Soulforce Commends Dr. Robert Edgar for His Courage and Commitment to Equality

CHURCH LEADER APOLOGIZES IN DRAMATIC REVERSAL OF ATTACK ON SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

November 21, 2000

For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Cell 717-951-7712
SoulforceMedia@aol.com

Laguna Beach, CA – On Friday, November 17, Dr. Robert Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, withdrew his signature and support from the document "A Christian Declaration on Marriage" cosigned by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the National Association of Evangelicals. Today, Soulforce Board of Directors publicly commended Dr. Edgar for his courageous stand.

"We are grateful to Dr. Edgar for withdrawing his support of this most recent attack on same-sex marriage and accept his apology gladly," says Dr. Mel White, Executive Director, Soulforce, Inc., an interfaith network of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender (GLBT) individuals and their families, friends, and allies, committed to applying the principles of nonviolent resistance as taught by Gandhi and King to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities.

"In this dramatic about-face, Dr. Edgar has placed the National Council of Churches squarely on the side of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans," continued White. "For decades the NCC has tried to please its constituents on both sides of this issue. In this courageous act, Dr. Edgar has made it clear that he would rather see the NCC close down with honor than be forced to water down its faithful and historic stand for justice, mercy, and truth."

In a letter to the NCC Assembly, Edgar explained why he no longer supported the ecumenical declaration. "A number of the NCC member communions interpret the document more as a condemnation of same-sex unions than as an affirmation of marriage…I am concerned that in our dangerously fragmented and violent society, misinterpretation of the declaration may be used by some as a pretext for attacks on gay and lesbian persons."

"Dr. Edgar is right," says Karen Weldin, a Soulforce Vice-Chair. "In limiting marriage to ‘one man and one woman’, Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist and Evangelical leaders are simply continuing their campaign to deny gay and lesbian Americans the 1,047 rights and protections that go automatically with heterosexual marriage. And worse, when they demean our loving, committed relationships as "intrinsically evil" (Roman Catholic) and "sick" and "sinful" (Southern Baptist) they inadvertently give license to those who harass, harm, and even kill us."

In an earlier letter warning against the documents misuse, Dr. Edgar acknowledged that NCC member communions are "in discussion and discernment regarding same-sex unions. Nonetheless," he added, "there is unanimity among us in our long-standing advocacy for full Civil Rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons. Through our dialogues, we have come to celebrate the gifts and the challenges they present to us. We stand with them in our common battle against hatred and violence and the pain of exclusion."

"Bob Edgar has acted with great integrity and, in the process, has protected the integrity of the National Council of Churches," says Jimmy Creech, Board Chair of Soulforce, Inc. "His intention in signing the declaration was obviously compromised by the way it has since been used to denounce gay and lesbian couples in committed relationships. He has bravely refused to let himself and the NCC be exploited by the antigay agenda of the others who signed the declaration."

In the past year, hundreds of Soulforce supporters have been arrested in non-violent acts of civil disobedience held during the United Methodist General Conference in May, the Southern Baptist Convention and the Presbyterian General Assembly in June, the Episcopal Convention in July, and most recently at the National Council of Catholic Bishops in November in protest of church policies which exclude GLBT individuals from the life of the church.

Gay People’s Chronicle Article: "104 Arrested at Soulforce Protest of Catholic Bishops’ Meeting"

November 17, 2000

by Eric Resnick
Gay People’s Chronicle

Washington, D.C.– In an attempt to convince the American Catholic bishops to make the church more inclusive of its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members, the interfaith group Soulforce and the gay Catholic group Dignity USA joined in an act of civil disobedience during the bishops’ annual conference.

The November 13 act occurred when 280 protesters blocked the entrance to the basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic church in the Western Hemisphere.

Police arrested 104 people, including 12 Ohioans. Those arrested were charged with "incommoding," the total blockage of free passage to a public place, a minor municipal offense that carries a fine of $50.

Soulforce has held four other civil disobedience protests this year, in Cleveland; Long Beach, California; Denver, Colorado and Orlando, Florida. Each demonstration was to attempt to influence the leaders of a Christian denomination to make their churches more inclusive of LGBT members. Each act has resulted in arrests.

Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, and Rev. William Sloane Coffin, a distinguished civil rights leader, joined Soulforce and Dignity in the Washington protest. Coffin was among the 104 arrested.

Roman Catholic teaching on homosexuality is often contradicted by the church’s political activity against equality for LGBT people.

The church teaches that "homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered" and can never be approved.

The Catholic church has taken stands against same-sex parenting and adoption and gay teachers. Dignity is not permitted to meet on church property. It has been a major source of financial support for so-called "defense of marriage" initiatives. It entered a friend of the court brief on behalf of the Boy Scout’s fight to ban gays.

But the church also stands by its teaching that homosexual people must be treated with "respect, compassion, and sensitivity" and "unjust discrimination toward them should be avoided."

