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Continued: Uproar over prayer service for gays grows

As he has done for a number of years, Michael Bayly will arrive tonight at St. Joan of Arc Church ready to celebrate his God, his faith and his homosexuality.

But this year, Bayly and other Catholic gays and lesbians will not be allowed to celebrate their lifestyle in the church sanctuary following an edict handed down by Archbishop John Nienstedt, who has barred the annual gay pride prayer service at the south Minneapolis church.

In protest, Bayly and others have decided to hold their own lay service outside the church tonight. They are also calling for a mass rally at the church tonight to condemn the archdiocese.

The annual gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender service, designed to coincide with gay pride week celebrations, instead will be characterized as a "peace" service, said Dennis McGrath, a spokesman for Nienstedt and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

"Celebrating the GLBT lifestyle is contrary to the teachings of our church -- plain and simple," McGrath said.

The ban has caused an uproar inside and outside the church, which for years has been known as a liberal bastion supporting GLBT people.

Most of the anger has been focused on Nienstedt, who took over as archbishop recently and almost immediately angered local gays.

This is "yet another volley of dehumanizing spiritual violence directed at GLBT persons and their families under Archbishop Nienstedt's reign of homophobic hatred," David McCaffrey, a board member of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), said in an e-mail Monday to members.

"The archdiocese is now dictating to people who they can and cannot pray for, and that deeply concerns me," said Bayly, executive director of the CPCSM. "This certainly does not celebrate the presence of God in the lives of gay people. They are dictating to gay people how to have a good life."

The Rev. Jim Cassidy, acting pastor at St. Joan's, said he respects the wishes of the archdiocese and is just happy that the service was not canceled.

"The archdiocese, for all parishes, is the front office and we need to respect that," Cassidy said Tuesday. "There is no welcome mat being pulled here."

Also Tuesday, McGrath defended the archdiocese and Nienstedt, saying that gay and lesbian relationships, especially if they are consummated, are contrary to church doctrine.

McGrath said Nienstedt decided to act after he was notified by callers about the GLBT service at St. Joan, which has a large homosexual contingent.

McGrath said Nienstedt simply did what any archbishop in the country would do in a similar situation. He said the decision does not signal that the archdiocese is taking a conservative turn in the Twin Cities.

He said that former Archbishop Harry Flynn, who recently retired, would have made the same decision if he had known about the service.

"We weren't aware of it," McGrath said Tuesday. "We have 219 parishes. We don't sit and monitor all of them."

Gay activists and parishioners at St. Joan scoffed at the notion that the archdiocese did not know about the service.

They pointed out that not only has it been going on for at least five years -- timed to coincide with the Twin Cities GLBT Pride Parade -- but the service has been widely advertised in church bulletins and on the Internet.

"St. Joan's has always been very up front about this," Bayly said. "There are always watchdogs quick to let the archdiocese know what is going on."

McGrath said the parish decided to change the service's theme to peace. But he also cautioned the church, which serves an estimated 4,000 families, to change the focus so that the service is not about the gay and lesbian lifestyle.

"We don't want it to be a rose by any other name," McGrath said. "Homosexuals are welcome in the church. We don't extend that to a full gay or lesbian lifestyle that includes sexual activity."

Parishioners said that they were notified of the service change Sunday and that many in the congregation were dismayed.

"I said, 'Oh my God, what are they doing?'" said Gerry Sell, who joined the church in 1965 and said she will likely join the protest outside the church. "I felt like I was split down the middle. I was furious, but then my heart was torn in half."

This is not the first time that the archdiocese has come down hard on St. Joan of Arc.

In recent years, the parish was ordered by the archdiocese to remove gay pride material from its website.

The archdiocese also told the church to stop allowing those not ordained to speak at mass. Discussion topics have included scripture, missionary work and homosexuality.

Sell and others believe the archbishop's action, combined with the other past disputes, might finally drive people away from the Catholic Church.

"I have grown up with the strong belief ... that my God is a loving, inclusive God," said Mary Coleman of St. Paul, who joined St. Joan almost 20 years ago. "My God loves my brother, who happens to be gay, as much as he loves me. I am not sure I can stay in a church that doesn't love and accept my brother the same way it loves and accepts me."

Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report. Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280

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