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People participate in the annual Pride parade, in Athens, Saturday, June 10, 2023.People participate in the annual Pride parade, in Athens, Saturday, June 10, 2023. June marks the beginning of Pride month in the U.S. and many parts of the world. (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

For the past few years, a group of Pittsburgh-area Catholics have gathered occasionally to celebrate Mass, each time with a special focus on outreach and social justice. Last June, the organizers dedicated the celebration to standing in solidarity with L.G.B.T. Catholics. After receiving positive feedback, they planned to host the event again this year, this time partnering with two L.G.B.T. ministry groups from nearby parishes.

“There are many groups that are marginalized within our church,” Kevin Hayes, the president of Catholics for Change in Our Church, which hosts the Masses, told America. Mr. Hayes said the group, which was founded in 2018 following the release of the devastating Pennsylvania grand jury report that detailed allegations of widespread clergy sexual abuse, focuses in part on outreach to Catholics who feel alienated from the church, including divorced and remarried people, women and racial minorites.

“Then you’ve got L.G.B.T.Q. Catholics who feel very much on the defensive and very much unwelcomed,” Mr. Hayes said.

In recent months, corporations and nonprofit organizations supporting L.G.B.T. Pride events have faced increased scrutiny from some conservative activists who say the celebrations have gone too far. 

He and other organizers assumed that this year’s celebration would be another low-key meeting at the Duquesne University chapel, where they have gathered monthly for the last couple of years. They hoped the Mass once again would be an opportunity for worship, fellowship and offering a sign of support for L.G.B.T. Catholics.

But June 2023 is not June 2022.

In recent months, corporations and nonprofit organizations supporting L.G.B.T. Pride events have faced increased scrutiny from some conservative activists who say the celebrations have gone too far. Target, Bud Light and the L.A. Dodgers remain the subjects of boycotts over their support for L.G.B.T rights and, in the case of the Dodgers, for what some consider anti-Catholic prejudice. Some fans of the biblically inspired series “The Chosen” are upset over the presence of a pride flag on set. And some Catholics are urging fellow believers to “Hide the Pride” and instead “restore” June as a month dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, an idea supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

On Monday, the bishops conference said in an announcement, “Catholic Christians traditionally recognize June as the month of the Sacred Heart of Jesus,” and urged believers “to pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart on June 16, offering this prayer as an act of reparation for the blasphemies against our Lord we see in our culture today.”

The effort urging Catholics to commemorate the Sacred Heart during the month of June, rather than Pride, appears to have reverberated in unexpected ways. An Ohio landlord recently told tenants that they are forbidden from displaying rainbow flags or other symbols related to pride because it is in “direct conflict” with his Catholic faith.

An opportunity for love

Not all Catholics who have misgivings about pride events support boycotts and confrontation.

Writing at Our Sunday Visitor, Kathryn Jean Lopez, an editor at large of National Review, says she finds herself “extra frustrated” during a month dedicated to Pride. But she suggests that Catholics opposed to Pride events forgo anger and boycotts and instead ask themselves, “Rather than be triggered by the sixth month of the year, however, how can we make it an opportunity for greater love?”

Increased visibility among L.G.B.T. Americans has created a backlash to some Pride events, with some activists zeroing in on events and programming appealing to children, especially related to gender identity. Catholic celebrations are not immune to the pressure.

After a flier promoting the planned gathering in Pittsburgh included a phrase that organizers had not previously employed, describing the event as a “Pride Mass,” protests began.

Increased visibility among L.G.B.T. Americans has created a backlash to some Pride events, with some activists zeroing in on events and programming appealing to children.

“That is catnip for all the folks who don’t want the Catholic Church to be supportive of the L.G.B.T. community,” said the Rev. Frank Almade. Father Almade is the pastor of the Pittsburgh-based St. Joseph the Worker Parish, which hosts an L.G.B.T. ministry, some members of which were helping to promote the event. “It came across that the Catholic Church, and thereby the bishop, was in support of everything ‘pride’ would imply or represent.”

A statement from the Diocese of Pittsburgh said that neither it, the parishes listed as co-sponsors, including St. Joseph the Worker, nor Duquesne University were official co-hosts of the Mass.

After the “Pride Mass” flier was posted online, dozens of people sent emails and made calls to church leaders demanding the event be canceled, according to several people who helped organize the Mass. Some included hateful language, threats of violence and condemnations of Pride events.

“The hatred and vitriol and some of the threats that were made in the emails that were sent were really unfortunate and certainly un-Christian,” said Mr. Hayes, the event organizer.

After several conversations between some of the hosts and diocesan officials, a decision was made to cancel the Mass.

