104 People Arrested During Soulforce Civil Disobedience at National Shrine

Washington DC Actions Condemn Catholic Church Teachings which Lead to Oppression and Spiritual Violence against Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Individuals

November 15, 2000

Contact: Laura Montgomery Rutt, Media Coordinator
Cell: 717.951.7712

Washington, DC – Yesterday, November 14, over 250 Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) individuals, and their families, friends and allies from all over the United States joined together at the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. to protest the exclusionary policies of the Catholic Church toward GLBT Catholics, to ask the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) to STOP SPIRITUAL VIOLENCE against sexual and gender minorities, and support the inclusion of GLBT Catholics into all aspects of church life.

104 of the protesters were subsequently arrested for blocking the driveway to the National Shrine, and fined $50/person and released after being processed by the D.C. Police. Among those arrested were: Rev. William Sloan Coffin, one of the nation’s most distinguished civil rights leaders; Maryanne Duddy, Executive Director of Dignity/USA; Rev. Mel White, Executive Director of Soulforce; Rev. Jimmy Creech, Board Chair of Soulforce, Inc., and the minister who was defrocked in the United Methodist Church for performing a holy union ceremony for two men; and Fran Taft, a 95 year old grandmother of a gay man.

The protests, which began on Monday, November 13 and continue through today as a silent vigil at the Hyatt Regency where the NCCB is meeting, were organized by Soulforce, an interfaith network of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender individuals and their families, friends, and allies, committed to applying the principles of nonviolent resistance as taught by Gandhi and King to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities. Also cosponsoring the protest to confront the NCCB was Dignity/USA, the oldest and largest independent national lay movement of GLBT Catholics, families, and friends, and Equal Partners in Faith, a national network of religious leaders and people of faith committed to diversity and equality.

"Of all the Christian bodies, historically the Catholic Church is the primary source of condemnation of GLBT people since medieval times," said Rev. Jimmy Creech, chairperson of Soulforce. "By taking a stand at the National Shrine, GLBT people and non-gay allies from all over the United States let the NCCB know that Spiritual Violence against them will no longer be accepted in silence."

The protest began with a press conference and silent vigil at the National Shrine on November 13 during a special mass for the NCCB and other dignitaries who are meeting this week in Washington DC. The protesters stood in silence on the sidewalk as busses filled with bishops pulled in to the Shrine. Protesters were each holding the name of a bishop who they had sent letters to and prayed for in the weeks before coming to D.C. On November 14, protesters returned to the National Shrine as the bishops were meeting across town and held a prayerful vigil on the steps of the shrine, blessing the largest Catholic Cathedral in North America prior the arrests of 104 protesters.

"This is an historic moment," continued Rev. Creech. "Today we stand together determined to change the teachings of the Catholic Church. How can we remain silent when those teachings cause suffering and incite violence and discrimination against GLBT people? No matter what our faith traditions, we must resist Spiritual Violence and refuse to cooperate with the forces that perpetuate this oppression."

"One of the most powerful moments of these events was to see hundreds of people, brought together through the pain and oppression of our various religious backgrounds to witness to the love of God for all GLBT people everywhere," said Mary Louise Cervone, President of Dignity/USA. "Dignity/USA looks forward to continuing its relationship with Soulforce and is proud to have stood with Soulforce in solidarity with our GLBT brothers and sister everywhere."