Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Donning the Rainbow Sash

In the following article, Brian McNeill, president of Dignity Twin Cities and convener of the Rainbow Sash Alliance USA, reminds Catholics of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis that wearing a Rainbow Sash at the Cathedral of St. Paul this Pentecost Sunday (May 11) will be a “peaceful, prayerful, and respectful way of stating that the church is wrong on the issue of homosexuality and needs to change.”

Brian’s article, written last month, was first published in the Dignity Twin Cities newsletter. It was reprinted in the April issue of The Progressive Catholic Voice online journal.


Will You Wear the Rainbow Sash This Pentecost?
By Brian McNeill
April 2008

Is it worthwhile to spend time and energy to try to reform Catholic teaching on homosexuality? With the immense problems of global warming, wars in the Middle East, poverty, hunger, the AIDS pandemic, and financial collapse increasing the sum of human suffering in our day, why would anyone spend what little free time they have trying to change the minds of the Roman Catholic curia on the issue of homosexuality? Isn’t this, at best, frivolous?

There are many who think so. Many who might be inclined to care about the issue because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) and were baptized Catholic as infants, have simply left the Roman Catholic Church as the hierarchy has repeated its bigoted statements about homosexuality as an “objective disorder” in multiple official documents issued on an almost annual basis. In its November, 2006 statement, “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination: Guidelines for Pastoral Care,” the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) state that LGBT Catholics are discouraged from coming out in their parishes, may not be officially involved with parish ministry, and should not adopt children. The bishops then have the gall to say discrimination against LGBT people should not be allowed. They conclude with a call to dialogue with LGBT people even though the document was created without any consultation of LGBT Catholics, and there has been no official dialogue with gay Catholic groups since the document was issued.

In the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis the new coadjutor, Archbishop John Nienstedt, who will soon take over for the retiring Archbishop Harry Flynn, has done the USCCB one better by condemning the family and friends of LGBT Catholics who are living with a same-sex partner. Perhaps in the interest of getting a red hat on his head he has written:

Those who actively encourage or promote homosexual acts or such activity within a homosexual lifestyle formally cooperate in a grave evil and, if they do so knowingly and willingly, are guilty of mortal sin. They have broken communion with the church and are prohibited from receiving holy Communion until they have had a conversion of heart, expressed sorrow for their action and received sacramental absolution from a priest.

– The Catholic Spirit, November 15, 2007

The official response to letters of complaint and efforts to discuss disagreement with church officials over these teachings is met by the particularly unchristian tactic of stonewalling. They simply do not reply. This, in my mind, is a tacit admission that they cannot justify their position. A church that relies heavily on the behavioral sciences as part of its preparation of candidates for the sacraments of holy orders and matrimony, has backed itself into the corner of having to ignore or dismiss all that those sciences are saying about LGBT people in order to maintain its current policy. The hierarchy’s pointing to scripture to back up its teachings is undertaken in the same spirit of misusing the scriptures, in times past, to back up its teaching that the sun revolves around the earth, and the permissibility of human slavery.

Having said all that, is it still worth anyone’s time to attend the noon Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul on Pentecost Sunday, May 11, wearing the Rainbow Sash? Yes. Not doing so will be interpreted by Archbishop Nienstedt, and the conservatives who support him, as silent consent to their position. Wearing the Rainbow Sash is a peaceful, prayerful, and respectful way of clearly stating that the church is wrong on this issue and needs to change. There may, or may not be media covering the event, but even if there are no media, the message will be heard by the archbishop.

A correct interpretation of scripture tells us that there are two fundamental gospel values: love and justice. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, their family and friends, respond to the first by coming out, and to the second by working to change the structures of oppression. Like it or not, the Roman Catholic Church is one of the largest and most powerful oppressors of our community, and it will not change unless people work to make it change. Walking away allows bigotry and discrimination to thrive.

