Priests denied Holy Communion on Sunday to a group of rainbow sash-wearing gay activists who showed up to protest a directive from Chicago's prelate that they violated church teachings by advertising their homosexuality.
The volatile issue of denying Communion to Catholics who disagree with church teachings, a controversy that has recently entangled U.S. politicians, was fueled in Chicago after Cardinal Francis George sent a memo to priests in the second-largest U.S. archdiocese, ordering them not to offer Communion to sash-wearers.
More than a dozen men and women activists sang and prayed with other parishioners filling the pews at Holy Name Cathedral but were offered only blessings when they sought to receive Communion with the others.
"The bishop just said 'God Bless,"' Joe Murray, a spokesman for the American Sash Movement, said afterward outside on the cathedral steps. "We're good enough to be blessed, but we're not good enough to receive the Holy Eucharist."
The demonstrators then stood for the remaining few minutes of the two-hour mass.
"It's sheer hubris," said Lonnie Chafin, who, like more than a dozen other gay Catholics, came to the most visible church in the diocese to display his displeasure. He wore a rainbow ribbon, a gay symbol, and was given Communion after some hesitancy by the priest.
"Who is the church to say who can and cannot get communion?" said Greg Van Hyfte, 27, carrying a rainbow-hued umbrella prior to the services to fend off a driving rain.
Murray said he had received scores of messages from around the country in response to Cardinal George's memo, and that he was disappointed that the prelate had not kept his promise to continue a dialogue on the subject.
In his message to priests, George said the church's moral teaching is that "genital homosexual relations are objectively morally sinful" and that Rainbow Sash members "give witness to their opposition to the Church and her teaching as they come to Communion."
Rainbow Sash members have been quietly protesting on Pentecost Sunday, which celebrates the Holy Spirit's appearance promised to Christ's Apostles and often thought of as the anniversary of the Church's birth, for several years. However, recent events swelled attendance and heightened the drama.
Some bishops have threatened to deny the sacrament to John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, because of his stand on abortion rights.
A recent letter, signed by 48 congressmen and sent to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, objected to threats voiced by a few U.S. church leaders to withhold Communion from politicians who support abortion rights or stem cell research.
In contrast to Cardinal George, who was returning from Rome and was not at the church on Sunday, Murray said Los Angeles' Cardinal Roger Mahony had met with sash members and pledged to offer them Communion. Other protests were taking place in New Orleans; Minneapolis; Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Rochester, New York.