Letter to Bishop Gregory

November 26, 2001

Most Reverend Wilton D. Gregory, President
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
222 South Third Street
Belleville, IL 62220

Dear Bishop Gregory:

First, let us congratulate you on your election as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as you assume the leadership of such an important and influential organization. We are sure this must be an exciting and challenging time for you.

For the last year and a half, we have been attempting to carry on a dialogue with your predecessor, Bishop Fiorenza concerning the issues of Church teachings on homosexuality. Both last year and this year, we stood vigil while the USCCB was in session at its annual meeting. Last year, during the Bishops’ conference Bishop Fiorenza arranged to have us meet with Bishop Quinn, Bishop Galante, and two others. At that meeting we were told there was nothing they could do to change Church teaching. However, let us not loose sight of the rich history of the development of our Catholic doctrine and the role of dialogue with the faithful.

Last year, following the principles of nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience developed by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., 100 people were arrested during our nonviolent vigil at the Shrine. In January, we took our concerns to the Vatican for the Feast of the Epiphany and the closing of the Jubilee year, seeking dialogue with Cardinal Ratzinger or his representative. However, despite our letters and visits to the Cardinal’s office, we received no replies and were refused a meeting. A few weeks ago, just prior to our arrival in Washington, D.C., we sent 300 copies of our "Open Letter To The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Regarding ‘Natural Law’ Theology ," requesting that it be distributed to the bishops. From what we understand it was not distributed, so we offered it to conference attendees as they came and went from the Hyatt Hotel. We are enclosing a copy of that open letter in case you did not receive a copy.

We understand that there will be a number of very important issues that you will focus on as you begin your term as president, not the least of which is how the Catholic church will relate to its gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members and their families. To that end, we request a meeting with you, at your convenience in January or February, to begin a dialogue in earnest. Would you please call us at (949) 455-0999 or write us at the above address in order to set a date to talk, in order that we might work together to end spiritual violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. We will do everything possible to accommodate our schedules in order to meet with you.

We look forward to working with you on this important issue, which affects thousands of Catholics who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender.

Mel White, ED
Karen Weldin, DO
Richard Murphy and Kara Speltz, Catholic Co-Chairs

Enclosure: "An Open Letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Regarding ‘Natural Law’ Theology "

cc: Most Reverend William S. Skylstad

DC 2000 Photos: (1 of 3)


Nikki Babbit of Shaker Heights, Ohio is arrested outside the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington D.C., Tuesday November 14, 2000. Pinned to Babbit’s back is a picture of her daughter, Jamie, with her partner, Andrea Sperling. "I am here as a way to support my daughter and to support all families," said Babbit. (Copyright property of the photographer, David Distelhorst. Do not use without permission of the photographer, dd296798@ohiou.edu)

Participants in the Soulforce Action in Washington D.C. hold up signs reading the names of individual Bishops at a press conference, Monday November 13, 2000. After the press conference Soulforce members walked to the National Shrine and held a vigil there as the Bishops arrived on buses. (Copyright property of the photographer, David Distelhorst. Do not use without permission of the photographer, dd296798@ohiou.edu)

Participants in the Soulforce Action, standing on the steps of the National Shrine, turn and face the church, raising their arms to bless it before their act of civil disobedience, Tuesday November 14, 2000. (Copyright property of the photographer, David Distelhorst. Do not use without permission of the photographer, dd296798@ohiou.edu)

Committing an act of civil disobedience members of Soulforce lock arms and sing songs before being arrested outside of the National Shrine, Washington D.C., Tuesday November 14, 2000. Yellow police tape was used to designate whom would be under arrest and moments later 104 were arrested for blocking the entrance to the National Shrine. (Copyright property of the photographer, David Distelhorst. Do not use without permission of the photographer, dd296798@ohiou.edu)

