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Cardinal: Be Chaste; Bishop: Be Welcome

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Pictured It was a tale of 2 different churches Sunday, with openly gay Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson on Chicago's South Side preaching a welcoming church, and Chicago's Cardinal George on the North Side preaching a chaste gay life. #1 Cardinal George greets members of the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach at mass Sunday night at Mt. Carmel on Belmont. #2 Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, greets parishioners after his sermon at St. Edmund's, 6105 S. Michigan, on the 200th anniversary of the ordination of the Episcopal Church's first African-American priest, Absalom Jones. #3 Rev. Dr. Richard Tolliver and Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson. #4 Jerry McEnany, AGLO's co-director, with Cardinal George Sunday night. #5 Bryan Cones and Stephanie Friedman. #6 Rev. Greg Dell. Photos by Tracy Baim

For Chicago GLBTs, Sunday, Feb. 8, presented a tale of many churches.

Starting on the South Side at St. Edmund's Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, gave a sermon of welcomeness and inclusion for the more than 300 people helping mark the 200th anniversary of the ordination of the Episcopal Church's first African-American priest, Rev. Absalom Jones.

Moving north, Ann Sather's restaurant was the location for a panel discussion with leaders from five religious traditions: Metropolitan Community Church, Buddhist, Catholic, Jewish and Methodist.

And Sunday evening, Archbishop of Chicago, Francis Cardinal George addressed the Archdiocesan Gay and Lesbian Outreach ( AGLO ) , affirming the church's teaching of a chaste life for gays and lesbians.

The joyous welcoming of GLBTs in the morning was countered by a somber and tearful mood at the AGLO mass at Mt. Carmel on Belmont and Halsted. About a dozen of the 400 people at the mass walked out after George's prepared remarks—given after his sermon, but before communion and the weekly financial collection.

The two bookended events were also a contrast in security. Robinson, attacked the world over for his sexuality and beliefs, attended St. Edmund's, at 6105 S. Michigan Ave., with no visible police presence. Meanwhile, AGLO called for police support in case protesters ( conservative or liberal ) tried to disrupt the service. At least half a dozen police cars blocked off parking on the north side of Belmont and secured the church property—at taxpayer's expense.

Rev. Absalom Jones

The invitation for Robinson to speak at a predominantly African-American church on the special anniversary was seen as a critical linking of oppressions. Robinson's mass called attention to the plight of many people, including gays and lesbians.

'I can think of no better way to celebrate this anniversary than by affirming our continuing commitment to diversity in all its forms and manifestations,' said Rev. Dr. Richard Tolliver, who has been at St. Edmund's for 14 years—and who several years ago hosted a forum on the Black church and homosexuality, timed around the release of the pro-gay film All God's Children.

'Two hundred years ago, one-half century before the abolition of slavery, our Church ordained an African-American. Our church's embracing of gay priests is an equally important and valid step, in ensuring the relevance and integrity of our religion today,' Tolliver said.

Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Bishop Coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire, is the first openly gay priest to be confirmed as a Bishop within the Episcopal Church. His consecration occurred in November of 2003, three months after the General Convention of the Episcopal Church confirmed his election after days of hearings and months of discussion within the 2.5 million-member church. He will officially become Bishop March 7. At his investiture, he will have a crozier carved from olive wood by a Palestinian from Bethlehem, with a silver and gold round orb with the skyline of Jerusalem.

In bringing Robinson to Chicago, Father Tolliver and St. Edmund's are continuing a tradition of progressive inclusion for which Tolliver has become well known. Church services have been the occasions to bring ideas to the congregation with speakers like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, III, and the Rev. Barbara Harris, the first woman ordained by the Episcopal Church.

'I would like to think it is the connections being made between various kinds of oppression that brings me here today,' Robinson said. 'And what an honor it is, a white boy like me from Kentucky, being asked to come here and talk about ... Absalom Jones.'

Jones was born a slave in Sussex, Dela., and he taught himself to read. He purchased his wife's freedom and later his own. Jones became rector of the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, the first African-American congregation of the Episcopal Church.

'The real sin of any oppression is making an object out of another human being. Treating people as if they were a commodity ... . Slavery of course being the ultimate. People of color, women, gay and lesbian folk, the physically disabled, the aged, all oppressed, and all offered liberation by this great Bible, declaring the humanity, not the objectification of those people.

'People don't seem to have a problem preaching a judgmental God. But if you start preaching a merciful God, a God that, well, is too loving, too merciful, too forgiving, then people get real mad. ...

'We're having a bit of a controversy in the Episcopal Church, I think you probably noticed,' Robinson said in good humor, to a laughing congregation. 'Could it be that God is advising us to go deeper,' he said, referring back to the topic of his sermon, about going deeper into issues. 'So that we might get to know God better. This is not about sexuality, it is not about homosexuality, it is about God's unbounded love. It is about a God who loves us beyond our wildest imagining. Why are people so angry that God's love might be extended to folks like me and folks like you? Might this controversy be a blessing to us? ... Might this be Jesus calling us to put out into deeper waters? Every congregation of the Episcopal church, and lots of churches beyond ours, are sitting around having discussions about what makes us church ... we've got Episcopalians looking for their Bibles, who would have thought it?' he joked. 'Imagine wanting to hear God's voice.'

