Catholic Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart is moving to laicise or “defrock” a controversial priest who heads Inclusive Catholics, a congregation committed to embracing LGBTI people and others disillusioned with the Catholic Church.

The move follows priest Greg Reynolds refusal to stop celebrating mass with Inclusive Catholics, which encourages the involvement of women and LGBTI people in key aspects of the service.

“[It is] because of the church’s teaching on homosexuality and not allowing gay couples to receive communion,” Reynolds told the Star Observer.

Explaining his beliefs and the motives behind the move to laicise him, Reynolds claimed the church’s homophobia is rooted in an unconvincing interpretation of the Bible, echoing similar claims made earlier this month by A Progressive Christian Voice Australia.

“They try to use arguments from the Bible and I just didn’t think that their interpretations were accurate or convincing,” he said.

“So it just seems morally not defensible, really.”

Forced laicisation is rare and, according to Reynolds, he would be only the third laicised priest in the Melbourne archdiocese after two “notorious paedophiles”, but he doesn’t think the change will affect Inclusive Catholics.

“It’s just a church law ruling and I don’t think it’s justified and therefore we’ll just ignore it. I’ll just continue on acting as a priest with Inclusive Catholics.”

Congregation member John Rolley says the archbishop’s move has been felt strongly within Inclusive Catholics.

“It’s been mixed, from outrage to just let them do it because it’s meaningless,” he said.

“Technically, according to canon law, it’s a no-no to even attend our masses. They can be excommunicated just for coming to a mass celebrated by Father Greg.”

Rolley argues that even if Reynolds is laicised, Inclusive Catholics will continue to value Catholic tradition.

“It’s broken, but we have an opportunity to re-envision what the church was meant to be like; somewhere where regardless of who you are, what you think or what you look like, you are welcome.”

Melbourne Vicar General Greg Bennet said Reynolds’ case is currently before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at the Vatican.

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