Sir Ian McKellen Blasts Bishop’s Remarks

by Kilian Melloy
Monday Aug 11, 2008
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Openly gay UK actor Sir Ian McKellen’s recent award from the Queen of England was blasted by a prominent Scottish Catholic bishop, leading to a sharp rebuke from McKellen and fellow gay UK actor Simon Callow.

Online UK gay news resource Pink News published a story on Aug. 11 detailing how Joseph Devine, a Scottish bishop with the Catholic church, denounced McKellen’s having received the title of a UK Companion of Honor, a title given in recognition of his contributions to the theatrical arts.

The honor was the most recent in a string of distinctions awarded to McKellen, who was named a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1979.

In 1991, McKellen was knighted by Queen Elizabeth, who named the actor a Companion of Honor is a ceremony earlier this summer.

McKellen has been an openly gay actor since 1980, when he publicly revealed his sexuality in response to anti-gay legislation that the government had passed.

The law, named Section 28, expressly criminalized any "promotion" of gay family life or acceptance of gays and lesbians by municipalities.

The law was repealed in 2003, but McKellen accepted the law’s passage as a challenge: it spurred the critically acclaimed stage and film actor to help found Stonewall, a leading UK gay equality organization.

As previouslyu reported at EDGE, McKellan is well known to gay movie buffs as the conflicted Magneto, the antagonist in the Bryan Singer-directed X Men movies (Brett Ratner helmed the third movie, released in 2006).

In the X Men movies, mutants with super-powers serve as stand-ins for gays and lesbians; they are bullied, legally discriminated against, and, in the third film, threatened with a "cure" that politicians consider making mandatory.

McKellen’s character is given a backstory int eh films as a survivor of the Nazi holocaust against he Jews.

There has been talk of a stand-alone Magneto film, which fans speculate could see McKellen return to what may be the actor’s most widely recognized role.

McKellen also co-starred in the epic three-film adaptation, by director Peter Jackson, of J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings. In that film franchise, McKellen portrayed Gandalf, a powerful wizard whose self-sacrifice transforms him into an even more potent being.

With plans in the works for a two-film adaptation of Tolkein’s prequel novel The Hobbit, fan chatter is rife with rumors that McKellen will again don his long robes and full white beard for the role.

But McKellen has appeared in more gay-specific roles, as well, including a cameo in the telefilm version of Armistead Maupin’s popular Tales of the City series of gay-themed novels, in which McKellen played one of a number of so-called "A-Gays," men who occupied a place at the top of 1970s-era San Francisco gay society.

Bishop Devine spoke out against McKellen’s award, and gays in general, in a speech he delivered at St. Aloysius College in Glasgow.

In the speech, which Devine delivered earlier in the year, the bishop said that gays and lesbians pursuing equal treatment under the law constitute "a giant conspiracy," reported Pink News.

The bishop added that the Catholic church "neglect[s]" active opposition to the GLBT struggle for equality "at our peril."

Citing the Catholic news Agency, Pink News reported that Devine also declared that gay and lesbian equality advocates are "a very small group of people, but very active and organized--and extremely indulgent."

McKellen spoke out against the bishop’s remarks with a speech of his own, delivered at a Stonewall benefit dinner.

Said McKellen, "From the pulpit, homophobia is preached by some arrogant religious leaders who think their beliefs are superior to our inborn and, some would say, God-given nature.

"The Bishop of Motherwell addressed his flock and told them how appalled he was that I had received an honor and that 100 years ago I would have been imprisoned like Oscar Wilde."

Added McKellen, "He feels that the Roman Catholic Church is beleaguered in some way."

Simon Callow, a stage and film actor who also directs film and opera, also responded to the bishop’s anti-gay comments.

Said Callow, who has appeared in films such as Amadeus, A Room With a View, and the gay-themed Maurice, and who came out in 1984 in his book Being an Actor, "The bishop is in my view a profoundly ignorant and stupid man in his views."

Speaking to the Sunday Times, Callow responded to the bishop’s criticism of gay equality leaders who point out that gays were slaughtered in Nazi death camps during World War II.

Said Callow, "If he finds it offensive that gay people want to celebrate those gay people who died in the Holocaust-which was a large number of people-then he’s also profoundly unchristian."

Homosexuality was illegal in Nazi Germany, and gay men were required to register with the police. About 100,000 gay men were so registered, with half that number being sentenced for the crime of homosexuality and between 5,000 and 15,000 gay men being sent to the death camps.

Of those, it is estimated that as many as 60 percent perished; both the Nazi guards and other inmates persecuted gays in the camps.

The Roman Catholic church has said that gays are called by God to be celibate, and has reiterated that gays and lesbians ought to be treated with respect; however, the church has also condemned marriage equality and adoption rights for gay and lesbian families, and has gone so far as to say that gays and lesbians raising their own children together with a partner of the same gender constitutes child abuse.

Callow offered his perspective on the rationale for the church’s hostility toward gays, saying, "The church is shocked by how quickly attitudes have changed."

Added Callow, "All churches have thrived on prejudice."

Callow said, "It’s a means of keeping people under their control and I think they are really shocked at how quickly the world has moved on, especially as it isn’t the world they would like it to be, so they cite biblical incidents as being the word of God."

In the wake of the pedophile priest scandal, the Catholic church has sought to prevent openly gay men from entering seminaries, even thought pedophilia and homosexuality are two separate things.

Some estimates place the percentage of heterosexual child molesters at as high as 96 percent of all pedophiles.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network’s Assistant Arts Editor, writing about film, theater, food and drink, and travel, as well as contributing a column. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association’s Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • gandolf2u, 2008-08-11 16:45:21

    As someone who wanted to become a priest when I was in my early teens, I can tell you that there is nothing "christian" about the catholic church.Besides having a history of imprisoning, maiming, torturing and slautering thousands who went against them, it also turned my gay cousin, who became a catholic brother, into a serious alcoholic.Being gay myself, I am so thankful that I didn’t follow through on that dream. Instead, I went on to fulfill several others.

  • Equality Tax Revolt, 2008-08-11 21:05:17

    When I hear many of the Pope’s comments, it is clear that the Catholic Church is a tax-free hate organization. This phenomenon of (almost always) closeted gay men speaking out AGAINST same sex love would be comical if it weren’t so creepy and true. Yes, there have been Gay Popes, Gay Priests, Gay Bishops, and Lesbian Nuns. Face Reality.

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