Gay Catholics gather in Austin

Group says homosexuality not at odds with Catholicism.
By Huong Le
AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Saturday, July 07, 2007

Lesbian activist Honour Maddock said the Roman Catholic Church's stance on homosexuality no longer bothers her.

"I find it frustrating, but I've been ignoring them for a while now," she said of church leaders who object to her homosexual relationship.

But she does want to ensure that other openly gay Catholics feel welcome in parish life.

The 51-year-old from Long Island, N.Y., came to Austin this week with her partner, Kathleen Kane, to attend the 19th biennial convention of DignityUSA, an organization that offers support for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Catholics.

Although gay Catholics are still frustrated by the increasingly conservative leanings of the church leadership, some say they are finding more acceptance in their local parishes.

About 225 members of Dignity's chapters across the country convened in Austin to continue spreading the message that "our sexuality is not in conflict with our Catholicism," said Jeff Stone, a national spokesman for Dignity.

Stone said the organization has responded to the Vatican's 2005 policy barring gay men from the seminary and blasted Archbishop Harry Flynn of Minneapolis for forbidding Mass at another gay Catholic conference this year.

Gary Preuss, convention co-chairman and a member of DignityUSA's Austin chapter, said the city's parishes are fairly open to gay Catholics.

"Cause we're weird," Preuss said jokingly.

Because of the acceptance, he said, local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Catholics don't feel a need to join groups such as Dignity. The local chapter has only about 20 members on its mailing list.

DignityUSA contacted Austin Bishop Gregory Aymond about the conference; Aymond responded with a letter saying that he would pray for the participants. The Vatican, though it condemns discrimination against homosexuals, has warned bishops not to endorse groups that attempt to change church teaching on homosexual activity.

"Some of these groups will use the word 'Catholic' to describe either the organization or its intended members, yet they do not defend and promote the teaching of the Magisterium; indeed, they even openly attack it," read a 1986 letter to bishops.

Such church teaching can be changed only if gay Catholics learn "to be honest and upfront" about sexuality, said the Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong, a retired Episcopal bishop and supporter of gay rights.

Spong, who gained notoriety when he ordained a gay priest in 1989,delivered the keynote speech Friday morning,arguing that no church has the right to withdraw its blessings for two people "who live in love."

"Christianity is not about making someone more religious, moral or righteous," he said. "The single mission of Christianity is to help people live fully."

Spong recalled his childhood years in South Carolina, where he said liberals saw homosexuality as "an incurable disease" and conservativescondemned it as an evil lifestyle.

Maddock, who has attended eight Dignity conventions, said she's seen signs of improvement. Her parish in Long Island has started baptizing gay couples' children.

She said she and Kane have found the strength to confront those who question her faith.

"They want us to go away," Kane said, "but we will not."

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