A gay singing group was disinvited, by direction from the bishop, from a Nativity event at a Massachusetts Catholic parish during this past holiday season.
The Pioneer Valley Gay Men’s Chorus describes itself as “presenting a positive image of gay men to the community and providing a warm, accepting environment for gay men to create music.” Every holiday season, it performs an ecumenical chorus at churches of different denominations across South Hadley, Massachusetts. The group was scheduled this year to perform at St. Theresa of Lisieux Parish. But, the Daily Hampshire Gazette reported:
“When the chorus was invited to participate in the church’s ‘Lessons and Carols’ concert, its members were somewhat apprehensive due to the Catholic Church being ‘not as progressive as some of the other churches,’ said chorus member George Yeramian. But ultimately, the chorus, which formed 26 years ago, was excited to participate and spent weeks preparing for the Dec. 15 show.
“Then, about two weeks before the concert, the group was informed that Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of the Springfield diocese would not allow them to perform, according to Yeramian.”
Yeramian noted that after promotional flyers for the event had been distributed, someone complained to church authorities about the inclusion of a gay men’s group. He he suggested the bishop’s decision was influenced by that complaint. The bishop has not commented to the media.
According to the Gazette, Fr. Michael Twohig, the parish pastor, was supportive of the group’s participation and was upset at the bishop’s decision. He apologized to the choir. A member of the chorus, Henry Gibson, commented:
“That’s one of the reasons it was so shocking. We’d been invited to many churches throughout the Valley, and this was totally the opposite of the reactions we’ve had at other places.”
A letter to the editor on MassLive from eight local Catholics criticized the Bishop’s actions:
“Chorus members said that the Catholic Diocese of Springfield ‘received complaints,’ prompting the bishop’s action. What should have been an opportunity for church leaders to educate the complainers became instead an excuse for injustice. No person or institution claiming to be Christian may reject a group of people simply because of who they are. We regret that a few people, acting out of ignorance and bias, had such influence on the bishop. He should have followed the example of Jesus, who accepted and welcomed everyone (and was often criticized for his behavior).
“The Diocese of Springfield has not responded, thus far, to requests for comment, perhaps because there simply is no good response.”
Kevin Cullen, a columnist with The Boston Globe, likewise challenged Rozanski. Cullen, who served on that newspaper’s 2003 “Spotlight” team that exposed sexual abuse and its cover up in the Archdiocese of Boston, wrote:
“I wanted to know what drove the bishop to exclude the chorus. . .I also wanted to ask the bishop what he would think if someone suggested it might be prudent for him to ban himself and any and all of his successors from attending holiday concerts, given that at least three of his predecessors covered up the sexual abuse of children and minors by priests. One of those bishops was criminally charged with sexually abusing boys, while another has been accused of doing the same. . .
“Now, despite all this sordid history, anybody suggesting we should ban bishops of Springfield from holiday concerts because of the behavior of other bishops would be rightly denounced as an unreasonable, intolerant bigot.
“So what, pray tell, shall we call those who were in favor of disinviting and shunning the Pioneer Valley Gay Men’s Chorus, whose members stand accused of nothing more than liking to make other people happy by raising their voices in song?”
Though the church hierarchy has rigid teachings on LGBTQ relationships, Catholic communities on the local level can often be much more accepting. The South Hadley community, including Catholics, had clearly accepted the Pioneer Valley Gay Men’s Chorus, and saw no issue with including them in holiday celebrations. While the bishop’s decision was hurtful, the clear support from the local community show’s the Catholic Church at its best: a welcoming community that treats LGBTQ people not just as their own, but invites LGBTQ-focused performing groups to events focused around one of the most important holidays in the Catholic tradition. Hopefully, the feedback from voices across South Hadley, the Diocese of Springfield, and Massachusetts will help Bishop Rozanski to understand how the church could instead be a source of good.
—Artemis Walsh, January 20, 2020