Wrap Up – USCCB Action November 2003

Now that I’m rested up from our time together in D.C., I thought I would do a recap on what happened while we were there.

A number of important things happened that did not get reported in the press, and some of our people may have missed some small but significant moments during our time together. Approximately 40 people signed up for the D.C. action, and we had a number of first timers with us!

We started vigiling on Sunday afternoon outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel where the meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) , was being held, and then did the training Sunday evening.

Prior to our arrival in D.C. Mike Perez and I had arranged to meet with Frs. Rossi and Bulgarin (the 2 priests who were responsible for denying us Eucharist last year). Mike and I were both hopeful that their agreeing to meet with us was an indication that we would not be refused again this year. (Fr. Bulgarin was the priest who refused us Eucharist, but it was Fr. Rossi – who was in charge at the Shrine – who instructed Fr. Bulgarin not to serve us.)

At the beginning of our meeting, Mike and I expressed the depth of the pain we had experienced last year when we’d been denied Eucharist. I told them they had no idea how many tears were shed. Interestingly, Fr. Rossi replied, “There were tears on both sides.” They both said that they were simply following Cardinal McCarrick’s instructions that no one wearing any "visible sign of protest," should be served communion.

We explained to them that Washington, D.C. is one of the few dioceses to continue to refuse Eucharist to anyone wearing the rainbow. Both Bishop George of Chicago and Bishop Flynn of Minneapolis have recently decided to serve Rainbow Sash. Both Frs. insisted they were simply following orders and had no other recourse. I asked for clarification if they were assuming that my cross with the rainbow on it was a sign of protest and they said that it was. I tried to explain that it was a symbol of my faith and trust in the covenant God had made with Noah, but they would not accept that.

After an hour meeting it was clear that they would not serve me communion if I wore the cross. Mike, who had not worn the cross last year, asked, "you know who I am, you know what I believe, are you saying you will serve me Eucharist, if I don’t wear the cross?" They answered, “Yes.” They even went so far as to suggest I hide my cross under a sweater. I told them I could not do that.

As we left, we told them where we would be sitting and that we hoped, given our discussion, that they would be the one’s serving at that station. At this point we were thinking that I would wear the cross and be refused and Mike would not wear the cross and receive. As we shared all this with Mel, he came up with another plan. Mel brought approximately 150 crosses with him from Lynchburg. We created a brief statement, asking people to stand with us and wear the cross, understanding that if they did so they would probably be refused Eucharist. We reminded people of what the Danes had done in Denmark when the Nazis ordered that all Jews must wear the Star of David on their clothing – led by their king, a vast majority of the Danes wore the Star of David.

We vigiled Monday until around 4 pm and then went to the Shrine. Some people from our group passed out the crosses and the statement as people entered the Shrine for Mass, while another group of us went inside the shrine in order to ensure that we sat exactly where we had been seated last year. A number of people accepted the crosses as they entered, and I saw at least one couple who were not part of our group wearing the cross inside the Shrine. I have not been able to find out if they were served Eucharist or not.

As Mass began, those who had been vigiling outside came into the Shrine for Mass and sat right behind us. When it came time for communion, Fr. Rossi was the server and I was the first to approach. He refused me Eucharist, giving me a blessing, instead. Mike had no cross on and he offered Mike communion, but Mike refused it. Then somewhere around 20 to 25 more of us approached the communion station; most wearing the crosses and they were refused. Some of our people had no visible crosses and they were offered Eucharist, but refused it. It was a very quiet, but very moving demonstration of solidarity. After communion was over, Fr. Rossi, approached Mike in his pew and thanked him, several times.

We then returned to the Hyatt hotel after Mass and were at the hotel to greet the Bishops upon their return. Bishop Ramirez of New Mexico walked up and down the line, telling us that God loved us, as he had last year.

On Tuesday, we decided as a group to set aside our dinner time vigil, in order to attend a Mass Bishop Gumbleton was celebrating nearby. It was an incredibly healing Mass after the Monday experience. Contrary to the pomp and circumstance that had marked Mondays Mass, this was a simple down to earth celebration in the basement of a local parish and the Mass was filled with people committed to peace. Jeanneane gave Bishop Gumbleton one of our rainbow crosses and he wore it while celebrating Mass. Once again Bishop Gumbleton had brought healing to our people. After being strengthened by this beautiful and simple breaking of the bread, we returned to vigil at the Hyatt and had the opportunity to talk with a number of bishops about our concerns in terms of the “so-called” Federal Marriage Amendment (FMA). Unlike previous years, Bishop Gregory, the president of the USCCB, came out and walked down our vigil and spoke with everyone on the line asking their name and where they were from. I was able to spend a few minutes explaining to Bishop Gregory just how dangerous the FMA was.

On Wednesday, the bishops were to discuss the proposed document "Between Man and Woman: Questions and AnswersAbout Marriage and Same-Sex Unions" (you can view this document if you go to the USCCB website at http://www.usccb.org/laity/manandwoman.htm.)

The discussion appeared to take much longer than had been originally expected. From what we learned from our friends in the media, there was an attempt to open it up for revision – some bishops wanting inclusion of "intrinsically disordered,” etc. But ultimately they accepted the document without change. We understand that 3 bishops voted against the document and three abstained. We are trying to find out more information on this. It is conceivable that those who did not vote to support it may wanted to see the intrinsically evil language in it, or they could have been coming from a place of trying to support us by stopping the document all together. We understand that this document will be sent out to every diocese in the country. Hopefully we can convince some of the bishops on a local basis not to distribute it.

So once again, we made tiny steps on one level and continued to experience spiritual violence by the USCCB’s teachings on another. Mike Perez continues to remind us that the Catholic Church is like the Queen Mary, it takes a very long time to even make a slight veering in its course. We are already planning for next year, which will be our 5th year at the USCCB. Hopefully, we’ll have more local involvement next year by those living in the D.C. area. I am hopeful that Catholics in D.C. will begin to organize to get Cardinal McCarrick to reconsider his instructions concerning the rainbow.

We encourage everyone to contact their local bishop, and talk with him about what happened in D.C. Ask him how he voted on the document; explain to him the damage this document will create and ask him to consider not distributing the document in his diocese. Give him the information on the so-called Federal Marriage Amendment. We cannot just rely on what happens in November to bring about the change we seek. We’re working on a project that will hopefully make it a bit easier to carry on an ongoing dialogue with your local bishop.

Lastly, I’d like to ask you to keep Bishop Gumbleton in your prayers. He has stood for us so many times (including testifying last year at our trial) and he has asked for our prayers. He is a courageous prophet and shepherd. Secondly, consider sending him a note of thanks for his prophetic stand.

His address in Detroit is:
Most Reverend Thomas J. Gumbleton,
1234 Washington Blvd.
Detroit, MI 48226

Again, thank you for your participation and continued work to end the spiritual violence.
Kara Speltz
Catholic Denominational Team Leader