Advance Report from Rome

December 26, 2000

Last night, we flew from Rome (through Detroit) and have arrived home safely with good news. We are more convinced than ever that our trip to the Vatican will have significant consequences. And the allies we have in Rome are amazing. Here’s our report.

On Saturday, Dec. 16, angered by the Pope’s cordial meetings with an extremist, right-wing Austrian politician, several thousand Italians marched on the Vatican. Protesters throwing rocks and sticks were beaten back by 3,000 Roman policeman with clubs and tear gas. Hundreds (including at least 27 police) were injured.

On Monday, Dec. 18, less than two days later, Bill and I sat down with Italian police officials to request a permit to protest on the very same boulevard leading to St. Peter’s Square. Needless to say, the police said "No!" Later, we discovered three reasons for their refusal to issue us a permit.

First, there is an ancient Vatican concordat with Italy that Italian police will never allow any kind of demonstration or protest to occur inside or even near Vatican City (the area immediately surrounding St. Peter’s Square). And over the centuries the police have kept their promise. We were surprised to learn that in this land of passionate protest, no one demonstrates (let alone gets a permit to demonstrate) anywhere near the Vatican.

Second, the Dec. 16 demonstration (less than 48 hours before our arrival) was one of the first attempts in history to bring a protest directly to the Vatican city-state. The memory of that bloody moment was just too fresh for the police to even think of allowing even a quiet, nonviolent protest by less than two dozen people at the same site.

Third, just three years ago, a gay Italian writer burned himself to death on St. Peter’s Square. Last summer, the World Pride event was condemned by the Pope as "godless" and "an insult to the Holy See." The Soulforce, DignityUSA delegation would be the third "gay" protest in a very short period of time (as Vatican history goes). The Vatican (and thus the Italian police) just want the "gay" issue to go away.

And though our meetings with Vatican officials were cordial, we were reminded that it will take many years and many miracles for Church teachings (about us) to change. And any direct action we take in that regard must be carefully and prayerfully planned.

While Bill and I were puzzling our options, we met with Italian activists (who had planned World Pride 2000 in Rome) and with ‘gay’ and ‘gay-friendly’ Catholics. The hundred or so Italians we met from these two wonderful communities had one message. Since no one else has succeeded at even getting close to the Vatican (let alone at changing the minds and hearts of Vatican officials), "YOU MUST TRY!" And, they added clearly, "IF YOU TRY, WE WILL HELP YOU."

Since our own spiritual renewal is the primary goal of a Soulforce action, we know from the beginning that any direct action we take on behalf of justice and truth, will be a success. But what kind of direct action could move our brothers in the Vatican to reconsider their tragic teachings and actions against us?

Our original plan was deeply moving on paper. On the flight to Rome, I imagined our delegation gathered in the Campo Di Fiori Square at the base of a statue honoring the patron saint of protest, Giordano Bruno, a ‘faithful dissenter’ who had been burned at the stake in 1600 for protesting unjust Church policies. We would walk together in a kind of funeral procession behind muffled drums carrying photos of gay Catholics who had killed themselves carrying banners and wearing shirts asking the Vatican to Stop Spiritual Violence. We would stand quiet vigil and wait for a meeting with Church officials. If the police came, some of us would be arrested. Others not.

Fr. Brown, an American priest on Cardinal Ratzinger’s staff, made it perfectly clear to us that our planned action was ‘inflammatory.’ And after a short, defensive pause, we agreed. Our planned action was dramatic and a perfect photo op, but it didn’t bring us any closer to mutual understanding let alone reconciliation. We needed an action that would win minds and hearts inside (and outside) the Vatican City-state and not cause further misunderstanding between us. So, here is the basic outline of the new direct action we propose.

Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2001, most of our 24 delegates will arrive at DaVinci Airport in Rome. We will go directly to the Hotel Spring House. Check in. Unpack. Rest. Take our own short walking tours of this fascinating neighborhood (in the shadow of the walls of the Vatican just across the street from the entrance to the Sistine Chapel). We’ll have dinner together. Be briefed and go to bed early.

Wednesday, Jan. 3, Thursday, Jan. 4, Friday, Jan. 5

Each day, we will arise early for a time of spiritual preparation. On Wednesday, for example, our morning meditation will be at the Circus Maximus where the martyrs were burned alive, crucified, and thrown to wild animals. (Don’t worry. We have no similar plans for our delegates.) After breakfast on Wednesday, we will be trained for the day’s action, pack Christmas stockings for the children of an orphanage, and walk together (carrying our gifts for the children) up the Via Della Conciliazione to St. Peter’s Square. This is not a protest nor a demonstration. Our matching shirts will say it all: GOD’S GAY CHILDREN BRING GIFTS…BLESS THEM. (I FIGLI DI DIO PORTANO REGALI…DATEGLI LA BENDEDIZIONE.)

