Forced venue change for LGBTQ+ Catholic students’ summit highlights need for support, says organizer

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Parker Breza: "I’m gay, and I’ve gone to Catholic school my whole life, and I’ve been raised Catholic, so I know how hard it is to have to turn on some parts of your identity and not, depending on which space you’re in."

In February, Benilde-St. Margaret’s High School senior Parker Breza helped organize the area’s first-ever LGBTQ+ Catholic Student Coalition as a way to “create genuine, open conversation about LGBTQ+ issues at Catholic schools for faculty, staff, administrators, and students in Minnesota.” The group’s biggest event so far will be this Saturday’s LGBTQ+ Catholic Student Coalition Summit, an all-day event featuring workshops, a Mass, and a keynote speech from former Totino Grace teacher Kristen Ostendorf, who was fired from the school in 2013 when she came out as gay to colleagues.  

The Summit was originally scheduled to take place Saturday at Christ The King Catholic Church in South Minneapolis, but over the weekend, Breza and crew were forced to move the event to the Edina Community Lutheran Church upon orders from the Chancery of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul, which is led by Archbishop John Nienstedt.

On a day when news broke of a new survey concluding that Americans are leaving Christianity in record numbers, Breza sat down with MinnPost at the offices of Outfront Minnesota, which has assisted him throughout the creation of the coalition, to talk about his faith and sexuality. 

MinnPost: What is your background and how long has the group existed out of Benilde?

Parker Breza: It was myself and a few other students from Benilde and a couple other students from Catholic high schools in the area, as well as some students who identify as Catholic but go to public schools, who got together and had this idea of creating this coalition and hosting this summit.

It’s been a great experience. It’s pretty challenging being high school students and forming a group and putting on a summit. We’ve gotten some really awesome support from Outfront Minnesota and the staff here as well as well as from the justice office of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and associates. We’re really fortunate to have them to help us along with their wisdom and support, but they both really want this to be a youth-led event.

MP: What happened with Christ The King?

PB: We had been confirmed at Christ The King for maybe two months, and this past Sunday we got a call from Christ The King saying that they were no longer able to host the event due to an order from the chancery. I don’t know the exact wording, but the chancery said that Christ The King was not able to support this event.

MP: Do you get the sense that the reason has anything to do with anything other than a pure disagreement in beliefs about homosexuality and gay marriage and everything else that the Catholic Church is in great conversation and turmoil about?

PB: The most disappointing thing for me is that this event is really to bridge the gap between LGBTQ and Catholics, and to create the space for LGBTQ Catholics, and to create a safe, supportive, welcoming environment for those individuals who want to identify as both. I’m gay, and I’ve gone to Catholic school my whole life, and I’ve been raised Catholic, so I know how hard it is to have to turn on some parts of your identity and not, depending on which space you’re in. So that was the goal of the event, and it was really disheartening to me when the chancery would not allow us to be at Christ The King, because it was very important to us to hold it in a Catholic space, because it’s a Catholic event. I do think it’s a little bit curious that just six days before the event, they pull the plug on us. We’ve been advertising for well over a month now about this event.

MP: How does that make you feel – as a Jesus-loving gay young man?

PB: It’s hard, because it’s really one of those things where you hear that the media constantly wants to talk about this battle between LGBTQ and Catholic communities and what not and how the rift is so big, and so it’s hard when that narrative does play out in some respects. It’s challenging, as someone who really does really want to create this safe space, knowing how hard it is to not be able to live into your full and complete identity in every space that you’re in – especially in spaces that mean so much to you, like a faith community does for so many people.

I do think it’s also completely fair to acknowledge that we have a lot of work to do in the LGBTQ community to be more supportive of people of faith who choose to identify as LGBTQ and of out people of faith in general. There’s a lot of work on both sides to be done.

MP: Have you ruminated at all on the irony of the Lutheran church embracing the event?

PB: We were very, very happy that Edina Community Lutheran Church was so quick to welcome us with open arms. They were extremely, extremely supportive and thought that it was terrible that we had been ordered out of Christ The King. They’ve been amazing.

MP: Knowing what you know, what does Jesus say about all of this?

PB: Well, from what I’ve been taught through my Catholic education, Jesus loved those who are marginalized by society, he was constantly working for those who were not accepted by the majority, and so I think he would want this event to happen. He wanted to provoke dialogue and to have conversations that people weren’t willing to have, based on what was considered OK at the time. So I really do think if Jesus was around today, he would want this event to be at Christ The King and he would be there.

