The Roman Catholic bishop of Peterborough, Nicola De Angelis, has written a pastoral letter addressing a recent complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, brought against the bishop and 12 local parishioners. In the letter, distributed on Sept. 13, he strongly redressed the OHRT’s encroachment, asserted his authority as bishop of his diocese and the autonomy of the church from state control over internal church matters.

This past April, de Angelis directed St. Michael’s pastor, Fr. Allan Hood, to dismiss Jim Corcoran from altar serving at the parish. This came after a letter was submitted to him by 12 parishioners who were concerned about public scandal, because it was known that Corcoran lives with a same-sex partner. Corcoran, who had originally been asked to serve by Hood, filed a complaint against the bishop and the 12 parishioners on June 17, alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation. The respondents, including the bishop, were then required to defend themselves to the OHRT through written responses.

In his letter, the bishop wrote: “I fail to understand how secular powers and government agencies should think they are in a position to tell the church that she is wrong in her internal rules and regulations, even though these have directed and shaped the life of the church during the last 2,000 years. However, this is what we face today.”

“If the human rights tribunal should choose to interfere with the church’s governance, this will be most shocking,” he wrote. “The tribunal has no authority to place itself as an arbiter of canonical precepts.”

De Angelis insists that holding a volunteer position in the church – as an altar server or in any other function – is not a “right.” “Rather, it is an invitation from the pastor or bishop, which can also be terminated at any time, particularly, when the voluntary service gives rise to tension, animosity, discord or division in the life of a parish.”

In his letter, de Angelis explained that Corcoran was merely one of a number of volunteers at St. Michael’s who he had asked to step down in the interest of “restor(ing) peace, harmony and reconciliation in the parish.” He explained that, “I treated all the volunteers the same, with equal respect and dignity.”

Although the bishop never named Corcoran, the complainant told the Peterborough Examiner that he perceived the bishop as bringing attention to him and painting him as a bad Catholic. The letter, he said, is “firstly, bringing the attention to me once again and, secondly, identifying me as an abhorrent, disobedient Catholic.” Corcoran is now threatening legal action against the bishop. “The bishop may be subjecting himself to the possibility of a lawsuit,” he told the Examiner.

In July, the Catholic Civil Rights League supported De Angelis and blasted the Ontario Human Rights Commission for meddling in church politics. This issue is “not an OHRC matter,” the league said. “The relationship between the church and altar servers, in the league’s opinion, has none of the attributes that would make it a subject for a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.”

Through interviews with Corcoran, LifeSite News discovered that it was a member of the human rights system itself who advised Corcoran to proceed with his complaint and who dug up precedents to support his case. The Ontario system last year divided itself into three distinct agencies – the commission, the tribunal and a legal support centre. The practical result is that this allows the legal support centre to advise people on how to bring forward human rights complaints, without the commission or the tribunal having to face responsibility. Corcoran confirmed with LSN that the member who advised him was from the legal support centre.

A longer version of this article appeared at on Sept. 11.