The parish priest of All Saints by the Sea Parish (Mt Maunganui, Te Puke and Maketu) has made a promise of greater inclusivity after there was an objection to a passage in a parish newsletter about people involved in some parish ministries being required to not be in an “irregular relationship”, thereby “bringing public scandal” to the Church.

In the December 10 parish notices, it was stated that there was a need for greeters, people to bring up the Offertory, power-point operators, co-ordinators for Mass preparation, collectors at the Mass, cleaning help for a portion of the church, flower arrangers and music group members.

The notices then stated that “If you have a special love of the Word of God and or the Eucharist and meet the following criteria” then some contacts listed below could be made.

Among the criteria was “There is no area in your life that would bring public scandal to the Church, such as living in an irregular relationship”.

Some meetings were then advertised for those willing to assist with reading the Word or being an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

In the December 24 parish notices, parish priest Fr Darren McFarlane shared parts an email he received as well as his reply.

The message to the priest came from a parishioner of 20 years standing at Mt Maunganui and this was that person’s “first grumble”.

“I was very disappointed to see in last week’s newsletter the suggestion that people in ‘irregular relationships’ bring the parish into disrepute, and should not apply to be an Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion,” the parishioner wrote.

“It felt like a return to the 1950s. The status of a person’s relationship is a private matter between them, their partner and God. It is not a parish matter.

“In this day and age to suggest an ‘irregular relationship’ is a source of disrepute ignores the reality of our continuously evolving community. (abridged)”

“There are many reasons why people are in ‘irregular relationships’,” the message continued. “Survivors of sexual abuse or trauma often find it difficult to form long-lasting relationships. For some parishioners, the clergy will have been responsible for that trauma. There are many good people in our parish who are in ‘irregular relationships’. They do not deserve to be judged and marginalised is this way. Our Lord did not do this, and our current Pope has gone out of his way to be inclusive to them. I do hope our parish can be more inclusive too.”

Fr McFarlane in his response thanked the parishioner, adding “I agree with a lot
of what you had to say and accept that the notice in the newsletter was poorly written and not well expressed. It can easily be interpreted in the way you have so well expressed”.

“This has not been our usual practice in finding people for such important ministries. Usually we have such discussions with people one on one to help them discern if this is a ministry for them or not. I assure you this was a one off and I too was very disappointed, but the responsibility is mine and I accept that.

“We will endeavour to improve our processes so that as you say we can be more inclusive.”

The instruction Redemptionis Sacramentum, issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2004, stated: “The lay Christian faithful called to give assistance at liturgical celebrations should be well instructed and must be those whose Christian life, morals and fidelity to the Church’s Magisterium recommend them. It is fitting that such a one should have received a liturgical formation in accordance with his or her age, condition, state of life, and religious culture. No one should be selected whose designation could cause consternation for the faithful.” [46].

In 2006, the New Zealand Catholic bishops released a letter called “What the
Church is saying today about marriage and marriage difficulties”.

In a section titled “Other relationships”, the bishops wrote that “when the Church is unable to invite people to receive Holy Communion, it is because all of us must bear witness to Jesus’ teaching about marriage”.

But the bishops made the point that such people “are not separated from the Church and when they take part in the Mass and other liturgies, their prayers are united with the prayer of Christ and the whole Church”.

“They can be in communion with Christ even when this communion cannot be sacramentally expressed.”

The bishops noted that people in such situations should be shown the “same respect that Jesus showed to all he met, regardless of the difficulties they faced in their lives”.

The bishops wrote about people in “difficult situations” finding a similar welcome to that which they would receive from Christ from parish leaders and parishioners.

“If sometimes Church statements seem fairly stark, we ask you to look to the compassion that is included within them. If the words do a poor job for you in your situation, then picture Jesus himself speaking, and reframe the words to the ones you think he would use. Would the meaning be different?”

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