3 Gays are Refused Communion with Nation’s Bishops

Former aide to Maida claims mix-up in D.C.

Article from Detroit Free Press
November 13, 2002
By David Crumm and Patricia Montemurri
Fress Press Staff Writers

WASHINGTON — A former aide to Detroit Cardinal Adam Maida barred three gay Catholics from taking communion with the nation’s Catholic bishops and sparked a nonviolent protest that disrupted the bishops’ national conference on Tuesday.

The turning away of the three Catholics at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Monday night also drew criticism of the priest, the Rev. Michael Bugarin, Maida’s former secretary who now is director of the John Paul II Cultural Center near the basilica.

Bugarin apologized Tuesday, saying he made an unfortunate mistake. He said he wrongly believed the three were with an activist group whose members the priest had been warned should not receive the sacrament because they would be doing so "as an act of protest."

"I regret that there was a misunderstanding on my part, and I regret the whole situation," Bugarin said. For Catholics, partaking in the Eucharist is the ultimate sign of unity with God and the rest of the church. For a churchgoing Catholic to be prevented from taking communion can be very serious and humiliating.

The incident also highlights the growing tension between the increasingly antigay rhetoric of many Catholic leaders and the lives of countless gay parishioners among the nation’s 64-million Catholics.

Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, an advocate for gay Catholics, said Tuesday that Bugarin’s action "was wrong."

"A priest can’t judge the state of a person’s conscience when he stands up for communion," Gumbleton said.

Marianna Thompson, communications director for the Diocese of Paterson, N.J., who tried to comfort one of those denied communion as the woman wept, said: "What was done to these people was inappropriate. They were Catholics who were acting appropriately, and they were left in disbelief and very great distress."

The three denied communion are lifelong Catholics: Mike Perez of Seattle; Ken Einhaus, a 1989 University of Michigan graduate living in Arlington Va., and Michigan native Kara Speltz, now a eucharistic minister in a Berkley, Calif., parish.

They were in Washington to join in silent vigils on behalf of Soulforce, a gay rights group protesting outside the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is meeting at the Hyatt on Capitol Hill through Thursday.

On Monday night, the trio joined in the annual mass open to all Catholics at the basilica. Einhaus and Speltz wore tiny ceramic crosses decorated with rainbow hues, an ornament they said they often wear. Perez wore no pendants or pins.

Bugarin said he misinterpreted the rainbow crosses. He said staffers in the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., had instructed priests not to give communion to members of the Rainbow Sash movement, who previously had worn rainbow sashes and publicly stated they would seek the sacrament as a protest against church teachingson homosexuality.

"If they’re receiving it in active opposition . . . of the church’s teaching, I have an obligation to hold up the dignity and belief that we have in the Eucharist," Bugarin said.

On Monday night, Einhaus said he stood in stunned silence when Bugarin waved him aside.

"Why?" Einhaus said he asked.

"You know why," Einhaus said Bugarin told him.

Thomas Bull of Arlington, Va., who was sitting near Bugarin, said the priest "was so cold. You couldn’t see any sense of compassion in him."

Thompson said it’s hard to convey to non-Catholics "what a visceral experience this is to be turned away like that."

Speltz was still weeping and shaking as bishops marched past her at the end of mass. Only Thompson stopped to comfort her, Speltz said.

On Tuesday, the three who had been denied communion showed up at the Hyatt and confronted the bishops as they left a meeting in the ballroom. Perez, Einhaus and Speltz knelt silently on the floor in front of the exiting bishops, holding out their hands as if to receive communion.

The Rev. Mel White, a Protestant minister and founder of Soulforce, shouted: "Won’t some bishop come and serve our brothers and sister the Eucharist they were denied last night?"

Soon, White and the three were surrounded by Washington police, handcuffed, arrested and charged with unlawful entry to the hotel.

Maida declined to comment.

Contact DAVID CRUMM at 313-223-4526 or crumm@freepress.com or PATRICIA MONTEMURRI at 313-223-4538 or montemurri@freepress.com.