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RAINBOW-GEORGE Jun-2-2004 (1,200 words) xxxn
Cardinal George denies Communion to Rainbow Sash gay activists

By Michelle Martin
Catholic News Service

CHICAGO (CNS) -- After Chicago Cardinal Francis E. George denied the Eucharist to protesters wearing rainbow sashes on Pentecost Sunday, he and several gay activists said the problem wasn't that the protesters were identifying themselves as homosexual but that they were using the Eucharist for a political statement.

"When you come with a statement about yourself, that's not the way to receive it," said Cardinal George in an interview on the "Catholic Community of Faith" radio show May 28, two days before about a dozen members or supporters of the gay activist Rainbow Sash Movement were refused Communion at Chicago's Holy Name Cathedral.

"Eucharist is not a place to deform the meaning of our beliefs," the cardinal added. "Our most profound act of worship is receiving holy Communion. We can talk this through in other places, but not make the Eucharist a statement -- except that this is the body of Christ and we receive it on his terms."

In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Archbishop Harry J. Flynn took a different tack.

He issued a statement beforehand saying sash wearers "will not be denied Communion" in his cathedral. He said he took that stance because members of the movement "have previously assured us, in writing, that their attendance at the annual Pentecost Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul is not in protest of the church's teachings and ... they were most respectful in their worship during the Mass a year ago."

A group of lay people, however, tried to block aisles in St. Paul's cathedral and prevent sash-wearers from receiving Communion, despite a plea from the archbishop not to turn Communion into "a battleground or ... the occasion for demonstrations or counterdemonstrations."

The issue first arose in Chicago in 2000, when a local chapter of the Rainbow Sash Movement was denied Communion at Holy Name Cathedral. Members of the movement say they wear the sashes to bring visibility to gays and lesbians within the church, and the organization's mission statement says that it is "publicly calling the Catholic Church to conversion of heart around issues of human sexuality."

The organization had notified the cardinal beforehand that members intended to approach the altar for Communion while wearing their sashes. Cardinal George sent a directive to priests in the archdiocese to deny them the Eucharist.

The letter said his decision was based on a national policy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to refuse Communion to anyone who uses its reception as an occasion to protest against the church's teaching.

A USCCB spokesman, David Early, told Catholic News Service, however, that the conference has not enunciated such a policy. He said he believed it was a decision of the Washington Archdiocese or shrine officials when Communion was denied to Rainbow Sash demonstrators in 2001 at a Mass concelebrated by the country's bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Susan Gibbs, Washington archdiocesan communications director, confirmed that the decision had been made by Washington Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick at that time. She said he was following a precedent set by his predecessor, Cardinal James A. Hickey, who in 2000 had denied Communion to Rainbow Sash demonstrators at a Mass in St. Matthew Cathedral. Gibbs said those decisions were pastoral responses by the two cardinals to specific situations.

Cardinal George acknowledged that the conference had not voted on such a policy but said that since it had been implemented for a USCCB Mass it could be understood as having national implications.

Joe Murray, U.S. convener of the Rainbow Sash Movement and founder of its Chicago chapter, did not return calls from The Catholic New World, Chicago archdiocesan newspaper, but he told other media that it hurt to be turned away from the altar with a blessing, instead of receiving Communion.

"It was painful to be turned away," Murray was quoted as saying. "We are good enough to be blessed, but we are not good enough to get the holy Eucharist. ... This is about personal prejudice by Cardinal George. I will pray for the cardinal."

In an e-mail to members May 31, he contrasted Cardinal George's approach with that of Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles. He said movement members decided not to wear sashes this year in the Los Angeles cathedral as a way of expressing thanks to Cardinal Mahony for the "warm public welcome" he had extended to them in the past.

Gene Janowski, a former member of the movement, said he wore a rainbow sash in the Chicago cathedral at Pentecost in 2000 and was denied Communion, but later participated in an hourlong meeting with Cardinal George following that Mass. The following year, Janowski said, the cardinal gave him and other members of the movement Communion while they wore their sashes.

"We told him that our main objective was just to be visible, and that we do accept the teaching magisterium of the church," Janowski said.

Janowski said he left the movement to start a gay and lesbian outreach at his home parish, St. Benedict.

Gay activist Rick Garcia, political director for Equality Illinois, said he is no fan of Cardinal George when it comes to the way he relates to the gay community, especially the cardinal's opposition to an antidiscrimination bill that specifically would have included homosexuals.

But Garcia said he receives Communion nearly every day, and has never been turned away. Hundreds of gay and lesbian Catholics gather for Mass every Sunday evening at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church on the North Side with no fuss, he said, and gay Catholics receive the Eucharist at parishes all over the archdiocese.

He said he doesn't think the activists or the church handled the situation well.

"When I turned on my TV and saw them being turned away, I was just horrified," said Garcia. "It broke my heart. The Rainbow Sash Movement baited the cardinal, and the cardinal took the bait. It continues the perception that he's anti-gay, and it continues to hurt the Catholic mothers out there who now think my gay son or my lesbian daughter can't receive Communion. ... If you have a problem with the cardinal, take it to the chancery, not to the altar."

In St. Paul, Archbishop Flynn said in light of the assurances given him he did not find reason to deny Communion to Rainbow Sash members.

"Church law specifies very clearly that only in the most extreme of circumstances may anyone be denied the Eucharist and cautions strongly that this matter is subject to strict interpretation," he said. "Many conditions must be fulfilled before it is morally justifiable for a priest to refuse the Eucharist to someone who approaches him."

The lay group of about 40 men that sought to block sash-wearers from receiving Communion there called itself Ushers of the Eucharist. Its leader, David Pence of Minnetonka, was quoted in local media saying that Archbishop Flynn "has abdicated his authority."

"Our bishop is a good man but an extremely weak man and we want to give him courage," Pence said.

- - -

Contributing to this story was Jerry Filteau in Washington.


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