Chicago's Archbishop Francis Cardinal George refused communion to gay activist Joe Murray, who wore a rainbow sash during George's appearance at the 25th anniversary of the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach Sunday, June 16.
About 25 LGBTs and allies protested outside of AGLO's Mass at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, 708 W. Belmont. They could be heard shouting outside during Mass, and cars honking in support were also a frequent sound heard during the service.
The protest was organized by the Rainbow Sash Movement and the Gay Liberation Network. Murray is the founder and executive director of the U.S. Rainbow Sash Movement. While several others took rainbow sashes from Murray ahead of Mass, no one else protested inside.
Murray stood up with his back to Cardinal George during parts of the Mass, and then he went up with the estimated 200 others in attendance to receive communion. George refused him, and Murray walked away with his hands open and empty, showing the congregants that he had been denied.
But in an emotional show of solidarity, Brenna C. Cronin, who had already received her communion as part of the church choir, went back up and took another communion wafer (called a Host) and brought it to Murray herself.
"One of my brothers, a member of my community, who is a full and equal member of the body of Christ, was denied communion. So I got back in line and I brought him communion, as I would for anyone else," Cronin told Windy City Times after the Mass. Cronin, who is a lesbian, has been involved with AGLO for two years and is also a cantor.
"I was denied communion by the Cardinal," Murray said after. "I turned to Christ, I walked back open handed, and showed the community that I was denied communion, and Christ, in his mercy, sent me a priest [Cronin] to give me communion."
"It was the individuals who witnessed the Cardinal not giving me communion that were really stunned," Murray said. "They reached and grabbed me as I returned to my pew after being judged by the Cardinal to be a sinner not worthy of any compassion, and told me of their support. I could hear the horns blowing supporting the outside demonstration, could hear the chanting of my brothers and sisters in the GLN outside of the church, and that also gave me courage. But my guardian angels where the women who seemed to get what I was doing; the men felt threatened and showed that … . I think most people were stunned that [they] witnessed this happennot by my presence, but by the AGLO reaction to that presence."
AGLO refused any recording or photographing of the service, though they have allowed this in the past. In fact, they made this request through on-duty police officers who were in the church in response to the protests of the Mass.
Murray said he heard from one AGLO board member that they thought members of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were expected to be at the protest (they did not attend). That AGLO member reportedly told Murray he would direct physical violence against them if they showed.
The service did not address any issues of marriage equality. It was called a "Mass of Thanksgiving" and was focused on the alleged prostitute Mary Magdalene, and Jesus's love and support of her.
After the service, the Cardinal greeted people at the back of the church, where the screams of protest outside could be heard. Some activists did go in and called out his bigotry on marriage equality, and they were asked to leave.
George then met with congregants for a reception, and helped cut a cake for AGLO's 25th anniversary.
Asked by this reporter to comment about marriage equality, George said "What is that?" Asked again, he responded: "This is a celebration of AGLO that gives people the spiritual help they need ... that's why I'm here." Asked a third time about marriage equality, he laughed, and said, "That subject has been talked about a lot. This occasion is to celebrate this group. Which is a good group."
Outside of the church, there were strong interactions between some AGLO members and protesters, and against their fellow AGLO members who showed support for Murray.
"Then there was crazed individual who kept shouting out for me to sit down when I stood up to turn my back on the Cardinal while he gave his hypocritical message of love," Murray said. "After Mass same individual began bullying the women who had the courage show me support, like the individual who brought me Holy Communion. She gave me strength, and courage. All the while this bullying was going all the board members just watched and smiled. I am not angry just very sad it has come to this type of bullying behavior in God's house of prayer where all people should be welcome."
AGLO was formed 25 years ago when Cardinal Bernardin forced a split in the local Catholic LGBT community. He offered the existing group Dignity a choice of how to worship in a take-it-or-leave-it approach. Bernardin formed AGLO out of the Archdiocese, and Dignity went in its own direction. AGLO is made of largely of older white males, but it also has some lesbian and straight members, and a small participation of racial minorities.
Awards were presented during the service to Father Pat Lee and long-time AGLO member Jim Lux.
In advance of the Mass, GLN and RSM issued a press release stating: "The Cardinal in his most recent column in the Chicago Catholic New World indicates in the first two paragraphs that he wants to take part in public conversation about gay marriage but closes off further discussion when he says that the subject is closed by reason of Jesus' statements about marriage in Matthew's Gospel. We doubt the Cardinal's sincerity in this matter. He follows up by congratulating those who successfully urged Illinois legislators recently to give no consideration to a bill allowing same-sex marriage in the state. ... Clearly he does not agree with the concept of separation of Church and State when it comes to marriage."
"Our message to the Cardinal is simple: hate is easy, love takes courage, and the kind of faith based bigotry he promotes is not welcome in Chicago's LGBT Community," Murray said. "This visit is especially poignant since it takes place during June which is the month our community celebrates Gay Pride.
"Cardinal George continues to be a bigot and those who passively support him
and do not speak out about this vile homophobia are as much part of the
problem as the Cardinal."
Videos by Tracy Baim:
Cardinal George at AGLO 25th, June 16, 2013, PART 1, protesters
Cardinal George at AGLO 25th, June 16, 2013, PART 2 Brenna C. Cronin and Joe Murray
Cardinal George at AGLO 25th, June 16, 2013, PART 3 Cardinal George asked about marriage equality
Cardinal George at AGLO 25th, June 16, 2013, PART 4 Cardinal George cuts AGLO 25th anniversary cake