By Jimmy Nsubuga
A defence minister has said sorry after it emerged Catholic priests in the army broke the trust of gay personnel by outing them to bosses in the 1990s.
The chaplains broke confidentiality of confession when they revealed private conversations they had with vulnerable people, campaigners said.
The army personnel could have been fired and humiliated as a result of the breach of trust, they added.
Johnny Mercer, Minister for Defence, People and Veterans, has now apologised for what happened, the Times reported.
He said: ‘Our policy regarding LGB members in the military was unacceptable then, and as a defence minister, I personally apologise for those experiences.’
‘Pastoral encounters between service chaplains and personnel should be strictly confidential.’
Church of England chaplains working in the army were also accused of breaking confidences during the 90s.
On Thursday, Mr Mercer also apologised to a group of veterans for the harm caused by a ban on homosexuality.
The ban on lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people serving in the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force was repealed on January 12, 2000.
People suspected of being LGB in the armed forces at the time were subject to a dishonourable discharge.
A damning judgment by the European Court of Human Rights in September 1999 said the policy was a ‘grave interference’ in people’s private lives.
Mr Mercer added: ‘It was unacceptable then and it is unacceptable now, and as the minister for defence, people and veterans, I wanted to personally apologise to you today for those experiences.’
Gay and lesbian veterans who served under a ban on homosexuality have reflected on their experiences on the 20th anniversary of the policy’s end.
Emma Riley, 47, from West Sussex, served from 1990 to 1993 as a naval radio operator but was arrested and discharged for being a lesbian.
Ms Riley, who is a lesbian, said: ‘I thought the person I told was my friend and at the time I told them seemed to be very supportive and OK with it and the next morning I got woken up at 6am and told to “get up, get dressed and go downstairs, you’re under arrest”.’
Ms Riley had been reported to the Navy’s special investigation branch and had her belongings searched and confiscated, including a video of Julian Clary.
She was subjected to a two and a half month “relentless” investigation where officers tried to find other LGB people in the Navy.
Ms Riley was one of the handful of LGB ex-service people who brought her case against the Ministry of Defence to the European Court of Human Rights.
The MoD now has an LGBTQ+ group within its rank to support service personnel and the Royal British Legion boasts its own LGBTQ+ & Allies branch, which celebrates its first anniversary on Sunday.
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