After the service, Tolliver and Robinson attended a press conference, with cameras from half a dozen TV stations. Robinson had presided over two services that morning, and Tolliver said perhaps about 100 additional people were at his church compared to a normal Sunday. He said while his congregants are diverse, they are mostly African-American and not usually as diverse as this week—when many whites ( both gay activists and Episcopalians ) joined for the special service.

'I will not say that there weren't some people who didn't come [ because of Robinson ] . But no one expressed to me they weren't coming,' Tolliver said.

'What would Absalom be doing in 2004,' Tolliver said he told his board of trustees. 'Bishop Robinson represents one of the causes of marginalized people that Absalom Jones certainly would be trying to make society more inclusive.'

It's time for the church to become a moral voice, a player in public debates, including public funding of schools, healthcare and AIDS, Robinson said.

As to the divisions in the Anglican church worldwide, including in the U.S., Robinson said he can't close the divisions on his own. 'I am trying to win people one heart at a time,' he said. 'Time will be in our favor. The church hasn't fallen apart, the roofs haven't caved in just because there's a gay guy who is bishop in New Hampshire.'

Robinson said the role of women in the church has also caused problems in the worldwide Anglican community.

Robinson said the diocese of Chicago is a comfortable place for him, even with some strife that exists here and everywhere. He said this was one of only a very few invitations he has accepted, because his primary role is in New Hampshire.

'St. Edmund's has a set of value statements that indicate who we are,' Tolliver said when asked about having Robinson at the church, especially during Black History Month. 'Those value statements say, one, there are no outcasts in the church of God, and secondly, we embrace the diversity that is the world. I think it's time for the Black church to become more bold. We are a multi-dimensional people. ... We have multiple consciousnesses.'

Tolliver was one of the elected representatives from the diocese of Chicago to the Episcopal convention. He said overwhelmingly that Black representatives supported Robinson. 'They wanted to make a statement. We support this because we know what it means to be marginalized,' Tolliver said.

Robinson said it was a gift that his partner of 16 years, Mark Andrew, is so supportive. Robinson has two grown daughters from a previous marriage.

'What I would most like to do is go to some of the provinces in the Anglican communion, so they could see I am not quite the devil I am made out to be there, nor I am the angel that those who are happy about my election would make me out to be. I am just a human being,' Robinson said.

'I think [ the controversy about gays ] was only inevitable in the sense that I believe God is doing a new thing in the world. With the court system here in this country and in Canada. The more gay and lesbian folk who are open and honest about their lives means that for more and more people in this culture and in this church, it's not so much about an issue, as it is about human beings. When that starts happening, the policies start changing, the theology starts changing, that's what I think is inevitable,' Robinson said. 'Every family is now being touched.'

Robinson said it is important to make a distinction between what the church does and what civil courts do. He said he fully supports what the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts said on same-sex marriage. 'Full citizenship in this country is either full citizenship or it isn't, and the civil right of marriage needs to be extended to all of those who desire it.'

AGLO and the Cardinal

Later that day, Cardinal George gave mass at AGLO on the North Side, just a hop and a skip from the gay bars of Halsted—where many AGLO members retreated after services.

For a long time, Chicago has been known as a 'Catholic' town, with about 40% of Cook and Lake counties believed to be Catholic. Nearly 17,000 people are employed by the Archdiocese and its related institutions. Cardinal George first visited AGLO almost six years ago, when he was still new to the post and when AGLO was marking its 10th anniversary as an officially designated group of the Archdiocese of Chicago.

George sought out AGLO for a meeting Dec. 14, and from that meeting came the appearance Sunday night. His request for outreach was a direct result of protests by Dignity and others against harsh wording against gays and gay families last summer from the Vatican.

Apparently the Feb. 14 protest outside Cardinal George's home, part of nationwide protests for same-sex marriage, was just a coincidence of timing—many AGLO members had not yet heard of Saturday's planned demonstration.

'The Cardinal had asked to meet with the executive board, because he was aware of all of the things going on with the press and the letters,' said Jerry McEnany, AGLO's co-director. 'The organization and our members were feeling both stressed and distressed. He wanted to reassure us that he is appreciative of what we're doing, reaching out to gay and lesbian Catholics, so he wanted to show support.'

McEnany said George also stated that he wanted 'to celebrate mass with the entire membership,' which occurred Sunday after a relatively quick planning period.

'We were not seeking anything or a clarification,' McEnany said. 'It was suggested that he preach the gospel of that evening.' When George deviated from the norm and read a prepared statement, so as to remember exactly what he said, McEnany said he and other AGLO members were 'not surprised he was so clear on the policy. As a cardinal of the church, he upholds the strict teaching—that's his job.'

'Some people were hurt by it, they did not hear what they wanted to hear,' McEnany said. 'That was too bad—it was unfortunate. I didn't know what he was going to say, but whatever it was, I expected it to be church teaching. There are members of AGLO who are in positive relationships, it hurt them, that how they are living their lives is not supported by the teaching. The church opposes any sexual relations outside of marriage—heterosexual, pre-marital and extramarital.'

