Rainbow children

rainbow_sashJournalists and Catholic politicians alike have protested that some Catholic bishops are advocating Eucharistic discipline only on the issue of abortion. Now Francis Cardinal George of Chicago has expanded the scope of such discipline — but not in a way that would please the bishops’ critics.

George has instructed his priests to deny communion to those Catholics who wear rainbow sashes on Pentecost Sunday to indicate their desire that the Catholic Church change its teachings on homosexuality.

The Rainbow Sash Network posted an undated memo from George, but the document is not available on the Archdiocese of Chicago’s website. Excerpts from that memo:

° “The policy of the U.S. Conference of Bishops is to not give Communion to those wearing the Sash. If they come to Communion like every other member of the Church, without the Sash which is the sign of their opposition to Church Teaching, they may receive.” [Courage Seattle offers this account of the policy.]

° “The moment of receiving the Lord in Holy Communion is never a moment for an individual to exploit, turning attention to himself or herself, attempting to force a change in the meaning of the sacrament, transforming its objective sign value into a subjective statement. Such an action is objectively sinful.”

° “Catholics have a right to celebrate the Eucharist as the Church tells us to worship, without fear of being berated or disturbed by people with personal or political agendas. Those who hold the apostolic faith and strive to meet its moral demands should not be forced to change their faith in order to make some group happy.”

° “Those who disagree with the Church’s teaching, whether on homosexuality or any other subject, should be treated with great respect, listened to, instructed as possible, loved in all cases. But such pastoral conversation and care takes place outside of the celebration of Mass.”

Among Chicago journalists, Art Golab of the Chicago Sun-Times described George’s position the most clearly.

Gina Kim of the Chicago Tribune summarized George as saying that “the Eucharist should not become a political forum.”

You can count the number of bishops who are willing to deny Communion on any grounds and you will not run out of fingers. George’s points are more nuanced than simply denying Communion “to those who wear a so-called rainbow sash indicating they are gay or lesbian,” as one sentence said in an early Chicago Tribune report based on a story by WGN-TV.

George’s stand will lead to more speculation about how far Catholic bishops are willing to take Eucharistic discipline. Here’s hoping it also will lead to articles that attempt to understand the underlying theology.

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  • http://www.wildfaith.com Darrell Grizzle

    It grieves me to see the Eucharist, a beautiful and meaningful sacrament instituted by Jesus himself, used as a political tool — by both sides. By denying the sacrament to anyone, the priests are bastardizing their sacred office to promote their political agenda. And by wearing the rainbow sashes to the altar, the gay activists are forcing the priests to react — using the Lord’s Supper to provoke confrontation. Both sides are profaning the sacred and coming dangerously close, I believe, to blasphemy: descrating the altar of the Lord.

  • Mike

    How are the Bishops, who are refusing these people the Eucharist, being political? The issues at hand (abortion and homosexual acts) are gravely sinful. The Bishops are shepherding their flocks with an eye towards eternal life not to what is politically expedient. The deepest grace, the deepest reality of the Eucharist is that we receive the Body of Christ so we ‘become more of the Body of Christ’, as Church. That demands unity – that demands being in a state of grace (have not committed or directly/obstinately supported gravely sinful acts) – that means not being a sign of public scandal (leading people to commit those same sins because a person has ‘set the example’, so to speak). Have we forgot St. Paul’s words to the Corinthains? (11:27-32) `Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world.` If someone has set themselves outside the Church in a grave manner (e.g., abortion), the Church (Bishops and pastors) has the right to protect the Sacraments from scandal AND US FROM CONDEMNATION. That may mean turning away someone from the table IN HOPES THAT THEY WILL REPENT AND RETURN. But how can the Bishops be loving shepherds and allow someone to continue in grave sin and scandalize others (that may lead them into grave sin)? Cardinal George said they could receive without their sash (read political statement). All that is required is repentance (meaning moving away from sinful act), a good confession, and they would all be received. I just don’t understand how people come to the conclusion that Christ came to affirm them in their okayness (to borrow a term from Mark Shea) but not to call them to holiness? Jesus said `repent!` (Matthew 4:17). He said that if we love Him we would obey His commandments (John 14:15). Ours should be an attitude of loving obedience just like Jesus’ attitude toward the Father – `not my will but your will be done` (Matthew 26:39).

  • Mike

    One more thing…The issues at hand are political only in a *derived* sense. The fundamental level is the *moral* level. These issues are only political because of being drawn into the political arena. Whether abortion is killing a child is not a political issue and neither is whether the homosexual sex act is licit. These are moral questions that the Church has every right to decide on, teach about, and bind her faithful. They are questions of natural law.