All this leads to great variations in how gay and lesbian Catholics are treated by individual dioceses and parishes, with some more affirming than others.

Dignity USA has been unsuccessfully attempting to get the bishops to resolve these issues for nearly 30 years.

Prior to this protest, two letters were sent by Soulforce to the president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Bishop Joseph Fiorenza of Texas asking that the bishops "take a few small steps toward reconciliation and understanding," including opening church property to Dignity USA, serving the Eucharist, apologizing for the injustices of the past, and to appoint a committee to work with LGBT Catholics to bring the issue before the full body of bishops.

Each request was denied by the bishops. Fiorenza wrote, "Those of us who believe that we are bound by the teaching about homosexuality which we find in Scripture and constant Church teaching often feel it is we who are demeaned and looked down upon. Our contemporary culture is skeptical of absolute truth. We feel that we [the bishops] have been the subject even of hatred and violence…"

"Yet we love them," Soulforce founder Rev. Mel White said at a press conference, "more than they love us." Then White called for Roman Catholics to no longer cooperate with the church until the bishops take action.

"That includes no tithes and no organ music," said White.

Unlike the other Soulforce demonstrations where high level clergy who support LGBT equality were among those arrested, there were no active Catholic clergy present.

Bishops knew when the arrests were taking place, but did not acknowledge what was happening in their meeting in any way. However, a statement was presented later that day by Bishop Joseph Galante informing the bishops that he and Bishop A.J. Quinn met with representatives of Soulforce and Dignity on November 11.

Marianne Duddy, the executive director of Dignity, said she thought the meeting could lead to progress at some later time.

A group of pro-gay Catholics were denied communion in the basilica, after an announcement that the Eucharist would be denied to any who tried to take it as a form of protest.

The bishops joined leaders of other, mostly fundamentalist, Christian denominations at a joint press conference announcing a "Christian Declaration of Marriage," which states, "We believe that marriage is a holy union of one man and one woman in which they commit, with God’s help, to build a loving, life-giving, faithful relationship that will last a lifetime."

Soulforce and Dignity USA stood in vigil outside the conference’s hotel until it ended November 16.

A Personal Reflection from a Soulforce Volunteer

Dear Soulforce Friends,

As usual I am so high from seeing and hugging all of you that were in DC. What beautiful, loving, justice seeking friends. Those who could not come you were in our thoughts.

Richard Murphy thank you so much for making the vigils at the Hyatt a reality. Somehow I felt called to go there. Once in awhile we got a few kind words as we shivered in the cold. Most of us looked like little dough boys and girls as we layered with every coat we brought. Very cold. Of course, our Soulforce shirts were stretched to the maximum on the top. The major part of our uniform as we vigiled were our SMILES. I know that they felt our love as they struggled with their own thoughts as they passed us.

Many of the Bishops took our flyers when they left the Hyatt for a break and held them up like hall passes as they returned. We simply said "Have you read them? We are here to answer your questions." Many waved hands of dismissal to us. A few smiled and glanced at us.

I became early on interested in the blue military uniforms that came and went. I noticed crosses on them and knew that they must be chaplains. My father retired from the USAF. Bob, my husband and wonderful supporter also retired from the USAF. So I stopped a couple of them and talked to them about my military background and experience of attending on a base where all the religions met or used the same chapel. The Catholic Fathers shared office, sanctuary etc with Baptists, Methodists, Rabbis etc. Families came in at their appointed hours and claimed the shared space for awhile. Mostly I remember that we all got along in the same space.

I also remember trying to hand a flyer to a man in a black uniform who I believe was part of the Navy. His response was "You have got to be kidding!" He waved me off.

Well on Wednesday morning as I bundled up for one last vigil before heading for the airport, I thought all would go pretty much the same. We could count on a few smiles, many dismissing hands. Then the Hyatt doors opened and there were men in blue uniforms charging towards us with steaming mugs of coffee. You could have blown us over. "The Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Men" brought us something that not only warmed our stomachs but our souls. Several from the chaplain’s office were there. I couldn’t count because of the tears in my eyes. These uniformed men were stepping out with an act of kindness. We warmed our frozen hands, shared hugs, smiles and felt the thawing of our hearts. There is hope. Those chaplains did get it and saw us as brothers and sisters, cold and in need of warmth and hope. They acted like they would have on base and welcomed everyone into the same space. They let us into their hearts and thoughts. They thought about this for three days and then did this very courageous thing. Chokes me up still. The Hyatt doormen beamed and I caught a tear or two in their eyes as they watched the MEN IN BLUE and SOULFORCE share a moment of compassion. For a moment all hearts sang.

God Bless You All. I’m ready for more. Moments like this do it for me. By the way the mugs are stamped "YOU CAN have it All. Army National Guard." Someday, don’t you think?