Remember, the Vatican is very big on giving blessings. Yesterday newspapers in Rome featured front page photos of John Paul II blessing referees from the World Soccer League. Animals are blessed. Crosses, statues, and all kinds of trinkets are blessed. Tourists and pilgrims come from every country in the world to be blessed. We are simply joining the line to have our gifts blessed as well. (Wednesday, our gifts to the orphans; Thursday, our gifts to people living in an AIDS hospice; Friday, to the occupants of a home for battered women.) Each of our delegates will bring one gift for an Italian child (orphan); one for a person living with AIDs; and one for an abused woman in a battered women’s shelter.

Each day, while other pilgrims enter the long lines leading into St. Peter’s Square, we will stop at a police barrier separating Rome from the Vatican City-state. We have sent faxes to Cardinal Ratzinger and to many other Vatican officials notifying them of our presence at the barrier (January 3-6) asking that our gifts be blessed by a priest. We will wait facing the huge Nativity scene built on St. Peter’s Square for the season. If a priest appears (or doesn’t appear) to bless our gifts, after a short silent vigil we will board our bus each day to deliver our gifts (to the orphanage, to the hospice, to the home for battered women).

We haven’t decided yet about spending an hour in candlelight vigils at the Vatican each evening. We will decide that together under Richard Murphy’s leadership.

Saturday, January 6, 2001 (Epiphany)

At 9:30 AM Saturday we will attend the Festive Te Deum Mass led by the Pope in St. Peter’s Square ending the Jubilee Year, closing the Holy Door for another century, and celebrating the New Millennium. After the Mass, when the crowds have departed, we will repeat our march to the barrier, only this time the gifts will be ourselves: "GOD’S GAY CHILDREN BRING GIFTS…BLESS THEM."

Obviously, we don’t know what will happen next. We don’t even know what will happen on our walks earlier in the week. But we have an activist Italian lawyer activist who specialize in civil rights. She reminded us that Italian police don’t want to arrest American pilgrims, especially American pilgrims who just want to be blessed. She also told us that those arrested for assaulting the police in the bloody riot last weekend, were released at the end of the day without being charged or fined.

On Sunday, January 7, most of us will say, "Arrivederci, Roma."

Mel White and Bill Carpenter (Advance Team)


For more information on Soulforce or Dignity/USA,
see www.soulforce.org or www.DignityUSA.org
Read the Open Letter to President Clinton

Police in Rome Ban Soulforce Protest, Advance Team Sets New Plan of Action

Soulforce-Dignity/USA Shape New Plan To Oppose Anti-Gay Teachings
Gay Italian Activists and Catholics Offer Assistance and Support

Soulforce and Dignity/USA Press Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Cell: 717-951-7712
Email: soulforcemedia@aol.com
Rome Contact: 011-39-3807052353

Laguna Beach, CA – Shortly after a bloody confrontation between police and several thousand Italians protesting the Vatican visit of a right-wing Austrian extremist, a Soulforce advance team met with police officials in Rome to obtain permits for a nonviolent protest. According to Italian police, no demonstration of any kind is allowed in or near the Vatican City-state. A Soulforce – Dignity/USA delegation is scheduled to bring their STOP SPIRITUAL VIOLENCE Campaign to the Vatican during the first week of the New Millennium, January 3-7, 2001, to protest the anti-homosexual teachings and actions of the Roman Catholic Church.

"Although all of our protests are done in the spirit of non-violence as taught by Gandhi and King, we decided not to stage our demonstrations in the Vatican City-state, " explained Dr. Mel White, Soulforce Executive Director. "After meeting with Vatican officials and police, and taking our goals of spiritual renewal, non-violence, and reconciliation into account, we will conduct a very different kind of action, initially staying outside the barriers in hopes that the Vatican will recognize us there."

With the support of gay Italian activists and Catholics, the American delegation will arrive in Rome bearing gifts for orphans, for people living in an AIDS hospice, and for occupants of a home for battered women. At 12 noon, everyday from January 3-5, delegates will walk together carrying gifts up the Via Della Conciliazione to St. Peter’s Square, wearing shirts that say, "God’s Gay Children Bring Gifts. Bless Them." ("I Figli Di Dio Gay Portano Regali. Dategli La Benedizione.")

January 3 at 12 noon, prior to the scheduled action, a press conference will be held at Hotel Spring House, Via Mocenz 07 in Rome, detailing the plans for the actions taking place that week.