  • Ken

    The Eucharist is certainly “meaningful”, but what does it mean?

    For a Catholic, it means Jesus is present with us under the appearance of bread and wine. He gives Himself to us for our salvation; to receive Him while persisting in serious sin leads to damnation.

    The issue is whether 1.5 million babies are being murdered in the U.S. annually. If they are, then politicians who fail to work against such a holocaust…

    There is no end to that sentence, just as there is no end to the horror that is abortion. But such a political stance is, for the pro-choice politician, antithetical to the Catholic Faith and it is the heighth of hypocrisy for them to present themselves for Communion.

    The politicians who want to be Catholic and advocate the murder of babies whine about “having to represent their whole consituency”. What hypocrisy! How do they represent the Klansmen and Militia members in their districts? How do they represent the majority who support capital punishment? Who do they represent those who oppose a national holiday for Martin Luther King’s birthday? How do they represent the many who oppose welfare programs? Hypocrites and liars!

    I have and would support an honest pro-choice politician under some circumstances. But not one who calls him or herself a Catholic.

  • Mark

    It’s the bishops’ responsibility as shepherds to guide their flocks. That includes culling out the rogue law-breakers. Any church that can’t stand by its principles and discipline or kick out those who don’t abide isn’t worth belonging to. And this isn’t just about the bishops; the laity ought to be standing in support of their church’s positions too and be offended at political statements thrust into sacramental worship.

  • Mike



  • http://fantabulouslife.blogspot.com Nelly

    I still don’t see how one can claim to be gay and a Christian. If that question could be reasonably answered, there would be no need for all of this other stuff.

  • Will

    Nelly, I thought the really croggling one was the

    Frum Gay Jews site (members.aol.com/gayjews). I was left gasping “But you CAN’T be frum and gay! You CAN’T!….but…but..but…”

    And I still want a straight answer from any of the objectors about why it was not “political” and “violating the separation of church and state” when segregationists were excommunicated in Louisiana. I do not expect one, but I want it…

  • http://www.santificarnos.com Robert Duncan

    I agree with Mike … this isn´t a political issue, other than the press and politicians are making it. The bishops are doing nothing new by saying communion can – and should – be denied. This isn´t something new. The problem is when you have people who want to claim to be Catholic, and claime they have a right, but want those things on their own terms. If the bishops were forced to cave in, then this would be nothing more than a form of relativism…

  • http://paxetbonum.blogspot.com Jeff

    Darrell Grizzle:

    The fact that priests and bishops deny the Eucharist to someone does not mean that they “are bastardizing their sacred office to promote their political agenda.” It is not a political agenda that they are promoting. They are protecting the faith as it has been handed down to them from the apostles. It is a shame that even many of us believers tend to reduce this issue to nothing more than a political confrontation.

  • http:/caffeinedreams.blogspot.com Andrew

    Disregarding the “objective sinfulness” of what the sash-wearers are fighting for, even I (an outsider to the Church) understand the bishops’ desire to seperate the ritual from distractions.

    I feel it’s reasonable for members of a church to encourage that church to pray on and give a second thought to controversial issues. But for them to disrupt ritual while doing so seems both rude and inneffective. As long as the church officially holds a position, members should honor that position and voice any concerns at another time or place.

  • Mike


    Thank you for your reasonable response. One thing that many non-Catholics (or some Catholics even :)) don’t understand is that there are issues (theological AND moral) that are irreformable – the Church CAN’T change them. Asking the Church to ‘pray on’ and ‘give second thought’ to the grave sinfulness of abortion and homosexual acts is like asking the Church to ‘pray on’ and ‘give second thought’ to whether Christ was divine. It ain’t gonna happen.

  • http://www.wildfaith.com Darrell Grizzle

    Sometimes the lines between faith and politics are blurred. By denying the sacrament to gay Catholics, the priests are making the statement that it’s more important to enforce their beliefs against homosexuality (about which Jesus himself said nothing) than it is to serve the Eucharist (which Jesus himself instituted). They are putting Paul’s teachings above Jesus’ sacrament. That’s a theological statement, and it’s also, in today’s world, political.

    I agree with Andrew that members should voice their concerns at another time and place beside the altar. So should the priests. I still believe that both parties are desecrating the altar by staging this confrontation at what *should* be a sacred altar.

  • http://requiest.typepad.com Rong

    Darrell Grizzle – the bishops and priests are trying to keep the Lord’s Supper from being profaned by persons who want to use it as the fulcrum for their political agenda. There is nothing in what the Bishops are doing that is blasphemous. I applaud the fact that the church is finally making a stand. It is one thing for a sinner to silently come before the Lord it is quite another for someone to openly disrespect the teachings of God and the Church and demand what is not rightfully theirs to receive.