The Reverend William Sloan Coffin right and Fran Taft, the 95 year old grandmother of a gay man, commit an act of civil disobedience along with other participants in the Soulforce Action in Washington D.C., Tuesday November 14, 2000. Both Coffin and ?? were among 104 whom were arrested for blocking the entrance to the National Shrine. (Copyright property of the photographer, David Distelhorst. Do not use without permission of the photographer, dd296798@ohiou.edu)

Mel White, Executive Director of Soulforce Inc., celebrates as he leaves the processing center, 501 New York Avenue, Washington D.C. after being released from police custody for participating in the act of civil disobedience, Tuesday November 14, 2000. (Copyright property of the photographer, David Distelhorst. Do not use without permission of the photographer, dd296798@ohiou.edu)

Sylvia Rivera-Murray celebrates as she is released from police custody after being arrested as part of the Soulforce act of civil disobedience, Tuesday November 14, 2000. Rivera-Murray took part in the 1969 Stonewall Bar Riots and has been arrested over 25 times since while standing for the rights of GLBT people. (Copyright property of the photographer, David Distelhorst. Do not use without permission of the photographer, dd296798@ohiou.edu)

Members of Soulforce hold a vigil outside the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington D.C., Monday November 13, 2000. The vigil was held in response to the Catholic Church’s treatment of GLBT people. The request of those participating was for the church to "Open Wide The Doors," to all people. (Copyright property of the photographer, David Distelhorst. Do not use without permission of the photographer, dd296798@ohiou.edu)

David North leads members of Soulforce in singing "Amazing Grace" before their first training session in the Soulforce principles, National City Christian Church, Washington D.C., Sunday November 12, 2000. (Copyright property of the photographer, David Distelhorst. Do not use without permission of the photographer, dd296798@ohiou.edu)

Participants in the Soulforce Action in Washington D.C. are loaded into police vans after being arrested for "incommoding" for blocking entrance to the National Shrine, Tuesday November 14, 2000. For the act of civil disobedience 104 were arrested. (Copyright property of the photographer, David Distelhorst. Do not use without permission of the photographer, dd296798@ohiou.edu)

From left to right, Arun Gandhi, Mary Louise Cervone, and Christian de la Huerta carry the Soulforce banner as participants walk to the National Shrine to hold a, "Vigil Against Roman Catholic Injustice," Washington D.C., Monday November 13, 2000. (Copyright property of the photographer, David Distelhorst. Do not use without permission of the photographer, dd296798@ohiou.edu)
 

Report: 30 Soulforcees Prayerfully Vigil at the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops

November 16, 2001

Washington DCThe power of silent prayer and vigil changed hearts and minds this week at the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops. Starting on Sunday at 2:30 as the bishops came into the Hyatt Hotel on Capitol Hill, they were greeted by almost three dozen Soulforce volunteers standing prayerfully on the sidewalk in front of the driveway. All chose to ignore us that first evening. We left to do our spiritual preparation for the evening and were there again the next morning at 6 AM in the cold morning wind. Again we appeared to be invisible to the clergy going in and out of the hotel.

We had decided this year to attend the Bishops Mass on Monday evening (where we had vigiled outside the year before). Entering the shrine with our Soulforce shirts on, we sat in twos and threes. Prior to the Mass there was an announcement that those who were there to receive communion as a protest would not be served. During the Mass there were a number of disruptions concerning issues of womens ordination and peace activists concerned about the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The three Catholics who wished to receive communion sat together, with our Soulforce shirts on. Just prior to receiving communion we removed our shirts but retained our rainbow crosses, and approached to receive communion. We were clear we were doing this for strength for the journey, not as a protest. All three of us were given communion and we returned to our pews, and after prayers donned our Soulforce shirts again. Most of us were not able to actually witness the Rainbow Sash situation, but later heard that some actually received the cup, contrary to the announcement that they would be refused. So at least one priest courageously stood by his convictions and granted the sacrament of healing to members of the Rainbow Sash.

