between a man and woman. It is very hard to argue against the scriptures.”
A gay couple sitting with their Gympie family in the front row of church on Christmas Eve said they were mortified when the second announcement about the petition was made by Father Pat at the end of his sermon.
The men, who did not wish to be named to protect their family, said they had never felt so alienated and ostracised.
“It was the very first thing everyone was greeted with,” the former Gympie man said.
“We were given the letter on our way in and when we gradually read it we laughed about what a joke it was. Then it was the first thing raised at the beginning of mass.
“I thought it was inappropriate and crazy at that point but thought ‘oh well, it’s the Catholic Church, they are a bit behind’. We stuck around for our family’s sake but when it was raised again by the priest we got up and left.
“In his homily, the priest talked about loving your family and forgiveness...what Jesus was all about, but in the next breath he talked about how gay marriage is wrong. For me, it wasn’t about understanding the teachings of the Catholic Church. Of course it’s not going to be pro gay marriages but surely there are better topics to raise at Christmas – poverty, suicide, the breakdown of families.”
The man’s sister said it was the worst Christmas mass her family had ever been to. “I respect what the Catholic Church is saying but at Christmas time you don’t expect to get that shoved in your face,” she said.