Boston Archdiocese Orders GLBT Pride Mass Canceled

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Monday June 13, 2011

The Archdiocese of Boston commanded St. Cecilia's Church in the city's Back Bay neighborhood not to go forward with a mass for GLBT people of faith over Pride weekend. But the spirit could not be suppressed: Local gays, and the church's pastor, spoke out with messages of love and community.

Though the planned mass was not allowed by the faith's hierarchy to proceed, Rev. John Unni made it clear that in his church, worshipers of all stripes would be accepted into the fellowship, the Boston Globe reported in a June 13 article.

"You are welcome here, gay or straight, rich or poor, young or old, black or white," declared the Catholic priest in the course of the next scheduled mass. "Here, you all can say, 'I can worship the God who made me as I am.' "

Unni's sermon was met with "thunderous applause" and a "standing ovation."

Unlike some evangelical denominations, the Catholic Church teaches that gays and lesbians do not "choose" to be sexually attracted to others of the same gender. However, that acknowledgment does not mean that the Catholic Church is GLBT-friendly: far from supporting same-sex families in the quest for legal parity, the Church condemns same-sex relationships, calling sexual congress between consenting, committed adults "inherently evil" and declaring that gay parents harm their children simply by raising them in a home headed by two adults of the same gender.

The Church is scarcely less hostile toward GLBT individuals, deeming them "disordered" and "called" by God to lead celibate lives without families of their own.

The issue has led to internal dissent, with many Catholics rejecting those messages and a clergy-run group for GLBT Catholics, Dignity, being slammed by Catholic conservatives for its stated mission of "Celebrating the wholeness and holiness of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Catholics."

A second "support group" run by Catholic clergy, Courage, offers to help gay Catholics suppress their sexuality and embrace celibate lives.

"After last Sunday's bulletin advertised a June 19 evening Mass, themed 'All Are Welcome' to celebrate Boston's Gay Pride Month, the archdiocese canceled the service, saying it gave the 'unintended impression' that St. Cecilia's supported Gay Pride," read the Globe article.

"This parish is a great example of people who are civil and exhibiting a real fellowship," a spokesperson for the archdiocese, Terrence C. Donilon, told the Globe. "But that doesn't mean we can be put in a position where we look like we're endorsing Gay Pride activities."

The Globe article noted that St. Cecilia's has a largely GLBT parish, with many members taking part in the church's "Rainbow Ministry" program, which intends to host a sidewalk service in front of the church on Sunday, June 19.

The archdiocese spokesperson sought to cast the hierarchy's response in terms of love.

"The teachings of the Catholic Church are set in stone, but that doesn't stop us from loving people from different walks of life." he said.

Unni's message stuck a similar tone.

"We are not this renegade, crazy, liberal church,'' Unni told his parishioners. "We're just Christians trying to live the gospel." The reverend repeated his sentiments, first expressed at the 9:30 a.m. mass on Sunday, June 12, at the 11:00 a.m. mass, which was attended by Bishop Robert F. Hennessey.

Parishioner Dave Macauley, who travels to the Back Bay in Boston from Salem in order to attend masses at St., Cecilia, told the Globe, "It's already hard to be a gay man in the Catholic Church. But now, I'm told I'm not welcome?"

Another parishioner, James Pyke, a resident of Boston's South End gay neighborhood, said, "I believe firmly in the teaching 'Love your neighbor,' and it's important to support our sense of community here."

Local GLBT groups stood behind St. Ceclia's. The Boston Gay Men's Chorus, which celebrated the city's annual Pride with a concert scheduled for the same weekend, posted a "Response" to the cancellation of the mass on Facebook.

"The BGMC would like to recognize the work of the members of The Rainbow Ministry of St. Cecelia's and its pastor, Rev. John J. Unni for the spirit of the scheduled Mass, and hope that in the future, the Archdiocese can embrace this spirit as well," the BGMC's response said.

"As the Mass was specifically targeted to 'friends and supporters' (and who couldn't use more 'friends and supporters?') we question the Archdiocese decision to force the cancellation of this themed Mass," the BGMC's response continued

"What is commonly known as the 'Golden Rule' is found in scriptures of nearly every religion," added the response. "As it is said in Leviticus 19.18, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'

"We at the BGMC believe that this was the spirit into what Pride celebrations are truly about. As members of the LGBT community are increasingly targeted by others who can use any reason, ranging from the rants of celebrities to the misguided and hateful words of dictators as justification for bullying, physical attacks and genocide, we would hope that the Archdiocese could rise up and love all of its neighbors in the spirit of scripture, and in celebration of Pride."

The BGMC's statement went on to re-cast a familiar saying often employed by anti-gay Christians.

"If you prefer to spread untruths and hate, we still love you -- but not your message," the response said.

Kilian Melloy is a singer and board member with the Boston Gay Men's Chorus.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.