The chief organizer of a symposium on ministering to gay Catholics planned for this weekend in Bloomington said Tuesday that participants will comply with a letter from Archbishop Harry Flynn forbidding communion at the event.
But Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministries, which organized the Friday-through-Sunday conference at the Sheraton Bloomington, said conferees are "very disappointed" by Flynn's directive.
More than 500 people are registered for the sixth annual symposium, called "Outward Signs: Lesbian/Gay Catholics in a Sacramental Church."
According to DeBernardo, Flynn wrote: "I am concerned about some of the topics listed, and also about some of your featured speakers who are known to have publicly contested church teaching. As a result, I am concerned that this symposium may well cause significant confusion to members of the faithful in this archdiocese, as well as others who have knowledge of it."
Copies of Flynn's letter were also sent to three retired bishops who were to be communion presenters -- Leroy Matthiessen of Amarillo, Texas; Francis Hurley of Anchorage, Alaska, and Joseph Sullivan of the New York City borough of Brooklyn.
Archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath reiterated Tuesday that the archdiocese does not condone attendance at the conference and that the church already has standards for ministering to gays. He said that Flynn's letter to DeBernardo was "confidential" and should not have been shared.
Meanwhile, Matthiessen said Tuesday that he will reluctantly honor a request from "Catholic authorities" to stay away from the conference.
"I had very much wanted to be there to support people who are ministering to parishioners of a different orientation," said Matthiessen, who said he couldn't reveal exactly who made the request.
Michael Bayly, executive director of the Minneapolis-based Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, said participants are likely to conclude that "gay people ... can be sacrificed in the institutional church's efforts to impose a very rigid and narrow idea of what it means to be Catholic."All of this is a betrayal of the spirit of generosity and compassion at the heart of Jesus' life and message," he said. "It's disheartening."
Conferees will be urged to attend Mass at churches near the Sheraton Bloomington, DeBernardo said. "We are not a conference of radicals out to destroy the church, but people, both gay and straight, who love our church." StarTribune
Bayly has in the past been one of the organizers of the Rainbow Sash movement that demonstrates at the St Paul Cathedral on Pentecost Sundays each year.
Featured speakers at the New Ways Ministries symposium include Father Richard McBrien, Sister Helen Prejean CSJ who have a reputation for dissenting against Church teachings.
The negotiations failed late last week.
And Tuesday, one of the bishops expected to attend the symposium left a voice message with DeBernardo saying he had "been told not to come."
"I think there was a Vatican intervention," DeBernardo said late Tuesday, saying he had yet to reach Bishop Leroy Matthiesen, of Amarillo, Texas, to get an explanation for his dropping out.
Matthiesen did not immediately return a call for comment Tuesday evening.
Two other bishops scheduled to participate in the symposium — Archbishop Francis Hurley, of Anchorage, Alaska, and Bishop Joseph Sullivan, of Brooklyn, N.Y. — were still expected to come, DeBernardo said. And participants were urged to attend Mass in nearby churches rather than at the hotel where the symposium will take place.
Michael Bayly, executive director of the Minneapolis-based Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, a grass-roots coalition promoting acceptance of gay people in the Catholic Church, said Flynn's decision was reflective of a trend.
"I think it reflects a wider change in climate in the Catholic Church. There's a more narrow and rigid interpretation of what it means to be Catholic," Bayly said.
Flynn's decision "is a betrayal of the core of our Catholic faith," Bayly said. "The church should be big and wide to support diverse opinions. For God's sake, it's Catholic — it's universal."
The symposium has been organized every several years on different topics relating to homosexuality and Catholicism, with an emphasis on finding common ground. The Eucharist has been celebrated in Washington, St. Louis, San Francisco, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Louisville — though the New Ways Ministry did run into problems at its most recent event in Kentucky.
There, DeBernardo said, Archbishop Thomas Kelly told New Ways Ministry that he had been told by the Vatican not to allow the Eucharist — a decision that lies with the head of the diocese under church law.
Kelly invited conference participants to instead attend Mass at his cathedral — but New Ways Ministry declined and conducted the Eucharist anyway, saying Kelly's letter fell short of forbidding the sacrament.
"We saw it as a loophole," DeBernardo said.
DeBernardo said he sees the same Vatican influence being exerted in the Twin Cities, given that Flynn's letter was copied to three top Vatican officials.
McGrath said he didn't know whether Flynn had consulted with the Vatican and was not able to reach the archbishop Tuesday.
But regardless, "the Archdiocese has policies that are fully in accord with the teachings of the Vatican," McGrath said.
This is not the first time issues related to homosexuality have created controversy with the Archdiocese. Last year, Flynn supported a proposed state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The year before, Flynn ruled that gay-rights supporters could not receive Holy Communion while wearing rainbow-colored sashes because the practice was seen as a protest of Catholic teaching.
The symposium will begin at 7 p.m. Friday and end at 2 p.m. Sunday at Sheraton Bloomington, 7800 Normandale Blvd. New Ways Ministry said more than 500 people have registered, about half of them church leaders.
This weekend's symposium on homosexuality and the Catholic Church includes the following speakers: Sister Helen Prejean, author of "Dead Man Walking"; the Rev. Richard McBrien, a University of Notre Dame professor; Sister Margaret Farley, author of "Just Love"; author and gay-rights advocate Brian McNaught; British theologian James Alison; and Emory University professor Luke Timothy Johnson. Neither DeBernardo nor Flynn specified which speakers the church found objectionable.