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Gay US Catholics will greet pope with rainbow rosaries, not protests

Pope Francis told an elderly audience he, too, is "a little bit sick" and he's said he doesn't think his pontificate will last more than five years. Creative Commons image by the Catholic Church (England and Wales)
Pope Francis delivers his blessing while praying at a statue of Mary overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome on Dec. 8, 2014, during the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service

Pope Francis delivers his blessing while praying at a statue of Mary overlooking the Spanish Steps in Rome on Dec. 8, 2014, during the feast of the Immaculate Conception. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (Reuters) For months, gay Catholics have laid out plans for Pope Francis’ visit to the United States: They will fly rainbow flags, wear rainbow prayer cloths, carry rainbow rosaries. A Tumblr page is being set up, an online petition will circulate.

More telling, perhaps, is what they won’t do.

Gay rights activists say they have no intention of staging protests, sit-ins or large-scale demonstrations during the September 22-27 visit over the treatment of gay Catholics by church leaders, who have lobbied against same-sex marriage and forced the firings of gay workers from their institutions.

It’s an intentionally low-key approach that gay rights leaders hope will improve relations with the Roman Catholic Church, without the risk of offending a pope who is both popular and has offered a more merciful message.

The pontiff’s first-ever visit to the United States comes just months after a seminal moment for gay Americans, when the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal across all 50 states.

“We’re not looking for a confrontation opportunity,” said Lisbeth Melendez Rivera, head of Latino and Catholic initiatives at Human Rights Campaign, which works for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, or LGBT, equality. “We’re looking for dialog that leads to the full inclusion of our people in the church.”

Gay Catholics have been energized by comments made by Francis, who famously replied, “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gay men serving in the clergy the first year of his papacy. More recently, the pope encouraged parents to be more accepting of their gay and lesbian children and met privately with a transgender man at the Vatican.

While openly pushing for a more inclusive church, Francis has nevertheless stuck to Catholic doctrine, like when he indicated in January that the church was threatened by same-sex marriage. Change in doctrine, gay activists know, is likely to come slowly, if at all.

READ: Conservatives outraged at gays on White House guest list for Pope Francis! (Vatican, not so much)

With that in mind, organizers did discuss the possibility of a more forceful presence during the papal tour to Washington DC, New York City and Philadelphia, said Ross Murray, director of programs for GLAAD, a gay and lesbian media monitoring group.

“But I think for a lot of these Catholics, especially those who feel a sense of hope with Francis, this is really about how to carefully call the hierarchy into the next relationship phase with LGBT people.”

What that next phase entails is difficult to predict. The church remains a difficult fit for many gays and lesbians, who make up roughly 4 percent of 78 million U.S. members, advocates say. The church counsels abstinence and teaches that homosexuality is an affliction rather than sexual identity, while same-sex marriage is not recognized.

“They don’t hear how their words are not only hurting the LGBT community, but also the LGBT community’s families,” said Nicholas Coppola, a gay Catholic who was removed from a lay ministerial position at his parish after he married.

The church’s position has left it out of step with many American Catholics. A Pew Research study found that 75 percent of U.S. Catholics, ages 18-29, support marriage for same-sex couples, though older Catholics are less supportive.

“We have to remember that the church is not just a hierarchy,” said John Freml of Equally Blessed, a coalition of Catholic groups supporting gay and transgender rights. “The bishops are very vocal and very loud, but they represent a very small portion of the Catholic Church.”

Still, the bishops will ultimately decide Church teaching on gay issues.

READ: Gay Catholics find a new tone under Pope Francis, and from their own bishops

Even organizing a restrained presence has had challenges. Gay and lesbian groups have been denied official involvement in the numerous booths and forums scheduled for a summit on families organized by the church in Philadelphia before the pope’s visit. The only participant from the community will be a celibate gay man.

Activists hoped to hold supplemental gay and transgender workshops, including one on gender identity, at a Catholic church near the Philadelphia convention center that will play host to the four-day conference.

But the workshops were later canceled after an investigation by Archbishop Charles Chaput, and will instead be hosted by a Methodist church.

At the convention center, however, 14 families with gay and transgender members and other gay people carrying rainbow rosaries will engage where they can.

Other measures include an online petition asking the pope to denounce firings of gay or transgender people who work for the church, and a Tumblr page with images of gay Catholics.

GLAAD and similar groups sent a letter to the pope seeking a meeting, but have yet to receive a response. For now, activists plan to kneel in prayer along with two million others expected to attend a papal Mass in Philadelphia.

“The pope is known to wander,” Rivera said. “We hope that maybe, just maybe, our lively colors will call on him… and that he’ll wander over to us.”

(By Laila Kearney; Additional reporting by Elly Park, Reuters TV.)

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  • “Be Brave”, I don’t know which is worse: the things you’ve said or the fact you’re not ashamed for saying them.

    As a former Catholic, I never felt at home anymore in the church, and I’m a heterosexual! I can’t imagine how people with other sexual identities must feel hearing people like you.

    I read your words and I try to imagine Jesus saying them and all I can do is shake my head. I’m so glad to be out of the Catholic Church and away from people like you.

  • Yes, BeBrave, these people have gotten all they ever wanted by the secular political leaders, with the support of the judicial activism of the Supreme Court. There is no need to petition the Church for something that is impossible to achieve. Jesus, who is God, promised that the “gates of hell, will [never] prevail against” his Church (Matt 16:18). So rallying for the pope to allow just that to happen, is like beating your head against the wall. Gay people are certainly welcome in the Church, but like all Christians, they must abide by the Commandments, and repent. Heaven is too great a gem to miss out on because we wanted something that runs squarely in the face of God’s eternal decrees.