The Soulforce delegation will stop at a police barrier separating Rome from the Vatican City-state. Soulforce leaders have informed Cardinal Ratzinger and other Vatican officials of their intentions. The delegation will wait for a priest to bless their gifts before a large Nativity scene built on St. Peter’s Square. Blessed or not blessed, the gifts will be delivered to the orphanage, the hospice, or the home for battered women by the Soulforce – Dignity/USA delegation.

"On January 6, after the Festive Mass led by the Pope in St. Peter’s Square, we will repeat our march to the barrier, only this time the gifts will be ourselves," said Mary Louise Cervone, President, Dignity/USA. "Representing the millions of gay Catholics who love and serve the Church, we will carry gifts marked gay priests, gay nuns, gay bishops, gay laity. In asking to be blessed we are asking the Church to take one small step towards reconciliation." Current Roman Catholic teachings describe homosexual orientation as "objectively disordered" and homosexual acts as "intrinsically evil." In recent months, Vatican statements have reaffirmed the Church’s views that homosexuals should not be allowed to adopt, teach, coach, be married, ordained, or serve in the military.

On 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 with Soulforce and Dignity/USA at the National Shrine in Washington, DC to protest the exclusionary policies of the Catholic Church toward GLBT Catholics. 104 people were subsequently arrested in a non-violent civil disobedience.

Soulforce (www.soulforce.org) is an interfaith network committed to applying the principles of nonviolent resistance as taught by Gandhi and King to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities. Dignity/USA (www.DignityUSA.org) is the oldest and largest independent national lay movement of GLBT Catholics, their families, & friends.

Mel White Apologizes to Cardinal Ratzinger. New Plan for Rome Action.

The Most Reverend Doctor Cardinal Ratzinger
Congregatio Pro Doctrine Fidei
00120 Vatican City-State
Europe

December 20, 2000

Dear Cardinal Ratzinger,

On Monday, December 18, 2000, in your Vatican Office, my colleague Bill Carpenter and I had the privilege of discussing the visit to Rome planned by Soulforce and Dignity/USA, January 3-7, 2001, with your representative, Fr. Brown. During our conversation he mentioned casually that our web site and our letter to you had been "inflammatory." He was correct. My letters and press releases were motivated too much by anger and not enough by the loving Spirit of Christ. I hope you will accept my sincere apology and not blame our entire delegation for my errors in judgment.

My goal, our goal, is reconciliation and understanding. We have no desire to create more misunderstanding between us. For that reason we have changed our entire plan for the January 3-7, 2001, visit. Each day at 12Noon, January 3-6, our small delegation of just twenty Americans, mostly Roman Catholic, will walk together up Via della Conciliazione bearing gifts. It seems appropriate that this beautiful boulevard, dedicated to reconciliation, will be the location of our own simple act. We will wear shirts that read, "God’s Gay Children Bring Gifts…Bless Them!" On January 3, we will bring gifts for orphan children. On January 4, for people living in an HIV-AIDS hospice. January 5, for the occupants of a home for abused women. Saturday, January 6, will be our last walk up the Boulevard. We are hoping that each day you will allow a priest to bless our gifts before we board a bus to deliver them to the people in need.

Once again, we hope not to provoke or to demand but to demonstrate our love for Christ and our concern that the current teachings about homosexuality and homosexuals need to be reconsidered in the light of the gifts God’s gay children bring. Is there a possibility that the Vatican would allow a priest to bless our gifts each day at the barrier in front of the Christmas scene built on St. Peter’s Square? If not, we understand. After a short prayerful wait each day, we will board a bus and deliver our gifts. If a priest could bless our gifts, a long-standing Vatican tradition, we would be grateful and see it as an act of the Church’s concern for those who receive our gifts and for those of us who present them.

I write sincerely and in the spirit of reconciliation,

Dr. Mel White, Executive Director, Soulforce


For more information on Soulforce or Dignity/USA,
see www.soulforce.org or www.DignityUSA.org
Read the Open Letter to President Clinton

A Call to Solidarity – Rome at Home

December 19, 2000

An Invitation from Soulforce and Dignity/USA

Dear Friends:

As you probably know, Soulforce and Dignity/USA are going to Rome, January 5 & 6 to take our demands to the Vatican to STOP SPIRITUAL VIOLENCE. We need your prayers and support. We believe that having simultaneous prayer vigils throughout the country will draw much needed attention to the Vatican’s continuing attacks against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people, especially GLBT Catholics. Whether it is just two or three of you in a dozen cities, or larger gatherings, the simultaneous actions will help to focus attention on our action to bring to the Vatican the truth about God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children.

Available on the web site are the requests that we presented to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and will be presenting to the Vatican, called "Why We Vigil."