After Mass was over, we hurried back to the hotel to be there when the Bishops arrived. As the busses arrived, we spontaneously broke into the beautiful Taize hymn ‘Stay Here And Keep Watch With Me’, as the bishops disembarked. The result was stunning. For the first time there were smiles and waves and acknowledgment by most who got off the busses.

Almost at the very end as the last bus dropped them off, one of the bishops came up to us on line. He held our faces in his hands and with tears in his eyes, looking each of us squarely in the eyes, told us of God’s love for us. He walked the entire line greeting each and every one of us. We gave him and his assistant a rainbow cross and he blessed it and put it on.

The next day, we were again there at 6:30 A.M. waiting to greet the Bishops as they came and went from the hotel. A few continued to be open to us, but a large number returned to the blank stares wed received at the beginning. During the lunch hour break, we began to call the rooms of the bishops we had written, asking them to come down and pray and speak with us. At least five of them did.

During the day several other bishops approached and chatted with us as we vigiled. Much to our delight that afternoon as we vigiled as the meetings ended for the day, two nuns who were participating in the conference, asked if they could stand vigil with us. This was an amazing act of courage, as they could clearly lose their positions in their diocesan offices.

Wednesday we returned to total silence and prayer, remembering all who had suffered from the outdated theology of the Church. We ended our vigil on Thursday morning with civil rights songs and a sense of exhilaration at the numbers of people whose hearts we had clearly touched. Now we are committed to following up with all those we spoke to asking them how we can help them begin the process of full and total acceptance of all God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children. There are so many wonderful stories that all have to share and this is just the beginning of the dialogue. Clearly something new was happening and we place our trust in God to help the seeds planted this week to grow into fruition.

Kara Speltz, Catholic Co-chair


SOULFORCE IN D.C. at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops
Personal Observations by Cindy Hadden / Seattle, WA

About 30 Soulforce volunteers spent November 11-15, 2001 in Washington D.C. in long, cold vigil lines. We were outside the Capitol Hill Hyatt Regency where UCCB conferencing Catholic Bishops met and stayed.

As I left Seattle, I was in awe of the presence of fear and of courage of those flying in the air. National Guard numbers and automatic rifles increased as we flew closer to D.C. We were told by the pilot as we prepared for takeoff from Charlotte, N.C. that during the last 30 minutes of the flight no one would be allowed to get up from their seat or the plane would automatically be "re-routed."

I found myself suddenly in at least two holy wars; that of terror created by Osama Bin Ladin’s religious beliefs, and that of the fundamental right religious beliefs in our own country that create terror, pain, spiritual and physical death to our gay brothers and sisters. I was sad, but felt I had a purpose for the second time to be in D.C. with the bishops.

Our best efforts to end the debate, plant seeds of truth and gain trust, using non-violent methods showed some balance of spiritual and intellectual maturity that certain bishops simply had to acknowledge this time. I remember last year a bishop walked by late in the cold night and simply commented that we "looked cold." But not one bishop came out to talk or pray with us.

This year not so. Throughout Sunday and Monday they ignored us as usual, no eye contact was made. But ultimately there were at least five bishops who did come out and pray with us! Something happened.I choose to believe this happened in part because we promised not to disrupt mass on Monday evening. Rather many of us went to mass, removed our coats exposing our many Soulforce messages on our shirts, sat in two’s throughout the cathedral and sincerely worshipped God with them.

Some of us struggled (I, in particular) with embracing a proper attitude to do that. As I sat down, the couple next to me reviewed us and immediately moved closer to the front as if afraid and needing to be closer to God by moving closer to the bishops. For a moment, my sense of "insecurity" was the same. But in the end I realized the sincerity of many to who the Creator has revealed his/herSpirit.

The presence of the Spirit was scattered, but there and alive. I knew that wherever we were at that moment in our spiritual journeys and differences, we we were all meant to be there. I truly believe the bishops felt there would be an uprising from Soulforce. There were outbursts from groups pursuing ordination of women priests and the war in Afghanistan. Those who disrupted the service were promptly removed by the D.C. police. I was amazed at their courage to give voice.

