Our friends in the UK are more advanced in the kulturkampf that we are in the USA… but we are catching up fast. Furthermore, while I think public discourse may be a bit more rough-n-tumble in England, Americans are more aggressive activists.
At least a dozen people have sent me a video of a Mass in a parish church in Teignmouth, Devon, in the Diocese of Plymouth, England. A Homosexual Activist with a video camera tries to intimidate a priest during Sunday Mass into NOT reading a letter from the Bishops of England and Wales which priests were instructed… well.. probably invited… to read at Masses on Sunday. He makes a little speech and leaves.
We will be seeing a lot of this sort of thing in the future.
As you watch the video, pay attention to a few things.
1) Some of you will want to jump all over the priest. I urge you to consider a) that it is easy to lob a bomb from afar especially if you are a lay person in the safety or your armchair or pew, and b) that priests in the UK have been given such a meager example by bishops for decades that they have to re-learn – or learn for the first time – to stand up on their own, and c) that Holy Mass is not the time for a priest to have a fight with an Activist with an axe to grind.
2) When the priest didn’t feed the “troll” (a “troll” on the internet invades a combox to make trouble… perhaps for the context of churches we should say “hobgoblin” – I don’t doubt you will have other ideas!) the “troll” left. Mind you, taken off guard like that, I might have put up a fight, which then would have been put on YouTube to the glee of self-righteous promoters of sexual perversion everywhere.
3) When the Activist “troll” turns the camera toward the congregation, he fuzzies up the image, probably because by filming people who aren’t public figures he might be on thin legal ice. Frankly, in the USA it is illegal in most places to cause a disturbance during a religious service. I suspect it is in England, too. I would appreciate some instruction about that point. Would there be some old law in England about disturbing religious services or is there some paragraph of the Public Order Act? Par. 5? This seems like “religious harassment” to me. But I am not a barrister. If at the onset the priest had said to the Activist “As the one responsible for the property I say that you do not have permission to film anything here”, would that have changed the whole scenario?
4) The Activist Troll who made the public show of religious harassment during a church service said openly that he was going to post it on YouTube. He wrote on the YouTube entry that he had never demonstrated or protested before blah blah blah. I am skeptical about his protest virginity. Some time ago there was a video posted on Youtube of a horrid pro-homosexual Mass in a church in Soho, London. I suspect this may be partial blow-back.
Note the use of the word “uncomfortable”, which in England is a bit more charged with censorious power than in the USA.
Two final things.
Fathers and Bishops, if I were you I would start thinking about this sort of “smash and grab” scenario from promoters of unnatural acts. They will be aggressive in the future as we have never seen before. In finem citius. I would start thinking about what you are going to do when this happens to you. Bishops, you might want to consult a bit to find out what laws might be involved in trollish “smash and grab” hit like this and perhaps have a worship for priests or a memorandum with suggestions.
I want to reiterate that I think the priest probably handled this as well as he could, given the circumstances. When he didn’t feed the troll, the troll left. Also, I suspect that the people in the pews were more interested in the content of the letter (which, in my opinion, was pretty thin soup) than they would have been had the priest just read it and set it aside. Calling negative attention to it produced in that congregation the opposite result.
No sooner did I post this, but I received an email response to some questions I put to a well-known barrister (lawyer) in England, Neil Addison of the Thomas More Legal Centre. I am grateful for his time, effort, and expertise. Thus, he instructs me (and a couple other priests to whom he also sent this). I add some emphases and slight editing:
Dear Father Z
In response to your question in England and Wales (Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate legal systems) there are a number of legal remedies where there is any attempt to disrupt a Church Service see my website HERE and HERE for more details.
There is the rather old fashioned in wording, but still legally valid
s2 Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 which makes it a criminal offence, punishable with imprisonment, for any person to be guilty of
“riotous, violent, or indecent behaviour in England in any cathedral church, parish or district church, or chapel of the Church of England, or in any chapel of any religious denomination, or in England in any place of religious worship duly certified under the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855, 18 & 19 Vict c 81, whether during the celebration of Divine service, or at any other time, or in any churchyard, or burial-ground, or who shall molest, let, disturb, vex, or trouble, or by any other unlawful means disquiet or misuse any preacher duly authorised to preach therein, or any clergyman in Holy Orders ministering or celebrating any sacrament or any Divine service, rite, or office in any cathedral church or chapel, churchyard, or burial ground ”
(NB Do note that though the Church of England is specifically mentioned the section applies to disrupting the services of “any” religious denomination.)
There are s4A and s5 of the Public Order Act 1986 which make it a criminal offence when any person
“(a) uses threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or disorderly behaviour, or
(b) displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting,
within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby.”
which would apply to any such behaviour taking place in a Church
Sections 5 and 4A are Aggravated (ie carry a heavier penalty if)
“(a) at the time of committing the offence, or immediately before or after doing so, the offender demonstrates towards the victim of the offence hostility based on the victim’s membership (or presumed membership) of a racial or religious group; or
(b) the offence is motivated (wholly or partly) by hostility towards members of a racial or religious group based on their membership of that group.
“Religious Group” is defined as
“a group of persons defined by reference to religious belief or lack of religious belief.”
Also the crime of “Aggravated Trespass” under s68 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
“(1) A person commits the offence of aggravated trespass if he trespasses on land and, in relation to any lawful activity which persons are engaging in or are about to engage in on that or adjoining land, does there anything which is intended by him to have the effect—
(a) of intimidating those persons or any of them so as to deter them or any of them from engaging in that activity,
(b) of obstructing that activity, or
(c) of disrupting that activity.”
It is worth noting that any person can be a Trespasser in a Church. Even though Church buildings are normally open to the public they are in law private property and people enter them with an “implied licence” which means that they have a right to enter in order to use the Church for the normal purposes of a Church namely to pray, to attend religious services etc, they do not have a licence to enter for any other purpose. Can I make a comparison: anyone can enter a supermarket for the purposes of shopping but if they enter for any other purpose they become a trespasser and can be told to leave and can be evicted if they refuse to leave. If they enter with the intention of “intimidating” mass goers, “obstructing” Mass or “disrupting” Mass then they commit the criminal offence of “Aggravated Trespass”.
Under English law “reasonable force” can be used to evict a trespasser and therefore in the situation shown in the YouTube Video the Priest could have instructed the person with the Camera either to turn the Camera off and sit down or to leave, if the person refused to leave then they could have been physically removed. That said as a practical point I can see that no Priest would want to see a potentially violent fight in the middle of Mass. I am just sorry that the Priest in question allowed himself to be disrupted and did not simply carry on with reading the Bishops letter whilst he asked someone to call the Police. He had the perfect right to read the letter which was in effect the Homily of the day and the giving of a Homily is part of the rite of Mass and as such it is unlawful for any person to disrupt it as this person was allowed to do.
I hope this information is of assistance please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further questions. I am sending a copy to Fathers […] and I give each of you Reverend Fathers full permission to use or quote any of this email as you see fit.
Neil Addison (Barrister)
I also wonder what would have happened if some group identities and locales were shifted around: substitute in Synagogue, Mosque, etc.