One of the organizers of a Catholic-sponsored social justice conference in Winnipeg has quit in disgust over the Archdiocese's withdrawal of a speaking invitation to James Loney, a gay peace activist who was held hostage by militants in Iraq.
"We were facilitating a session where we were asking Catholics to talk about their vision of a church that was on fire with social-justice activity," John Robson, who initially extended the invitation to Loney, told CBC News Friday afternoon.
"You can't do that at the same time as you're representing an institutional church that is practising such an unjust, such an exclusionary practice."
Transcona MP Bill Blaikie, an ordained minister in the United Church of Canada, said his own attendance at the conference was also put in jeopardy by the same group that complained to the church about Loney.
In Blaikie's case, the controversy was over his pro-choice stance on abortion, he said.
Blaikie said his invitation hasn't been withdrawn, and after speaking with Loney Friday afternoon, he plans to attend the conference and deliver his message, which is on faith and politics.
"The way that I'm being treated by the group that wants to prevent me from attending the conference is not the way that Christians should treat each other when we disagree," he said.
"I mean, I hope to talk about not only how we should treat each other when we disagree, but all the things we could be showing unity on like poverty, the environment and peace."
'Disappointed and sad'
Loney had been invited to speak on the topic "peace and justice" at the conference, which takes place Friday and Saturday at a west Winnipeg church.
He said he was later told the invitation was withdrawn because he is in a relationship with a man.
"I asked if it was because I was gay, and the answer was, 'No, it's because you are in a relationship with man,'" he told CBC News.
"I was quite disappointed and sad. I had been invited several months before and I had asked if it was going to be an issue, and I was assured that there was a clear and solid invitation and it wasn't going to be a problem."
Winnipeg Roman Catholic Archbishop James Weisgerber defended his decision to withdraw the invitation on CBC's Information Radio Friday morning, saying the matter was not about sexual orientation, but about Loney's public criticism of the church's doctrine.
"He's not being excluded because he's homosexual. He's being excluded because he takes public opposition to an important teaching of the church," he said.
"I kept hearing more and more objections, and I began to do some research and I realized that he has taken very public and a very clear opposition to the church's teachings in this area. That's a very different matter."
Loney to speak at United church
Loney said the situation has parallels with his time as a hostage in Iraq, when his sexual orientation was kept secret out of concern that if his captors knew, it could have further endangered his life.
"That was a very clear example of the violence of homophobia, of having to be invisible and silent," he said."This feels very similar to that. It's an act of silencing and making me invisible as a gay person, and only because of that."
Loney is still coming to Winnipeg and will speak about his experience in Iraq on Sunday at Augustine United Church.
Loney and two colleagues from Christian Peacemakers Teams — Canadian Harmeet Singh Sooden and Briton Norman Kember — were rescuedin March 2006,117 days after being taken hostage by a little-known Iraqi group, the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. A fourth hostage, American Tom Fox, was killed.