Sunday, December 02, 2007

300+ People Vigil at the Cathedral in Solidarity with LGBT Catholics

Over three hundred people gathered at the Cathedral of St. Paul this afternoon for a CPCSM-sponsored vigil of solidarity with lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics, their families and supporters.

In particular, people gathered to express their disagreement with Coadjutor Archbishop John Nienstedt’s
recent declaration that people who encourage and support their LGBT family members and friends, are “cooperating in a grave evil.” (To learn more about why we gathered, click here.)

As one of the key organizers of this vigil, I can’t tell you how happy I was with this incredible turn-out – especially considering the severe wintry conditions we’ve been experiencing in the Twin Cities.

No doubt due to the inclement weather, the crowd was slow to build. As we began proceedings with the Bret Hesla song, “The Image of God,” I thought to myself: Well, fifty people isn’t bad for weather like this.

Yet as I began my welcome (and for twenty minutes afterwards), the people just kept arriving and the crowd just kept swelling! (At one point, 325 people were counted.)

In joy! Oh, in joy do we gather!
Knowing we are all the image of God.
Be strong! Oh, be stronger than hatred,
Knowing we are all the image of God.
We stand! Oh, we stand and we celebrate,
Knowing we are all the image of God.

Above: Catholic Rainbow Parents co-founder Darlene White.

Above: My friend Roger represented “Grays for Gays”!

There were a number of other creative signs on display. One of my favorites read: “The Body of Christ Has Gay Genes Too!” Another declared: “Vatican Homophobia is ‘Intrinsically Disordered’”.

Above: Standing at right is Soulforce founder, Rev. Mel White, while at left is Catholic Rainbow Parents co-founder and convener, Mary Lynn Murphy.

Speaking on behalf of Catholic Rainbow Parents, Mary Lynn later addressed the crowd with her husband, Mike. Responding to the Catholic Church’s contention that homosexuality is a “disorder,” Mary Lynn declared: “Homosexuality is not a disorder of any kind, but rather an ordinary human characteristic with the exact moral dimensions of heterosexuality. This is not, we believe, and never was, a question of ‘sin.’ It is a simple question of human diversity, and society’s ongoing struggle to learn to accept differences of all kinds.”

“As parents, we lift up the voice of our parental authority on this matter, refusing to allow unloving, untrue messages from any entity to undermine our loving families and the human dignity of LGBT persons everywhere - whether they are found in the pews, in the wider society, or - as they frequently are - in the ranks of the clergy and the hierarchy itself.”

Above: Along with Catholic Rainbow Parents co-founders Mary Lynn and Mike Murphy, another inspiring speaker at the Vigil for Solidarity was Dignity Twin Cities president Brian McNeill.

Above: Also sharing an inspiring message was Ronnie Angelus.

“People are crying today,” said Ronnie. “People are weeping today. A grandfather who loves his granddaughter and her female partner believes he cannot receive communion. And he weeps. Mothers, fathers, relatives, and friends are told they cannot want abundance of life for their gay family members and friends. Young people grappling with their sexuality are scared and they weep. Somewhere, mixed with rage and disbelief, we stand heartbroken today.”

“And the words of Pastor Martin Niemöeller keep coming to my mind: ‘When they came for me there was no one left to speak for me.’ And make no mistake, they are coming for us. The statement of the Archbishop makes it official and it opens the doors for the hate to spill out. Make no mistake. They are coming for us! If ever there was a time to ask for the gifts of the Holy Spirit, for fortitude and wisdom, the moment is now. In these mighty winds of change it is time to say, ‘Come Holy Spirit, come! Come Holy Spirit, come!’”

Above and below: Soulforce founder and author Rev. Mel White received cheers and applause when he declared that those present were the “hope for the Catholic Church.”

“Throughout history,” Rev. Mel White reminded those vigiling outside the cathedral, “the Catholic church, the Christian church, has been saved by people like you who loved it enough to stand up and say, ‘You’re wrong!’”

Mel White then gave some examples of other “heroes of the faith”:

Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for confronting Roman Catholic teachings in March of 1600. When sentenced, Bruno said to the bishops, ‘You have far more fear in condemning me than I have in being condemned.’ Four-hundred years later, John Paul II expressed ‘profound sorrow’ for the martyrdom.”

“Exactly 30 days ago in Linz, Austria, cardinals, bishops and priests gathered to canonize the courageous layman,
Franz Jägerstätter, who was beheaded by the Nazis in August, 1943. As a young man he had watched with growing horror as the priests in his Austrian diocese, his local bishop, and even the pope had, by their silent assent, supported Hitler and the Third Reich. Months earlier, Jägerstätter had refused to be inducted into Hitler’s army - even after priests, bishops, cardinals, and the pope had advised, for ‘the sake of your families,’ not to resist Hitler’s blitzkrieg across Europe. ‘We are losing our souls and we don’t know it,’ Jägerstätter is remembered as saying at the time.”

