Fired by the Catholic church over same-sex relationship, Edmonton man won't take legal action

A former pastoral associate will not pursue legal action against the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton, which he says fired him after an investigation into whether he was in a same-sex relationship.

'I was told to be silent about my sexuality. I was willing to sacrifice disclosing that' to serve the church

Mark Guevarra says he was fired from his job as a pastoral associate with the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton because he would not disclose whether he was in a relationship with a man. (Supplied by Mark Guevarra)

A former pastoral associate will not pursue legal action against the Catholic Archdiocese of Edmonton, which he says fired him after an investigation into whether he was in a same-sex relationship.

Mark Guevarra, who is in a relationship with another man, will instead take the severance from the church and channel his efforts into creating a safe space for LGBTQ Catholics in Edmonton.

"The church is my family," Guevarra told CBC News, in his first media interview since his termination. "I'm baptized. That means that I'm a part of the body of Christ. It's like cutting off my arm. I couldn't see myself apart from that.

"In my ministry, I've reminded young people of that reality. This is who you are. You can't run from it and you have a responsibility to build it up and make it right and good and just."

Lifelong Catholic

Guevarra, 37, was born in a Catholic hospital in Vancouver. As a boy he attended morning mass every day before elementary school. He studied at a Catholic college in Toronto and spent four years as a pastoral associate at St. Matthew's parish in north Edmonton, before moving on to the same job at the St. Albert parish, where he worked for the past three and a half years.   

He said some people within the church knew about his same-sex relationship. 

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"I was told to be private about that," he said. "I was told to be silent about my sexuality. I was willing to sacrifice disclosing that to do service for the church, to do ministry in the church."

The archdiocese issued a brief statement Wednesday.

"We have no comment at this time, but I will let you know when that changes," Lorraine Turchansky, a spokesperson for the archdiocese, said in an email to CBC News.

He said while worked as a pastoral associate he was constantly under scrutiny by the archdiocese. 

"I am aware of people [within the archdiocese] who've been following what I've been saying, different workshops that I've been giving," Guevarra said. "Even people who've been following my Facebook, to see what kind of a life I'm living. If what I teach and how I live corresponds with the church."

Mounting tension

All of this came a head two months ago, when Guevarra said he was investigated by his employer and refused to answer a direct question about whether he had a male partner and a daughter. 

Last week, Guevarra posted on Facebook that he had been fired. 

The church issued a statement in response: "Anyone who comes to work at the archdiocese or one of its parishes agrees to live in accord with the teachings of the Catholic church and its sacramental theology.

"For example, the Catholic understanding of marriage is that it is a sacrament, in which a man and a woman promise before God to enter into a committed, exclusive and permanent relationship." 

Leadership role

The statement said it is "particularly important , and understandable, that someone who serves in a leadership or teaching role in the church be a practising Catholic who lives in accord with its teachings."

As a pastoral associate, Guevarra was responsible for sacramental preparation — helping couples get ready to baptize their babies, helping children get ready for their confirmation. He also did outreach, including in schools. 

Pope Francis calls all of the pastors of the church to...be creative and courageous in going to the margins of society.- Mark Guevarra

He said he was also investigated for helping to form an LGBTQ Catholic prayer and support group without the archbishop's approval. 

Guevarra said he did request a meeting with the archbishop, which is one of the hardest parts for him to reconcile. 

"Thinking about the work that I've done for the archdiocese, and just being disappointed that there's sort of a lack of willingness for him to have met me," he said. 

In his role with the church, Guevarra said, he met with families, teachers and administrators struggling to find "an integration between faith and LGBT issues." 

"Pope Francis calls all of the pastors of the church to ... be creative and courageous in going to the margins of society and to church and bringing the light of the gospel, the healing of Jesus Christ to them," he said. "I felt that's what I was doing."

Outpouring of support

Guevarra said over the past week he has received hundreds of supportive emails from around the world. He said many others have been pushed away from the church or are working for change.

"I stand in solidarity with all those people, and that's what gives me strength to keep doing ministry in the church, to have been doing ministry for the past eight years and to continue to do that even if I'm not formally an employee of the archdiocese of Edmonton," he said. 

What's surprising is that I haven't gotten so much opposition.- Mark Guevarra

Guevarra, who is Filipino, said he has received words of encouragement from the Filipino community, from students at the high schools he worked with and from the parents of one student who is starting a petition for him. 

"To be honest with you, maybe what's surprising is that I haven't gotten so much opposition," Gueverra said. 

He said he's focused on growing the movement to support local LGBTQ Catholics, who may not feel safe in their parishes. 

"Yes, we have good pastors out there who preach for an inclusive church," he said. "But the reality is, safe means they're named, recognized, that they're not under threat from criticism.

"And I fear that sometimes Catholic families even are ashamed to acknowledge to others that they have LGBT children. Our parishes, while striving to be open and inclusive, are not specifically safe places for LGBT Catholics,"

Guevarra said he takes strength from the homilies of Pope Francis, who promotes love and inclusively. But he realizes not all members of the church feel that way on all issues. 

"There are powers at play, voices of opposition that do not want to see this agenda carried forward, because ultimately it's about fear," he said. "Fear of a change of the church's teaching, fear of a definition change to marriage and our understanding of the human person."

Guevarra said he wants to build bridges between church communities divided over LGBTQ issues. 

"I think pursuing legal action, in a way, degrades my credibility in being that bridge builder," he said. " That's the hard part for me to balance, raising this injustice legally but also wanting to build this bridge.

"It doesn't mean that I'm going to stop pressuring the archdiocese to create safe spaces for the LGBT community and their families."