Catholic LGBT advocates in Chicago are split over an invitation extended to Cardinal Francis George for the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach’s (AGLO) 25th anniversary liturgy scheduled in June. Critics charge that the cardinal’s stance on LGBT issues should not warrant an invitation, while others hope the June liturgy will help to advance dialogue with the hierarchy.
The Windy City Times reports that Rainbow Sash Movement originally released a challenge to AGLO in an internet posting, calling the invitation a “reckless, divisive course of action.” The statement highlighted George’s continuing efforts to stop marriage equality in Illinois, his homophobic comments made in recent years about LGBT people, and AGLO’s stated position that celibacy is expected of members. Rainbow Sash Movement’s executive director, Joe Murray, explained his opposition:
“‘The Rainbow Sash Movement opposes the cardinal’s visit because over the years he has personally opposed every bit of LGBT legislation that seeks to promote the human dignity of this community. He has told lies about our love for one another and has used the pulpit in his cathedral to mount a war against gay marriage and gay adoption; in other words, he has promoted bigotry against us. As if that is not bad enough he has been silent in the face of bigotry directed against us that promotes violence,’ wrote Murray.
“‘The only metaphor that comes to mind is that of inviting Hitler to a remembrance service for holocaust victims,’ Murray added.”
Other groups, including the Gay Liberation Network, join Rainbow Sash Movement’s call to disinvite Cardinal George and promise a protest if the cardinal presides at the liturgy. However, reaction within AGLO’s membership is more mixed. The Windy City Times continues:
“Brenna Cronin, choir member and cantor, is torn. ‘For me as a music minister, I will have to make a decision. My heart says that I want to be there that day and minister for my community,’ she said. ‘At the same time I want to stand on the sidewalk with Joe Murray and hold a candle to show my protest.’
“‘How I reconcile all of my life and all I am with the church,’ she explained, ‘All I know is that I was touched at a very young age and profoundly influenced by the power of the Spirit.’…
“An AGLO member for 10 years, Steve Engles has ‘mixed feelings,’ he said. ‘Any time you have the cardinal of the archdiocese celebrate the Mass at a special function, it’s always important. I have great respect for the man, and his position within the Church, despite the fact we may share different views on practicing the Catholic faith.’…
“Added Engles, ‘My faith is very important to me and AGLO is very important. That’s why I have mixed feelings. I am glad that he is joining us and hoping it does not have a negative impact on the AGLO community, depending on what he has to say.'”
Appreciation for all that AGLO has provided the LGBT community since its inception in 1983 was expressed by many members, but personal concerns about Cardinal George’s record remain. One member was hopeful that the cardinal would spend time with the community after Mass, and plans to use such time challenging George about his opposition to civil marriage equality in Illinois.
Outside LGBT groups also express optimism at AGLO’s invitation, with Dignity/Chicago stating there’s no controversy given AGLO’s connection with the Archdiocese of Chicago and New Ways Ministry’s executive director Francis DeBernardo stating:
“‘While it is true that Cardinal George has said some damaging things about LGBT people, I don’t see that excluding him from presiding at AGLO’s 25th anniversary liturgy will be productive..I see the invitation as an opportunity for AGLO members and friends to dialogue with the cardinal, and I think that we need more opportunities in the church for the hierarchy to dialogue with LGBT Catholics. I don’t see the invitation as a reward for good behavior.’
“In the same breath, DeBernardo voiced disappointment over George’s organizing against same-sex marriage. ‘I think it is a shame that Cardinal George has decided to form an alliance with ministers from other denominations to present a united front against marriage equality…Instead of reaching out to members of other Christian churches, Cardinal George should be spending his time and energy meeting with and dialoguing with members of the Catholic Church who support marriage equality so that he could better understand the deep spiritual and faith-based reasons for their position.'”
The liturgy is scheduled for June 16 at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood, where AGLO celebrates Mass weekly at 7:00 pm. The weekend celebration will also include an evening at the Lyric Opera and dinner to celebrate 25 years in ministry. Bondings 2.0 will be update on the AGLO controversy if any developments arise as June approaches.
–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry