Dismissal from volunteering for CAFOD for “campaigning against Church teaching”

Terence WeldonTerry Weldon, an author of a popular blog for LGBT Catholics, Queering the Church, has been dismissed from volunteering for CAFOD, the official Catholic aid agency for England and Wales.

He is a member of Quest and regular contributor to this website.  Here is a reprint of his blog post telling the story of the dismissal: 

Holy Week has come and gone, and for many will by now be almost forgotten. But we remain in the liturgical season of Easter, and so it remains appropriate to reflect further on this great feast.

The Easter Triduum in particular can be an emotional and spiritual roller – coaster, plunging the depths on Good Friday, quickly followed by the exultation of the resurrection on Easter Sunday. This year, events in my religious life led me to feel this with unusual intensity – so much so, that I have felt simply unable to write about them until now. Write however I must,to bring some healing. In brief, I had cause to heel especially acutely two short lines from the liturgies for the Triduum: “He was despised, rejected..”(Isaiah 53:3, Good Friday), and later, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the corner stone”.

To make sense of the depths of this, I need to go back a little, into recent personal history.

Last year, I was increasingly jubilant at the changes pf emphasis being wrought in the Church by Pope Francis, and was especially inspired by “Evangelii Gaudium”, with its emphasis on evangelisation, and on concern and action for the poor. This is hardly surprising. For years, I have felt strongly that this passage from Luke 4:18, based on a similar one in Isaiah, amounts to Christ’s opening mission statement, at the start of his ministry:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed…

By extension, I have written previously, this must include bringing good news to the queer, who also are oppressed, often by the Church itself. Evangelii Gaudium reminded me, uncomfortably, with the simple fact that it is not enough to “bring the good news to the queer”, which had been taking up much of my time and energy for some years, if I simply ignore the primary task, to bring good news (and relief) to those who really are poor and oppressed, in a direct, physical sense. The urgency of resisting church – based homophobia and exclusion seemed to be receding (at least in certain respects and countries), and I was in any case starting to feel that much of what I’ve been writing here, was simply restating the same issues, especially on gay marriage. I began to wonder if I should be devoting somewhat less time to writing as much about LGBT faith issues, and to commit more time and energy elsewhere.

New Year brought new clarity to these issues. In my parish bulletin, was an appeal for Cafod volunteers, as school visitors, parish representatives, and other roles. I immediately made a telephone call to sign up. There followed a total of three full days of training, several meetings at the Cafod Arundel and Brighton diocesan offices, and a trial school visit, in which another new volunteer and myself assisted the diocesan director in delivering a primary school Cafod assembly. On another occasion, attending a parish musical fund-raiser for Cafod, I was unexpectedly asked to say a few words about the agency, which I did.

Throughout this process of training, I had become increasingly enthusiastic about working with Cafod, and had thoroughly enjoyed the experiences of both speaking to the primary school children, and to the parish music audience. I began to think up a variety of ways in which I could contribute, even beyond my original intentions when signing up.

Then, at the start of Holy Week, this all came crashing down. The diocesan director had written to me, asking to meet to discuss further my role with Cafod. He came to my home for that discussion, and told me (with regret), that Cafod would not be able to use me as a school volunteer, after all, because I am publicly “campaigning against Church teaching”.

My initial response was to say that of course I understood his position and that of Cafod, forced on them by the rules of higher authority, and agreed that there remained the possibility of working simply within the local parish, where I am well known and accepted, and even find strong support for my activism.

However, the more I reflected on this later, after he had left, the more I found myself angry – not at him or at Cafod, but at the Church itself, which is so intolerant of any internal dissent or disagreement. Pope Francis has famously described one part of the mission of the church, as that of a “field hospital for the wounded”, but too often, it is instead inflicting the wounds, not healing them.

