Gay Activists Denied Communion

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During a St. John’s Abbey mass, students and others wearing protest buttons and sashes received Archbishop John Nienstedt’s hand of blessing rather than the eucharist.

Gay activists denied communion

About 25 college students and community members at St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minn., were denied communion by Twin Cities Roman Catholic Archbishop John C. Nienstedt because they were displaying rainbow buttons and sashes in protest of the church’s stand on gay relationships.

The conflict between the archbishop and the group, mostly students from the Catholic St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict, occurred during evening mass Sept. 26.

It came amid news that the state’s bishops were mailing 400,000 DVDs to Minnesota Catholics, spelling out church teachings on gay marriage and urging them to support candidates who endorse putting the issue to a vote.

The St. John’s action was coordinated by students, including members of People Representing the Sexual Minority (PRiSM), which represents gay and lesbian students and their friends and allies. That Sunday, according to those at the mass, about two dozen worshipers positioned themselves to receive communion from Nienstedt, who was saying his first student mass at the abbey. Some reached for the communion wafer but were denied it. Rather, the archbishop raised his hand in blessing.

The archdiocese long has denied communion to members of the Rainbow Sash Movement, who wear the colors to mass in protest of the church’s stance in opposition to homosexual relationships. Its leader, Brian McNeil, said the action at St. John’s was not connected to his group.

Archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath said the church has told McNeil’s group “for years you cannot receive communion if you wear the rainbow sash, because it’s a political statement, a sign of protest. Going to the communion rail is the most sacred part of our faith, the eucharist. We don’t allow anybody to make political statements or any kind of protest.”

St. Benedict theology junior Elizabeth Gleich, PRiSM vice president, said, “We were making a statement during the eucharist, and many have disagreed with that. But when we have no other way of dialoguing with our church, no other way of telling him how we feel, how else to do it than in liturgy?”

She said their complaint is with church hierarchy, not with the colleges.

Another student, senior Andrew Grausam, said he sat behind the group. “It was sad to see the mass politicized like that,” Grausam said. “And even though I wholeheartedly disagree with the archbishop on this issue, I was hurt to see my worship become a place of demonstration.”

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which describes itself as the nation’s largest civil rights organization on behalf of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people, expressed outrage at Nienstedt’s actions.

“Jesus didn’t play politics with communion,” Harry Knox, the HRC’s religion and faith program director, said Tuesday in a statement. “He offered his body and blood for everyone.”

In the Twin Cities area, at least two efforts have gathered hundreds of DVDs from Catholics opposed to its message. Minneapolis artist Lucinda Naylor estimated Tuesday that she’d gathered about 600. A group called Return the DVD has received about 1,000 in its Burnsville post office box, and also has garnered about $5,000 in donations to help the poor, said organizer Bob Radecki.

The archdiocese has received about 100 DVDs back by mail, McGrath said. The campaign was made possible by anonymous donors and not by church funds, he said.

The U.S. Postal Service will not return bulk-mailed items. Spokesman Pete Nowacki said there’s no way of knowing how many have been received and discarded.

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Gay activists denied communion
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Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

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Topics: Homosexuality, John Nienstedt

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