Jeaneane Hilll

Ed. Note: Jeaneane is the faithful and creative Soulforcee who makes the crosses and hearts that have added so much to our actions.

Religious News Service Article: "Catholic Bishops Open Annual Meeting"

By KEVIN ECKSTROM
c. 2000 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON – The president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops acknowledged Monday (Nov. 13) the Roman Catholic Church has "at times hurt people instead of serving them faithfully" but warned against the "great temptation of cynicism" and a "search for flaws" in the church’s past.

More than 300 U.S. bishops, archbishops and cardinals are here this week for their annual meeting and will weigh in on subjects ranging from criminal justice reform to the snarled peace process in the Middle East.

In his opening speech to the bishops, President Joseph A. Fiorenza, bishop of Galveston-Houston, said the church has much to be proud of but acknowledged the shortcomings of church leaders.

"Some today, for their own reasons, emphasize troubles and divisions within the church," Fiorenza said. "In the spirit of the Holy Father’s own confession of sins and request for forgiveness, we know that we are not as united among ourselves as we should be and that, as always, there are difficult problems that need solutions."

But Fiorenza cautioned against the "temptation of cynicism" and said a new homegrown U.S. saint – Mother Katherine Drexel of Philadelphia _ offers an inspiration for church members and leaders.

"This cynicism is an envy of truly good people which does not inspire imitation of them but a search for flaws which then becomes the excuse for not imitating them," Fiorenza said.

Throughout the week, the bishops will attempt to focus on pressing national and international concerns while a group of determined protesters plan an equally strong effort to rally against the bishops’ most controversial positions.

As many as 500 gay rights protesters were expected to hold a vigil outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as the bishops gather for Mass on Monday night. On Tuesday (Aug. 14), those same protesters are planning a demonstration outside the bishops’ downtown hotel and plan to be arrested.

Led by the ecumenical group Soulforce, the protesters say the Roman Catholic Church’s positions against homosexuality are "killing" gay Catholics. So far, the bishops have said little in response. A letter from Fiorenza asked for calm during the demonstrations.

During Monday’s opening session, a woman caused a stir among the bishops when she seized a microphone and begged the bishops to ordain women as priests. "Take us women down from the cross and experience the joy that comes from justice-making," said the woman, identified by observers as Janice Sevre-Duszynska.

Sevre-Duszynska would not leave the meeting room and bishops’ officials refused to let the news media speak with her.

One of the most controversial items on the bishops’ agenda has been postponed, angering pro-choice Catholics who say the bishops are trying to curtail womens’ health care "behind closed doors."

The proposal, coming in a directive from the Vatican, would bar secular hospitals that merge with Catholic facilities from providing tubal ligation (tube-tying) services. Msgr. Francis Maniscalco, a bishop’s spokesman, said discussion was postponed because the bishops have not had time to read the newest draft of the proposed changes.

Still, pro-choice Catholics say the bishops have refused to release copies of the new proposals and accused the bishops of keeping non-Catholic hospitals "in the dark" about what may or may not happen.

"We have already seen that the tendency is to say, "Oh, don’t worry, everything’s going to be OK, nothing’s going to change,"’ said Francis Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice. "But there’s been no indication that that is what is going to happen."

During Monday’s session, bishops heard opening statements on a number of proposed statements. Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles presented a statement on criminal justice reform that called for "a search for justice that is tempered by mercy" but said the nation needs to move beyond "sound bite" policymaking.

"We will not tolerate the crime and violence that threatens the lives and dignity of our sisters and brothers, and we will not give up on those who have lost their way and have been caught up in crime and punishment," he said.

Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law presented a statement on the flaring tempers in the Middle East, calling both Israelis and Palestinians back to the table.

"Clearly, there will be no genuine peace for Israel without justice for the Palestinian people," Law said. "Nor will there be genuine justice for the Palestinian people without peace for Israel."

The bishops are scheduled to vote on the criminal justice and Middle East statements on Wednesday (Nov. 15), as well as on a new set of guidelines for Catholic art and architecture, and a statement decrying the "culture of death" in the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions on abortion.

Religious News Service Article: "Gay Catholics Petition Bishops for ‘Reconciliation’"

By KEVIN ECKSTROM
c. 2000 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON – Rob Connoley was prepared to do an overseas mission trip for the Roman Catholic Church until he was told he could not go for one reason – Rob Connoley, a born-and-raised Catholic from Indianapolis, is gay.

Since then, Connoley has left the Catholic Church. He now attends a predominantly gay Protestant church with his partner. On Monday (Nov. 13), Connoley stood with 300 protesters outside the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington in a chilly wind to protest Catholic positions against homosexuality – teachings Connoley said are killing gay youth and leading others to violence.

"Catholics, like everyone else, love their church," said Connoley, 32. "And we don’t want to have to stand here with signs. But even though I love the Catholic Church, I can’t support the teachings of the Catholic Church."

