LGBT Catholics who plan to hold a series of events in Philadelphia during Pope Francis’s visit are looking for a new venue, having been told the events are not welcome in a Catholic church.
A coalition of LGBT Catholic groups known as Equally Blessed had scheduled events at St. John the Evangelist Church’s parish center, as had an individual group, New Ways Ministry. But last week officials with the Archdiocese of Philadelphia told the church’s pastor the organizations couldn’t hold their events at the Catholic parish, and he conveyed that to the groups, reports Philadelphia newspaper The Inquirer.
New Ways planned a workshop titled Transforming Love: Gender Identity From Catholic Perspectives for September 26, just after the close of the weeklong World Meeting of Families, the event bringing the pope to Philadelphia. Equally Blessed, a coalition of New Ways, Call to Action, DignityUSA, and Fortunate Families, had set up several events surrounding the meeting as well. Also, the church was to be a hospitality center for the Equally Blessed pilgrims, 14 families with LGBT members, who are attending the Word Meeting of Families.
Officials with both New Ways and Equally Blessed expressed disappointment with the decision, and they are negotiating with the Arch Street United Methodist Church as a new venue for the events.
“I am very sorry that Archbishop [Charles] Chaput did not seek to speak with New Ways Ministry about the nature of the program, which consists of transgender and intersex persons and a family member telling their personal and faith journeys,” said a statement issued by New Ways executive director Francis DeBernardo. “There is a lack of information in the Catholic Church about gender identity, and this workshop was designed to provide information based on personal experience. There was no plan to have a theological discussion about gender identity.”
A statement from Equally Blessed read in part, “This is 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, we have been blessed to find gracious welcome from members of other denominations and communities, just as we have from Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. The spirit has provided for us and will continue to lead us forward.”
Ken Gavin, a spokesman for the archdiocese, told The Inquirer it was the parish, not the archdiocese, that made the final decision, despite reports to the contrary. He it was expected that “any parish-sponsored activities would feature content that is in line with church teaching.”
“That expectation applies across the board to all matters,” he continued. “If archdiocesan administration were to become aware of any activities to the contrary it would be their responsibility to look into the matter and ask that appropriate corrective action be taken. Focusing on this matter as LGBT-related only would be shortsighted.”
Still, LGBT groups couldn’t help seeing it that way. “I don't think it reflects in any way on the parish or on Catholics in the Philadelphia area, but it is more evidence of this horrible divide,” DignityUSA executive director Marianne Duddy-Burke told the paper. “Not being able to use our own church is certainly painful — it’s symbolic — but we keep coming back to, ‘The church is the people, it’s not a building,’ so we move on. There are other spaces.”
“So they literally kicked trans people out of the church?” added Julie Chovanes, a Philadelphia-area lawyer and transgender woman scheduled to speak at the trans workshop. “It’s an amazing thing, especially if you’re trying to show families we are a part of the human family. … I still consider myself Catholic. But apparently, the church doesn’t.”