I felt the Creator viewing over a crowd of children. When the outbursts began, I felt God gently admonishing at least one of the 300 adorned bishops to stand and go over and take care of that hurting child. Those bishops who also heard that gentle command know who they are. I thought, why can’t they come (rather than call out the guard) and comfort, listen and make plans to talk to those experiencing such pain?

Later after talking to other Soulforcees, I learned in a deeper way that to do that, the church would be admitting there is "oppression." I realized that our work is still not done. That it is a long and mysterious non-violent path we have chosen. With all the arrests taken place over the last 1 years (6 times for me) we came to understand more fully that someday Soulforce too may have to speak out some way, somehow in a church service in order to unearth the seeds of homophobia and bring the truth.

In Jesus’ day it was a common practice for the "superior" to backhand across the cheek those deemed "inferior" (primarily women). That is what happened when the Catholic Church ushered police into the cathedral to take away those who disrupted. For all intense purposes they "backhanded" them. But, Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek, facing full on our adversary and offering our other cheek; only this time as a full equal. If slapped again, there may be a consequence, an action that must be taken. I felt I (maybe Soulforce)turned the other cheek at that moment, for I believe we too wanted a voice.

Rather than slap us completely though, some 5 or 6 bishops came to our vigil line that evening and the next day to talk to us and to pray with us. We are making some progress. Pray for our Soulforce leaders that we will find the non-violent, creative ways to continue relentlessly bringing truth to the Protestant and Catholic Churches.

Meanwhile perhaps even more ministers, pastors and priests will choose daily to respond to the Spirit’s call to "end oppression" caused by mis-truths and misinformation. No doubt there will be a climbing continuation of justice exhibitions in our church services in the future. Until that day, we know seeds have been planted and people are slowly trusting and responding . More hearts and minds were changed this year in D.C. at the UCCB. More hearts and minds will change The bishops have our demands including that they appoint a blue ribbon committee to study Catholic policy on homosexuality and examine current medical, scientific and biblical evidence. We cannot and will not look back; our motives being as pure/just as the end we seek.

Please go to www.soulforce.org regularly and volunteer and contribute when you can.

Peace & Love,
Cindy Hadden / Seattle, WA

DC 2000 Photos: (3 of 3)


Soulforcers march from the press conference to the vigil in front of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic church in North America, Monday afternoon.

Soulforcers march from the press conference to the vigil in front of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic church in North America, Monday afternoon.

The vigil in front of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The vigil in front of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

The vigil in front of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Soulforcers on vigil as day turns into night. The vigil continued from afternoon into evening, ending at 6:15 pm.

Soulforcers on vigil as day turns into night. The vigil continued from afternoon into evening, ending at 6:15 pm.

Mel White leads Soulforcers in prayer on the steps of the National City Christian Church in Washington DC, on the morning of the demonstration and civil disobedience.

William Sloan Coffin, in his wheelchair, crossing the bridge, on his way to the protest Tuesday morning.

Soulforcers arrive at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in the rain.

Soulforce delegates, hundreds strong, form a complete circle around the lawn in front of the Shrine during the demonstration.

Soulforce delegates, hundreds strong, form a complete circle around the lawn in front of the Shrine during the demonstration.

Soulforce delegates, hundreds strong, form a complete circle around the lawn in front of the Shrine during the demonstration.

Part of the support group across the street from the civil disobedience Tuesday morning.

Soulforcers block the entrance driveway to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Soulforcers block the entrance driveway to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Soulforcers block the entrance driveway to the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Soulforce demonstrators, behind a yellow police line, singing "We Shall Overcome" after being placed under arrest by Washington, DC police.

Soulforcers show handcuffs after being arrested, while other delegates continue to be handcuffed by police.

Rev. Mel White, just after being handcuffed at the protest. Grandmother Fran Taft and William Sloan Coffin await arrest and handcuffing in their wheelchairs.

William Sloan Coffin is led to waiting police bus in handcuffs, leaving his wheelchair behind.
 