Connoley’s painful spiritual struggle took center stage at this week’s meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops here. After Monday’s silent protest, more than 100 demonstrators were arrested Tuesday (Nov. 14) when they blocked access to the Shrine.

The protests signaled a major strategic shift for gay Catholics, many of whom have worked quietly but persistently behind the scenes to gain greater acceptance from the church’s hierarchy. Waiting and shivering outside the Shrine, they said they have run out of patience.

"Bishops, you are hurting us," said Marianne Duddy, executive director of Dignity/USA, the nation’s oldest gay Catholic organization. "No shepherd would hurt those in his care. We need you to stop this violence, and care for us as the people of God that we are."

The bishops, watching the week’s events with a mixture of frustration, dismay and sadness, weren’t sure what to make of the protests. NCCB President Joseph A. Fiorenza, bishop of Galveston-Houston, conceded Monday that, "We the church, including we bishops, have at times hurt people instead of serving them faithfully." Fiorenza authorized a summit meeting with Dignity leaders, but others said it is unrealistic to expect bishops to change the theology of the church.

"I feel terrible for anyone who hurts, and obviously they’re hurting," said Bishop A. James Quinn, the auxiliary bishop of Cleveland who met with the Dignity representatives on Saturday (Nov. 11). "But it’s impossible, if not improbable, for me (to do more), when right in my face I’m expected to apologize for my conscience or my faith."

The tone of the protests caught many of the bishops off guard. Dignity forces joined with Soulforce, an aggressive ecumenical gay rights group that has led hundreds of protesters to be arrested at church conventions this year. The Rev. Mel White, Soulforce’s co-founder, called for a boycott of tithes and talents from gay Catholics, a radical departure from Dignity’s previous strategy.

Mary Louise Cervone, Dignity’s president, said gay Catholics will continue to work for change within the church, and she said she is "more than happy to agree to disagree" with the bishops over issues of sexuality. Duddy went further, saying, "We’re not looking for victory here. We’re looking for a reconciliation."

And Dignity leaders took deliberate steps to delicately distance their organization from Soulforce’s tactics while still embracing its message. "It’s important that we stand for justice in our church, and we support a myriad of efforts to achieve that," Cervone said.

Dignity’s main contention is not necessarily with church law that prohibits gay marriage or frowns on gay adoption, but rather Vatican pronouncements calling homosexuals "objectively disordered." Such statements, they say, fuel an atmosphere where anti-gay violence is acceptable.

Not so, said Coadjutor Bishop Joseph A. Galante of Dallas, who joined Quinn in the meeting with Soulforce and Dignity representatives.

"The gospel remains the gospel," Galante said. "It’s challenging, but it certainly does not provoke violence and hatred towards people. There are people who can use Scripture for their own ends without being faithful to the authentic meaning of Scripture."

The bishops have tried to channel attention to other items on their agenda, and refused Soulforce’s demands for an apology and a bishop to celebrate at a Dignity Mass. Galante, in the bishops’ only public statement on the protests, said some things are ordered by God and cannot be changed by bishops.

"Fidelity to the gospel teaching on marriage and sexuality is an essential part of our discipleship of Christ," Galante said in a brief public statement. "As challenging as this teaching is and always has been, it is not a form of spiritual violence towards others."

GayToday Article: "104 Activists Arrested at Roman Catholicism’s National Shrine"

November 16, 2000

Civil Rights Hero Rev. William Sloan Coffin Among the Jailed

Rev. Jimmy Creech: ‘Catholicism is Bigotry’s Primary Source’

http://gaytoday.badpuppy.com/garchive/events/111600ev.htm
Compiled by GayToday

The Revs. Jimmy Creech, Mel White and William Sloan Coffin were arrested at a rally against the Catholic Church at the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C.-Over 250 Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) individuals, and their families, friends and allies from all over the United States gathered at the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. Monday to protest the exclusionary policies of the Catholic Church toward gay Catholics, to ask the National Conference of Catholic Bishops to ‘Stop Spiritual Violence’ against sexual and gender minorities, and to support their inclusion into all aspects of church life.

104 of the protesters were subsequently arrested for blocking the driveway to the National Shrine, and fined $50 per person and then released after being processed by the D.C. Police.

Among those arrested were: Reverend William Sloan Coffin, one of the nation’s most distinguished civil rights leaders; Maryanne Duddy, Executive Director of Dignity/USA; Reverend Mel White, Executive Director of Soulforce; Reverend Jimmy Creech, chairperson of Soulforce and the heterosexually-inclined minister who was defrocked in the United Methodist Church for performing what the minister calls a ‘holy union’ ceremony for two men; and Fran Taft, a 95-year-old grandmother of a gay man.

The protests began November 13 and continued through Tuesday while a silent vigil also took place at the Hyatt Regency where the Roman Catholic bishops were meeting.

