LGBT Catholics say they plan to greet Pope Francis in a friendly, dignified way during his visit to the nation’s capital Sept. 22-24, with the expectation that the papal motorcade will drive past them on Sept. 23 as they assemble in front of the Human Rights Campaign building.
HRC, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights organization, owns an eight-story office building at 17th Street and Rhode Island Ave., N.W., which it uses as its national headquarters.
The building is located less than two blocks from Saint Matthew’s Cathedral, where Francis is scheduled to lead an 11:30 a.m. prayer service for as many as 200 Catholic bishops.
At the conclusion of the prayer service the bishops were expected to travel in the papal motorcade past the HRC building en route to the Pope’s next event – a Mass he’s scheduled to hold at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception next to Catholic University.
Daniel Barutta, president of the D.C. LGBT Catholic group Dignity Washington, said the group has been working with HRC over the past several weeks to organize a visible contingent of LGBT Catholics and their supporters to greet the papal motorcade.
“We expect to have about 30 Dignity Washington members on the lawn outside the building, and we’ll be holding our banner,” Barutta said.
He said the professionally designed banner reads, “Pope Francis: The Spirit is Speaking Through Us – LGBT Catholics — Dignity Washington.”
HRC spokesperson Elizabeth Halloran said HRC was organizing its own contingent of supporters to welcome the pontiff.
“HRC will certainly have a significant presence outside our building, which, as you know, is just up the block from the Cathedral of Saint Matthews where Pope Francis will hold a midday prayer service,” she said. “We will be part of the crowd welcoming the Pope, and urging him to fully embrace the LGBT faithful.”
Halloran said HRC planned to hang its own banner greeting the Pope from the façade of its building. She said HRC was planning other events and announcements associated with the papal visit, including the release of HRC commissioned polling data on Catholic attitudes toward LGBT people.
Among other things, the group was to release details about an invitation that HRC President Chad Griffin had sent to Pope Francis asking to meet with him during Francis’s Washington visit, according to Halloran.
In a statement released on Wednesday, HRC said the banner it planned to display on its building would have this message: “We Are Your Children, Your Teachers, Your Faithful. Welcomed by God. Dismissed By Our Bishops. Pope Francis, Will You Welcome Us Home?”
Barutta was among a separate contingent of LGBT Catholics and their supporters invited by the White House to attend a White House reception hosted by President Obama for Pope Francis. The reception was scheduled to begin 9:15 a.m. on Sept. 23.
Others invited to attend the White House reception were Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of New Ways Ministry, a suburban Maryland group that ministers to LGBT Catholics; the group’s executive director, Francis DeBernardo; Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the national LGBT Catholic group Dignity USA; and Dignity Washington members Bob Miailovich, Lauren Carpenter, Ray Panas, and Allen Rose.
Gramick said that through her religious order she received an invitation to attend the Mass led by the Pope at the National Shrine scheduled for 4 p.m. on Sept. 23.
Dignity Washington Treasurer Tom Bower said Dignity members, like most LGBT Catholics, have mixed feelings about Francis’s positions on LGBT people and the Catholic Church.
“They are happy the Pope is coming to town,” said Bower. “On the other hand some feel he’s largely a disappointment thus far. He has a very good tone. But I don’t think there’s much anticipation of a real, true change,” Bower said.
D.C. gay activist John Klenert, who’s been a member of the Saint Matthews Cathedral parish for more than 20 years, said he jumped at an offer by Saint Matthews to allow parishioners to apply for one of 50 tickets made available to enable them to stand in a roped off area next to the cathedral’s entrance at the time of the Pope’s arrival on Sept. 23. Klenert received one of the tickets and is looking forward to joining fellow parishioners in welcoming the Pope.
“Somehow I think when you see somebody in person you get a different impression of the person, even if it’s for just a fleeting moment – versus what you get when you see them on television,” said Klenert. “He is the Pope.”
Added Klenert, “I’m hoping maybe that before he goes into the cathedral that he’ll come over to shake hands or something like that.”
Asked how he feels about Francis’s positions on LGBT equality and LGBT people in the church, Klenert said that like many of his fellow LGBT Catholics, he was encouraged by Francis’s welcoming comments about gays, including his reported statement that gay men and lesbians should not be marginalized or judged.
“The church is over 2,000 years old,” said Klenert. “If the church teaches us anything, it does things at its own pace. Look at how long it took them to declare Galileo was correct,” he said.
“So the fact that he would even say what he did say – who am I to judge? – is a step in the right direction,” Klenert said.
Veteran gay Catholic activist and Dignity Washington member Morgan McDonald said it was too early to tell whether Pope Francis’s perceived views welcoming LGBT Catholics would filter down to Catholic parishes in the D.C. area and elsewhere.
Like other Dignity members, McDonald noted that some D.C. Catholic parishes are known to be more welcoming of LGBT people than others. He said it was rare to hear of priests in any of the D.C. area parishes speaking out against homosexuality in their Sunday sermons in the way some fundamentalist Protestant ministers do.
“They’re not unwelcoming,” he said. “But they’re not directly welcoming either. In the Catholic world it’s all a world of don’t ask, don’t tell,” said McDonald. “If you don’t tell us anything we won’t ask.”
HRC President Chad Griffin said in the statement released on Wednesday that many in the LGBT community have been heartened by Pope Francis’s “compassionate words” and his willingness to move toward a fuller embrace of people of faith that the Catholic Church has rejected in the past.
“But, sadly, many in our community are still being fired from their jobs at Catholic schools, and shunned by their church communities simply because of who they are,” Griffin said. “So while we join in welcoming the Pope to the United States, we will also be urging him to continue to move toward greater acceptance and embrace of members of our community who are longing to hear that their Church welcomes them – and their families – fully,” he said. “We are all God’s children.”