Mel’s third story focused on a recent “gay martyr.” “Beneath the Pope’s window, in St. Peter’s Square,
Alfredo Ormando, a young gay writer, burned himself to death on January 13, 1998, to protest the teachings and actions of the Vatican against God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children.”

“There have always been heroes and martyrs who gave their lives for Christ and their faith. If we hope to reach our goal some day, then we, too, must become heroes of the faith,” Mel told the crowd.

Above: Yet another highlight of the Vigil for Solidarity was the warmth and energy of the wonderful music provided by Kathleen Olsen and Larry Dittberner (pictured above), and Mary Preus.

Above: CPCSM co-founder and Progressive Catholic Voice technical editor David McCaffrey, one of the key organizers of the Vigil for Solidarity, made good use of his rich baritone voice throughout proceedings to provide clear and concise explanations and directions to the crowd.

Above: One of the most powerful moments of the vigil was the “die-in and rising up” ritual on the front steps of the cathedral.

As you can see from the photos above, this ritual involved many of those gathered falling to the ground in response to the reading of Archbishop Nientedt’s recent
“life-denying” words regarding homosexuality.

Then, when eleven-year-old Joseph Olsen proclaimed Jesus’ “life-giving” words: “I came that you might have life – and have it to the full!”, everyone rose up and joyfully began singing “I Shall Walk in the Presence of God.”

I shall walk in the presence of God, I shall walk.
With the sun and the rain upon me, I shall walk.
In the land of the living, living land, I shall walk.
With my sisters and brothers around me, I shall walk.

And that’s exactly what we did next as, with a large icon of St. Francis of Assisi (the patron saint of The Progressive Catholic Voice , which organized the vigil), I had the honor of leading all in attendance in a solemn procession to the nearby chancery, where we delivered an open letter to Archbishop Nienstedt from the editorial team of The Progressive Catholic Voice.

Above: An unidentified woman carries the portrait of St. Francis of Assisi that usually sits in my dining room, where it oversees various meetings of both CPCSM and The Progressive Catholic Voice editorial team!

I took the image at the very top of this post as I was standing on the front steps of the chancery - just before depositing our “open letter” to Archbishop Nienstedt into the chancery mailbox.

A few more observations: A number of media crews covered the event. KARE 11 did a great piece, shown during its 5:00 p.m. news broadcast earlier this evening. It can be viewed on the station’s website here.

I guess I haven’t much else to say just know, except to ask: Have you ever been simultaneously exhausted and elated? Well, that’s how I’m feeling at the moment. Thanks again to all who ensured that our Vigil for Solidarity was the incredible experience that it was. I’ll close by sharing part of what I said during my “welcome” speech at today’s vigil:

[It is very] appropriate that we’re gathering on the First Sunday of Advent – that season of the church year that invites us to reflect, renew, listen, discover, and become our truest selves in the light of Christ.

Advent is traditionally understood as a time of waiting. As LGBT Catholics we’re very familiar with waiting. We’ve been waiting for a very long time for the institutional church to recognize and honor the light of Christ present in our lives AND relationships.

For that to happen, the church’s teaching on “homosexual activity” will have to change. And I have no doubt that it will one day change. My prayer is that Archbishop Nienstedt will join us in being a prophetic voice in working to ensure that this change happens sooner rather than later.

I’d like to close by paraphrasing Pope John XXIII: We should not think of ourselves as being fearfully under siege in a fortress-like church, a church that serves as a museum of unchangeable traditions and teachings. Rather, we should embody a living, growing, and evolving church; one that can be envisioned as a flowering garden of life – full of color, diversity, and possibility. Friends, I look out and see such a church before me. And I thank you again for having the courage and compassion to be that type of church and to stand here today in solidarity with LGBT Catholics and those who encourage and support them.

Postscript, 12/04/07: Following are two letters-to-the-editor in response to the St. Paul Pioneer Press’ rather pathetic December 3 coverage of the vigil:

Hoping, praying

Thank you for covering the public protest at the St. Paul Cathedral on Sunday (Pioneer Press, Dec. 3). Your article alerted Catholics of Archbishop John Nienstedt’s outdated condemnation of those of us who “encourage” gay and lesbian family/friends. We “are guilty of mortal sin.” YIKES!

It sounds like he hasn’t read current scientific and psychological data (or the New Testament). After 13 years of excellent Catholic education, countless religious retreats, books, meditations, plus 50 years of Mass and Eucharist, I am prepared to disagree with his edict.

Perhaps he never met a faith-filled person of the GLBT community, or maybe his life was never enriched by a friend/family member who was gay or lesbian. If not, he had better get out into his archdiocese, prepare to dialogue and experience our riches. He may see another side of this issue, and hopefully soften his attitude. We can only hope . . . and pray!

Ann McGlynn
North St. Paul

Condemning freedom?