  • I am gay, practicing, lay minister, on a number of committees, former Chair of the Pastoral Council in full view of the church community, accordingly 99% support my partner and I (there is a small rump who have difficulties with my sexuality but even they have not acted to have me removed from any position). The point I want to make is that the people in the pews, generally, have moved on from this issue and wish Church leaders would do the same. Catholic youth have spoken loud and clear -again with some dissenters – that they will not accept the official line that gay Catholics have an “affliction”. it is utter rubbish.

  • Sorry but you have missed the central point of the gospels, which is love, acceptance, forgiveness. Immorality today is the abuse of refugees and inequality between Rich and poor nations. Church leaders, apart from Pope Francis and several other enlightened clergy, do not worry about what people do in their bedrooms, and neither should you.

  • The narrow path, sexual purity? A gay sermon? My friend, people are people and Jesus did not discriminate. It wasn’t all that long ago that women were considered second class citizens and slavery accepted as normal. I’ll bet you that comments along the lines you are making we’re made then. I still recall when women were considered unclean and not permitted on the sanctuary! Really this debate is about equality and Jesus was for all, not just men on narrow paths.

  • Displaying “gay rosary beads” is a shameless disregard for the spiritual and holy meaning of the Rosary. Perhaps to many it is harmless, but the Rosary should be respected as the Catholic sacramental it is and not used as an advertising tool. Do gays have to vandalize such a revered object? I doubt most of them actually say the rosary, or know how to. Pitiful.

  • This whole post is nothing but silly assertions and namecalling without any supportive data. Moreover the writer seems to exhibit no significant knowledge of history at all. No serious historian believes that people or the world were somehow “better” in the year 73 CE or 1050 CE or 1919 CE or even 4004 BCE. There has always been evil and good in every human being. the harkening back to an idyllic time when things were somehow better is nothing but a rhetorical trick by those who seek power and control over others. For example, some imagine the fictional Ingalls family on TV’s “The Little House on The Prairie” was emblematic of our frontier forebears. Not so. Pa Ingalls was a failure who continually drifted from place to place – Donald Trump would call him a “loser.” Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter was a fervent anti-New Dealer who edited out all the references to the families misery brought on by plutocracy from the source material.

  • I think a reasonable person has to agree your claim the rosaries were “vandalized” is the height of hyperbole and a blatant attempt at distraction. These items were created by the organizations supporting celebrations of our LGBT brothers and sisters at their own expense. Nothing was taken from anybody. No one was harmed. Now stack that up against the millions the Roman Catholic Church had burned at the stake and worse. The right-wing argument on LGBT issues doesn’t resonate because the speakers WANT to oppress LGBTs, and that’s why silly comments like this and things like the assertion Kim Davis, a public official who refused to perform her legal duties for the purpose of oppressing LGBTs, is a “vicitm,” don’t resonate with the public.

  • A god which tells one group of people they may love whoever they desire and another they may not is not god at all but instead an evil monster unworthy of worship.

  • That whole things is gobbledygook. You realize demons, like “Bloody Mary” are not real, right?

  • You can be whatever you want to be; it’s just that you do not have a right to be free from criticism, which is what the right-wing wants. Your interpretation of scripture to mandate hatred is merely your opinion. A person who espouses antigay hatred does not do so without consequences, nor should they. A company is wise to terminate an employee who damages their brand, as State Farm Insurance did with the notorious hatemonger Matt Barber did some years before he discovered there was money to be made telling right-wing hatemongers what they want to hear. When people can be fired for doing good like organizing a union, the evil expect a double standard and that they can profit from doing evil. Not gonna happen.

  • All three synoptic gospels identify the central message of Jesus’ ministry as “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

    And the ministry with which He charged His disciples upon His departure was not to “accept everybody” and whatever mess they happen to be mired in but to “make disciples (actual followers) of all nations, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.” In that is true and lasting love and forgiveness.

  • Saint Bernardine of Siena was a famous preacher, celebrated for his doctrine and holiness. Regarding homosexuality, he stated:

    “No sin in the world grips the soul as the accursed sodomy; this sin has always been detested by all those who live according to God.… Deviant passion is close to madness; this vice disturbs the intellect, destroys elevation and generosity of soul, brings the mind down from great thoughts to the lowliest, makes the person slothful, irascible, obstinate and obdurate, servile and soft and incapable of anything; furthermore, agitated by an insatiable craving for pleasure, the person follows not reason but frenzy.… They become blind and, when their thoughts should soar to high and great things, they are broken down and reduced to vile and useless and putrid things, which could never make them happy…. Just as people participate in the glory of God in different degrees, so also in hell some suffer more than others.

  • Saint Peter Canisius, Jesuit and Doctor of the Church, is responsible for helping one third of Germany abandon Lutheranism and return to the Church. To Scripture’s condemnation of homosexuality, he added his own:

    “As the Sacred Scripture says, the Sodomites were wicked and exceedingly sinful. Saint Peter and Saint Paul condemn this nefarious and depraved sin. In fact, the Scripture denounces this enormous indecency thus: ‘The scandal of Sodomites and Gomorrhans has multiplied and their sins have become grave beyond measure.’ So the angels said to just Lot, who totally abhorred the depravity of the Sodomites: ‘Let us leave this city….’ Holy Scripture does not fail to mention the causes that led the Sodomites, and can also lead others, to this most grievous sin. In fact, in Ezechiel we read: ‘Behold this was the iniquity of Sodom: pride, fullness of bread, and abundance, and the idleness of her, and of her daughters: and they did not put forth their hand to the needy, and the…