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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 21, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 34
Catholic LGBT coalition evicted from Philadelphia parish center
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Catholic LGBT coalition evicted from Philadelphia parish center

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Equally Blessed, a coalition of four LGBT Catholic groups, has been evicted by Catholic Church officials from the space they intended to use during the September World Meeting Of Families in Philadelphia.

The coalition had secured space at St. John the Evangelist Parish Center, according to New Ways Ministry, one of the coalition partners, but was later told that it was no longer welcome to use the space for its planned events.

'Organizers of the alternative events planned for St. John's were told last week by its pastor that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia disapproved of their gender identity program and they would no longer be allowed to use space at St. John's for any events that week,' New Ways Ministry head Francis DeBernardo said in an August 17 statement.

Equally Blessed wanted the space at St John's because it was close to the Philadelphia Convention Center where the Catholic Meeting of Families will be held. Since the official Catholic Church meeting did not feature any 'realistic presentation about the reality of LGBT Catholics and our families,' the coalition said, it hoped to offer alternative 'educational and outreach events.'

The group said it is trying to relocate its planned events to a Methodist church near the convention venue.

Ken Gavin, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said that administrators from the archdiocese had looked into the group's program and 'provided guidance' but that 'the final decision on use of space at St. John's was made by the parish.'

Gavin said it was expected that 'any parish-sponsored activities would feature content that is in line with church teaching.'

'So they literally kicked trans people out of the church? It's an amazing thing, especially if you're trying to show families we are a part of the human family,' Transgender attorney Julie Chovanes told the Philly.com website. She was one of the presenters at an Equally Blessed workshop scheduled at St. John's

'I still consider myself Catholic,' she added. 'But apparently the church doesn't.'

Equally Blessed said its eviction from St. John's was 'yet another instance of the kind of exclusion LGBT Catholics and supporters have endured for decades. Bishops have refused to allow us to meet in our own churches, retreat centers and colleges.'

'In every instance,' it added, 'we have been blessed to find gracious welcome from members of other denominations and communities.'

Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Joseph Chaput is a notoriously conservative churchman. In 2004, he told the New York Times that it would be a sin for Catholics to vote for Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry because Kerry was pro-choice. He has also said that Catholics who support reproductive choice, LGBT rights or divorce should not ask priests for communion.

Equally Blessed includes four LGBT-friendly Catholic groups - New Ways Ministry, Dignity, Fortunate Families and Call to Action.

All have had previous run-ins with the Catholic hierarchy. New Ways, for example, was permanently barred from pastoral work with the LGBT community by Pope John Paul II. Its founder, Sister Jeannine Gramick, was hounded out of her original community of nuns, the School Sisters of Notre Dame, by church officials, and she now belongs to the smaller Sisters of Loretto community.

Dignity was at the center of a controversy in Seattle in the 1980s, when local Catholic traditionalists complained to the Vatican that then-Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen had allowed the LGBT group to use church facilities. Hunthausen was relieved of administrative responsibilities in his archdiocese and ultimately forced to retire.

Fortunate Families is a group of Catholic parents of LGBT children. It was explicitly rejected by the World Meeting of Families because it 'advocates for parental acceptance of LGBT children and adolescents in such a way that 'acceptance' requires that parents must show full acceptance of both the person and the entirety of every aspect of the person's gay or transgender lifestyle,' according to a letter the group received from the Catholic meeting's program director.

'From its inception, CTA had a dual focus,' says Dan Daley, CTA co-coordinator and a founding member. 'One eye was on church institutions which needed reform and renewal, and the other eye was on the larger society and issues of justice and peace that ought to have church involvement. The emphasis has shifted from time to time.'

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