COBOURG, Ont. — As the organ backed a spirited choir, a gay man carried the Eucharist down the aisle of a troubled church to the altar - an altar at which he can no longer serve.
It was a sign of reconciliation between a celibate but openly gay man, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Peterborough, which he had earlier taken to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal over allegations that his rights were trampled by a bishop and 12 parishioners.
He claimed their actions, led to his removal from his voluntary role as an altar server at St. Michael’s Parish of Cobourg.
Moments earlier during Sunday’s Mass, James Corcoran, the 51-year old former altar server, sat among those same 12 elderly men and women as they listened to the Bishop of Peterborough preach of the virtues of tolerance.
“Nobody has the right to humiliate or slander their brother and sister,” Bishop Nicola De Angelis told the parishioners, some of whom are still calling for the transfer of their priest, Father Allan Hood, to another church over the whole Corcoran affair.
It was a homily that seemed to address the “hateful and discriminatory will” and “distaste towards homosexuality” that, Corcoran alleged in his complaint, was rampant among the 12 men and women who objected to his presence at the altar.
“We are all equal in our dignity, but different in our roles,” decreed the bishop.
“Great in society is the one who is capable to respect the dignity of each person regardless of our differences in language. Regardless of the colour of our skin . . . regardless of our sex or sexual orientation.”
“You can turn the other cheek . . . this is the teaching of the church,” De Angelis told the attentive congregation.
The bishop’s homily came a week after he announced that he and Corcoran had resolved the human rights dispute at a meeting at the bishop’s Peterborough office. Corcoran has subsequently withdrawn his complaint to the tribunal.
Neither party will speak publicly about what led to the reconciliation.
Corcoran, who owns a high-end spa near this small town of 18,500 people, launched his complaint in June 2009, two months after he and his same-sex partner of 20 years were removed from their positions as altar servers at the church.
Corcoran and his partner are not married.
Corcoran’s complaint indicated that he became an altar server in December 2008 at the request of Hood, St. Michael’s resident pastor.
“I enthusiastically agreed to serve as I had been feeling a recent renewal of a strong, life long calling to a vocation in the Catholic Church,” Corcoran wrote in his complaint.
But in a subsequent meeting four months later with Hood, the priest “was clearly agitated and under duress,” Corcoran said in his complaint.
“He told me that a group of 12 parishioners had been conducting a letter-writing campaign to the bishop objecting to many of the changes Father Hood had implemented since taking over St. Michael’s parish in the summer of 2008.”
“In their most recent letter to the bishop this group had threatened to go public with their complaints if the bishop did not remove the two gay servers from the altar,” the complaint noted, adding: “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 Father Hood.”
“Based on the group’s letter, the bishop told Father Hood to inform me that I was no longer to serve on the altar.”
The 12 denied ever insinuating that Corcoran may have been in a relationship with Hood and rejected the allegations that they threatened the bishop with a public scandal.
They also said they did not call for the removal of the men as altar servers, but merely raised their concerns in a letter to the bishop.
Officially, the Catholic church accepts homosexuals and says they should be treated with respect and compassion - but also calls homosexual sex an act of grave depravity.
Though Corcoran will not be restored to the altar, the bishop’s homily touched on many of the points requested by Corcoran.
News of the settlement between Corcoran and the bishop came as a relief to Margaret Leighton, counsel to the chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
“I’m very happy,” said Leighton. “If the parties can reach their own resolution then that’s great.”
Had the complaint remained in the tribunal’s hands, the question would have arisen, does the tribunal have any jurisdiction over the church.