Sydney, Australia, Liturgy of Apology [to Sodomites] Is the “Beginning of New Possibilities for Our Church”
Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry
September 7, 2016
Last month, Bondings 2.0 reported on plans to hold what was likely the world’s first Liturgy of Apology to LGBT people. The event, held near Sydney, Australia, was a response to Pope Francis’ historic call for the the Church to apologize to lesbian and gay people.
A lector reads the Scriptures at the Liturgy of Apology.
The event was a profound and moving experience, according to an account published in an Australian LGBT newspaper, The Star Observer. One of the organizers from St. Joseph’s parish, Newtown, where the liturgy was held, explained some of the considerations in planning such an event:
‘It was difficult to choose which personal stories to share during the liturgy; each individual’s story is so powerful, unique and precious,” Francis Voon, a Catholic organiser said.
As organisers we wanted to make sure the event was ethical, respectful and safe for all. There are so many heartbreaking stories of our LGBTIQ siblings.
Some have been badly hurt by us as a church community. Others we have failed completely, to the point of suicide, because of prejudice, ignorance and fear, and worse still, in God’s name.
Tonight, with Pope Francis’ encouragement, in the name of God, we apologise for religious LGBTIQ-phobia, and we pledge to work towards healing and reconciliation in this Year of Mercy.
A gay man who had experienced a form of the widely discredited “conversion therapy,” which mistakenly promises to change one’s sexual orientation, spoke at the event and told about his resulting attempt at suicide.
Part of the liturgy included a Well of Tears, and congregants were invited to approach it to pray for emotional healing from harm caused them by the church. St. Joseph’s pastor, Father Peter Maher, issued the official apology at the liturgy.
One participant described the experience of the liturgy, the Well of Tears, and hearing the apology:
It was a powerful and raw moment of letting go and of forgiveness.
I came tonight with trepidation and deep reservation having not been to church for over 20 over years, having been deeply hurt by homophobic actions and words of Catholic church leaders. I feel hope and peace. That there are many ordinary and good Catholic people working hard to hold the church accountable for the violence they have inflicted on LGBTIQ people, including LGBTIQ Catholics here and elsewhere.
Benjamin Oh, Chair of the Rainbow Catholics InterAgency for Ministry, one of the event’s sponsors, commented:
I couldn’t believe the diversity of communities leaders who are here this evening for this historical ceremony, and the fact that Christian leaders actually came up to us and other LGBTIQ folks saying how sorry they are for the way by which the church has in the past and some parts that still lend support to those who wish to vilify and hurt LGBTIQ people.
Some of the liturgy participants pose for a photo after the Mass.
Melody Gardiner from Australian Catholics for Equality noted that the liturgy was in line with the way many Catholic Australians feel about LGBT issues:
Saying sorry is a good start. There are thousands of LGBTIQ people and families in our parishes and many more who no longer feel they belong or are welcome. The majority of Australian Catholics support and celebrate LGBTIQ people, we are their families and friends.
Gardiner also hoped that the Australian liturgy example would be emulated by others:
Some church leaders don’t care to hear our stories, let alone ask for forgiveness for what they have done to us. Tonight is the beginning of new possibilities for our Catholic and Christian communities here in Sydney and across Australia.
‘Rainbow Christians globally are watching and we hope to see other Churches and communities follow the example Liturgy of Apology we have seen tonight.
Yes, here at New Ways Ministry we pray that other Catholic faith communities will offer similar public expressions of apology to LGBT people. As this Australian example shows, healing and reconciliation can blossom because of such events.