Large numbers of gay Roman Catholics in the Netherlands attemped to participate in mass yesterday (28 February) at St John’s Cathedral in the city of Den Bosch. They left singing and shouting slogans after being refused the sacrament by the bishop.
The attempt followed controversy over Church decisions to exclude people in same-sex relationships from receiving the bread and wine in the sacrament that lies at the heart of Catholic worship.
The issue has caused heated controversy in the predominantly Catholic south of the country since a priest refused to distribute the sacrament to Gijs Vermuelen, 24, a bartender who lives with his male partner. Vermuelen was this year elected Prince of the Carnival in the town of Reusel, an annual light-hearted event.
But at the mass on the eve of the Carnival, Father Luc Buyens was willing to bless the 'prince', but would not give him a communion wafer. On Sunday 21 February, gay people from across the country attended Buyens’ church in protest. After consulting with the Bishop of Den Bosch, the priest sent the entire congregation away without mass.
Following publicity, an even larger number of gay people attempted to receive mass in Den Bosch yesterday, where the bishop, Anton Herkmans, was presiding.
“What annoys me as well is the lack of uniform policy,” explained Vermuelen, “Other so-called sinners - not that I would call them that – do not have this problem”.
Several Catholic churches in the country have been accused of adopting a more relaxed attitude to heterosexuals who are unmarried but sexually active, allowing them to receive communion while denying it to gay people.
Henk Krol, editor-in-chief of Gaykrant, a Dutch gay magazine, has been particularly vocal in upholding the cause of gay Catholics. He said that he was willing to compromise but that a meeting with the Bishop of Den Bosch had been unsuccessful.
“Even the very conservative Bishop of Brussels, André Léonard, has said gay and straight people alike should follow their conscience,” explained Krol. He suggested that priests could make their own teachings clear while allowing gay people to follow their consciences when it comes to mass.
Antoine Bodar, a priest associated with Den Bosch Cathedral, hit back, saying, “Receiving the wafer is not a right. Most people are not cut out for it in the first place. Someone is looking for a confrontation here.”
However, Vermuelen insisted that he is “not looking to be a poster boy”. His cause is backed by a number of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] rights groups, as well as the Chairman of the Dutch Labour Party.