Canceled Mass outrages gays

Diocese bans parish’s service

By David Abel
Globe Staff / June 11, 2011

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The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, in response to criticism it was sanctioning a celebration of Gay Pride month, announced yesterday that it had ordered a South End church to cancel a Mass scheduled for next weekend that was themed, “All are Welcome.’’

The decision outraged members of the lesbian and gay community.

“I think that’s horrible, just horrible, that they would cancel,’’ said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, an organization that advocates for participation of gays in the Catholic Church. “What an abuse of authority. I wish I could be surprised, but I’m definitely appalled.’’

In its most recent bulletin, St. Cecilia Parish said that it had planned a “liturgy to commemorate Boston Pride 2011’’ for later this month.

“The Rainbow Ministry of St. Cecilia Parish invites all friends and supporters of the LGBT community to a Mass in celebration of Boston’s Pride Month,’’ the bulletin said. “The theme of the liturgy, ‘All Are Welcome,’ honors Christ’s message of hope and salvation to all people. We will also celebrate the diverse community that finds its home at St. Cecilia.’’

But after protests from conservative church members, the archdiocese intervened.

“The wording and placement of a bulletin notice announcing that the St. Cecilia Rainbow Ministry will be joining the parish at a Mass on June 19 may have given the unintended impression that the Mass is in support of Gay Pride Week; it is not,’’ said Terrence C. Donilon, a spokesman for the archdiocese. “The pastor will clarify this issue at the Masses this coming weekend.’’

The pastor of the church, the Rev. John J. Unni, did not return calls. Donilon said that he spoke for the parish and that the decision was made by senior officials at the archdiocese.

Donilon declined to answer questions about the apparent contradiction of the church’s bulletin and his statement. He said, however, that there would be a Mass in the future to welcome the community, but not specifically gays and lesbians.

Burke of DignityUSA called on the parish community to “resist the calls for canceling’’ and possibly move the event to a different location. “What kind of message does this send to the gays and lesbians in that parish?’’ she asked.

Susan Donnelly, a member of the parish council of St. Cecilia Parish, said the scheduled Mass had not sparked controversy at St. Cecilia’s. She said the criticism has come from outside.

“I find it hard to believe that Christians don’t believe the great variety of people as God made them is a lovely thing,’’ she said. “Nobody’s trying to celebrate people living in denial of what the church is teaching; it’s more we’re trying to celebrate the people who sit next to you in the pew. There’s no agenda other than that.’’

She added: “We have all kinds of people at our church. We have straight people and gay people, rich people and poor people, white people and people of color, old people and young people. We’re a community, a big tent.’’

Opposition to the Mass grew out of a post by a local blogger who writes under the pseudonym Joe Sacerdo and who has criticized the Archdiocese of Boston for what he describes as “relativism’’ and deviation from doctrine.

Sacerdo also criticized the parish for sponsoring an upcoming trip to the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, which it also advertised in its most recent bulletin.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,’’ he said yesterday of the archdiocese’s decision. “There’s not a place for a Mass like that in the Catholic Church.’’

In his blog post Wednesday, he questioned Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley’s commitment to church doctrine: “What’s next, NY Rep. Anthony Weiner and Tiger Woods giving a talk at the church on the topic of marital fidelity?’’

“Celebrating a ‘Gay Pride’ Mass isn’t expressing the moral teachings of the church with clarity and fidelity or telling people their behavior is unacceptable — it’s telling them their behavior is just fine,’’ Sacerdo said.

He called on O’Malley to put the pastor on leave.

Donilon said that would not happen. “Father Unni has the full confidence and support of the Cardinal and the archdiocese,’’ Donilon wrote in an e-mail. “He is a great pastor.’’

Carol McKinley, another local conservative Catholic blogger, said she supported the archdiocese’s decision. “Pride is one of the cardinal sins in the Catholic Church,’’ she said. “It’s the opposite of humility.’’

She said that just as she does not celebrate her heterosexuality at Mass, gays and lesbians should not have that option.

“In Catholic teaching, talking about sexuality or anything outside the sacrament of marriage, is to be atoned,’’ she said. “We avoid temptation. We build our lives to completely comply with the teaching of the church.’’

But Charles Martel, co-founder of the Boston-based group Catholics for Marriage Equality, said he felt “deeply disappointed’’ that the archdiocese would take such action.

“That there are those who can exert pressure on the archdiocese to express a hatred for gay people is a sad statement,’’ he said. “That’s how it’s going to be understood by the community.’’

David Abel can be reached at Follow him @davabel.

Clarification: This story about the cancellation of a Mass at St. Cecilia Church mistakenly stated that the church is located in the South End. It is the church’s parish offices that are temporarily located in the South End.