There are several things to keep in mind as you start to organize such a gathering, whether you are a member of the Catholic Church or not:

  1. We are witnessing to the importance and depth of faith in the lives of GLBT people, despite centuries of oppression and discrimination. We love our churches and we long to claim our rightful place in them, openly and proudly, celebrating who God created us to be.
  2. We do all things in the spirit of nonviolence. We come in love, seeking reconciliation in justice and truth. We are calling chancery officials and other church leaders, to the dialogue that has been avoided for too long. We need them to understand the reality of our lives and loves, so that, together, we can bring about fullness of justice in the churches. We are willing to listen to them, person to person, to hear the truth that they bring, as well. This is the time to get past rhetoric and talk heart to heart and soul to soul.
  3. Individuals participating in the "Rome At Home" vigils should be familiar with the principles of non-violence, as outlined on the Soulforce web site. Please be sure they can participate in that spirit.

We are listing below three links to websites:
Dignity/USA, Metropolitan Community Church and a listing of gayfriendly Catholic Churches throughout the country. Please check out these websites, and make the connections in your local area, immediately.
http://www.dignityusa.org/chapters.html- Dignity/USA – Local Chapters
http://www.ufmcc.com/dircongs.htm- UFMCC GLOBAL DIRECTORY: UFMCC LOCAL
http://www.bway.net/~halsall/lgbh/gayparishes.txt- Gay friendly Catholic Churches

Contact any other people of faith you know who would be interested in taking part; don’t forget to include PFLAG members. Begin spreading the word. Use this opportunity to build a community of faith to respond to future situations that will need quick organizing. If you live in a city that has a chancery, call the chancery in your area as soon as possible. You can probably find them listed under the "Diocese of ______(whatever city you are in). Check at this link to see if your city is a diocese http://www.nccbuscc.org/dioceses.htm – National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference.

Ask for an appointment for the evening of January 5, if it is available, to emphasize solidarity with those who are going to be in Rome, and explain that is why you would like to meet on that date. However, any good faith effort to provide a meeting within a reasonable time frame should be respected. If they refuse to meet with you, do not be deterred. Make plans for your group to go to the chancery offices and "tape" the demands to the doors of the office. If you do not live in a city that has a chancery office, find another suitable site to hold your prayer vigil.

Contact your local gay and straight media now to let them know about your plans. Be sure to tell them that this will be happening in conjunction with the actions at the Vatican and throughout many cities in the U.S.

Below is a suggested prayer service for you to consider. On Friday, January 5 (the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany, and the official end of the "Year of Jubilee") go to your local chancery office, hopefully meeting with some representative, but if, as we said earlier, their doors are shut, then tape the demands and the apologetics to the door in the presence of the media. If there is no chancery office then simply hold your prayer vigil.

Within two weeks, follow up with this action by calling together those who have been a part of this organizing project and debrief and see if there is an interest in keeping the group active.

Please be sure to let us know what you are doing. Send your information to Kara4Peace@AOL.com no later than December 31st. If you do not have your information together by that date, send it to Karen Weldin at Karen@cwis.net.

Last of all, don’t forget to pray for those of us who will be in Rome and for all of us who carry this important message to the Church. If you have any questions, please contact me at Kara4Peace@AOL.com.

In the spirit of love and non-violence,

Kara Speltz, Catholic Co-chair,
Soulforce Advisory Committee for NCCB/Vatican Actions

Mary Louise Cervone, President
Dignity/USA


SUGGESTION FOR PRAYER VIGIL IN SUPPORT OF SOULFORCE/DIGNITY ACTION IN ROME:

SONG: O Healing River

READING: Ezek 36: 24-28

I will take you away from among the nations gather you from all the foreign lands, and bring you back to your own land.

I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.

I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.

I will put my spirit within you and make you live by my statutes, careful to observe my decrees.

You shall live in the land I gave your fathers and mothers, you shall be my people and I will be your God.

SONG: Amazing Grace

READING: M.L. King, Jr. Letter from Birmingham City Jail

But the judgment of God is upon the Church as never before. If the Church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early Church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. I am meeting young people every day whose disappointment with the Church has risen to outright disgust.

Maybe again, I have been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Maybe I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual Church, the Church within the Church, as true ecclesia and the hope for the world. But again, I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom.

Brief chance to share our responses to the readings.

Lighting of Candles and Presentation of "Why We Vigil" to the Chancery.

SONG: We Shall Overcome

Why We Stand Vigil: An Open Letter to John Paul II

December 17, 2000

We are here to protest Roman Catholic teachings and actions against homosexuality and homosexuals. We respectfully submit that these teachings and actions have tragic consequences in the lives of millions of people around the globe (Catholics and non-Catholics alike).

