Equally Blessed, a national coalition of LGBT Catholic groups gathering in Philadelphia next month in conjunction with the World Meeting of Families, was told this week that a Catholic church won't accommodate its itinerary, as originally planned.
But Equally Blessed has found safe haven at a Methodist church located a few blocks from the Convention Center, where the World Meeting of Families will take place.
The coalition intended to use St. John the Evangelist Church on 13th near Market as a base of operations for various LGBT-related events during the week of Sept. 21-27.
Pope Francis also will be in town during the same time period.
But this week, the coalition was told St. John the Evangelist is no longer available, apparently due to Archbishop Chaput's disapproval of a gender-identity workshop set for Sept. 26.
The workshop is sponsored by New Ways Ministry, a group in the coalition. Other groups in the coalition include DignityUSA, Call To Action and Fortunate Families.
Fr. John Daya, pastor of St. John the Evangelist, declined to comment for this story.
Chaput couldn't be reached for comment.
Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, expressed disappointment with the change of venue.
"We're very disappointed at this decision," DeBernardo told PGN. "Right now, if Archbishop Chaput would just let LGBT people speak about their faith experiences in a Catholic setting, that would be a very good first step. Catholic LGBT people are members of the Church and they have a right to use church property. We're hoping Archbishop Chaput would acknowledge the fact that LGBT Catholics exist and deserve respect."
He said revised brochures for the workshop won't be printed, but participants will be informed of its new location electronically.
DeBernardo said the coalition began planning events well before it knew the pope would be in town.
"Our events were planned before the papal visit was announced," he said. "We'll provide alternative programming for the World Meeting of Families, because we want a full discussion of these [LGBT] issues."
The Rev. Robin Hynicka, senior pastor at Arch Street United Methodist Church, said he's pleased the church will serve as an alternate meeting space for Equally Blessed.
"We're kindred spirits," Hynicka told PGN. "It's sad to think you can't find a place in your own church. So we're happy to accommodate them. It all comes together. We have an ideal location. And we have similar goals of LGBT inclusion in all aspects of life and faith."
DignityUSA president Marianne Duddy-Burke was undaunted by the change of venue. She said 12 LGBT families are excited about making a pilgrimage to the city, under the auspices of Equally Blessed.
"The Church is the people of God, not this corporation owned by a few who are totally out of step with everybody," she said. "If we're not there, working for the church to be better, it's going to get worse and keep damaging people."
She noted widespread support for LGBT equality among non-LGBT Catholics.
"For more than 20 years, polls have shown that Catholics support their LGBT members," she said. "Catholics get this — because of the social-justice teachings of our Church. Unfortunately, the leadership is absolutely tone-deaf on these issues."
Julie Chovanes, an attorney and trans woman, will participate in the gender-identity workshop that Chaput apparently views as problematic. It's entitled "Transforming Love: Exploring Gender Identity from Catholic Perspectives."
Chovanes noted the irony of the situation.
"The pope said, ‘Who am I to judge?’" Chovanes noted. "He invited a trans man to the Vatican. He called the trans man a son of God. The pope also met separately with other LGBT people. And Archbishop Chaput is kicking us out of a Center City church that has LGBT parishioners?"
Chovanes said she's praying for Chaput.
"I pray Archbishop Chaput and his advisers listen to the pope's words on God's love," she said. "I fervently pray that one day we will be welcomed into the Archdiocese of Philadelphia with open arms, just like the pope welcomed a trans man into the Vatican."
Kenneth A. Gavin, director of communications for the Archdiocese, said the decision to withdraw as a host was made by St. John’s.
"Decisions regarding programs offered at parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are made at the local level at each individual parish. It is expected, however, that any parish-sponsored activities would feature content that is in line with Church teaching. That expectation applies across the board to all matters,” Gavin said, noting that, if archdiocesan officials “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.”
In this case, Gavin said, the archdiocese was asked to “evaluate the program and provide guidance, which it did.” But, he emphasized, “the end decision was made locally by the parish. The archdiocese fully supports the decision.”
Gavin contended the decision should not be viewed as exclusionary toward LGBT individuals.
“Focusing on this particular matter as LGBT-related only would be short-sighted. It’s not about the individuals; it’s about the content of the programming and a consistent ethic regarding the meaning and purpose of human sexuality in the Catholic tradition,” he said. “As has been said many times before, we’re looking to welcoming Pope Francis and the world to Philadelphia in September. Both the World Meeting of Families Congress and the papal visit are open to everyone and all are welcome.”
While the workshop in question was focused on gender identity, Gavin went on to note the archdiocese’s position on marriage equality, saying that “Church teaching instructs all of us to extend Christian charity to all people and show them the love of God. At the same time, the Church teaches that marriage is a loving life-long union between a man and a woman for the purpose of procreation and mutual support.
"What seems to have gotten lost in all of the noise lately is that it is very much possible to show Christian charity and love for all, even if you disagree with their point of view. Simply put, it is not only possible, but also essential to be faithful to Church teaching regarding how we interact with one another and uphold the sanctity of marriage at the same time."
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