National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  June 18, 2004

Protesting gays denied Communion


On orders from Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, about a dozen people wearing rainbow-colored sashes were denied Communion at Holy Name Cathedral on Pentecost Sunday, May 30. George said that wearing the sash indicates disagreement with church teaching that gay sexual relations are sinful and he did not want the Eucharist used as a protest statement.

Members of the Rainbow Sash movement, an advocacy group for gay, lesbians, bisexual and transgender Catholics, were not turned away at Pentecost Masses in Los Angeles or St. Paul, Minn., although in St. Paul they had to climb over people trying to block their way (see related story below).

The Rainbow Sash Movement had called on members and supporters to wear the sashes as “a symbol of our dignity, honesty, and integrity.” The group wrote a letter May 7 to U.S. bishops informing them of the actions.

Archbishop Harry Flynn of Minneapolis-St. Paul and Cardinal Roger Mahoney of Los Angeles had informed movement members that they would be welcomed at Masses. George, meanwhile, sent a directive to priests in the archdiocese ordering them to stop sash wearers from receiving Communion.

George’s letter said his directive was based on a policy of the U.S. bishops’ conference to refuse Communion to anyone who uses it as an occasion to protest church teaching. A conference spokesman, David Early, told Catholic News Service that the conference has not enunciated such a policy.

However, Rainbow Sash members who have attended Masses during annual meetings of the U.S. bishops since November 2001 have been denied Communion.

Chicago archdiocesan spokesman Jim Dwyer told NCR that wearing the sash “is an obvious symbol of opposition to church teaching on homosexuality” and that the group was “taking our most sacred moment and using it as a public spectacle.” This is why they were denied Communion, he said.

Joe Murray, convener of the Rainbow Sash Movement, told NCR that the Pentecost action was not meant as a protest. “That is [George’s] interpretation,” Murray said.

“We went to church respectfully and reverently, like Catholics should,” he said. “We’re trying to say the Eucharist is a food we need for our life’s journey. It is not a reward for a select few.

“Part of our aim is to bring about dialogue in the church. As long as gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people remain invisible, they can receive [Communion]. When you become visible you cannot receive. … If you come openly, that is confrontational. There is something wrong with that,” Murray said.

However, some gay activists in Chicago supported the cardinal. According to cofounder and former Rainbow Sash member Gene Janowski, as long as the movement did not politicize the Eucharist, they could receive.

Janowski told NCR that this year Murray tied the wearing of the sash to protests against denying pro-choice Catholic politicians Communion and has been “writing inflammatory and critical statements … thus repoliticalizing the Eucharist.”

Janowski said George had banned the Pentecost action in 2001 but asked to meet with him and Murray.

“We met with the cardinal and explained to him that our intentions were not to politicize the Eucharist,” he said. “We wanted to be visible not political.” He said he told the cardinal they accepted the magisterium of the Catholic church.

Janowski said George expressed “concern and love” for the gay community and was particularly distressed at violence against gays and lesbians.

According to Janowski, who left the movement in 2002, the cardinal allowed group members to receive Communion wearing their sashes at Pentecost Masses in 2002.

But Murray told NCR that George’s policy for the last four years has been to deny Communion to movement members. He said movement members attending the cathedral as an organization have never received Communion there.

Dwyer could not confirm whether or not movement members had received Communion in prior years. He also said he did not know what Janowski, Murray and George talked about or agreed to in 2001 because that was a private meeting.

Rick Garcia, a Catholic and longtime gay activist in Chicago, said that he has disagreed with the cardinal on many issues, but not with the Communion ban this year.

“When you come in and you are wearing a sign or a symbol that says I disagree with church teaching and I do not adhere to church teaching, frankly I don’t think the cardinal has any other choice,” Garcia told Chicago television station WLS.

Dennis Coday is an NCR staff writer. His e-mail address is

Communion line, scrum line
St. Paul, Minn.

About 35 men from a group called Ushers for the Eucharist disrupted a Pentecost Mass, forcing people wearing rainbow sashes, as well as most other church members, to walk around or over them to receive Communion.

About 80 people wore rainbow sashes to the noon Mass at St. Paul Cathedral. The Ushers confronted them before they entered the church, then sat next to them during Mass.

Prior to Communion, the Ushers knelt en masse in the church’s main aisle between Communion ministers and the congregation.

An announcement from the pulpit encouraged communicants to use side aisles, and many did, but most the people wearing sashes used the main aisle.

Some Ushers began to recite Hail Marys. None of the Ushers elected to receive Communion.

David Pence organized the Ushers because he objected to Minneapolis-St. Paul Archbishop Harry Flynn’s allowing support for homosexuality in the church.

Brian McNeill of Minneapolis, a local Rainbow Sash organizer, said this is the fourth year a Pentecost action has been held, and no one has protested before.

“Don’t worry about the women and children, it’s only the men we’re here to deal with,” McNeill said he was told by one of the Ushers. “They also told someone, ‘Take off that sash or you’ll be sorry.’ ”

McNeill said that Pence sat next to him during the entire service, and refused to hold his hand during the Lord’s Prayer.

McNeill said some church members began to weep during Communion, but no one seemed to have been prevented from receiving.

Nearly 100 people from a group called Catholics Against Sacrilege prayed the rosary on the cathedral steps before the Mass.

As worshipers arrived, they were given a letter from the cathedral rector, Fr. Michael Skluzacek, alerting them to the possibility of protest or disruption. Skluzacek asked worshipers to pray “nothing will occur here that takes our focus off our worship.”

-- Joe Winter

National Catholic Reporter, June 18, 2004

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