    Darrell, would it be alright with you if someone demanded the Holy Eucharist while not only professing to be a habitual pedophile but wearing a T-Shirt that stated his desire to have the church accept his position as being OK?

  • http://www.wildfaith.com Darrell Grizzle

    Rong, in your example is the pedophile the parishoner or the priest?

    Either way, I believe Jesus accepts us all, just as we are. I know there are some Christians who would set limits on who is “worthy” to be a child of God, but I respectfully disagree with them.

    “Respectfully” is an important word to me. I agree that the protesters are being disrespectful of the church, and this grieves me. They are also being disrespectful of the body and blood of our Lord. If they want to receive the Eucharist as openly gay Christians, why don’t they just become Episcopalians?

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/weblog.htm Joe Perez

    I wholeheartedly support and endorse the work of the courageous gays and lesbian Catholics who wear the rainbow sash. Although I have chosen to pursue my own spiritual path outside the Church, I can completely understand their need to express their moral and spiritual convictions by wearing the sash. This is NOT inappropriately interjecting politics into the churches. It’s a moral and spiritual issue, and those who wear the sashes are doing the duty required by their faith.

    I also agree that the Church has a right to enforce its regressive policy of heterosexist supremacy as it sees fit, and when it does so, it shows its “true colors” to the world. The lies, hypocrisy, and lack of compassion of the Catholic hierarchy are being exposed, and this understandably makes many Catholics uncomfortable.

  • http://www.joe-perez.com/weblog.htm Joe Perez

    P.S.: Oops, I forgot to “heckle” LeBlanc. “George’s points are more nuanced than simply denying Communion “to those who wear a so-called rainbow sash indicating they are gay or lesbian,” as one sentence said in an early Chicago Tribune report based on a story by WGN-TV.”

    Are you serious? The Trib picks up a short blurb from a *TV station* and you criticize them for a completely accurate summary, simply because it doesn’t go into theological nuance. THIS counts as serious effort to raise the tone of journalistic dialogue?

    How about this. The Trib writes a one-sentence story. Why don’t you suggest an alternative single sentence that is both accurate and theologically nuanced? Or… let’s say the Trib follows your advice and writes a longer, more complex story next time. This is good. So why should the Trib only explicate the theology of the bishops, and not explain the theological position of Dignity or dissenting Catholic bishops? Your bias is showing again, LeBlanc.

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    Dear Joe — or, if you prefer, Dear Perez,

    I should have written that the Trib’s sentence was flat-out wrong. As Cardinal George’s memo made clear, his objection to the sash was not that it indicated the sexual orientation of any individual, but that it indicated a rejection of church teaching.

    There’s no need to put words in my mouth on whether I think the media should explain the theological thinking of Dignity or of pro-gay bishops. I do believe the media should tell both sides of the story — accurately, fairly and thoroughly.


  • http://www.joe-perez.com/weblog.htm Joe Perez


    I don’t think it’s that simple to say the Trib is flat-out wrong, though I agree that it wasn’t a very carefully worded statement. According to the Sash website: “We will wear a rainbow sash, not to separate ourselves from our brothers and sisters, but to show gay and lesbian persons are a part of the Body of Christ.” So, if I understand the position of the Sash Catholics correctly, the principle meaning of the Sash is that it shows that gay and lesbian persons are part of the Body of Christ. Thus the Trib description is a reasonably accurate description of how the Sash Catholics represent themselves. Obviously, the Cardinal disagrees with that meaning and gives it his own spin.

    On bias: Your two sentences of “George’s stand … Here’s hoping it also will lead to articles that attempt to understand the underlying theology.” seemed to suggest that believed only the underlying theology of George’s stand should be explicated. Thanks for the clarification.

  • http://www.anglican.tk veryanglicanofveryanglican

    Mike raises a very good point when he writes “Asking the Church to ‘pray on’ and ‘give second thought’ to the grave sinfulness of abortion and homosexual acts is like asking the Church to ‘pray on’ and ‘give second thought’ to whether Christ was divine.”

    While I would be the first to commend to my brothers and sisters the necessity of apologetic dialogue on matters of human sexuality, there are some issues which cannot be the subject of scepticism (Article 20), for without them we relinquish the very foundation of the beliefs which we hold. Among these, of course, are the core doctrines and presuppositions of the Christian Church which are expressed in our great Confessions (Article 8).

    I would suggest that without correct presuppositions about God and His relation to His Creation, we cannot prove anything…including doctrinal assertions about the nature of the sexual human. In fact, to assent to orthodoxy is to by default exclude the revisionist hermeneutic.

    My Canadian two cents.