A workshop intended to highlight transgender issues during the papal visit to Philadelphia has been booted from the Catholic parish that initially agreed to host it, and instead will meet at a nearby Methodist church.
The workshop, “Transforming Love: Exploring Gender Identity from Catholic Perspectives,” was scheduled to meet at St. John the Evangelist Parish on Sept. 26.
But New Ways Ministry, the sponsor of the event, said the pastor informed them that the parish could no longer host it, and the group blames Archbishop Charles Chaput.
“St. John’s parish had seen fit to offer space for the program based on their pastor’s and community’s belief that ‘All are welcome’ in the parish,” Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said in a statement. “It is very disappointing that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia did not have the same spirit of Christian hospitality. How are LGBT people supposed to feel welcome in the Catholic Church when Church officials will not allow them to speak?”
But a spokesman for the archdiocese told Crux that the decision came from the pastor, the Rev. John Daya, after seeking guidance from the archdiocese.
“Decisions regarding programs offered at parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia are made at the local level at each individual parish. It is expected, however, that any parish sponsored activities would feature content that is in line with Church teaching,” Ken Gavin wrote in an e-mail. “In this case, the Archdiocese was asked to evaluate the program and provide guidance, which it did. The end decision was made locally by the parish. The Archdiocese fully supports the decision.”
A phone call to Daya, the pastor, was not returned Tuesday.
According to a brochure for the workshop, the goal of the workshop is “to gain some understanding about LGBTQI people through their personal and spiritual journeys so that all persons feel welcome in the Christian community.” It features transgender panelists whose “stories will help us appreciate the challenges they experience and the gifts they offer to the human family.”
In addition to the workshop, the parish had agreed to serve as a something of a base camp for a group of pilgrims traveling to Philadelphia under the banner of Equally Blessed, a coalition of organizations working to promote the acceptance of LGBT people in the Catholic Church.
Those plans, too, have been scrapped.
Equally Blessed released a statement saying its members were “saddened, frustrated, and deeply disappointed not to be able to host our educational and outreach events at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church.”
“While we know the Church is the people of God and not a building, it is still very painful to be told we or our loved ones are not welcome in our own home,” the statement continued.
The World Meeting of Families is hosting a workshop addressing “ways that Catholic families can respond to a family member’s disclosure that they are same-sex attracted.”
According to the WMF website, “Ron Belgau, a celibate gay Catholic who embraces Church teaching, and his mother, Beverley Belgau, will share their own stories as a way of highlighting some of the challenges faced by same-sex attracted Catholics and their families.”
Gavin, the spokesman, said the “World Meeting of Families Congress and the papal visit are open to everyone and all are welcome,” and that “it wouldn’t be productive to focus on one issue alone. We’re also going to take a hard look at how things like poverty, incarceration, technology access, health and wellness, and many other matters can be an impediment to family life.”
The World Meeting of Families was created in 1994 by Pope John Paul II and meets every three years. It bills itself as “the world’s largest Catholic gathering of families” with the aim of “adding great depth of meaning to our understanding of families.”
It is scheduled to meet in Philadelphia Sept. 22-25, with a visit from Pope Francis on Sept. 26 and 27. About 14,000 people have registered for the event, which will make it the largest WMF to date, and many times that number of people are expected to attend the papal visit.