Dozens of gay Catholics and their allies gathered outside the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Northeast D.C. on Wednesday to protest the church’s campaign that challenges the Obama administration’s policies on same-sex marriage, health care and other issues.
“We’re here as a non-partisan group of Catholics to say we don’t want our church involved in these kind of politics,” Joseph Palacios, director of the Catholics for Equality Foundation, told the Blade as he and other protesters stood in front of the basilica on Michigan Avenue, N.E. “We want our church leaders to be pastoral leaders particularly concerned with the poor and the vulnerable, the gay and lesbian community, women and the equal rights of all people rather than the partisan politics they seem to be playing.”
Members of Catholics United, Dignity USA, Nuns on the Bus, the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance and other organizations took part in the protest that coincided with a Mass that marked the end of the “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops launched last month in Baltimore. Protesters sang hymns and held a banner that read “Bishops: We need pastors, not politicians. Your antics are hurting the church” on the sidewalk in front of the basilica as the faithful arrived.
“I’m here because I’m sick and tired of the arrogance and the ignorance these bishops have displayed to their bishops,” said Mike, a protestor who said he was a basilica altar boy. He added he also attended the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University. “I’m sad, but I’m happy to be here.”
More than a dozen protestors posed for pictures with their banner on the basilica steps in spite of security personnel who had threatened them with arrest if they entered church property.
“I’m here today because I think our bishops are on the wrong track,” said Sister Jeannine Gramick of New Ways Ministry and the National Coalition of American Nuns. “They’re using religious liberty as a political tool to be against the president, when in reality the people whose religious liberty is being denied are the people who work at church-related institutions. Freedom of conscience is for the individual.”
A Public Religion Research Institute poll in May 2011 found that 56 percent of white Catholics and 53 percent of Latino Catholics support nuptials for gays and lesbians. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is among the Catholic governors who have signed same-sex marriage laws in their states.
“They [the bishops] want equality only for heterosexual people and so they’re using the argument of religious freedom,” stressed Gramick. “It’s the freedom of the individual that’s being denied. No church or religious institution is going to be forced to perform gay weddings and this is what our bishops are leading Catholics to believe, which is false.”
The Archdiocese of Washington did not immediately return the Blade’s request for comment.
Palacios and others who gathered outside the basilica stressed that they feel their efforts to speak out against the “Fortnight for Freedom” campaign were successful.
“It allowed us as progressive Catholics to have a voice to counter the U.S. bishops and for Catholics in general to know that there are other people like them,” he said. “They may not be going to a demonstration, but they know that there’s are other Catholics like them who don’t want their bishops preaching politics at Mass on Sundays.”