Twin Cities archdiocese blocks LGBT Catholic youth summit

by Brian Roewe

NCR environment correspondent

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Members of a Twin Cities youth group seeking a safe space to discuss life as an LGBT person of faith found none at an area Catholic church after the St. Paul-Minneapolis archdiocese intervened in the May 16 event.

Instead, the LGBTQ Catholic Student Coalition, led by seven high school students, held a LGBTQ+ Catholic Youth Summit on Saturday at Edina Community Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, about a mile south from the Church of Christ the King, where the group originally planned to host the event.

The students received notice May 10 -- a week before the summit that attracted nearly 200 people -- from parish staff that the chancery had informed them the parish could no longer host the summit. The group in April received confirmation from Christ the King staff and also paid a portion of the insurance deposit.

The goal of the event, said youth coalition co-founder Parker Breza, 18, was to create a safe space to hold a conversation about what it's like for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people to live out their faith in their church communities.

The day included a Mass and breakout workshops, as well as a keynote speech from Kristen Ostendorf, a former English and religion teacher at Totino-Grace High School in Fridley, Minn., who was fired in 2013 after acknowledging her same-sex relationship at a faculty meeting. The event was sponsored by LGBT advocacy group OutFront Minnesota and the justice office of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and Consociates.

Before the summit, Breza, a senior at Benilde-St. Margaret's School in St. Louis Park, told NCR that the coalition has not spoken with the archdiocese or received reason for cancellation. He said the decision was disappointing largely because throughout the planning process, he had been able to respond "no" when people asked if the archdiocese had tried to shut them down.

"It was kind of disappointing for me to have to tell people that no longer was the chancery on our side, and unfortunately, it was playing out just exactly as it so often does in the Catholic church," he said.

In a statement Friday, Archbishop John Nienstedt pointed to Ostendorf's participation as a primary reason for prohibiting the summit at Christ the King.

"We are concerned that the content of the proposed presentation will contradict Church teaching, leaving those in attendance, especially young people, confused about the truth of the teaching long after the May 16th presentation," he said.

Nienstedt continued: "There are many venues in our free society to voice opposition to Church teachings regarding contentious social issues. But, the parishes of the Archdiocese are not the proper place where these specific activities are to be sponsored. We want all people, especially the young, to be valued, and Catholic social teaching is very clear that it is wrong for anyone to persecute or discriminate against another of God's children for any reason."

In recent years, Nienstedt has played a lead role in the state in pushing against same-sex marriage efforts. In 2010, he expressed the church's position on marriage in a DVD mailed by Minnesota bishops to more than 400,000 Catholics, and in 2012, he supported a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely between one man and one woman. The measure ultimately failed, and in May 2013, the state legalized same-sex marriage.

The archbishop ended his statement Friday saying he encouraged the forum's organizers "to seek out collaboration with me and the Archdiocese to build a climate" within the church that welcomes LGBT Catholics and also respects church teaching and archdiocesan policies on events and speakers.

So far, such a climate doesn't exist, Breza said. In talking with fellow planners, he said there's a common feeling among them of a need to perform "code-switching, where we choose which identities to live into when we're in different spaces."

"When we're in those Catholic churches and Catholic parishes, we're not able to be our LGBTQ selves, and then when we're in those LGBTQ spaces, we're not able to be LGBTQ people of faith" because of similar unwelcoming feelings, he said, adding that the exercise can become exhausting.

A first step toward creating open and accepting spaces is to begin a dialogue, Breza said -- like the summit they held, but within parish environments.

"Too often in our parishes and in our Catholic communities, we kind of have this taboo around these conversations and don't want to talk about them. And unfortunately, that makes us feel stigmatized and like we aren't able to be something that's talked about," he said.

Breza said while his faith is extremely important, he no longer attends Mass, feeling that there isn't a space there where he can exist as himself. Still, he said his hope that a more welcoming church will emerge is what keeps him and others in the coalition working toward that end.

"I need to make sure that other people don't have to feel the same way that I have -- shut out by the church and isolated and alienated -- because I know that the words of Jesus and the words in the Scripture are wholeheartedly behind the idea of love, compassion and acceptance of all individuals, and specifically, for marginalized and disenfranchised groups, like the LGBTQ community," he said.

[Brian Roewe is an NCR staff writer. His email address is Follow him on Twitter: @BrianRoewe.]

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