Church teachings declare homosexual orientation "objectively disordered" and loving, intimate acts "intrinsically evil." In recent days, the Vatican has declared same-sex unions "a deplorable distortion" and adoption by gay parents "a grave danger." The Vatican supports laws which deny us the right to employment, to housing, to equal government and employment benefits, to teach, to coach, to serve in the military, to adopt, to serve as foster parents or to marry the person we love. Millions of dollars of Church funds are being used in the US to support ballot measures that would deny gays their civil rights. Priests who defend their gay congregants (or even provide them pastoral care) are being silenced and even stripped of their ministries. While the HIV/AIDS epidemic rages, Roman Catholic teachings against safer-sex practices have become a public health hazard. The Vatican even refuses members of Dignity/USA the right to meet on Church property or be served the Eucharist by a priest.

These teachings and these actions by the Church suggest to the general public that at the core of their very being gays and lesbians are mentally ill; that their moments of sexual intimacy are condemned by God and a danger to society; that they are a threat to children; that their relationships are contemptible; that their presence in the military brings down morale and undermines discipline; that even God cannot love them as they are. And when the Church refuses to allow the openly gay and lesbian Catholics of Dignity/USA to meet on Church property or be served the Eucharist by a priest, the Church is saying "Go away! God rejects you and so do we."

If your teachings and actions imply that God rejects them and that you reject them, is it any wonder that their families and friends reject them, that they are demeaned by their classmates, fired from their jobs, evicted from their apartments, hunted down and hounded out of the military, harassed and taunted in the streets, and even killed by teenagers with guns and baseball bats?

We know that you believe sincerely that these anti-gay teachings and actions do not contribute to the current wave of hatred and violence against sexual and gender minorities. But we believe as sincerely that they help motivate that hatred and give license to that violence. Worse, those same teachings and actions cause 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.

Our demand is simple. We ask you, Holy Father, to sit down with gay people. Hear their stories. Share their suffering. Consider seriously the evidence we bring that current Church teachings about sexual orientation are based on ancient prejudice, superstition and fear. We trust the Holy Spirit to guide you and ask only that you agree to seek the truth in Christ’s name and for His gay children’s sake.

Gandhi said, "It is as much our moral obligation not to cooperate with evil as it is to cooperate with good." In the Spirit of Jesus who called us "to do justice, love mercy, and seek truth" if you refuse to hear us, we have no other choice but to resist relentlessly your teachings and actions against homosexuality and homosexuals. We begin with a call to Catholics to withhold their tithes and their talents from the Roman Catholic Church until these tragic teachings end. And we ask our friends and allies around the world to join us in this campaign to Stop Spiritual Violence by the Church against God’s gay children.

As we stand in silent vigil, we are praying that God will change your mind and heart. Please, Holy Father, hear us, reach out to us, and bring hope and healing to the Roman Catholic Church and to millions of God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children. Until that day when you truly open wide the doors we will stand before them in silent, respectful vigil. We will fast and pray, risk misunderstanding and arrest, to see truth prevail and justice roll down like a mighty stream.

The People of Soulforce www.soulforce.org and Dignity/USA www.dignityusa.org

Letter to President Clinton

December 12, 2000

The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton, President
United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

You have been a friend to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans. For all you have done in the past eight years to help advance our struggle for equal rights, we say thanks. We know it hasn’t been easy for you (as it hasn’t been easy for us) to overcome the ignorance and superstition about sexual and gender minorities that permeates the nation; especially since the misinformation continues to be pumped like toxic waste into the national discourse by Protestant and Catholic leaders.

For example, current Roman Catholic teachings declare homosexual orientation "objectively disordered" and loving intimate acts "intrinsically evil." In recent days the Vatican has declared same-sex unions "a deplorable distortion" and adoption by gay parents "a grave danger." The Vatican supports laws which deny us the right to employment, to housing, to equal government and employment benefits, to teach, to coach, to serve in the military, to adopt, to serve as foster parents or to marry the person we love. Priests who defend their gay members (or even provide them pastoral care) are being silenced and/or stripped of their ministries. While the HIV/AIDS epidemic rages, Roman Catholic teachings against safer-sex practices have become a public health hazard. The Vatican refuses members of Dignity/USA the right to meet on Church property or be served the Eucharist by a priest.

We are especially concerned about recent actions by the American Bishops to use Church funds to support ballot measures from Vermont to Hawaii that deny lesbian and gay Americans our civil rights and make us second-class-citizens in our own country. In California alone, more than $310,000 was contributed by the Roman Catholic Church to support Proposition 22. That measure, denying us the 1,047 rights and protections that go with marriage was successful.

Many believe that there is no way that American bishops could use religious funds for these political purposes if the Vatican did not give at least its tacit consent. Pope John Paul II is not just the spiritual leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics, he is also the undisputed political head-of-state of the Vatican nation. We realize that there is nothing new or scandalous about another nation seeking to influence the US Congress or the Administration. But we know of no other foreign nation that is actively pursuing legislation that would deny basic civil rights to millions of American citizens.

