**Gay Ministry In Minneapolis At Crossroads
Dec 14, 2004 11:50 am US/Central
Minneapolis (AP) The two visitors to the meeting were quick with their comments – and their exit moments later. Gays have no place in the church, they said. Stop making trouble.
Then they left the gathering of gay and lesbian parishioners at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in south Minneapolis, a wave of confusion and anger closing in behind as the others watched them leave.
“I try not to listen to that ****,” a lesbian parishioner said as she relayed the conversation to others a few moments later. She started to say something else but then, shaken, stopped.
The encounter at St. Joan’s last month, brief as it was, was like a window into the soul of the Roman Catholic Church today. The tension among straight and gay Catholics has become a persistent and personal one illustrating both the rising power of the American gay rights movement and the nation’s rightward shift on social issues.
“I really think this is part of a much larger struggle,” the Rev. George Wertin, the pastor at St. Joan’s, told the gay and lesbian parishioners at last month’s meeting. He then referred to the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s that helped overturn discriminatory laws. “What happened for black people has to happen now for a new group of people.”
The conflict in the Twin Cities among Catholics has flowed beyond St. Joan’s of late. Twice this year people have protested at the Cathedral of St. Paul, the archdiocese’s home parish, including a group known as the Ushers of the Eucharist whose members knelt in church aisles to block members of a homosexual advocacy group known as the Rainbow Sash Movement from participating in mass.
And the road ahead for St. Joan’s and other parishes sympathetic to gay and lesbian causes remains as uncertain as ever.
Wertin was ordered in mid-October to remove extensive Gay Pride material from his church’s Web site after an anonymous complaint to church authorities. A directive from the Vatican was delivered in person by two bishops. The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis also told the church to stop allowing the unordained to speak during mass, a long-standing practice at St. Joan’s in which guest speakers talk about everything from scripture to American history to overseas missionary work to homosexuality.
The consequence for future violations could mean removal of Wertin, St. Joan’s longtime senior priest, and installation of a replacement chosen by the archdiocese.
The archdiocese distributed a statement several weeks ago that called on St. Joan’s to return to more traditional practices: “Pope John Paul II has announced the coming liturgical year as ‘The Year of The Eucharist’ and as part of that observance has called for 'unity of purpose and commonality of practice,”’ the statement read.
Still, one of St. Joan’s more vocal critics says it’s hard to see that much has changed at the parish since the directive was handed down.
St. Joan’s Web site still carries an abundant amount of information for gay and lesbian Catholics, and also a link to a Web site for gay dating that promises, among other things, “romance.”
“It seems to me the only thing they pulled off the Web site (was a photograph of the Gay Pride week),” said Al Matt, editor of the Wanderer, a Twin Cities Catholic newspaper that takes a decidedly orthodox posture and is a longtime nemesis to the Twin Cities archdiocese from the polar opposite ideological spectrum of St. Joan’s.
St. Joan’s has been censured before. Kathy Itzin, a religious education coordinator at the parish, was denied an award from the archdiocese last year because she is a lesbian in a committed relationship. Flynn withdrew the award after Catholic Parents Online complained to him in a letter. That decision led to a protest by about 200 church members in favor of Itzin.