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Spotlight Report

Antigay pickets, church protesters clash

By Michael S. Rosenwald, Globe Staff, 10/21/2002

A half-dozen followers of Frank Phelps, a Kansas pastor whose church says that homosexuals ''pose a clear and present danger to the survival of America,'' picketed outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross yesterday.

Carrying signs bearing derogatory and callous remarks about homosexuals - one said ''(homosexuals) die, God laughs'' - the group at one point clashed with regular church protesters, who are calling for Cardinal Bernard F. Law's resignation.

That put the regular protesters critical of Law's handling of the clergy sexual abuse scandal in the odd position of defending the church.

One protester took off his gloves and jacket and attempted to confront one of Phelps's followers, calling him a ''hate monger.'' Police quickly approached the regular protester, telling him, ''Don't fall for their bait.'' The protester agreed and walked away.

Phelps's 100 or so followers from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. have protested at dozens of Catholic churches around the country in recent weeks, with Phelps's teenage grandchildren helping out.

On Saturday in Jaffrey, N.H., five antigay picketers from the Kansas church were outnumbered about 20 to 1 by counterprotesters in front of a Catholic church. The picketers target was the Rev. Roland Cote, who has acknowledged having a sexual relationship with a young man during the 1980s.

About 100 counterprotesters from across New Hampshire assembled across the street. They sang the Beatles song ''All You Need Is Love'' and held signs reading ''Nazis Go Home'' and ''Hate Mongers Go Back To Kansas.''

It is not known whether Law was aware of the Kansas protesters. During Mass, the cardinal did not mention the clergy sexual abuse scandal or the recent Vatican decision to reject the US bishops' ''zero tolerance'' proposal.

Following Mass, Law joined dozens of government officials, including Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino, in South Boston to celebrate the opening of the new $9.6 million Shaughnessy Family Center at Laboure. The Laboure Center, located on West Broadway, is celebrating nearly 100 years of serving those in need in South Boston. The center, now sponsored by Catholic Charities of Boston, provides an array of programs, including child care, youth mentoring, and elder services.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

This story ran on page B4 of the Boston Globe on 10/21/2002.
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