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
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
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.''