Pilgrims Debate Sexuality at Blacklisted Forum

By Michael Turtle
ABC News

July 17, 2008

[with audio]

Audio: Blocked Catholic gay forum goes ahead (ABC News)

Audio: Father Donal Godfrey talks to the ABC's Michael Turtle (ABC News)

A gay and lesbian Catholic forum that World Youth Day organisers tried to shut down has gone ahead in a different venue without official support.

The organisers of the forum had tried to have the event included in the event's Youth Festival but were told it did not fit within church policies.

It was not listed on any official World Youth Day literature but there was a smattering of pilgrims in the crowd of about 200 people, who had come to discuss the question, "Is there a place for gay and lesbian Catholic youth in the church?".

Two-hundred people attended last night's forum.
Photo by Max Ross

Organiser Paul Harris, from gay Catholic group Acceptance, says many people find there is a conflict between their sexuality and their spirituality.

"They give up their faith, they give up going to church," he said.

"They may have been brought up Catholic and then all of a sudden they realise they're gay or lesbian or whatever and think, 'I can't be gay and I can't follow my faith'. We say 'no, that's not case'."

Twenty-four-year-old Daniel Smith had trouble reconciling the two issues. When he realised he was gay, his faith was an impediment.

"I always felt very dirty, very sinful, and so was very, very internal," he said. "I didn't come out to anyone until I'd worked all this stuff out myself."

Like many in the same situation, he had trouble coping during that time.

"From personal experience, I was very depressed and suicidal when I was 17 and I drank a lot and that's just me, so it's absolutely a consequence," he said.

Catholic Les Mico has two sons who are gay. He has found that many people in Sydney have been accepting of his situation, although there has still been some resistance.

"We're not happy about the church overall's view of it but we do find at parish level, that's not the case," he said.

"We find at grassroots there is a totally different feeling to what is actually coming out in the mainstream."

Mr Mico's family has been able to come to terms with the apparent clash of living as a gay Catholic.

"If you respect your body and if you lead a life where you have a partner, whatever persuasion you may be, providing you're not promiscuous in that attitude, then you are working within God's teachings," he said.

'New movement'

Also speaking at the forum was San Francisco priest Father Donal Godfrey, who has had experience with a lot of young people coming out.

Father Godfrey believes the church needs to adapt to modern sexualities.

"It's a new movement and a new way of seeing sexuality. In some ways it's a new construct," he said.

"So the church has to be able to read the signs of the times and discern what is good and holy in the gay and lesbian movement and what isn't of God in the gay and lesbian movement."

That brings up one of the most contentious issues about whether homosexual Catholics should be celibate.

There was a lot of debate at the forum about how people should live their life if they are true to their faith but for Daniel Smith, the answer is clear.

"It's not practical at all and I think it's really unrealistic," he said.

"It doesn't make sense. We've been given a sexuality and then we're told not to use it and I just think that's ridiculous."

Acceptance faced a long battle to make last night's event happen. Organiser Paul Harris says it was disappointing to face so many roadblocks from World Youth Day.

"It's not a church bash by any means. In fact, we're doing the work of the church - we're evangelising," he said.

"We're trying to bring people back to church to give them a positive message."


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