Tuesday April 13, 2010

Homosexual Altar Server’s Complaint against Peterborough Bishop Goes to Mediation

By Patrick B. Craine

COBOURG, Ontario, April 13, 2010 ( – The human rights complaint filed against Bishop Nicola De Angelis of Peterborough, Ontario over his decision to disallow an open homosexual from acting as an altar server in the diocese will now go to mediation, with a hearing scheduled in Toronto for May 11th.

The complaint was filed with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal by Jim Corcoran, owner of a highly-rated spa in Grafton, Ontario, on June 17th, 2009 following the bishop’s decision that April. Alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation, Corcoran is seeking up to $25,000 in damages from the bishop, and $20,000 each from 12 of his fellow parishioners at St. Michael’s in Cobourg, whom he also named in the complaint. The parishioners had written a letter to the bishop about Corcoran’s service on the altar, citing a risk of public scandal because it was known that Corcoran lived with his same-sex partner.

The bishop and the parishioners were required to explain themselves to the Tribunal in written responses, which they did last summer.

It is believed that this is the first case in Canada to be accepted by a human rights tribunal that relates to the internal governance of the Church. The case has led to fears of serious repercussions for the Church’s freedom in Canada.

Bishop De Angelis redressed the Tribunal’s intrusion into the Church’s internal affairs in a September pastoral letter to the parishes of his diocese. “I fail to understand how secular powers and government agencies should think they are in a position to tell the Church that she is wrong in her internal rules and regulations, even though these have directed and shaped the life of the Church during the last 2000 years. However, this is what we face today,” he wrote.

“If the Human Rights Tribunal should choose to interfere with the Church’s governance, this will be most shocking,” he added. “The Tribunal has no authority to place itself as an arbiter of canonical precepts.”

The mediation hearing is conducted privately, and if successful, the parties can agree to not disclose the outcome. But Margaret Leighton, counsel to the Chair of the Tribunal, explained that if the parties are unable to reach an agreement during mediation, then the matter will be brought before an adjudicator for resolution in a public hearing. This adjudicator has the power to impose financial damages and other sanctions.

In interviews with LSN, the Tribunal has continued to deny any responsibility for making the Church explain its internal actions. In August, Leighton emphasized to LSN that the Tribunal “didn’t take on the case,” maintaining that “the Tribunal has no capacity to refuse an application which falls under our jurisdiction.”

Their own documents indicate, however, that the Tribunal makes at least an initial determination of jurisdiction once an application has been submitted. After an application comes in, the Applicant’s Guide reads, they review it “to see if it falls within the scope of the Human Rights Code, and the Tribunal has the power to deal with [it].”

Leighton noted on Tuesday that the respondents have questioned the Tribunal’s jurisdiction over the case, but said that that issue will only be taken up by the Tribunal should mediation fail.

She did acknowledge that there are situations where a case will not be accepted. “There are some exceptions where the Tribunal will review a matter,” she said, where “it is plain and obvious on the face of an application that it does not fall within our jurisdiction, i.e. it’s a matter that engages a federal respondent or there are other obvious jurisdictional flaws.”

She said that while this case involves jurisdictional issues, these issues “require an adjudicative analysis. You need to hear evidence, you need to get submissions because they’re relying on exceptions to the Code. So that can’t be dismissed on the basis of a paper hearing.”

The Catholic Civil Rights League has maintained that the case is firmly outside the Tribunal’s jurisdiction. “The relationship between the Church and altar servers, in the League’s opinion, has none of the attributes that would make it a subject for a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. No one serves on the altar as a right,” they argued in a press release after the case became public. “The decision about who can serve on the altar is a matter of Church governance.”

Corcoran told LifeSiteNews (LSN) in e-mail Tuesday that he is looking forward to the mediation hearing, and plans to attend “with an open mind and an open heart in the hope that all parties can work together in the spirit of Christ.” He said that he hopes they can “come to a speedy and positive resolution that will serve as a foundation for continuing the healing process to the benefit of all of the parishioners of St. Michael’s Parish in Cobourg and the Catholic Church.”

Fr. Joseph Devereaux, a spokesman for the Diocese of Peterborough, told LSN that they have nothing new to report and they are not yet prepared to comment.

Contact Information:

Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario

655 Bay Street, 14th Floor

Toronto, ON

M7A 2A3

Phone: 416-326-1312

Toll-Free: 1-866-598-0322


See related coverage:

Homosexual Ex-Altar Server Demands Bishop Apologize, Publicly Chastise Parishioners in Human Rights Complaint

Peterborough Bishop Responds to Human Rights Complaint by Dismissed Homosexual Altar Server