A gay man whose journey to the priesthood has allegedly been blocked by church officials has been backed by colleagues and parishioners at a Human Rights Tribunal.
The hearing, brought by the Gay and Lesbian Clergy Anti-Discrimination Society against the Anglican Bishop of Auckland Ross Bay, began in the Auckland District Court yesterday. Geno Sisneros, 39, an events co-ordinator at St Matthew-in-the-City church, says he has not been allowed to follow his calling in the Anglican faith because he is in a same-sex relationship.
He arrived in Auckland from the United States in 2002 and became an active participant at the church three years later.
After taking on a Bachelor of Theology degree at Auckland University, he expressed his interest in a three-year training programme, a pre-requisite for being ordained in the Anglican Church.
However, after five years of study and protracted discussions with Bishop Bay, Mr Sisneros was told he would not be accepted on to the programme.
Yesterday he told the tribunal how he "felt totally humiliated".
Rev Clay Nelson, a priest at St Matthew-in-the-City, described himself as a "colleague, friend and mentor" of the complainant. When he got married in 2010, Mr Sisneros was his best man.
"He's a brilliant man in my view and an equally brilliant preacher," Rev Nelson said. "He's exceeded his peers, all of whom have been ordained."
A member of the St Matthew congregation, who has interim name suppression, put together a petition when he heard of the discrimination suffered by Mr Sisneros in mid-2011.
A month later parishioners wrote a letter to the bishop, describing their "deep embarrassment" and were surprised by his response, which acknowledged there was a current practice to deny people who were in a same-sex relationship.
Giving evidence yesterday was also Rev Dr John Salmons, who said there had never been a doctrine or rule to exclude people in a same-sex relationship from entering the priesthood or the church in general.
It was promiscuous behaviour that was outlawed, rather than homosexuality, he said.
Opening the case for the bishop, Bruce Gray, QC, said historically the courts had shied away from involvement in the doctrine within churches and there was no reason to start now.
- The Dominion Post