The vigil was organized by Soulforce, an interfaith network of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender individuals and their families, friends, and allies. Soulforce emphasizes its "commitment to the principles of nonviolent resistance as taught by Gandhi and King" and works to apply them to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities.

Also cosponsoring the protest to confront the National Conference of Catholic Bishops was Dignity/USA, the oldest and largest independent national lay movement of gay and lesbian Catholics, families, and friends, and Equal Partners in Faith, a national network of religious leaders and people of faith "committed to diversity and equality."

"Of all the Christian bodies, historically the Catholic Church is the primary source of condemnation of GLBT people since medieval times," said Reverend Jimmy Creech, chairperson of Soulforce.

"By taking a stand at the National Shrine, GLBT people and non-gay allies from all over the United States let the NCCB know that Spiritual Violence against them will no longer be accepted in silence."

The protest began with a press conference and silent vigil at the National Shrine on November 13 during a special mass for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and other dignitaries who are meeting this week in Washington D.C.

The protesters stood in silence on the sidewalk as busses filled with bishops pulled in to the Shrine.

Protesters were each holding the name of a bishop to whom they had sent letters and for whom they’d prayed for in the weeks before traveling to Washington D.C.

On November 14, protesters returned to the National Shrine as the bishops were meeting across town and held a prayerful vigil on the steps of the shrine, blessing the largest Catholic Cathedral in North America prior the arrests of 104 protesters.

"This is an historic moment," continued Rev. Creech. "Today we stand together determined to change the teachings of the Catholic Church. How can we remain silent when those teachings cause suffering and incite violence and discrimination against GLBT people? No matter what our faith traditions, we must resist Spiritual Violence and refuse to cooperate with the forces that perpetuate this oppression."

"One of the most powerful moments of these events was to see hundreds of people, brought together through the pain and oppression of our various religious backgrounds to witness to the love of God for all GLBT people everywhere," said Mary Louise Cervone, President of Dignity/USA.

"Dignity/USA looks forward to continuing its relationship with Soulforce and is proud to have stood with Soulforce in solidarity with our GLBT brothers and sisters everywhere".

104 People Arrested During Soulforce Civil Disobedience at National Shrine

Washington DC Actions Condemn Catholic Church Teachings which Lead to Oppression and Spiritual Violence against Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Individuals

November 15, 2000

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt, Media Coordinator
Cell: 717.951.7712
soulforcemedia@aol.com

Washington, DC – Yesterday, November 14, over 250 Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) individuals, and their families, friends and allies from all over the United States joined together at the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. to protest the exclusionary policies of the Catholic Church toward GLBT Catholics, to ask the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) to STOP SPIRITUAL VIOLENCE against sexual and gender minorities, and support the inclusion of GLBT Catholics into all aspects of church life.

104 of the protesters were subsequently arrested for blocking the driveway to the National Shrine, and fined $50/person and released after being processed by the D.C. Police. Among those arrested were: Rev. William Sloan Coffin, one of the nation’s most distinguished civil rights leaders; Maryanne Duddy, Executive Director of Dignity/USA; Rev. Mel White, Executive Director of Soulforce; Rev. Jimmy Creech, Board Chair of Soulforce, Inc., and the minister who was defrocked in the United Methodist Church for performing a holy union ceremony for two men; and Fran Taft, a 95 year old grandmother of a gay man.

The protests, which began on Monday, November 13 and continue through today as a silent vigil at the Hyatt Regency where the NCCB is meeting, were organized by Soulforce, an interfaith network of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender individuals and their families, friends, and allies, committed to applying the principles of nonviolent resistance as taught by Gandhi and King to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities. Also cosponsoring the protest to confront the NCCB was Dignity/USA, the oldest and largest independent national lay movement of GLBT Catholics, families, and friends, and Equal Partners in Faith, a national network of religious leaders and people of faith committed to diversity and equality.

"Of all the Christian bodies, historically the Catholic Church is the primary source of condemnation of GLBT people since medieval times," said Rev. Jimmy Creech, chairperson of Soulforce. "By taking a stand at the National Shrine, GLBT people and non-gay allies from all over the United States let the NCCB know that Spiritual Violence against them will no longer be accepted in silence."

The protest began with a press conference and silent vigil at the National Shrine on November 13 during a special mass for the NCCB and other dignitaries who are meeting this week in Washington DC. The protesters stood in silence on the sidewalk as busses filled with bishops pulled in to the Shrine. Protesters were each holding the name of a bishop who they had sent letters to and prayed for in the weeks before coming to D.C. On November 14, protesters returned to the National Shrine as the bishops were meeting across town and held a prayerful vigil on the steps of the shrine, blessing the largest Catholic Cathedral in North America prior the arrests of 104 protesters.

