I just returned from a symposium sponsored by New Ways Ministry, an organization that “provides a gay-positive ministry of advocacy and justice for lesbian and gay Catholics and reconciliation within the larger Christian and civil communities.” Allow me to add a small footnote that I’m proud to say that my congregation (Sisters of St. Joseph of Baden Pennsylvania) was one of many religious orders who endorsed the symposium – and just to be clear, all that means is that the endorsers recognize the need to provide a public forum for addressing critical issues facing gay and lesbian persons and the Catholic Church. It does not imply that the speakers’ views are necessarily those of the endorsers.Anyway, upon arriving, we received our registration packets and found a statement informing us that the Archbishop of the Minneapolis-St. Paul diocese had contacted New Ways Ministry to inform them that New Ways Ministry did not have permission to celebrate the Eucharist at the symposium, despite the fact that three bishops were scheduled and willing to preside at the Mass. Ironic that the theme of the symposium was “Outward Signs: Lesbian/Gay Catholics in a Sacramental Church”.
Picture this: a praying assembly of over 500 Catholics, including significant numbers of priests, men and women religious, and professional lay ministers who have devoted lives and careers to the Church, being denied the sacrament of the Eucharist, despite the presence and availability of over 40 ordained ministers. Imagine having to choose between leaving the conference to attend Mass elsewhere and hearing excellent keynote addresses by Fr. Richard McBrien and Sr. Helen Prejean.
Despite the sadness (and to be truthful, some other emotions) I felt, I have to respect the integrity of the New Ways Ministry staff in changing the program to comply with the directives of Archbishop Flynn. I think the decision really models the desire and commitment of this organization to build rather than to burn bridges.
And while the para-liturgical service that took the place of the planned Eucharistic celebration may not have been “Sacrament” in the formal sense, I know in my heart and gut that Jesus was present with us in a very real way. As consoling as that is to me, my heart also breaks for all lesbian and gay Catholics who have been hurt in significant ways by ignorance and intolerance on the part of persons speaking for the Church. I have to remember the refrain of one of the songs we used for our prayer during the symposium, “knowing we are all the image of God” and really lean into that reality, especially when the judgement of others tries to deny that basic truth.