Saying they don't want to go back in the closet, gay and lesbian Catholics and their supporters took their annual prayer service celebrating gay pride outdoors Wednesday night.
About 100 people marched from the parking lot to the front of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in south Minneapolis, where they celebrated a service officials from the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis had banned from the church itself.
Lucia Engelhardt, 2, was helping her sister Anna, 9, carry a sign reading "Gay love is not a mortal sin."
Their 7-year-old sister, Ingrid, also carried a sign supporting gays in the Catholic Church.
"We're here to support our gay friends," said their mother, Stephanie Vagle. "And to show our displeasure with the Catholic Church over this issue," their father, Bill Englehardt, quickly added.
The service, which was led by lay people, included readings, songs and prayer.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, City Council Member Gary Schiff and state Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, also attended.
Rybak said that anytime there are people in need, Joan of Arc members are the first to respond. "We want them to know the community stands with them," he said.
The Rev. Jim Cassidy, acting pastor of St. Joan's, said the ruckus over the service that usually coincides with gay pride week celebrations erupted when the diocese received e-mails depicting the service as an official gay pride event.
"That's never been the case,'' Cassidy said. "It's an in-house prayer service that celebrates the GLBT members of our community."
But in an effort to defuse the controversy, Cassidy said he re-fashioned the prayer services and met with archdiocese official Dennis McGrath Wednesday morning to review what he planned for the service.
"We can pray with gay and lesbians members," Cassidy said.
But under the guidelines set by the archdiocese, St. Joan of Arc won't celebrate their identity, Cassidy said.
"I don't see it as hair-splitting,'' he said. "I see it as a way to build bridges ... between the church and all people who feel disenfranchised."
'A terrible bind'
Michael Bayly, executive director of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, said his group respects the decision by St. Joan of Arc to comply with the archdiocese's edict.
"We don't agree with that directive but we understand that St. Joan of Arc is in a very difficult position, a terrible bind," he said. "So we're more than happy to take on that prayer service that they can't do now."
Bayly said the service outside church doors is meant to give voice to gay, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people.
"GLBT people in the Catholic Church, I think, want to be heard, they want some sort of recognition of their experiences,'' he said.
No service for gay pride
That's fine, according to McGrath. Just not inside the church. "We're not going to have a prayer service that promotes pride in gay and lesbian activities that includes sex outside of marriage,'' he said.
The service inside the church Wednesday drew a standing-room-only crowd, including some who had taken part in the outdoor event.
It didn't appear to violate the archdiocese's guidelines, as it urged worshippers to embrace peace and diversity of skin color, political views, religious beliefs and sexual orientation.
Brian McNeill, president of Dignity Twin Cities, the local chapter of a national gay rights group, came to the outdoor service dressed as an archbishop, complete with miter on his head.
He said he didn't want the evening to be "too serious. This is Pride week and Pride is a celebration. I'm wearing a rainbow sash; it's a symbol of celebration and not protest.''
News of the archdiocese's edict on St. Joan's annual prayer service began circulating on the Internet on Wednesday.
"There's some outrage over the archdiocese's decision,'' said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a national organization for gay Catholics. "But people are excited that the gay pride service continued."
"In the past, something like this would have been a step backwards,'' Duddy-Burke said. "But no one is going to accept being silenced."
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788