"This is an historic moment," continued Rev. Creech. "Today we stand together determined to change the teachings of the Catholic Church. How can we remain silent when those teachings cause suffering and incite violence and discrimination against GLBT people? No matter what our faith traditions, we must resist Spiritual Violence and refuse to cooperate with the forces that perpetuate this oppression."

"One of the most powerful moments of these events was to see hundreds of people, brought together through the pain and oppression of our various religious backgrounds to witness to the love of God for all GLBT people everywhere," said Mary Louise Cervone, President of Dignity/USA. "Dignity/USA looks forward to continuing its relationship with Soulforce and is proud to have stood with Soulforce in solidarity with our GLBT brothers and sister everywhere."

Washington Post Article: "110 Are Arrested at National Shrine"

November 15, 2000

By Hanna Rosin
Washington Post Staff Writer

About 110 members of a gay rights organization protesting the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality were arrested yesterday for blocking the entrance to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, an action that coincided with a meeting of 300 U.S. Catholic bishops here this week.

The protestors offered no resistance as they were led away in plastic handcuffs while other demonstrators cheered.

This protest is the fifth in a series of peaceful demonstrations staged by Soulforce, Inc. Over the past six months, the group has held similar protests at the annual conventions of various denominations, among them the United Methodists and the Southern Baptist Convention.

The demonstrators were protesting Catholic Church teachings that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered." They also object to the fact that priests will not hold a Mass for Dignity USA, a 30-year-old group of gay and lesbian Catholics based in Washington.

On Monday, seven members of another gay rights group attempted to take communion at a Mass at the shrine attended by 300 bishops, but were refused.

The bishops released a statement yesterday saying they had met with leaders of Soulforce last week. While they would not discuss the meeting, the statement made by Bishop Joseph A. Galante of Dallas reiterated the church’s position that any malice against homosexuals "deserves condemnation" from the Church’s pastors.

At the same time, Galante wrote that "fidelity to the Gospel teachings on marriage and sexuality is an essential part of our discipleship of Christ."

Also yesterday, a group of national religious leaders rejected same-sex marriage in a first-of-its-kind "Christian Declaration on Marriage" issued at the U.S. Catholic bishops’ conference.

The marriage declaration was signed by Bishop Anthony O’Connell of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, Robert Edgar of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. and Bishop Kevin Mannoia, president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Later this week, the bishops are scheduled to discuss a statement on the Middle East which for the first time explicitly endorses a Palestinian state. The statement, "Toward Peace in the Middle East," which is likely to be approved, calls for "the end of the state of belligerency by Arab states" and "the establishment of an internationally recognized Palestinian state."

The bishops yesterday passed a statement condemning the "systematic campaign of terror against Christians" in the Sudan. And today they will vote on a major statement on criminal justice reform, which for the first time also considers testimony by members of law enforcement and victims as well as prisoners and their advocates.

Baptist Press Article: "Homosexual Group Adds Catholic Bishops to Push of Christians for Acceptance"

November 14, 2000

By Art Toalston
Baptist Press

WASHINGTON (BP) — The same homosexual group that protested at the Southern Baptist Convention in June has gotten a frosty reaction from the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights for protesting at the Nov. 12-16 meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington.

Commenting on the action by Soulforce, Catholic League President William Donohue stated that the homosexual group is using "the politics of intimidation … to get Catholics and Protestants to recognize the legitimacy of sodomy."

Donohue cited an open letter to the Catholic bishops released Nov. 9 by Soulforce, along with Dignity/USA, a Catholic fringe group, and Equal Partners in Faith, led by an individual who describes himself as an ordained Southern Baptist minister.

Soulforce’s leader, Mel White, is a former ghostwriter for Jerry Falwell and other evangelicals.

The open letter stated in part that the Catholic Church’s teachings on "sexual minorities lead to suffering and death for our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender sisters and brothers."

"They actually believe this," Donohue said in a Nov. 10 news release. "Soulforce is wrong," he continued. "Here’s why: Leather Fest 2000 is now being held at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center in New York City celebrating ’20 years of pain and pleasure’ by holding workshops on ‘rope bondage, mummification, fisting, flogging, and others.’

"In short, this is what kills gays, not talks on abstinence," Donohue stated. "And to top it off, on Oct. 20, HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo gave the center a check for $75,000. Now if Soulforce were rational, they would be protesting the center and Secretary Cuomo, not the bishops."

Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and bishop of the Galveston-Houston diocese, stated in an exchange of correspondence with White:

"Surely you are aware that a variety of religious beliefs, including belief in God itself, have, throughout the ages, been distorted and turned to causes of violence among people. … However, these distortions should not be used to pressure those who believe to abandon fundamental truths of their faith."

During the bishops’ meeting, a fellow bishop, Coadjutor Bishop Joseph A. Galante of Dallas, issued a statement Nov. 14, noting, "I think it is worth our being on record that fidelity to the gospel teaching on marriage and sexuality is an essential part of our discipleship of Christ. As challenging as this teaching is and has always been, it is not a form of spiritual violence towards others. The Church stands ready to provide the pastoral assistance to help all Catholics live by it."

