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Note: This piece also appeared in similar forms in the New York Blade, Washington Blade, the Bay Area Reporter, Gay City News, Planet Out and the Express Gay News in Aug. 2003. This is the Boston Globe version.)


Aug. 10, 2003



LAS VEGAS: Chuck Provancher and David Lenoir of Arlington, Mass., insist that when they stand with dozens of other same-sex Catholic couples this morning in a makeshift chapel decked with cactuses, their minds will be focused primarily on blessing and affirming their nine-year relationship.

Yet they acknowledge that the group ceremony, which was long planned but which will be held 10 days after the Roman Catholic Church issued its edict calling same-sex relationships ''against the natural moral law,'' has taken on an unavoidable connotation.

''It makes for an interesting juxtaposition, the Vatican statements on the one hand and the truth of life-affirming committed relationships on the other,'' said Provancher, 36, a computer graphic designer in Boston.

The event - a blessing by a pair of lay couples and not a sanctioned holy matrimony - caps a four-day conference for about 300 members of DignityUSA, a national gay and lesbian Catholic organization.

Many participants say that the Vatican's stand against same-sex unions and revelations of sexual abuse by priests have caused them to question their faith.

''It's been the first time in my life I have seriously asked the questions, `Could I remain a Catholic? Can we make it a church I want to raise my daughter in?''' said Marianne Duddy, 42, of Boston, who steps down tomorrow as Dignity's executive director. ''But I don't want to be forced out, I don't want to be driven out. It is a faith that has been handed down to me through the generations. I don't know how I could ever get away from that.''

Duddy's plight reflects that of many gay Catholics across the country. Andrew Sullivan, the neoconservative author and Internet diarist, has spent recent weeks chronicling his own torment over whether to remain a Catholic amid the Vatican pronouncements. ''This debate is not an abstract one for me or for many others,'' Sullivan wrote on his website last week. ''Our very integrity as human beings and equality as citizens is being weighed in the balance by others with enormous power over us.''

On July 31, the Vatican issued a 12-page edict titled ''Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons.'' It attacked the growing worldwide movement toward legalizing same-sex marriage and warned Catholic politicians around the world that supporting legislation that recognizes gay couples would be ''gravely immoral.''

In his opening remarks on Thursday evening, DignityUSA's president, Patrick McArron of San Diego, railed against the ''elite old-boy's club'' in Rome who had committed acts of ''spiritual terrorism'' against homosexuals and others. McArron insisted that ''tonight is not about anger, it's about celebration,'' but then quickly resumed his fighting tone.

''We have much to celebrate in the face of this adversity,'' said McArron, who is 56. ''We have each other to love and, by God, we have as much right as anyone else to express that love for each other emotionally and spiritually. In fact, we have a right to all seven sacraments.''

The organization echoed this yesterday in a new position paper rejecting the Vatican statement and concluding: ''The love that brings and binds two people of the same, or opposite, sex together has a divine source. It is therefore sacramental in nature and should be celebrated as such by our church.''

While the controversies have disheartened many, they also have helped Dignity grow in a burst. Membership is up to about 3,000 people from 2,400 at the start of 2002, a 25 percent increase in 19 months. Duddy attributes that growth in part to the group's efforts to dispute church leaders who linked the abuse scandal to homosexuality.

The same-sex couple blessing isn't the only portion of the weekend program likely to raise the ire of traditionalists. A full Mass was said yesterday by the Rev. John Crepeau, a priest from San Diego who has been on leave for 10 years. The Catholic Church does not recognize such Masses; by papal edict Dignity has been prohibited from recognition since 1986. The Boston chapter uses St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church for its Sunday evening liturgies.

Despite the problems, attendees insisted that the church laity are starting to question the hierarchy's teaching on homosexuality. In addition, the church can also be a force of good, said Mike Cook, 51, of Skokie, Ill.

''There are some things that come from the church I do agree with, including its opposition to the war in Iraq and to the death penalty,'' said Cook, who works as a hospital bookkeeper. ''It's important not to leave. If I leave, they win.''


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