Castro's Catholic Archbishop cancels talks by gay clergy members

AP file photoExecutive decision: A spokesman for Archbishop George Niederauer

Three gay and lesbian clergy members are not feeling the Christmas spirit this holiday season after the Castro’s Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church canceled its planned Advent vespers speaking engagements.

Archbishop George Niederauer asked the parish to rescind its invitations to the Rev. Jane Spahr, the Rev. Roland Stringfellow and retired Episcopal Bishop Otis Charles. His spokesman, George Wesolek, said the archbishop made it clear that “he would prefer vespers that would better reflect the themes of Advent.”

Advent is a Catholic holy season that takes place the four weeks before Christmas and is sometimes celebrated with special services called Advent vespers.

Stringfellow, the director of ministerial outreach for the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, was scheduled to speak at Most Holy Redeemer on Wednesday. He said he was disappointed in the archbishop’s actions.

“Advent is one of the high holy days of the church,” Stringfellow said. “It talks about the love and compassion God has for all human beings. I’m just so sorry that message got lost on the Catholic Church.”

Charles, who heard that he’d been uninvited the night before his scheduled talk, said he had interpreted his invitation to speak at the parish as a sign of growing acceptance for the gay and lesbian community in Catholicism.

“I recognize that the archbishop and I are not on the same page on all the questions that relate to how gay and lesbian people are enfolded into the church, but the fact there could be a conversation — that I could be speaking, that I could be participating, was a sign of openness,” Charles said. “Well, obviously that openness was not there on the part of the archbishop.”

Charles, who made headlines when he became one of the first bishops to announce he was gay and married his partner in San Francisco, said he is familiar with feeling unwelcome in the Roman Catholic Church.

But more troubling, he said, is the message sent to other LGBT Catholics.

“There were three of us that were disinvited, but in a sense, every single gay and lesbian member of that congregation was disinvited,” Charles said.

Wesolek said he did not know whether the sexual orientation of the three speakers had anything to do with Niederauer’s disapproval of their speaking engagements.

sgantz@sfexaminer.com

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