The Soulforce letter to the Catholic bishops had additionally contended: "You teach that homosexual orientation is ‘objectively disordered.’ In plain English you are saying that at the core of our very being we are mentally ill."

"You teach that any loving acts between us are ‘an intrinsic moral evil.’ In plain English you are saying that our moments of sexual intimacy are condemned by God and a danger to society."

"You teach that we should not be allowed to adopt, parent, teach, coach, be married, ordained, or serve in the military. In plain English you are saying that we are a threat to children, that our relationships are contemptible, that we bring down morale and undermine discipline, that even God cannot use us."

"And when you refuse to allow the openly gay and lesbian Catholics of Dignity to meet on Church property or be served by a priest, in plain English you are saying, ‘Go away! God rejects you and so do we.’ "

"If God rejects us and you reject us, is it any wonder that our families and friends reject us, that we are demeaned by our classmates, fired from our jobs, evicted from our apartments, hunted down and hounded out of the military, harassed and taunted in the streets, and even killed by teenagers with knives and baseball bats? …"

"Worse, your teaching causes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Catholics to hate themselves. When your teachings cripple the human spirit you are guilty of spiritual violence against the very people you are called to serve."

"How many Roman Catholic gay teenagers have killed themselves (or at this very moment are considering suicide) because they think God does not love them?"

"How many Roman Catholic adults live in closets of fear and self-loathing because they know that the price of honesty is rejection by the very Church they love?"

"How many Roman Catholic priests have died from HIV/AIDS because in a moment of lonely desperation that [sic] reached out for love and found death waiting?"

"How many Roman Catholic parents have not been able to reconcile your call to love their gay children with your condemnation and rejection of those same children? …"

"Our demands are simple. We ask only that you ‘Open Wide the Doors…’ to Dignity Catholics. They are among your best and brightest and yet you reject them. Welcome them home with the Eucharist. Apologize for more than a thousand years of persecution and abuse. Appoint a committee to sit down with gay Catholics, hear their stories, share their grief, and find a way to end the suffering."

"If you refuse, we have no other choice but to warn the people of this nation that the Roman Catholic Church continues to be a primary source of misinformation about sexual and gender minorities. Vatican teachings about homosexuality lead to wasted lives, ruined relationships, discrimination, suffering, and even death. And the National Conference of Catholic Bishops refuses to even open a discussion on this issue that would once again consider the psychological, medical, scientific, historical, pastoral, and even biblical evidence that could end these tragic teachings forever."

PlanetOut Article: "U.S. Catholic Bishops Protested"

November 14, 2000

PlanetOut News Staff
http://www.planetout.com/pno/news/article.html?2000/11/14/4

SUMMARY: The Rainbow Sash has migrated to the U.S. to help apply a little Soulforce to pressure Roman Catholic bishops to treat lesbians and gays with Dignity.

Two gay and lesbian Roman Catholic groups and two interdenominational groups of gays and lesbians and their allies are staging a series of protests as the U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) meets in Washington, DC November 12 – 15. So far they’ve succeeded in putting gays and lesbians on the agenda, but not in the way they’d hoped: on November 14, NCCB Bishop Anthony O’Connell issued a unprecedented joint "Christian Declaration on Marriage" with leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, and the National Association of Evangelicals, which defines marriage as "a holy union of one man and one woman."

No Place for Rainbows at the Table
Members of the U.S. chapter of the Rainbow Sash Movement, a gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender (GLBT) Catholic group more familiar for its actions in the Australian city of Melbourne but also a presence in the UK and Canada, were denied communion at Saint Matthew’s Cathedral on November 12 and at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on the evening of November 13. Their rainbow-colored sashes symbolize a call to the Church to "seek with us a new appreciation of human sexuality in all of its diversity and beauty." Rainbow Sash Movement members "embrace our sexuality as a sacred gift," while the Church believes that homosexual orientation is "objectively disordered," that homosexual acts are "intrinsically evil," and that gays and lesbians should strive to live in celibacy. All of the nearly 300 bishops attending the meeting and thousands of others were at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Catholic church in the Americas.

Before the service began, Shrine spokesperson Peter Sonski told the crowd, "There are a few here who have said they plan to receive the Eucharist not as a sign of community, but as a sign of protest," but that they would be denied it because they were using the sacrament to advance a cause contrary to the Church’s teachings. Seven rainbow-sashed protesters in their words "attended Mass reverently," but when they approached the priest they were given the blessing of the cross but denied communion wafers. The wearing of the colorful sash was the only difference between the demonstrators and any other person, gay or non-gay, who might seek and receive communion, the denial of which is viewed as a serious punishment.

