Gracias Times! (Chair’s Report, Conference 2014)

The euphoria of our momentous, landmark 40th celebrations in 2013 seemed to really galvanise us at our Conference in Chichester. The usual protocol, of inviting the local Bishop to our Conference is usually met with a polite declined reply. This time Bishop Kieran Conry did indeed decline our invitation as he was in Lourdes with his diocesan group. However, he very kindly wrote to the membership at Conference congratulating us on our 40th birthday. There were also congratulations from Acceptance Australia, Dignity USA and LGCM. Bishop Conry’s good wishes were warmly received, and thrilled many of the delegates. At the time I remember clearly thinking that as Chair I needed to meet with Bishop Conry and other members of the Catholic Church hierarchy. So, soon after Conference in September, my colleague Terry Weldon and I met with Bishop Conry. Then in October Deputy Chair Michael Bennett and I formally met with Archbishop (as he then was) Vincent Nichols (see also page 3 – The Icon of Emmaus: Chair’s Address to Conference delegates) This meeting was cordial though there was a sense of both parties holding their ground. The thorny, and frankly spurious, issue of the Catholic Directory entry was brought up, when in some distant past Quest were put in the Directory and then removed at the behest of Cardinal Basil Hume. This incident has been some bizarre, delightful brick bat that is continually brought up against Quest. As neither Michael Bennett and I were in Quest at the time of this incident, we both made it clear to the archbishop that this was of no interest or concern to Quest, and that as an organisation we had moved on with what we do and how we do things. The current and evolving state of Quest is what we wanted to focus on and discuss with Archbishop Nichols. The outcome of the meeting was that Quest would consider working on a suggestion made by him, which was the Emmaus story. The National Committee agreed that this tied-in well with the plans we had in mind for our 2014 Conference.

A few months later I decided to write to all the Archbishops and Bishops of England, Wales and Scotland to introduce Quest to them. In the letter I challenged them by asking them how they would take up Pope Francis’ call to address the ills of the Church with regard to sex scandals, paedophilia, poor pastoral support for LGBTs, etc. I invited them to work with Quest to create some grassroots initiatives that address the needs of all marginalised parishioners in their diocese. Sadly, though unsurprisingly, only a few replied saying that they would bring this up at their next Standing Orders meeting.

Indeed Quest was discussed at that meeting, though no specific feedback has been forthcoming. The important thing for me is that Quest is being mentioned and discussed within those circles, hopefully in more positive circumstances. I will, of course, be making an appointment with Cardinal Nichols once we have have fed back to the membership about the Icon of Emmaus workshop.

In March I visited India and was determined to meet with the Archbishop of Mumbai, Cardinal Oswald Gracias. He had been very much in the news making very positive statements about LGBTs in India. This was in the face of the retrograde decision by the Supreme Court of India not to decriminalise being gay by the removal of Section 377 of the Penal Code. Cardinal Gracias had also exchanged correspondence with Sibi, a young gay man, who asked if he condoned some very homophobic comments made by a priest during Mass in his parish church. The Cardinal’s condemnation of what the priest said and his support of LGBTs were widely reported in America and Britain. Whilst in Mumbai I met up with Sibi and took him along for my meeting with the Cardinal. On a personal note, I do have to say that the Cardinal has an air of humility about him.  His  official residence has seen greater days, in marked contrast to Archbishop’s House in Westminster. The other notable thing about this meeting was that it was disarmingly open and relaxed. There was much that we discussed about the lack of recognition and support for the Catholic LGBT community in India. Suggestions were made to help the Cardinal come up with ways to support his Catholic LGBT community, which he kindly looked at in a positive way. Whilst with him, I know that the Cardinal had a stream  of  visitors  waiting  to  get  their  five  minutes  of time with him, but he kindly indulged us for more than twenty minutes. I asked the Cardinal if I could report on the meeting when I got back to England and he was more than happy for that to happen. What he did not know was that Sibi was regularly tweeting progress of the meeting to his followers! I plucked up the courage to ask if the Cardinal would pose for a photograph to which he happily agreed. I am pretty sure that that scenario would not have happened at Ambrosden Avenue, SW1, for Quest at least. Perhaps at my next meeting with Cardinal Nichols? I can but ask.

And so, the past twelve months have been about raising the  profile  of  Quest  within  the  Catholic  Church hierarchy. The timing of all this seems right and there is indeed a ‘sea change’ going on in our lives. The public are more aware and demanding of equality for LGBTs and other marginalised groups. The various Catholic institutions that have held back and been very conservative (by this read ‘obedient’ to Church teachings such as schools) are now emboldened to discuss and deliver classes on homosexuality. That Quest has recently been approached by two Catholic schools to advise and help devise talks on homosexuality is symptomatic of these positive changes in our society. Times are a-changing and it is a wonderful time to be an LGBT Catholic.

● Ruby Almeida

Section 377 – a British legacy

Chapter XVI, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code dates back to 1861 and was introduced during the British rule of India. It criminalises sexual activities “against the order of nature”, specifically aimed at homosexual acts. The ambit of Section 377 extends to any sexual union involving penile insertion. Thus, even consensual heterosexual acts such as fellatio and anal penetration may also be punishable under this law.

Section 377 was declared unconstitutional with respect to sex between consenting adults by the High Court of Delhi on 2nd July 2009. That judgement was overturned by the Supreme Court of India on 12th December 2013, with the Court holding that amending or repealing Section 377 should be a matter left to Parliament, not the judiciary.

Sources: Wikipedia, The Times of India and The Indian Express

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