Attendance on Sunday was about 150 more than usual for AGLO's weekly mass. AGLO is believed to be the only Archdiocese-backed gay and lesbian group in the country which holds weekly mass, with official priests rotating on a 16-week schedule to perform the services.

Even after the harsh words from the Vatican last year ( which basically said gay and lesbian parents were committing violence against their children ) , AGLO's annual attendance was stable, at just over 12,000. The donations to the group are also stable, at around $60,000 a year—that money stays with AGLO, which rents the church space and does not receive financial support from the Archdiocese.

Attendance Sunday was also typical of the groups' makeup—mostly white male, although McEnany said more men of color have been attending, and there were a few Black, Latino and Asians at mass Sunday. Given the church's record on women's issues, it is not surprising that women's attendance is so low, but McEnany said at one point both co-directors of AGLO were women.

'Overall it was a positive experience,' McEnany said. 'The Cardinal was certainly forthright. Some people thought it was a significant statement he made, and what he had to do. 'Being there' is as much as he can do. The Cardinal takes a lot of grief from organizations and people who oppose his support of us. We're appreciative when he can come and say mass. He puts himself on the line with others.'

'All men and women are welcome within the church,' George read from his written statement. 'But everyone is welcome on the same terms. Conversion of heart and mind, and a commitment to one's life journey ... and the obedience of faith. ... Many of you are part of the gay community here in Chicago. You are also, if you are worshipping here, publically part of the Catholic community ... .

'Not every friendship, not every love, can be expressed erotically. This is a hard lesson, especially in our day and age. ... If you are to be both publically Catholic and publically gay, you have to find ways to integrate that teaching into your own life. ...

'Lastly, I would like to comment on the relationship between the Catholic Church and the gay community. In recent years, the church in Illinois has reiterated that sexual orientation should not become a civil right. In itself, sexual orientation is not directly comparable to race and religion. In its effects, that legal categorization would change the church's relationship to civil law and to society itself. ... This position of the Catholic Conference of Illinois causes pain between the church and some, perhaps many, in the gay community. ...

'Marriage is a lifelong union between a man and woman, not something the states can change. ... In other instances the church describes homosexual actions in terms that are offensive to many in the gay community and many outside of it as well. I believe that such descriptions are valid ... . But if I do not believe the church's understanding of human sexuality, accept her moral teaching, believing it to be true, I will resign as archbishop, as a matter of my own integrity ... .

'The nature of life itself, the nature of marriage, the nature of faith, cannot be simply subsumed into civil rights ... individual rights. ... Certainly members of AGLO must feel these tensions in a particularly personal and acute way. I recognize that,' Cardinal George concluded.

After mass, George briefly attended a reception. While some at the event were clearly upbeat about the Cardinal's attendance, others were upset at once again being cast out by the hierarchy.

Greg Van Hyfte, a four-year AGLO member, was among those who walked out during the Cardinal's mass. He paced outside, very upset from the experience, and questioning his future with AGLO.

'I was actually appalled by what he said. I was so moved by what he said, in a negative way, that I had to leave. ... It's a struggle to be part of a larger institution that doesn't accept the whole person. As a gay person, what I felt the Cardinal was saying was that he'll accept the parts of us that are good for the church, and good for each other ... but the church doesn't seem to want the whole of who we are. That reality really hit home, and puts a distance between myself, my personal faith, and the church,' Van Hyfte said.

'I was surprised, talking to people afterwards, who said they wanted to walk out too, a lot of mixed feelings, a lot of conflicts, they don't know how to process what just happened. ... They're saying you're living in sin by expressing your friendship and love erotically. I believe this is morally wrong—I believe in my heart that this is who God wants me to be,' said Van Hyfte.

'I feel the tension, but I've dealt with it longer,' said Alan Szafraniec, a member of AGLO for almost 14 years. 'I understood where he was coming from. I heard his remarks in 1998. ... I felt he's come some way. Bishops are teachers, and he has to follow the teachings of the church. I heard some compassion in that ... and yet he's bound by his teaching ability. ... I'll live with the tension. ... We're very fortunate in Chicago. Other parts of the country do not have such an active gay and lesbian Catholic tradition as we do here.'

'I wonder what he believes in his heart,' Van Hyfte added.

Marriage Panel

Also on Sunday, representatives from five religions spoke at Ann Sather's about marriage within their traditions.

Ald. Tom Tunney moderated the panel. The Rev. Greg Dell of Broadway United Methodist Church, the Rev. Wayne Bradley of the Metropolitan Community Church, and lay members of Congregation Or Chadash ( Stephanie Friedman ) , Dignity Chicago ( Bryan Cones ) , and Rainbow Lotus Sangha ( Larry Axelrod ) offered views from the Christian, Jewish, and Buddhist traditions.

About 150 people gathered for the in-depth discussions of how religions cope with homosexuality and marriage rights.

National marriage protests, sponsored by, and locally by the Chicago Anti-Bashing Network, include one Feb. 14, noon, in front of Cardinal George's residence on North Avenue and State.

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