Pro-gay Catholic church censured by Vatican

BY admin

October 29 2004 12:00 AM ET

The leader of a Roman Catholic church in Minneapolis known for its support of gay and lesbian issues said he will comply with an order from the Vatican to remove gay pride material from the church Web site. The Reverend George Wertin of St. Joan of Arc said he would also stop allowing unordained guests to speak during the celebration of Mass, which was requested two weeks ago in a face-to-face meeting with two local bishops. However, Wertin said the local church would keep with its long practice of community decision-making, so several parish committees would consider precisely how to respond. "It takes awhile to turn a ship around," he said.

Archbishop Harry Flynn sent auxiliary bishops Frederick Campbell and Richard Pates two weeks ago to deliver the message, which, according to a follow-up statement issued Wednesday from the archdiocese, originated with the Holy See. Wertin said it's unclear what prompted the order. In the statement, the archdiocese said it "welcomes gay and lesbian worshippers who are in full communion with the moral teachings of the church as they apply to all Catholics. It does not, however, endorse the promotion of sexual relations among unmarried persons."

St. Joan of Arc was founded in 1946 and claims 4,000 member households. It has a long history of supporting the gay and lesbian community, including its organization of a hospice for people dying of AIDS and parish participation in Gay Pride events. Parish administrator Peter Eichten said church members have met twice to discuss the order. Emotions at the meetings ranged from fear to anger, he said. "We've really tried to avoid creating a we-versus-them type of situation," he said. "We've never felt that we've done anything contrary to the teachings of the church. We would not do that. We feel that the gospel demand is to be open and hospitable to all people, no matter who or what they are."

St. Joan of Arc has been in trouble with higher Catholic authorities in the past. Wertin said he met with the same two bishops more than a year ago over another dispute. In May 2003 the archdiocese rescinded an award of excellence that was to be given to religious educator Kathy Itzin at St. Joan's after Wertin was told that she was a lesbian. In April, Flynn abruptly canceled an appearance at the church by the Reverend Mel White, founder of Soulforce, a gay rights organization, who was to give the homily. A diocese spokesman said at the time that White's subject matter was judged inappropriate for the Mass, particularly during Lent.

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