The Two Worlds of Father Mount Priest raises thorny issue by his revelations

July 09, 1995|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Sun Staff Correspondent

Easton -- Two main currents have shaped the life of the Rev. John Keener Mount: his love of God and his homosexuality.

They merged at the most dramatic moment of the 1992 convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, when Father Mount rose from his seat, frail, old and angry.

The convention, held at the Holiday Inn in Solomons Island, was engaged in a bristling debate over a task force report on human sexuality that was tolerant of homosexuality.

Father Mount, then 82, had something to say. He stood at the podium, looking out over the crowd of several hundred people -- bishops, priests, deacons and parishioners.

"I've never told this before," he said to the assembled delegates, "but I think it's necessary to tell it now: As far as I know, I've been homosexual ever since I've been born."

"Nobody said anything," he recalls. "Indeed, there was a great hush."

He praised the task force report, saying it was one of the best things he'd ever read on human sexuality and observing that "It isn't really a question of should we or should we not ordain homosexuals. The question is should we stop doing it."

When he finished, people stood up and applauded. He left the podium in tears, finally free of a secret he'd been keeping for almost six decades.

"For me it's over -- the struggle, the deceptions," he says. "And it was the deception that was the terrible part of it."

His 1992 debut, which helped prevent the report from being dropped in favor of a more conservative approach, got little attention outside church circles. But it set the stage for his latest -- and far more publicized -- challenge of traditional Episcopal attitudes toward homosexuality.

Over the Memorial Day weekend, Father Mount defied a church moratorium on consecrating same-sex unions and blessed a gay couple who took wedding-like vows at a ceremony here on the Eastern Shore.

The blessing prompted Easton's Bishop Martin G. Townsend to strip him of his license to preach or serve Communion in any church in the Easton Diocese. In a letter, the bishop said Father Mount should not have treated the union between two gay men as a marriage.

"While such a relationship might be loving and faithful, it cannot be considered a marriage and you have no authority to bless it as such," he wrote.

Source of authority

Father Mount was unbowed.

"I have my orders from God," he said after getting the letter, "not from Bishop Townsend."

He knew, of course, that blessing the union of two men could get him into trouble.

Single-sex relationships had been at the core of the objections to the 1992 human sexuality report.

"Basically," says the Rev. Eileen House, a leader of the opposition, "our point was that acceptance or blessing of same-sex unions would be a radical, radical departure from tradition and Scripture.

"It's not that we were out to condemn homosexuality," she says. "It's important to us to uphold Scripture and the traditions of the church.'

"From the point of view of spiritual and intellectual integrity," says Ms. House, assistant rector at St. James Church in Lothian in southern Anne Arundel County, "there's no way I could bless a same-sex union."

Father Mount felt exactly the opposite. Both men were HIV-positive and deserved "some sort of reassurance, a blessing as two people."

L "It seems to me to be unconscionable not to do it," he says.

The couple, who asked anonymity, say they had no trouble finding a clergyman to bless their union. Three ministers said they would do it.

"But I was retired," says Father Mount, the most senior cleric in the Maryland Diocese. "I thought that this gave me a certain liberty I hadn't had before."

He tried, however, not to violate the diocese's injunction against same-sex weddings.

Father Mount made it very clear the ceremony could not be called a wedding, says one of the men in the union. "He even wanted to see the invitations before they went out," he says, "so they were worded properly."

The ceremony took place outdoors near Trappe in Talbot County. Only seven of 76 people there were gay.

"That wasn't really on purpose," the man says. "I invited my friends and loved ones and family, and 80 percent of them are heterosexuals. They love me for who I am. They don't care who I love."

As a gift, a friend who was a professional wedding coordinator arranged things. The men had coordinated Victorian tuxedos, the women wore Victorian lace gowns and hats. The ceremony took place on an Oriental rug between two faux marble columns wrapped in flowing fabric. There was a flower girl and a ring bearer. Two doves flew from a balcony at the end.

"It was very dignified," the man says. "Every single person said to me it was the most beautiful wedding they'd been at."

The men wrote their own vows. They pledged to honor each other as "long as life and faith endure. . . . With this ring I promise to love, honor, cherish and protect you until the end of time."

Father Mount doesn't remember the exact words of the blessing that offended the bishop.

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