We ask you, a proven friend of our community, to help us bring truth to the American bishops and to their ultimate authority, the Vatican. Pope John Paul II is tragically misinformed about God’s gay and lesbian children. On December 2, for example, the Pope called the European Union’s new Charter of Fundamental Rights "godless" because, among other things, "it will cause moral and social destruction by sanctioning gay unions and gay adoption." It is bad enough for the Pope to use his powerful pulpit to stir up fear and anger against us. But it seems much worse that he is at least tacitly involved in approving the use of tithes and offerings given by the faithful in this country to support anti-gay legislation state-by-state across the nation.

We are carrying our grievances to the Vatican during the first week of the New Year, January 2-7, 2001. We will conduct candlelight vigils in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. We will tape (not nail) our case to any door we can reach. We have asked for a meeting with Cardinal Ratzinger, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But if no one will take our grievances seriously, we will risk an act of civil disobedience and suffer the personal consequences as a sign of our genuine concern.

Will you help us? If any other nation, large or small, were attempting to influence legislation denying civil rights for American citizens, there would be a major outcry from the public and the media. Will you discuss this matter with Roman Catholic leaders that you know and respect in America and in the Vatican? Will you use your considerable diplomatic skills to help end this attack by a foreign state on our civil rights? Will you encourage Ambassador Corinne Boggs to use her many gifts in the Holy See to help Vatican officials understand our grievances and even offer to meet with us? Will you help their Ambassador to the US, Gabiel Montalvo, see the implications of the City-State he represents using religious funds to promote political actions that would deny us our civil rights?

We thank you, again, for all the good you have done our cause. And we hope that in these last weeks of your presidency that you will help us again!

We are sincerely grateful,

Mel White, Executive Director, Soulforce
Marianne T. Duddy, Executive Director, Dignity/USA
Jimmy Creech, Board Chair, Soulforce
Mary Louise R. Cervone, President, Dignity/USA

Soulforce, Inc.
P.O. Box 4467, Laguna Beach, CA 92652
P: 949-455-0999 F: 949-455-0959
RevMel@aol.com
www.soulforce.org
INFO@soulforce.org

Dignity/USA
1500 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Suite 11, Washington, DC 20005
P: 202-861-0017 F: 202-429-9808
dignity@aol.com
www.dignityusa.org

Vatican Accused of Interfering in Lives of American Citizens

December 12, 2000

Soulforce and Dignity/USA Appeal to President Clinton on Behalf of Gays
Activists Say "We Love The Church Too Much To Let It Continue Its War Against Us."

Soulforce and Dignity/USA Press Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Cell: 717-951-7712
Email: soulforcemedia@aol.com

Laguna Beach, CA – Today, Soulforce and Dignity/USA announced that letters were delivered to President Clinton, Secretary of State Albright, and the American Ambassador to the Vatican, Corinne Boggs, requesting that they use every possible diplomatic channel to urge Vatican leaders to stop Roman Catholic funds from being used in the United States to deny millions of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Americans their civil rights.

"From Vermont to Hawaii, millions of dollars donated by faithful Roman Catholics for religious purposes have been used instead to defeat the civil rights of gay Americans," explains Karen Ball, Soulforce Legal Counsel. "If any other nation, large or small, were attempting to influence legislation denying civil rights for American citizens, there would be a major outcry from the public and the media."

The National Catholic Reporter confirmed that over $310,000 was contributed by the Roman Catholic Church last year in California alone to insure passage of Proposition 22, an anti-gay ballot initiative denying gays and lesbians the 1,047 rights and protections that go with marriage. The initiative passed.

"The Vatican is not simply the world headquarters of a religion with more than a billion members," explained Mel White, Soulforce Executive Director. "It is the political capital of a nation with an embassy in Washington, DC. Pope John Paul II is not just the spiritual leader of more than a billion Roman Catholics, he is also the undisputed political head-of-state of the Vatican nation. Many believe that there is no way that American bishops could use these religious funds for these political purposes if the Vatican did not give at least its tacit consent."

During the first week of the new millennium (January 2-7, 2001) Soulforce and Dignity/USA are carrying their Stop Spiritual Violence campaign directly to the Vatican. The Soulforce, Dignity/USA delegation, especially trained in nonviolent resistance, will conduct candlelight vigils January 2-5 and on the Eve of Epiphany will tape (not nail) their demands for truth and tolerance Vatican doors.