DC 2000 Photos: (2 of 3)


Mel White addresses the Soulforce delegates at the start of the Monday evening Rally at National City Christian Church.

Rev. Mel White addresses Soulforce delegates before press conference and vigil on Monday afternoon.

Karen Ball, Soulforce legal counsel, Bill Carpenter – Washington DC co-chair and Mel White, confer prior to press conference and vigil.

Mel White with Bob and Mary Lou Wallner, whose daughter, distraught over being lesbian, hanged herself. They have committed their lives to Soulforce, praying that no one else’s son or daughter will do the same.

(L-R) Arun Gandhi, Jimmy Creech, and Phil Lawson, heroes of the Soulforce movement.

Soulforcers from First Christian Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, our wonderful hosts during our attempt at reconciliation with Jerry Falwell in October 1999.

95-year old Fran Taft (center), with her gay grandson and his mother. Three generations in support of God’s love for GLBT people. No one will ever forget her remarks to Soulforce. God Bless her!

Arun Gandhi, Mohandas Gandhi’s grandson, addresses Soulforcers at the Monday night rally, in front of a giant image of his grandfather.

Bill Carpenter and Kara Speltz, co-chairs of the Soulforce action at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, flank Mel White as he prepares to present Soulforce Justice Awards to Father John McNeil and William Sloan Coffin.

Father John McNeil accepts his Soulforce Justice Award as his partner Charlie looks on.

William Sloan Coffin addresses the rally, as Kara Speltz holds his Justice Award.

Banners at press conference, held Monday afternoon and attended by ABC, CNN, CBS, and AP.

Banners at press conference, held Monday afternoon and attended by ABC, CNN, CBS, and AP.

Banners at press conference, held Monday afternoon and attended by ABC, CNN, CBS, and AP.

Marianne Duddy, Executive Director of Dignity USA, addresses the press before the Monday vigil.

Banners at press conference, held Monday afternoon and attended by ABC, CNN, CBS, and AP.

Jimmy Creech introduces Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohatmas Gandhi, at the press conference.

Jimmy Creech introduces Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohatmas Gandhi, at the press conference.

A couple at the press conference

Rev. Mel White addresses the press.

Soulforce delegates hold up signs with the names of their "adopted bishops", with whom they have been corresponding, in an effort to change their hearts.

Soulforce delegates hold up signs with the names of their "adopted bishops", with whom they have been corresponding, in an effort to change their hearts.

DC Photos: Bruce Wagener


Soulforce Board Chair, Jimmy Creech vigils outside the Hyatt Hotel, with the name of the bishop from Raleigh, N.C. that he wrote to.

After vigiling during the Bishops lunch hour, Soulforcees gather to receive updated schedules and pray together.

After vigiling during the Bishops lunch hour, Soulforcees gather to receive updated schedules and pray together.

Soulforcee deep in meditation during vigil.

Silent vigil as bishops break for lunch.

Tuesday evening candlelight vigil.

Relentlessly, Soulforcees vigiled in front of the Hyatt.

Renewing our spirits in prayer and sharing.

Renewing our spirits in prayer and sharing.

Brainstorming after our morning vigil, we came up with a new sign for the bishops.

Creatively finding new ways to make our sign more visible – Rich, Richard and Jimmy add poles to our new sign.

Thursday morning we end our vigil at the Hyatt, holding hands and singing civil rights songs.

DC Photos: Cindy Hadden


Bishop Thomas Kelly, Louisville, Ky. meets Sandra Farmer-Wiley, after corresponding with her since prior to Soulforce’s first action at the Bishops Conference.

Bishop Thomas Kelly, Louisville prays with Soulforcees on the vigil line.

Bishop Joseph Gossman, Raliegh, N.C. chats with Soulforce Board Chair, Jimmy Creech outside the Hyatt Hotel.

Bishop Joseph Sullivan, Brooklyn, N.Y. chats with Soulforce vigilers.

