Final Report on the Soulforce Action at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops' annual meeting 2004
As the Catholic team reached the last few weeks of planning our campaign directed at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, it was amazing to watch how everything fell together. It clearly appeared to be a situation of just getting out of the way and allowing the Holy Spirit to direct us. From the decision to open up and invite other groups to join us in a National Call for Prayer and Vigils to the dates we picked to be in DC at the USCCB, it was all so providential.
Before we ever got to DC you could feel the energy mounting. Local groups and two other non-Soulforce groups held vigils from NYC to LA and San Francisco to Venice, FL, and cities in between. The Catholic group in St. Louis was amazed at turning out 107 people for their vigil. Dialogue from the "Call" had already begun in Cleveland, Oklahoma City and San Francisco.
Except for our initial Catholic action in 2000, which was co-sponsored with Dignity, this was the largest number of participants that we have had. DC is always a small action because it's during the workweek and people have to take off so much time from work. This year we made the decision to cut it to Sunday through Wednesday breaking after our luncheon vigil. It wasn't until the 11:30 - 1:30 vigil on Wednesday, that a priest friend told us that the conference itself was trying to windup that day.
The decision to hand out a different piece every day also was a situation that simply created itself, so to speak. We had decided on two handouts, but when an Irish Bishop spoke up, (just a couple of weeks prior to the USCCB) against the Church’s stand opposing equal civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LBGT) people, it was clear that we would go with "Stories of Courage."
We had eight first timers this year, which was outstanding. We started off Sunday evening with CNN reporting on our presence in DC. Our focus this year was less on the press and more on those who actually attend the conference.
Again, this year we met with Msgr. Rossi, the priest who had refused us Eucharist in 2002. This time however, Soulforce had been in contact with Cardinal McCarrick's office and had convinced him that our rainbow crosses were not "symbols of protest," but symbols of faith. With this acceptance of our crosses we were told that we would be allowed to receive Eucharist.
But we were put in a situation where our brothers and sisters of Rainbow Sash and Rainbow Sash Alliance would not be offered Eucharist. So we had a very difficult decision to make. Understanding that as Rainbow Sash states their sash is a symbol of visibility not protest, we asked Msgr. Rossi to reconsider the decision not to serve them. When he said he could not, we told him that we could not receive - that we were being put in a position of "house slave vs. field slave," and that we would not make that distinction.
Some fifteen to twenty Soulforcees refused Eucharist that Monday evening. After the Bishops' Mass it was hard on all of us and the energy upon the return to the hotel was deeply affected by this, but we stood our vigil singing the Taize song, "Stay Here and Keep Watch With Me," and prayed for a time when all would be welcome at the table.
Tuesday evening's Peace Mass was the total opposite of Monday's. Soulforce was invited by Pax Christi to co-sponsor the Mass and started off the Prayers of the Faithful specifically addressing the issues of LGBTs and the bishops. All were welcome there and the energy of celebration was abundant. Rainbow crosses were worn by almost all of the several hundred participants of the Mass. Judge Mildred Edwards, who is now retired and in seminary, was present at the service. She was the judge who refused to sentence the “DC 3”, the three people refused communion and later arrested in 2002 in the Hyatt lobby. She acknowledged the role the trial had played in her discernment to retire and enter seminary and told us that we "sustained" her.
Back on the vigil line that night after the Mass, various discussions took place, one bishop reading our banner, "Romero gave his life for justice, what will you risk?" said, “You sure know how to get to us don't you? “
We continue to believe that a large number of these bishops do know the truth and we will continue to challenge them to join the cloud of witnesses that proclaim the sanctity of the lives of faithful LGBT's who's lives are committed to doing the work that God has called us to do.
Co-chair Catholic Denominational Team