"Although we have great respect for Pope John Paul II," says Marianne Duddy, Executive Director, Dignity/USA, "he and his colleagues in Rome are tragically misinformed about God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children. They are wrong to support laws which deny us the right to employment, to housing, to equal government and employment benefits, to teach, to coach, to serve in the military, to adopt, to serve as foster parents or to marry the person we love. We are bringing truth in love to the Vatican in hopes of changing their minds and hearts about us."

Soulforce is a growing network of people of faith committed to applying the principles of relentless nonviolent resistance for the liberation of sexual and gender minorities. Dignity/USA is an American organization of gay Catholics, their friends and families who refuse to be driven into the closet by Church dogma.

"Although the delegation realizes that conducting an act of spiritual resistance in the Vatican could lead to arrest and imprisonment, if the Vatican refuses to meet with us or to take our requests seriously, we will respond with acts of nonviolent resistance, following the examples of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr," states Jimmy Creech, Soulforce Board Chair. "We will not be turned away. To hold the Roman Catholic Church accountable, we will engage in public dissent whatever the cost to us may be, if it is necessary."

"For centuries the Roman Catholic Church, our Church, has been a primary source of misinformation about sexual minorities," says Mary Louise Cervone, President, Dignity/USA. "Church teachings describe homosexual orientation as ‘objectively disordered’ and loving intimate acts as ‘intrinsically evil.’ In the last few weeks the Pope himself declared that same sex marriage is ‘a deplorable distortion’ and adoption by gay or lesbian parents ‘a grave danger.’ We love the Church too much to allow this war against God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children to continue without doing what we can to end it."

For more information on Soulforce or Dignity/USA,
see www.soulforce.org or www.DignityUSA.org
Read the Open Letter to President Clinton

Habitat for Humanity Photos: Completion & Dedication


Two weeks before the dedication ceremony, red Virginia clay topsoil is spread around the nearly completed house, as the final stage of the building comes into sight: landscaping.

The crowd gathering for the Dedication Ceremony on a sunny Saturday, December 9, 2000.

David Neumeyer, Lynchburg Coordinator of the Soulforce/Habitat Build huddles with Ex-Mayor Pete Warren, as the crowd gathers for the Dedication.

Mary Adams, Director of the Greater Lynchburg Habitat for Humanity, exclaims her amazement at the smelting pot of diversity that came together to build this house, and who now gathers for the Dedication ceremony. What a vision of hope!

Diana Westbrook presents a Proclaimation from Soulforce to the Hintons, as one of many smiles is created from within.

As the crowd cheers, the keys are handed over to the proud owners by Tom Van Valkenburg.

The ribbon is finally cut with Habitat Volunteer Manager Doug Fields, and Director Mary Adams, looking on, as the crowd cheers again. Thankyou, for the vision of the Rev. Dr. Mel White, and the hard work of Soulforce and Friends from around the world, and in cooperation with the Greater Lynchburg Habitat for Humanity: "We dedicate this home as a symbol of love and cooperation between a family, a community of builders, and a community dedicated to justice for all of God’s children."
 

Letter from Bishop Fiorenza to Rev. Mel White, refusing to help arrange a meeting with Cardinal Ratzinger

December 7, 2000

Reverend Mel White
Soulforce
PO Box 4467
Laguna Beach, CA 92652

Dear Reverend White,

Although I do not agree that your demonstrations are an effective tactic, I am happy that they occur in a spirit of non-violence, as they did last month at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. I firmly believe that prayer and meditation on God’s Word are the surer ways for us to come to know His Will and avoid malice in speech and action which should not be directed at either persons of homosexual orientation or those who believe that homosexual activity is not in accord with God’s plan for creation revealed in the Book of Genesis, which Jesus Christ took as the basis of His own teaching on sexuality.

It is because I believe, along with my brother Bishops, that this teaching is founded on the Scriptures, and does not "originate" in Rome, that I cannot take any steps which would seem to endorse this latter view. We Catholics believe that Successor of Peter strengthens his brothers in the faith. He does not impose on us beliefs which we do not ourselves understand as coming to us from the deposit of faith left to us by Christ and his Apostles.

If I receive any inquiries from the Holy See about your plans, I will certainly reply that you conducted yourselves in a non-violent way. However, to help arrange a meeting with Cardinal Ratzinger would seem to me to encourage a misunderstanding that we are dealing with matters which are at the disposal of Church authorities to uphold or to change as they see fit. Neither Cardinal Ratzinger nor the Holy Father himself have it within their authority to alter the constant teaching of the Church. I do not see the purpose of putting the Holy See in the position of being asked to do what cannot be done.

You may feel sincerely that "it is Roman Catholic teaching that helps motivate that hatred and gives license to that violence" to which persons of homosexual orientation have been subjected. However, we believe sincerely that sexual activity is not to occur outside of the marriage of one man and one woman for life. This is a challenge and even a burden at times, as it was most memorably in the life of St. Augustine, but it has also been the way to sanctity for those who undertake it, relying on the Lord.

