March 28, 1996


20,000 Catholics under one roof

Subject:        Re: 20,000 Catholics under one roof  
From:            "David P. Combs" <dpcombs@KAIWAN.COM>  
Date:            March 28, 1996

Below is the story of my experience at the Religious Education  
Congress, held in Anaheim, California, USA, 22-24 March 1996.  
Most of my experience was connected with the Ministry with Lesbian  
and Gay Catholics, a program of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  
Cardinal Roger Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, founded this  
ministry in 1986.  

All the opinions expressed below are my own.  I do not represent the  
Archdiocese of Los Angeles, or the Ministry with Lesbian and Gay Catholics.  


The main excitement in my life this past week was a speaking  
commitment that I had last Friday.  The topic was my experience  
with parish-based ministries with gay and lesbian Catholics, the  
forum was the Archdiocesan Religious Education Congress, which  
is the largest annual Catholic gathering in California, and my  
feeling for about a week before hand was sheer terror.  

I had agreed a couple of months ago to talk for ten  
minutes as part of a panel.  This was before I found out that  
there was a possibility that there would be "traditionalist"  
protesters there.  This was before I found out that there would  
be 700 people in the audience, some of them possibly hostile to  
what I have to say.  This was before I found out that as a member  
of the panel, I would be, in effect, a representative of the  
Archdiocesan Ministry with Gay and Lesbian Catholics, and so in a  
sense speaking for the Church and so could not criticize church  
teaching or opine that I think it is wrong.  So I had to walk a  
fine line, telling my story without delving into the difficult or  
controversial issues that surround this whole topic.  

The talk actually went just fine, as well as I had hoped and  
much better than I had feared.  I heard a rumor that one person  
booed at the end of the entire presentation (not my talk), but  
the sound of one person booing was lost in the sound of 1400  
hands clapping.  Lots of people came up to me afterward and  
thanked me for talking.  No one came up to me and said anything  
negative, but then I can't imagine that anyone would.  It was a  
big relief to have gotten through it.  

I spent a little time Friday afternoon hanging out at the info  
booth that the Ministry with Lesbian and Gay Catholics had in the  
convention hall.  A week ago, we had a two-hour long session on  
how to answer peoples questions in ways that would not cause more  
controversy than necessary.  Apparently there are people who  
would love for people connected with the ministry to say things  
contrary to the church's teaching so that they can report it to  
the archbishop and the pope and get the ministry quashed.  So we  
were warned to be careful what we said to people we didn't know,  
even if they started off by saying that they didn't agree with  
church teaching.  

During his presentation, Father Peter, the head of the ministry,  
spent a couple minutes talking about the difference between  
chastity and celibacy.  I'm not sure why he brings up this topic,  
since as I understand church teaching, the only people who can be  
chaste without being celibate are men and women who are married  
within the church.  I suppose that he brings it up to remind  
married people that they, too, are called to chastity, to remind  
them that the church's teachings on sexual ethics apply to them  
as well as to gay and lesbian people.  

I had one woman come to me at the booth after the presentation,  
asking for clarification of what Father Peter had said about the  
difference between celibacy and chastity.  She asked what he was  
trying to say: did he mean that gay people could be chaste  
without being celibate?  

I tried to dodge the question by saying that I really didn't  
understand what he was trying to say.  She asked whether the  
people in our group at St. Matthew's were required to be  
celibate.  I drew the analogy to group for divorced people that  
didn't ask questions about the exact legal status of the members  
but encouraged all people to come wherever they happened to be  
at the moment.  In the same way, we didn't have membership  
requirements or an entrance exam, asking people about their  
particular sexual situation, we welcome people where they are.  

She seemed to like the analogy.  She asked what my personal  
opinion about chastity and celibacy was.  I said that while I was  
working in the booth, I was representing an official organization  
within the archdioceses, and so although I had a personal  
opinion, it was not appropriate for me to discuss it in this  
context.  She seemed to be okay with that.  

Then finally, she thanked me for talking earlier in the  
afternoon, that she had enjoyed the workshop.  I sighed in relief  
that this was not one of the rumored spies that we had been  
warned about.  

All this being afraid to say what I thought for fear of being  
reported to the authorities gave me a new appreciation for the  
first amendment and American respect for freedom of expression.  
I guess that its like being at work, where when I am a  
representative of my company, I am limited in what it is  
appropriate for me to say.  

Last night a friend of mine told that later in the weekend, one  
of the two or three protesters who had been outside the Anaheim  
convention center arena came to the booth.  He looked around at  
the literature and then said to her, "I am a reformed homosexual."   
She replied, "Well, we each have our own problems."  
He left in a huff.  

She also told me that the audio tape of our workshop was the  
number one best seller among the one hundred or so tapes for  
sale.  So the word is getting out . . . .  

Copyright 1995-97 Deja News, Inc. All rights reserved. 

Top of Page