Join us wearing the Rainbow Sash on Pentecost Sunday on May 11! We meet on the Selby Avenue side of the cathedral at 11:30 am for the distribution of the sashes, before attending the 12:00 noon Mass.

Brian McNeill

Update: What Happened at the Cathedral of St. Paul on Pentecost Sunday 2008 by Brian McNeill.

Image 1: Michael J. Bayly.
Image 2: David McCaffrey (Pentecost Sunday 2004).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
“Take, All of You, and Eat”: Communion and the Rainbow Sash (Part I)
“Take, All of You, and Eat”: Communion and the Rainbow Sash (Part II)
“Take, All of You, and Eat”: Communion and the Rainbow Sash (Part III)
My Rainbow Sash Experience
“Receive What You Are, the Body of Christ”
Take This Bread
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation
Honoring Brian McNeill
300+ People Vigil at the Cathedral in Solidarity with LGBT Catholics


CDE said...

In an interview published in the Catholic Spirit yesterday, Archbishop Neinstedt has promised to continue the policy set by Archbishop Flynn:

Members of the Rainbow Sash [gay rights movement] are planning to make their annual visit to the Cathedral of St. Paul on Pentecost Sunday, May 11. How will you handle that this year?

The Cathedral staff is going to continue to insist upon the policy that Archbishop Flynn put in before - that if somebody is wearing a rainbow sash, they won't be permitted to receive holy Communion. It's the same thing as if somebody came walking into the Cathedral with a placard saying, "I'm in favor of abortion." You wouldn't give Communion to that person either. It's a public act of defiance against church teaching, and therefore we don't give Communion to people who have broken communion with the faith.

* * *

It seems to me a consistent position which expresses the meaning of communion.

The Church believes that genital activity should be reserved to a man and woman within the context of marriage. Those who want to lobby for some other teaching are separating themselves from communion with the Church. No one is forcing anything upon the dissenters. Dissenters are make a free choice to reject the Church's teaching.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Clayton,

I don’t believe that those Catholics who engage in conscientious (or responsible) dissent have “broken communion with the faith.”

I’m sure you’re aware of the late Richard McCormick’s work around identifying the criteria for responsible dissent from a given Church teaching.

1. A sincere effort to understand the teaching.
2. Consideration of the reasons for the teaching and those against.
3. Serious examination of one’s conscience.
4. Holding respect for the general trustworthiness of the Church.

The Catholics I know who’ll be donning the Rainbow Sash this Sunday meet these criteria.

Now, I’m well aware that you have a tendency to dismiss us as disobedient children, but I think a more accurate description of those who’ll be wearing the Rainbow Sash can be found in the following quote by McCormick:

If, after going through the process [i.e., the above criteria], one still doubts or rejects [the teaching in question], that person should not be labeled a disobedient Catholic but a conscientious dissenter.

And then there’s Francis Sullivan’s observation in Magisterium: Teaching Authority in the Catholic Church:

If, in a particular instance, Catholics have offered their religious submission of mind and will to the authority of the magisterium by making an honest and sustained effort to achieve internal assent to its teaching, and still find that doubts about its truths remain so strong in their minds that they cannot actually give their sincere intellectual assent to it, I do not see how one could judge such non-assent to involve any lack of obedience to the magisterium.

And finally, I draw your attention to Leonard Swidler’s insightful article, Dissent: An Honored Part of the Church’s Vocation.



CDE said...

Let's imagine for a moment that one has met the criteria for responsible dissent mentioned by McCormick, and that this criteria is valid.

Wouldn't the proper gesture of dissent be to refrain from receiving the Eucharist, the sacrament of unity?

And how does drawing attention to oneself and to a particular political movement serve to symbolize the gift of unity given by the Holy Spirit? It seems to symbolize rather the experience of Babel.

Anonymous said...


Protesting in Church is anything but "peaceful". Shame, shame, shame on you. You break the hearts of the Lord and your fellow Catholics by "protesting".