DC Photos: Sandy Farmer-Wiley


As we did last year, we vigiled outside the Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. This year, however, we decided to join the worship with the bishops inside the Shrine.

Squad 3 before entering the Shrine.

Squad 4 before entering the Shrine.

Inside the Shrine as we await Mass.

We continue our vigil.
 

Soulforce Witness to Take Place in Washington, D.C. During Catholic Bishops Meeting Nov. 11-15 Outside Hyatt Regency

Vigilers Protest the Catholic Church’s Discriminatory and Outdated Teachings and Policies against Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Individuals

Soulforce Press Release, November 7, 2001
For Immediate Release
Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt
Cell: 717-278-0592
Email: soulforcemedia@aol.com

(Washington, DC) – Dozens of supporters of Soulforce, Inc. will be standing together outside the Hyatt Regency (400 New Jersey Ave, NW) in Washington, D.C., during the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (UCCB) as part of the group’s commitment to the process of relentless nonviolent resistance. By conducting prayerful vigils during this event from November 11 – 15, 2001, Soulforce supporters say they are giving a face and a name to the suffering of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) individuals both inside and outside the Catholic church.

"Last year we were on the sidewalk of the Hyatt during the UCCB meeting, and this year we will be too, conducting four days of prayerful witness and vigiling," said Richard Murphy, co-chair of the UCCB action for Soulforce. "We are committed to ending the spiritual violence and suffering caused by the Catholic church’s discriminatory and outdated teachings and policies against GLBT individuals. We even went all the way to the Vatican earlier this year."

Soulforce is an interfaith movement committed to ending spiritual violence perpetuated by religious policies and teachings against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Soulforce supporters from across the United States work together to teach truth in love relentlessly through the non-violent principles of dialogue, negotiation, and direct action as taught by Gandhi and King, while challenging policies in the churches that lead to spiritual violence.

In light of recent events and the climate in Washington, D.C., surrounding the terrorist attacks on September 11, Soulforce decided to continue with its plan for this nonviolent action at the UCCB, which will be different from direct actions conducted in the past. There will be no civil disobedience. There will be no arrests. And only those who have taken part in previous Soulforce direct actions and trainings in nonviolence will participate.

Additionally, each person participating has tried to dialogue with a bishop in the Catholic church. Two letters have been sent to Bishop Fiorenza, current president of the UCCB, and Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, current vice-president and anticipated president-elect. Soulforce has also written an open letter to all 294 bishops, which will be distributed to them during the conference. While in Rome earlier this year, attempts were made to dialogue with the Vatican, and representatives of the Vatican refused. The purpose of these letters was to open dialogue regarding teachings of the church that discriminate against GLBT people.

"The authority to teach is derived from the capacity to listen," said Kara Speltz, Catholic co-chair of the Soulforce UCCB Action. "To date, the church has not listened to any gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people. We call on the church to listen to us and change their teaching, just as they have in the past around slavery."

MEDIA NOTES: To arrange pre-event interviews, call 717-278-0592. Vigils will also take place during the Bishops Mass, November 12, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on NE Michigan Ave. from 5-7pm.

An Open Letter to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Regarding "Natural Law" Theology

November, 2001

Dear Bishops:

Over the last year, as we have attempted to raise issues concerning the Church’s teachings, we have been told by Church leaders, including bishops, that they "can’t change Church teachings." The suggestion seems to be that once the Church has created a dogma around an issue it never changes it. But that’s clearly not true. Areas where the Church has changed its teachings, include usury, slavery, and of course, the excommunication of Galileo for contradicting Church belief that the sun revolved around the earth.

We are asking you to read this open letter with a prophetic heart, because lives have been shattered by the Church’s current teachings on homosexuality. The basis of the Church’s teachings against sexual intimacy between members of the same sex is based on what the Church calls "natural law." The key to this teaching on sexual ethics has been the insistence that the procreative capacity is essential to sex and may not be deliberately excluded. However, our studies indicate that this belief is not supported by either Hebrew or Christian scriptures. Its origins are based primarily from stoic philosophers St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.