The Pioneer Press notes the GLBT protest at the cathedral as well as Coadjutor Archbishop John Nienstedt’s remarks in response. It is disturbing that Nienstedt cites Scripture passages condemning certain types of sexual activity while ignoring passages allowing slavery, condemning charging interest on loans, sanctioning unequal treatment of women, etc.

Why are gays and lesbians targeted? Does this selectivity reflect the benevolent face of God? Or does it smack of intolerance and denial?

It reminds me of my years in the convent where arrogant and intolerant superiors attempted to rule our lives while treating us as putty in their hands.

Perhaps it is time for all of us to re-read the Vatican II’s decree on religious liberty, a church teaching that Nienstedt and the current Roman Curia seem to ignore. Why lecture the world about freedom of conscience and then condemn the very exercise of that freedom?

Margaret Klempay
St. Paul

Recommended Off-site Link:
Catholics Confront Archdiocese Over Statement on Homosexuality - Andy Birkey,
Minnesota Monitor, December 3, 2007.

Images: Michael Bayly (except for the second photo of the die-in, which was taken by Andy Birkey).

January 2008 Update: For more commentary and images of the Vigil for Solidarity, see the following Wild Reed posts:
Why We Gathered
Interesting Times Ahead
An Open Letter to Archbishop Nienstedt
NCR's Coverage of December 2 "Vigil for Solidarity"
Local Media Coverage of December 2 Vigil Falls Short
No, Really . . .
Lavender Magazine’s “Vigil for Solidarity” Coverage


Anonymous said...

It was wonderful to be there! Thank you to all who planned this protest and rally.

As always when we join together to "do justice" our own hearts are renewed, we make good friends and we feel the presence of the One who is with us always.

Phil and I give thanks for every person who braved the bitter cold and stood in solidarity with the gay community. We love our gay son and long for the day the churches live Christ and not only accept him as a gay man but welcome and celebrate him.

We are on the side of truth and love. We know the day will come when we will gather to simply rejoice.... until then we are so fortunate there are people like all of you working to see that day come.

with our love to every person who gathered by the Cathedral,
Randi and Philip Reitan

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Randi and Phil,

Thank you for all you did to ensure Mel White’s presence with us today at the vigil. As always, he spoke words of great truth and power.

Thanks too for your tireless work on behalf of LGBT people – including the powerful sharing of your story in the documentary film For the Bible Tells Me So.

You’re both beautiful and inspiring people, and I feel so blessed to have you part of my life. I know many others feel likewise.



Anonymous said...

I am so grateful to have been there and part of the "die-in." As I laid down on the steps in the silence after Nienstadt's words, I found myself fighting tears. I am so saddened by the movement of the Church to alienate some of its most faithful. I hold my friends and family who are GLBT in love and want to protect them from this obvious evil. Thank you for the opportunity to express solidarity with my loved ones. Although I cannot possibly feel what my brothers and sisters in the GLBT community feel, but my desire to fight for them remains strong.

Anonymous said...

I want to thank everyone for all the hard work they did to organize the vigil. It was extremely well done and effective, especially given the weather

Holding a protest like the vigil can be very important in ways that we will never realize or see, but future generations will.

Anonymous said...

I was not part of this event ... in fact, I am many hundreds of miles away in Boston. But I got a surge of energy seeing the work you all are doing for justice and for the health of our Church. Keep it up!

Anonymous said...

Had to work and couldn't make it, but here's a letter I sent the Abp

December 2, 2007

Coadjutor Archbishop John Nienstedt
Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis

Dear Archbishop:

As we have not met yet, please accept my welcome to our archdiocese, of which I have been an active member for over twenty years.

In light of your recent guidance to those of us who actively encourage, promote or engage in homosexual acts or activity I am seeking practical pastoral counsel.

I am a divorced gay man, the father of four children ages 14-26. My boyfriend is also divorced with three children of roughly the same age. Both he and I have been and remain very active in our parishes and other Catholic organizations. We are both out to our children, who know of our relationship.

Under these circumstances, how should I faithfully fulfill my obligation as the one primarily responsible for my children's faith formation?

1. Is the moral course to sever all personal ties to my children since I am an occasion of grave sin to them? Should I continue to welcome them into my home, take them to mass, and prepare them for the sacraments? Is there some other course of action you would recommend?

a. Do I sin mortally every time I interact with my children, their teachers, coaches, and/or friends?

b. Do my children sin mortally every time they interact with we?

c. Should I ask their Mother to assume full responsibility for their (non-financial) development?

d. If she wants me to exercise my duties as their father, does she sin mortally?

2. Do I need to inform the Faith Formation staff and volunteers in my parish that they are guilty of mortal sin for collaborating with me on the faith formation of my children and asking me to participate in faith formation with them?

Thank you for advising me as I strive to raise my children as Christians and good Catholics.

Yours in Christ,

Tom Jonas