“I was disappointed, just for the simple fact that I was sad that I will not be able to celebrate with my community, with our fellow allies,” Albert Maisto, a gay Catholic who co-leads the L.G.B.T. ministry at St. Joseph the Worker parish, told America. “We were putting the ‘L.G.B.T.Q.’ aside. We were just celebrating our faith as a community.”

Recent polls show that taken as a group, most Catholics are generally supportive of L.G.B.T. rights. In 2020, 61 percent of U.S. Catholics supported same-sex marriage, according to the Pew Research Center.

When it comes to gender identity, beliefs appear to be in flux.

According to a new report from P.R.R.I., 65 percent of Americans said in 2023 that there are “only two genders,” up six percentage points from 2021. That view is shared by 69 percent of white Catholics, up from 62 percent in 2021, and by 66 percent of Hispanic Catholics, an increase of 18 percentage points from 2021.

Church Pride events

Parishes around the country will host events for the L.G.B.T. community during the month of June.

A parish in Hoboken, N.J., Our Lady of Grace and St. Joseph, will host a Pride Mass on June 25. In Seattle, Wash., St. Joseph Parish was scheduled to host a pride picnic on June 11, following the Saturday afternoon Mass, an event which has previously drawn scrutiny from conservative media. An art installation celebrating Pride is present again at Historic St. Paul Catholic Church in Lexington, Ky., which is intended to serve as a signal that the parish is welcoming to L.G.B.T. Catholics and their families. Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., will host its third annual pride Mass this week, which organizers described as a moment for the community to “celebrate, together, the love of Christ that brings us together and calls us to continued mission in our world.”

Meredith Augustin has helped plan the “Pre-Pride Mass,” held the afternoon before the New York City’s pride parade, at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Manhattan since its inception about a dozen years ago. The parish’s director of pastoral music and staff liaison to its L.G.B.T. ministry, Ms. Augustin said that in previous years, the Mass had attracted protesters, but the parish never considered canceling it. It will host the celebration again later this month, part of the parish’s mission to ensure that L.G.B.T. Catholics and their families know they are welcome in the church.

“The battle never stops. We have to keep educating and keep pushing forward.”

“The battle never stops,” Ms. Augustin told America. “We have to keep educating and keep pushing forward.”

In Chicago, St. Teresa of Avila Parish has marked Pride for several years, the Rev. Frank Latzko told America.The pastor said that he tries to keep messages of solidarity and acceptance in his sermons all year, but the weekend of Chicago’s Pride parade, which attracts about a million spectators, counts as a special celebration.

While there is not a special “Pride Mass,” many parishioners attend Sunday Mass, at which Father Latzko delivers a topical homily, before making the walk over to the parade.

“I talk about the realities of the L.G.B.T.Q. folks and how far they’ve come, how we have to go further in being…a welcoming church,” he said.

Mark Neuhengen, St. Teresa’s director of evangelization and parish ministry, told America that the parish’s “L.G.B.T. community members are thoroughly integrated in all levels of our ministry, from liturgy to outreach to social service to social justice to faith sharing.”

A controversy in Pittsburgh

Back in Pittsburgh, an email from Bishop David Zubik said that while the “Church has invested much energy in welcoming people who are dealing with sensitive issues in their lives, [it] cannot support behavior that goes against God’s law.”

The bishop, who last year released a pastoral letter about hospitality that included a call for the church to be welcoming to L.G.B.T. Catholics, said that ministers want “to do more in our pastoral care,” but he nonetheless asked organizers to cancel the event.

“My hope is that the Church of Pittsburgh is welcoming to the LGBTQ community and in turn that the LGBTQ community is welcoming of the Church and her teachings,” Bishop Zubik continued.

Mr. Hayes and other organizers did not protest the bishop’s request, in part because of concerns over security and a desire to continue what they say has been positive dialogue between the local L.G.B.T. Catholic community and diocesan leaders.

But Catholics looking forward to the Mass say they feel let down.

Deacon Herb Riley, who helped form the L.G.B.T. ministry at St. Joseph, said he has heard from parishioners who feel “hurt and upset” by the decision to cancel the Mass. Whenever he encounters people who are angry about the parish’s outreach ministry, he invites them to attend one of the group’s monthly meetings. If they did, he said, they would discover that the meetings are simply opportunities for L.G.B.T. Catholics to share their stories and talk about their struggles. But so far, no one has taken him up on his invitation.

One goal, Deacon Riley said, is creating a space for family members of L.G.B.T. people to understand how to love someone whose life may be different from their own.

“They don’t have to live in this world where they think that their child or their grandchild is going to hell just because they’re gay,” he said.

On top of that, Deacon Riley said the meetings serve as an opportunity for clergy to “figure out how we can do better” in creating a welcoming space.

“How can we be better servants of the L.G.B.T.Q. community, and how can we make sure that they know that they are very welcome in our parish?” he said.

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