Gay Catholics Denied Communion Found Guilty: Church `Homophobia' Decried from the Bench. (Nation)

By Feuerherd, Joe | National Catholic Reporter, February 14, 2003 | Go to article overview

Gay Catholics Denied Communion Found Guilty: Church `Homophobia' Decried from the Bench. (Nation)


Feuerherd, Joe, National Catholic Reporter


As she prepared to declare their guilt and sentence the three defendants, District of Columbia Superior Court Judge Mildred Edwards told the dozen or so people gathered in the second floor courtroom what most of them already knew.

"This is not a difficult case on the facts."

Those facts: On the morning of Nov. 12, 2002, three gay Catholic activists--65-year-old Kara Speltz, 38-year-old Ken Einhaus, and 57-year-old Mike Perez--refused requests from hotel management and the D.C. Metropolitan Police to leave the lobby of Capitol Hill's Grand Hyatt Hotel, site of the 2002 meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Speltz, Einhaus and Perez had been denied Communion the previous evening during Mass at Washington's National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. That annual Mass, held to coincide with the bishops' meeting, had previously been the site of protests. (A Washington archdiocesan spokesperson would say later the denial of Communion was a "case of mistaken identity"--that shrine officials mistook Speltz, Einhaus and Perez for activists from "Rainbow Sash," another gay rights group whose objective was to politicize the faith's most sacred ritual.)

Speltz, Einhaus and Perez went to the Hyatt lobby the next morning to "engage" the bishops and, they emphasized, to find one who would give them Communion. They positioned themselves--the two men kneeling, each with hands out-stretched to receive the host--just beyond the escalators from which dozens of bishops would soon spew forth.

Speltz, Einhaus and Perez are lifelong Catholics and members of "Soulforce," an ecumenical organization founded to change church policies and teachings related to treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Christians. They were no strangers to the Hyatt, having spent the two days prior to Nov. 12 on the sidewalk outside the hotel protesting.

But their attendance at the shrine Mass was not part of their protest, the three insisted. The rejection at the Communion line, they said, came as a complete surprise. In fact, recalled Speltz, she had sat in the same pew at the previous year's Mass and received the sacrament without objection or fanfare.

Short of receiving Communion next morning in the hotel lobby, the defendants told the court, they sought an explanation for the "spiritual violence" that had been directed at them.

Commotion and anger

Neither the Eucharist nor an explanation was offered. Instead, the commotion the three activists and their supporters generated in the already bustling corridor of the 850-room hotel angered those responsible for ensuring a smooth meeting of an already embattled U.S. hierarchy.

The Communion-seeking protesters had drawn the attention of dozens of the 200-plus credentialed media, there to document the bishops' handling of the child sexual abuse scandals. Television camera lights billowed and flash bulbs lit up the lobby.

"We have to do something," the bishops' meeting planner urged hotel manager Michael Smith. "They're not allowed to be here."

Smith was already on heightened alert. The bishops' meeting was a big contract, worth millions over the next few years to the hotel he has managed since April 2001. The media spotlight was on his high-profile guests.

Security was tight. In addition to the Hyatt's plainclothes and uniformed security personnel, the bishops provided their own rent-a-cops. The Capitol Hill police, the D.C. police and even the Secret Service had plans to intervene should they be called upon.

Smith had hotel security staff instruct Speltz, Einhaus, Perez and their supporters to leave. The D.C. police arrived and issued the same warning--this time backed by the threat of arrest. Their supporters dispersed, but Speltz, Einhaus and Perez remained, until led away by the police.

Two and a half months later, the three--a retired grandmother from Oakland, Calif. …

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