The location change and the order from the chancery really just highlights the need for this kind of event, just because essentially how that makes me feel is that they don’t think this conversation should be happening, and they don’t think it should be happening in a Catholic space. I think, actually, that the inverse is true. Not only does this conversation need to be happening, but it needs to be happening in the places that are most affected, which are our Catholic churches. I know there are LGBTQ people in our Catholic churches right now who don’t feel safe, supported, and accepted, and I really want to have these conversations so we can work towards a change to make better Catholic communities and to be more like Jesus would want them to be.

Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 05/15/2015 - 09:28 am.

    What…..

    are the features that those identifying themselves as gay have to turn on and off?

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/15/2015 - 09:53 am.

    I have no doubt that Christ would attend a meeting at Christ the King with these people. I’m sure His message would be full of compassion. I’m also sure He would not in any way suggest homosexuality is an acceptable alternative to God’s plan.

    There are only 2 kinds of Catholics; Faithfully practising and lapsed.

    For those that wish to tailor their faith to their lifestyle choices, there are plenty of congregations to accomodate that. But the Catholic Church will never accept homosexual behavior.

    • Submitted by Joel Fischer on 05/15/2015 - 12:18 pm.

      While that may be true…

      There is nothing here that is obviously counter to Church teaching, particularly the part where the Church says that being gay is not a sin.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/16/2015 - 09:29 am.

        I don’t know the details, but if this group didn’t intend on preaching against church docterine, I can’t imagine why they were denied access.

    • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 05/16/2015 - 10:25 am.

      Waiting for the day when

      The Catholic Church “will never accept the sexual abuse of children by priests.” Still going on – see St. John’s

  3. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/15/2015 - 11:20 am.

    Clarification

    Kristen Ostendorf was not fired for having a gay orientation, which the church teaches is not sinful in and of itself. She was fired because she was in a relationship that is counter to church teaching.

    I may enjoy the thought viewing unclothed women at a strip joint, and that would not get me fired from a Catholic school. But if I (as Ostendorf did) spoke up at a staff meeting that I frequent strip joints and I’m comfortable with that, I, too would be asked to resign. Just as I would be asked to resign if I acknowledged being shacked up with my girlfriend.

    It’s the actions that matter.

    • Submitted by Crystal Brakke on 05/15/2015 - 02:44 pm.

      “It’s the actions that matter.”

      Is precisely how I feel about the Catholic Church at the moment, as a Catholic myself. As a church and as an institution you can say you love all, you are tolerant, you protect the weak and powerless, and that you follow all of Christ’s teachings–but it’s the actions that matter. And right now, too many actions of the Church (like this one) are abhorrent to me and many others who expect better from our spiritual leaders.

  4. Submitted by Rick Notch on 05/15/2015 - 11:34 am.

    Open arms vs. a swift kick

    Consider joining the church that welcomes you.

  5. Submitted by Sue Halligan on 05/15/2015 - 02:14 pm.

    Faithful vs. Lapsed Catholics

    I was raised Catholic by Catholic parents. I went to Catholic elementary school. I went to a girls’ Catholic high school. I went to St. Kate’s for two years. I then left the Catholic Church temporarily.

    I later moved to California, got married in a Catholic church, and practiced the religion I was raised in for about eight years; I even joined the choir. But when the encyclical forbidding effective family planning was released in the 1980s, I left the Church again, this time for good.

    An authoritarian, patriarchal hierarchy telling its members what to do is not a good match for 20th- or 21st-century Americans.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/15/2015 - 05:00 pm.

      Free Will

      The church doesn’t “tell” anyone what to do. It teaches the truth as it sees it. Because the Creator endowed us with free will, we are free to accept or reject that truth, and that truth has been rejected by millions for centuries.

      I’m not certain what encyclical is being referenced, but the church did not changed it’s position on the use of artificial birth control in the 80’s, nor has it ever. Nor will it.

      • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 05/16/2015 - 08:49 am.

        People vote on this matter at their pharmacy, drug store, or

        at Target.

        The church’s position has changed over the years in the area of birth control. Under the “old” criteria, using the pill for birth control would not have been illegitimate. I’d suggest you look into a comprehensive source about the life and times of John Rock, the man who was the “father of the birth control pill.”

