GayToday Article: "104 Activists Arrested at Roman Catholicism’s National Shrine"

November 16, 2000

Civil Rights Hero Rev. William Sloan Coffin Among the Jailed

Rev. Jimmy Creech: ‘Catholicism is Bigotry’s Primary Source’
Compiled by GayToday

The Revs. Jimmy Creech, Mel White and William Sloan Coffin were arrested at a rally against the Catholic Church at the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. Washington, D.C.-Over 250 Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) individuals, and their families, friends and allies from all over the United States gathered at the National Shrine in Washington, D.C. Monday to protest the exclusionary policies of the Catholic Church toward gay Catholics, to ask the National Conference of Catholic Bishops to ‘Stop Spiritual Violence’ against sexual and gender minorities, and to support their inclusion into all aspects of church life.

104 of the protesters were subsequently arrested for blocking the driveway to the National Shrine, and fined $50 per person and then released after being processed by the D.C. Police.

Among those arrested were: Reverend William Sloan Coffin, one of the nation’s most distinguished civil rights leaders; Maryanne Duddy, Executive Director of Dignity/USA; Reverend Mel White, Executive Director of Soulforce; Reverend Jimmy Creech, chairperson of Soulforce and the heterosexually-inclined minister who was defrocked in the United Methodist Church for performing what the minister calls a ‘holy union’ ceremony for two men; and Fran Taft, a 95-year-old grandmother of a gay man.

The protests began November 13 and continued through Tuesday while a silent vigil also took place at the Hyatt Regency where the Roman Catholic bishops were meeting.

The vigil was organized by Soulforce, an interfaith network of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender individuals and their families, friends, and allies. Soulforce emphasizes its "commitment to the principles of nonviolent resistance as taught by Gandhi and King" and works to apply them to the liberation of sexual and gender minorities.

Also cosponsoring the protest to confront the National Conference of Catholic Bishops was Dignity/USA, the oldest and largest independent national lay movement of gay and lesbian 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 Reverend 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 National Conference of Catholic Bishops and other dignitaries who are meeting this week in Washington D.C.

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 to whom they had sent letters and for whom they’d prayed for in the weeks before traveling to Washington 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 sisters everywhere".