Pastoral sensitivity? .. … .. It was a hard decision? .. … .. Hogwash! And that’s exactly what’s being poured forth from the Diocese of Bathurst concerning 85-year-old retired Catholic Priest Rev. Donat Gionet, whose faith in the face of cowardice obliges me to create on this site the first-ever St. Michael [The Archangel] Award for Courage.
The story goes:
The sermon Rev. Donat Gionet, 85, gave at the Roman Catholic church in Saint-Leolin while replacing the regular parish priest late last month generated a firestorm that culminated with a call for Gionet to be relieved of his duties.
He stands by the comments he made in Saint-Leolin, a village of about 730 people located about 50 kilometres east of Bathurst.
Reached in Caraquet on Wednesday afternoon, Gionet declined an interview. He did, however, provide a written statement.
In a letter in French he provided to the The Daily Gleaner, Gionet wrote the sermon was about the destruction of the church and the need to seek forgiveness for past sins:
“I said: … ‘Today, it is we Catholics who are destroying our Catholic Church. We need only look at the number of abortions among Catholics, look at the homosexuals, and ourselves.’ (That’s when I pointed at my chest – through that action I wanted to say, we the priests) and I continued saying: We are destroying our church ourselves. And that’s when I said that those were the words expressed by Pope John Paul II. At that point, in the St-Leolin church only, I added: We can add to that the practice of watching ‘gay’ parades, we are encouraging this evil … What would you think of someone who seeing what was happening on (Sept.) 11, 2001, the crumbling of the towers, had begun clapping? We must not encourage evil, whatever form it takes.”
Joseph Lanteigne, the gay mayor of Saint-Leolin, welcomed word Bishop Valery Vienneau has revoked Gionet’s rights to serve mass across the Diocese of Bathurst.
“The action taken by the diocese is good, and I know it isn’t easy for the diocese. I can say I think the diocese has a bigger heart than Father Gionet,” Lanteigne said, speaking in French.
Since the incident, Gionet has quit his position on the Saint-Leolin parish’s pastoral committee.
Lanteigne said the parish’s regular priest, Rev. Rejean Landry, has apologized to him and to parishioners and he doesn’t see the church as being as closed as it once was.
“We’re not in 1920 anymore; the church has to be more open. And I think that based on the actions of the diocese, that shows the church is more open,” he said.
Rev. Wesley Wade, vicar general of the Diocese of Bathurst, said while Gionet’s views don’t stray from church teachings, they don’t meet the diocese’s goal of following Christ’s example of loving unconditionally.
“We have to respect people on their own journey,” Wade said.
“The first message of Christ was to reveal to us a loving father and a merciful father and that we are all called to be his children and that we are all loved unconditionally by Him.”
While the church gets criticized as a judgmental institution, Wade said the reality is it’s full of compassion.
“There’s truth, as we see it – the gospel, but also love of people and compassion and understanding of situations and the mercy of God. There’s always the two elements, truthfulness and also the realities of life – that people don’t feel excluded from the body of Christ, unless they exclude themselves,” Wade said.
“They are there in the Church to hear the word and to be changed by the word, too. They are very precious in the eyes of God.
“We didn’t challenge what he said. That’s the morality of the church and the commandments.
“It’s his pastoral approach, how to present it to people today.”
In a letter to parishioners earlier this week, Vienneau said Gionet had been pulled from active ministry.
At a meeting last week, Gionet told Vienneau he had no plans to change or temper his comments.
Gionet also said as a priest, he has a duty to encourage those who aren’t living their lives according to Catholic teachings to mend their ways.
Most Rev. Valéry Vienneau, Bishop of Bathurst
645, avenue Murray
Bathurst, NB E2A 3Z4
Tel: (506) 546-1420
Fax: (506) 548-5565