        But I really don’t want to get into a big hassle over this issue, because it is irrelevant.

        Plenty of – almost all – Catholic women of child bearing age have already made a decision that the church is wrong in this area.

        For example:

        Most Catholic women use birth control banned by church
        link: http://reut.rs/1H7ZoL2

        “Some 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used contraceptive methods banned by the church, research published on Wednesday showed.

        A new report from the Guttmacher Institute, the nonprofit sexual health research organization, shows that only 2 percent of Catholic women, even those who regularly attend church, rely on natural family planning.

        The latest data shows practices of Catholic women are in line with women of other religious affiliations and adult American women in general.

        “In real-life America, contraceptive use and strong religious beliefs are highly compatible,” said the report’s lead author Rachel Jones.

        She said most sexually active women who do not want to become pregnant practice contraception, and most use highly effective methods like sterilization, the pill, or the intrauterine device (IUD).

        “This is true for Evangelicals and Mainline Protestants, and it is true for Catholics, despite the Catholic hierarchy’s strenuous opposition to contraception,” Jones said.
        —-

        The train has left the station long ago. It is game, set, and match.
        Fussing further is futile.

  6. Submitted by Bill Gleason on 05/15/2015 - 02:20 pm.

    Nice article

    It is sad that the Archbishop pulled the plug on this conversation at the last minute. This is, unfortunately, an example of the poor judgment that he has exhibited in the past. His behavior will cost the diocese a lot of money and goodwill from the community and his flock.

    It would be better if the Archbishop followed the example of Pope Francis with respect to the matter of homosexuality and the church.

    For example:

    “When I meet a gay person, I have to distinguish between their being gay and being part of a lobby. If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem … they’re our brothers.”

    Source: Pope on homosexuals: ‘Who am I to judge?’
    National Catholic Reporter
    Link: http://bit.ly/1A52BhH

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/16/2015 - 12:36 pm.

      The Pope is saying love the sinner; hate the sin. That is in complete agreement with all of his predecessors back to St. Peter whom Christ Himself taught. “Go and sin no more”

  7. Submitted by John Ellenbecker on 05/15/2015 - 04:31 pm.

    Just another example of Archbishop Nienstedt.’s war on gays.

    There isn’t anything more un-Christlike than the further marginalization of the already marginalized – yet Archbishop Nienstedt continues down that un-Christlike path.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/16/2015 - 09:59 am.

      Sins of all types are marginalized by the church. It’s kind of their job.

      Repentant sinners are welcomed with open arms. That’s Christ’s salvation.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 05/16/2015 - 12:39 pm.

      The Catholic Church marganilizes sin. Sinners are welcome to repent and receive Christ’s gift of forgiveness.

      The Archbishop is a faithful and dedicated Shepard.

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/17/2015 - 07:04 pm.

        Bishop John

        May be faithful, and he may be dedicated. But he has no moral authority any longer. He covered up the sins of two of his predecessors, he ignored the numerous red flags thrown up by Curtis Wehmeyer (on his own watch, and ignoring church norms was the celebrant at the funeral of a known abuser at the parish he abused at. While a deceased abusing priest is entitled to a funeral Mass, the norms dictate that it should be low key affair, and it should not be celebrated by a bishop. Even the very conservative Jennifer Hasselberger was shocked.

        Much as Sean O’Malley has brought healing to the local church in Boston, I pray for the Spirit to move John’s heart to resign and allow healing to begin here.

        It takes far more than faithfulness and dedication to be a good bishop.

        • Submitted by Richard O on 05/18/2015 - 04:28 pm.

          I’m no advocate of Bishop Nienstadt

          But, I can’t support criticizing the man for attending a funeral for whatever reason he may have had.

  8. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 05/15/2015 - 05:10 pm.

    Incomplete Information

    I cannot tell from this article whether or not the summit contradicted church teaching or not. It is doubtful that those organizing the summit would openly admit to that, but it would also be helpful if the Archdiocese, in situations like this, were more forthcoming. Much like the debate over the failed marriage amendment, the bishop looks weak and scared when he only issues brief statements. A good leader welcomes questions as an opportunity to clarify issues. This bishop is not a good leader, most importantly because he himself consciously failed to follow church teaching by protecting rapists at the expense of his flock.

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