These teachings have, over the last forty years, been expanded to recognize the interpersonal dimension of human sexuality. A clear indication of that change has been the Church’s blessing of non-procreative sex within the marriages of sterile and elderly couples. It also is reflected in the numbers of priests who no longer consider the use of birth control by married couples to be a cause to deny the sacraments to them. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics who are partnered are, like married couples who practice the use of birth control, guided by their own understanding of personal conscience.

As Cardinal Newman once stated, the laity’s view "may serve at times as a needed ‘witness to the truth’ of a revealed doctrine." Though ignored time and again by the Magisterium, the people of God continue to bear "witness to truth." According to the book Roman Catholicism in America by Chester Gillis, 88% of Catholics in 1993 believed that contraception was a matter of personal moral judgment. Obviously the hierarchy’s teachings on "natural law" are not a dogma accepted by the laity, which Cardinal Newman referred to as "the believing Church." When the Church refuses to listen to the "believing church," Cardinal Newman went on to say, it loses its authority to teach.

We live on a planet on which reside more than 6 billion people. We live in a time in which science has come to to recognize the natural order of homosexuality both within the human and animal kingdoms. Will the Church react to this new scientific understanding as it did to Galileo’s recognition that the sun did not revolve around the earth? The Church’s reaction to this scientific pronouncement was to excommunicate Galileo for heresy, and then some 400 years later to apologize for that excommunication.

Certainly many bishops are aware of the role gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics have played within our Church. What then keeps those bishops from acting as the prophetic voice that is so needed at a time like this? Clearly it is fear. And while that fear is based on what has happened within the Church, historically, we must always remember that fear and love cannot coincide. When our ministry is primarily a "profession," a job, then the prophetic witness is too easily silenced.

It is time, now, for bishops to claim the role of prophetic witness within the Church. Changes have come when people have had the courage to stand up against a teaching and to say that this must change. Consider if you will where the Church might be without the prophetic witness of the Purcell brothers. Most of us within the Church do not even know their names. It was their vision of justice that led them to condemn slavery at a time when the Church had publicly declared that slavery was not "intrinsically evil." Do those words sound familiar? Same sex acts of intimacy are, according to the Church "intrinsically evil," but in 1866, the Vatican was still declaring that " Slavery itself… is not at all contrary to natural and divine law…"

Obviously, Church teachings on this subject have changed to reflect a new vision and understanding of scripture and the inclusiveness of God’s love. And the Roman Catholic Church, since that time, has been a leading voice against racism. We call on you to once again be a prophetic voice and to speak out the truth as the Purcell brothers did. Be willing to courageously lead the Church in the faithful application of the Gospel in light of the truth about human sexuality. This may involve risking careers, but it also means a profound fulfillment of the call to ministry. By not confronting the antigay teachings of the Church, you risk something much more important than your career. You risk the alienation of gay people and their families from God and the Church, as well as the continuation of the persecution and oppression of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. It is long past time for the Church to recognize that sexual intimacy based on love binds people in a loving and loyal union that contributes to the wholesome functioning of society.

Be a prophetic voice in the wilderness! Now is the time for the Roman Catholic Church to appoint an International Board of Inquiry to seek the truth about sexual and gender minorities. The anti-homosexual teachings flow out of ignorance and superstition, the same kind of ignorance and superstition that declared Galileo to be a heretic. Those teachings must be thoroughly reviewed and speedily repudiated.

Now is the time for the Roman Catholic Church to listen to the voice of the people of God, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Catholics as well as our families and friends. Hear our cry for truth and for justice. Include on that Board of Inquiry gay people in loving relationships. Hear our stories. Share our suffering, suffering that flows directly and indirectly out of the anti-gay teachings and actions of our Church.

Reclaim the Church’s authority to teach, by listening to the people of God!

Kara Speltz
Catholic Co-Chair, Soulforce/USCCB Vigil

Mel White
Founder & Executive Director, Soulforce, Inc.