Gays in showdown with archbishop about Pentecost communion


A group of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Catholics won’t be receiving communion at the Cathedral of St. Paul this Pentecost Sunday, according to the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Members of the Rainbow Sash movement, they will attempt to receive the Eucharist on Sunday anyway, in hopes of starting a dialogue with Archbishop John Nienstedt about the role of gays and lesbians in the church. But Nienstedt had strong words for the group, saying he won’t debate church teachings.

Rainbow Sash movement members, LGBT Catholics and friends, wear a rainbow sash each Pentecost to identify themselves as LGBT church members and supporters. If they are denied the Eucharist they go back to the pews and remain standing as acknowledgment of being denied. If they do receive the Eucharist, they kneel as they are expected to.

The archdiocese, which says the group is merely about disruptive protest, released this statement on Wednesday:

The archdiocese has received word that a group dissenting from the church’s teaching on sexuality will be wearing signs of protest (rainbow sashes) at the Cathedral of St. Paul on Pentecost Sunday during the noon Mass. Those wearing such sashes will not be allowed to receive Holy Communion, since they have publicly broken communion with the teachings of the church.

The Holy Eucharist should never be politicized by protesters in this way. Theirs is a sign of disrespect and irreverence to the body and blood of Jesus.

But Rainbow Sash members insist the sashes are not a protest.

“We cannot repeat too often that we attend Mass on Pentecost to celebrate who we are, not to protest,” said a statement on their website, which was part of a letter sent to Nienstedt. “We participate in Mass in the same way we do all the other days of the year. But on Pentecost we come out of the closet as LGBT Catholics, family and friends to remind our fellow Catholics that we too are part of God’s loving family.”

The group said it only seeks a dialogue with the archbishop. Nienstedt, who also urges other churchgoers to refrain from sharing communion with those wearing sashes, said the matter is not up for debate. In a letter to the group, he wrote:

With regard to the dialogue you request, it would first be essential that you state clearly that you hold with the conviction all that the Church teaches on matters of human sexuality. If you do not believe, then there cannot be dialogue, but only debate. The truths of our faith are not open to debate.

In the past, however, the issue has been up for debate. In 2004, former Archbishop Harry Flynn offered the group communion, setting off a firestorm among conservative members of the church. Flynn said it was part of pastoral care.

“We all stand very strong in our teaching concerning human sexuality, and what is right and what is wrong, and the teaching of the church concerning homosexuality, the teaching of the church concerning marriage between one man and one woman,” he said in 2004. “Then as you step away from the strong articulation of the teachings, you get into the pastoral practice of what do you do in some of these very difficult and challenging situations.”

But in 2005, he changed his mind and from then on LGBT Catholics who visibly identify themselves as such are denied the sacrament.

Those who identify themselves with the sashes do so for various reasons, as Lisa Nilles found when compiling a collection of responses from Rainbow Sash members on why they participate in the movement’s Pentecost observation each year. Many of them were parents or friends of LGBT church members.

“I have a son who is 6′2″ with dark curly hair, marvelous design skills, who is a plain old fashioned good person who just happens to be gay,” one parent said. “I am tired of ‘my’ Church ignoring his many qualities in order to focus on the mystery of his sexuality which, because they cannot understand, they chose to condemn. So I thought this a good way to show my unconditional support for him and all who share this mystery.”

Another parent spoke of wearing the sash “to celebrate the intrinsic goodness of my lesbian daughter and every other GLBT child of God. If solidarity with the marginalized is perceived as resistance to Church teaching, so be it.”

“This is, I think, the fourth year my wife and I attended this Pentecost service [at the cathedral],” he continued. “We are involved in a number of social justice issues and solidarity with GLBT persons is an important extension of that outreach, made more personal to us because we have a lesbian daughter. My daughter is right when she says, ‘My folks would be involved even if they didn’t have me because that’s who they are.’

“I am proud of that and will do anything nonviolently to counter the prejudice and bigotry of the Catholic Church.”

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