In a joint statement, Rainbow Sash international spokesperson Michael B. Kelly of Australia and U.S. convenor Joseph Murray said, "We deeply regret this refusal to share the Eucharist with us. This wounds the Body of Christ and reflects the silencing and discrimination experienced by so many gay Catholics. We call our bishops to engage in public dialogue with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics throughout the United States. Our leaders must not rest content with this refusal of Communion. We must work together in honesty and charity for the day when all of God’s people will be welcomed to Christ’s table and embraced by the Church."

Arrests at the Shrine
Meanwhile, the thirty-year-old U.S. Catholic group Dignity joined in a series of actions with gay Reverend Mel White’s interfaith Soulforce group, which non-violently opposes "spiritual violence" against GLBT people, and with Equal Partners in Faith, a group committed to diversity and inclusivity and to airing views of people of faith other than the anti-gay conservative ones which have dominated media. On the afternoon of November 13, they gathered about 200 strong for a silent march to and vigil at the National Shrine, many bearing the names of individual bishops they’d written to describing themselves, their families and how church policies have failed them. Later that evening, they held a "Justice For All" rally including a civil disobedience training.

That training was put into practice on November 14, as again about 200 held vigil outside the National Shrine, this time in light rain. In an action pre-planned with police, about 100 of the demonstrators were peacefully arrested for blocking the entrance to the shrine, including civil rights veteran and former Yale University chaplain Dr. William Sloane Coffin. Coffin delivered "An Open Letter to the Roman Catholic Bishops of America" declaring that they are "causing much suffering, and prompting countless seekers to say, ‘If this is religion we are better off without it. … The teaching of the Church sanctifies the denigration of gays and lesbians. … For Christians the problem is not how to reconcile homosexuality with the scriptural passages that condemn it, but how to reconcile the rejection and punishment of homosexuals with the love of Christ." Those who chose not to be arrested moved on to hold a further vigil outside the hotel where NCCB is meeting, several miles from the Shrine.

Stop Catholic "Hate Speech"
The message of the demonstration was carried as much in exchanges of letters preceding the conference as in the action itself. When NCCB president Bishop Joseph Fiorenza said the bishops cannot compromise on traditional teachings against homosexuality, White did not hesitate to describe it as "hate speech," even though Fiorenza also mentioned the NCCB’s own condemnation of violence and discrimination against gays and lesbians. Although Soulforce has carried out a half-dozen major actions against other denominations, White is particularly concerned at the impact of the Roman Catholic Church with its more than 60 million members in the U.S.

Soulforce is calling on the bishops "to apologize for twenty centuries of oppression against GLBT people; stop labeling gay men and lesbians as ‘objectively disordered’ and our love as ‘intrinsically evil’ because that language leads to hate and violence; to end the silencing of theologians, nuns and priests who call for sensitive pastoral care for GLBT people; to cease opposition to public health efforts to slow the spread of HIV; to quit funding discriminatory civil legislation aimed at denying GLBT people equal access to housing, employment and health insurance; to allow GLBT Catholics to worship God without having to deny or hide who they are; to end prohibitions against Catholic priests ministering to openly GLBT communities of faith; and to stop denying Dignity, the organization of GLBT Catholics and their supporters, use of Catholic churches for their worship and ministry."

The Vatican has become stricter in the last few years, including ending the United States’ oldest and most famous Catholic ministry to gays and lesbians and their families, that of Father Robert Nugent and Sister Jeanine Gramick. (The original New Ways Ministry that they founded in Maryland and were forced to leave declined an invitation to participate in the protests against NCCB.)

Dignity/USA president Mary Louise Cervone said the demonstration was "a message that our language and our words and our actions have a tremendous effect on the lives of our people" and that GLBT will feel a part of the Church "when we are welcomed in our churches as whole and holy people." Because Dignity does not actively promote celibacy as the only proper lifestyle for gay and lesbian Catholics, it is not recognized by the Church as a Catholic organization and has been denied the use of churches for its meetings for many years. When Dignity held its annual conference in Denver this year, the Archbishop wrote a letter warning clergy to stay away from the meeting and to urge their congregations to do the same.

Marriage For All, Except…
GLBT issues were nowhere on the agenda for the NCCB meeting, which was concerned with ending capital punishment, shifting punishment to treatment-oriented approaches for those convicted of drug offenses, reversing the recent Supreme Court ruling ending a ban on so-called "partial-birth abortions," and improving the treatment of immigrants, among other topics. But a press conference was called to announce the joint declaration on marriage, which called for "a stronger commitment to this holy union" and "practical ministries and influence for reversing the course of our culture" with its high divorce rate, increasing cohabitation by unmarried partners, increasing births to single mothers and "diminishing interest in and readiness for marrying, especially among young people." It’s rather ironic that the document explicitly excludes one group that is seemingly increasingly interested in marriage — gay and lesbian couples — with its "one man and one woman" definition.

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