In previous letters, I have tried to make it clear that to use this teaching as an excuse for hatred and violence is a distortion of our teaching. Nor should sexual orientation be a cause of abandoning one’s own family members or instilling in them an attitude of self-hatred, matters which were addressed in "Always Our Children". The Church is committed to a caring pastoral response to those to whom she ministers, including those with sexual questions and anxieties. I must confess a concern that your rhetoric about "spiritual violence" may persuade some who might otherwise turn to the Church from doing so, and thus they will not receive the help they seek. I doubt that you intend to stop those freely seeking solace from the church from doing so, therefore, I hope you consider this consequence in speaking of our faith convictions.

With the assurance of my prayers, I am

Sincerely yours,

Joseph A. Fiorenza

Most Reverend Joseph A. Fiorenza
Bishop of Galveston-Houston
President

National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Office of the President
3211 Forth Street, NE
Washington, DC 20017-1194

Vatican Waging Holy War Against Sexual Minorities

December 5, 2000

Soulforce & Dignity/USA Combine Forces to Combat Intolerance
U.S. Activists Will Take Their "Stop Spiritual Violence" Campaign to Rome

Soulforce and Dignity/USA Press Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Cell: 717-951-7712
Email: soulforcemedia@aol.com

VaticanLaguna Beach, CA – Today, Soulforce and Dignity/USA leaders announced plans to take their nonviolent campaign against centuries of spiritual violence and anti-gay teachings of the Roman Catholic Church to the Vatican on January 5-6, 2001. Supporters of Soulforce and Dignity/USA plan to tape their specific demands for inclusion for all people in the Church on the doors of the Vatican.

"On January 5, the Eve of Epiphany, we will tape (not nail) our demands for inclusion on the doors of the Vatican," said Mary Louise Cervone, President of Dignity/USA and a member of the Soulforce Vatican Advisory Committee. "Over 2000 years ago, the Magi carried gifts to Jesus which were graciously accepted on the day we celebrate as Epiphany. However, 2000 years later, the Church will still not accept the gifts and talents that we bring as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people of deep and profound faith."

"As we begin the new millennium, we will risk misunderstanding and arrest in Rome to help end centuries of spiritual violence against God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children." declared Rev. Mel White, Executive Director of Soulforce. "Although some bishops met with us last month during the National Council of Catholic Bishops meeting, they refused to denounce Vatican policies denying Dignity Catholics the right to meet on Church property or be served Eucharist by a priest. Therefore we have no choice but to go to the Vatican with our demands."

Soulforce, an interfaith network of GLBT individuals and their families, friends, and allies, committed to applying the principles of nonviolent resistance as taught by Gandhi and Martin Luther King to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities, and Dignity/USA, the oldest and largest independent national lay movement of GLBT Catholics, families, and friends, joined their formidable voices last month during the National Council of Catholic Bishops meeting to confront the anti-gay teachings of the Catholic Church. 104 people were subsequently arrested in an act of non-violent civil disobedience to block the entrance to the largest Cathedral in North America.

Also in mid-November, the Pontifical Council for the Family issued a 77 page document which calls same-sex unions "a deplorable distortion" and adoption by gay parents "a grave danger." Current Roman Catholic teachings describe homosexual orientation as "objectively disordered" and homosexual acts as "intrinsically evil." In recent months, Vatican statements have reaffirmed the Church’s views that homosexuals should not be allowed to adopt, teach, coach, be married, ordained, or serve in the military.

"For centuries Church teachings against sexual minorities have led to suicide, wasted lives, ruined relationships, broken families, discrimination and physical violence," said Marianne Duddy, Executive Director, Dignity/USA. The Vatican’s holy war against sexual minorities has far reaching effects both inside and outside the church."

Both Catholics and Non-Catholics from Soulforce plan to stand vigil outside the Vatican for several days before holding a national press conference and taping their demands to the door of the Vatican on January 5, 2001.

"Too many Catholics, young and old, are suffering and even dying because the Vatican refuses to re-examine let alone end their tragic teachings against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people," proclaimed Jimmy Creech, Soulforce Board Chair. We must act, and we must act now!"

To help Soulforce continue its STOP SPIRITUAL VIOLENCE Campaign,
send a check to Soulforce, PO Box 4467, Laguna Beach, CA 92652
or donate online

Your donation is tax-deductible and for donations of $50 or more you will receive a complimentary copy of the latest Soulforce Video, "There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy." (A powerful presentation by Dr. Lewis Smedes demonstrating clearly why that "clobber passage" in Romans 1 cannot be misused any longer to condemn God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender children.)