BATHURST, New Brunswick, September 22, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – The Catholic Diocese of Bathurst, New Brunswick has removed an elderly priest from active ministry after he caused a storm of controversy by denouncing homosexuality, cohabitation, and abortion in an August homily.
85-year-old Fr. Donat Gionet had retired to his home town of Caraquet in June to serve palliative care patients, and now laments that in his declining years he is being forced to celebrate Mass “in secret.”
Fr. Wesley Wade, the diocese’s vicar general, told Radio-Canada that Fr. Gionet’s comments were consistent with Church teaching, but lacked the proper “pastoral” sensitivity.
“It was mainly the pastoral approach that was lacking,” Fr. Wade said. “A lack of respect, perhaps, for the people identified, for the groups of people as well, which caused a division in the community. It was a difficult decision.”
Fr. Wade did not return numerous calls from LifeSiteNews over two days.
A member of the Eudist Fathers, Fr. Gionet had been accused by parishioners of “homophobia” in media reports last week after he criticized a homosexual parade in Moncton in an August 20-21 homily. His loudest critic was the mayor of Saint-Leolin, Joseph Lanteigne, an open homosexual and member of the parish council, who demanded the priest’s suspension.
In an open letter Thursday, Fr. Gionet laments that the diocese did not give him an opportunity to explain himself before suspending him.
“To you, the diocesan authorities: did you ask me what I said exactly during the homily in question?” the priest asks. “They did not, but only listened to people who are frustrated.”
When asked if he would continue making similar comments, he says he can only respond “yes.” “And if they asked me about the homily, in its entirety, I could not say ‘no’ because for me it is important to speak the truth,” he insists.
He explained that in the August homily he noted that while “the gates of hell” seek to destroy the Church, it is, in fact, Catholics who “destroy our Church” today. He pointed to the high number of abortions among Catholics and the presence of homosexuality in the Church. He emphasized that cohabitating couples and homosexuals ought not to receive the Eucharist, but are still welcome to join the Church at Mass.
“After these reflections, there were no other allusions whatsoever,” he says, adding that in the homily he went on to speak of the power of forgiveness offered through the Church.
The priest said that he is now living “like the first Christians did at the beginning of the Church: they had to hide in the catacombs to pray or celebrate the Eucharist.”
The Diocese has released a letter to the faithful explaining the suspension, according to French-language media reports. Bishop Valery Vienneau explains that the priest had refused to alter his statements, and the bishop expressed regret that the comments had upset the faithful.
Most Rev. Valéry Vienneau, Bishop of Bathurst
645, avenue Murray
Bathurst, NB E2A 3Z4
Tel: (506) 546-1420
Fax: (506) 548-5565