And so, feeling intensely, “despised, rejected”, I began to wonder again, as I have done from time to time before, whether my critics on both sides are not perhaps, correct. Do I in fact have a place in the Catholic Church – or should I make a move to another, one which allows for full participation in decision taking and regulation by laity alongside that of clergy, one that takes seriously the concept of a church for all the faithful that was promised for Catholics by Vatican II, but never implemented?

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7 comments on “Dismissal from volunteering for CAFOD for “campaigning against Church teaching”
  1. Terry, I’m very saddened by your news, and also alarmed.
    Does this mean we’re going the way of some parts of the USA, of rejecting and/or “weeding out” LGBT people, their friends and families?
    I’m losing count of the number of countries who’d put me in jail, just for loving and supporting my gay son!
    Is your experience part of Cafod policy?
    When the marriage equality “debate” began, I diverted my monthly £100 by standing order to the Parish to charities supporting LGBT issues, and told the clergy, Parish Council and treasurer what I was doing, and why.
    I’ve recently re-instated my Parish donation, but at half the previous amount – I’ve retired, and also want to continue giving to some of the new causes.
    Perhaps I need to reflect on my Cafod Direct Debit, too….?
    In Domino

    • Hi Trish – sorry for taking so long to reply (I hadn’t realized you’d placed a comment here. My OP was at my own blog).

      I must make it absolutely clear that no, Cafod policy is NOT to discriminate against gay people, and that was not the problem, in this instance. When I attended my first training day, I asked about that explicitly, and was given a very clear assurance.

      The sticking point in my case was not that I’m gay, but that I’m openly critical of “some aspects” of Church teaching. That’s a whole different can of worms – but is not a problem about orientation.

  2. Hola Terry,
    As a CAFOD staffer (country rep in Central America), and parent of a lesbian daughter, I was glad to read in your two postings that you will continue to advocate within the Catholic Church as part of the queer community. My wife & I have been welcomed in one parish to work pastorally with parents of gay children and had the doors closed in another. Just to say that the Church of the faithful will eventually recognize God’s love equally, without distinction for everyone, a recognition that still requires a great deal of work to achieve. In solidarity with you and best wishes,
    Tom

    • Hi, Tom.

      It’s good to hear of your support for your daughter, and attempts to support other parents of LGBT sons and daughters.

      Please note, as I’ve written in my reply to Trish below, that my problem with Cafod was NOT that I’m openly gay, but that I’m openly and publicly critical of some parts of Church teaching. For my pains, I have attracted some equally high profile hostility from more conservative Catholics, one of whom lives in my own diocese. If she got wind of the fact that I was working in schools for Cafod, she would have made an almighty fuss – one which Cafod can do without.

      The real problem here is not Cafod, but the Church’s inability to cope with internal criticism and disagreement.

  3. It is somewhat ironic that they now dismiss a volunteer worker for being openly gay and the wonderful man who built CAFOD into the organisation that it is today was gay and was honoured for his 25 years of loyal work for that organisation.. Obviously they have not yet heard of Pope Francis.

    • Hi Jimmy. – sorry for taking so long to reply (I hadn’t realized you’d placed a comment here. My OP was at my own blog).

      I must make it absolutely clear that my problem with CAFOD was not that I’m gay (they were clear that they have no problem with that), but that I’m openly and publicly critical of Church teaching. For a little more, see my reply to Trish, below.

  4. Thanks for posting this.

    To put it into context though, two points of clarification: First, “dismissed” is not strictly accurate – more accurately, I was simply not given final approval in the first place, to represent Cafod in schools.
    Second, the post you have published is the first of two. In the second, ( http://queeringthechurch.com/2014/05/03/phall-if-you-but-will-rise-you-must/ ), I make it clear that I have no intention of leaving the Church, and nor would I want anybody else to do so.

    Instead, we must remain, and force a place of welcome for ourselves – and change the authoritarian culture which stamps out any frank discussion. I’ll be writing more, soon, on a very specific proposal on quite how we can do this.

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