CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Protest Erupts Over Parish Blessings for Lesbian and Gay Couples

“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Protest Erupts of Parish Blessings for Lesbian and Gay Couples

The recent news that at least two German bishops have called for looking into the possibility of church blessings for legally married lesbian and gay couples holds great promise that a dream long held by many may actually become reality.  The quest for such blessings has been going on for a long time, and I was combing the New Ways Ministry archives, I learned about a case where a Catholic parish in California had actually been doing such blessings, until a small group of conservative parishioners protested to the local bishop.

On January 15, 1999, the Gay and Lesbian News Page of www.yahoo.com, carried a story entitled “Petition Sets Parishioners Against Priest’s ‘Friendship Blessings.’ ”  The story explained:

“A Catholic priest’s ‘friendship blessings ‘ are not the perfect blend-ship in the eyes of some parishioners, who are asking the diocese for his removal.

“A Pleasanton, California parish priest who has authorized the blessing of three lesbian and gay couples and who says he will continue to do so is under investigation by the Diocese of Oakland following athe filing of a complaint against him by 15-20 church members.  The Rev. Dan Danielson of St. Augustine’s parish has not officiated at any of the ceremonies himself, but the petition calling for his removal charges him with ‘the performance of homosexual weddings.’ “

Rev. Daniel Danielson

Danielson insisted that the ceremonies were not weddings.  Only three couples received the blessing, but the fourth couple that was to be blessed decided to cancel their event.  The story elaborated:

“Danielson maintained that [the protesting parishioners’] alarm was unfounded, since the intended blessing of Carol Parker and Josie Martin would have been ‘nothing resembling a marriage.  There was no exchange of vows and rings.’  The protest led the two lesbians to cancel the service.  However, the diocese chastised the church and St. Augustine’s Deacon Jim Campbell, who had been reported to be the person performing the ceremony, and was asked not to hold such services in the church in the future.”

The priest was undaunted by the protest or the reprimand:

“Danielson announced last week that to avoid misunderstandings, while the ‘friendship blessings’ would no longer be held in the church, he would still authorize them in private homes or other locations. ‘But we will bless anything,’ the priest said, ‘friendships, relationships. We bless engaged [heterosexual] couples who aren’t sexually celibate.  We bless couples may practice birth control. . . .So I don’t have a hesitation to continue to hold friendship blessings as appropriate–when a gay couple in the parish represents a stable long-term relationship–to allow this statement of commitment.’ “

As for the lesbian couple mentioned above, they were nonplussed by the protest, perhaps because so many of the parishioners supported the idea of blessing their relationship:

“Parker and Martin say that since their aborted ceremony, they have received lots of support from church members, even some apologies. ‘It’s going to take a lot to effect any kind of change,’ Martin [said], “so we just have to be brave and move forward, and we’ve done that.’  The couple does not plan to request a service outside the church, but Martin says she is still sure that ‘we are here for a reason and that we have some gifts to give the church.’ “

Danielson was not censured for his friendship blessing initiative.  Indeed, in 2009, he served as administrator of the Diocese of Oakland after the bishop retired.  To read more about this courageous priest, click here.

The struggle to get blessings for gay and lesbian committed relationships has been a long one.  Still, it is pretty amazing that an idea which caused such a controversy twenty years ago is now being suggested by bishops.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, January 30, 2018

 

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