For more than a decade, the Catholic Church in Boston has more frequently been associated with priests and bishops who failed miserably in their personal and professional lives in protecting the most innocent among us. Finally, some truly “Good News” came yesterday when St. Cecilia’s Church celebrated its “All Are Welcome” Mass to proclaim the Gospel Message that all God’s children — including those whom God created gay or lesbian — are not only a part of God’s family, but are truly welcome in the doors and at the Eucharistic Table. I’m so very proud of my friend Fr. John Unni, pastor of St. Cecilia’s, for having the faith and the courage to stand up and proclaim what Jesus would no doubt have proclaimed.
The Archdiocese of Boston has apparently decided to intervene in the liturgical life of St. Cecilia’s, a vibrant inner-city parish in the heart of Boston. As part of its outreach ministry committed to spreading the Gospel of Jesus, St. Cecilia’s had scheduled a liturgy for next weekend with the radical theme, “All Are Welcome.” Perhaps seeing this theme (which the parish bulletin did announce in conjunction with the celebration of Boston Pride 2011) as somehow contrary to that Gospel message, the archdiocesan powers-that-be forced the Mass to be cancelled.
Two ironies come to mind.
First, there’s the timing of it all. By that I’m not referring to the cancelled liturgy having been scheduled during this season of Gay Pride celebrations around the country, but rather the fact that the institutional church decided to cancel an “All Are Welcome” celebration during this Season of Pentecost. After all, Pentecost is when we celebrate the “birth of the Church” and are reminded in no uncertain terms that the Gospel message is intended not just for a few, but for all.
Second, there are the forces behind this action. I don’t claim to have any inside knowledge and know only what I’ve read in the media. However, the Boston Globe’s coverage seems to rely, in part, on the writings of a blogger using the pseudonym “Joe Sacerdo,” author of the blog, “Bryan Hehir Exposed.” It’s ironic that “Joe” (perhaps a priest, as “sacerdo” comes from the Latin meaning “priest”?) writes about “exposing” when he himself remains decidedly unexposed. To what can this be attributed other than cowardice, a mean spirit, or simply ill will? Veiling himself in secrecy, Joe seems to have no qualms casting aspersions on the good names of men like Fr. J. Bryan Hehir, one of the most well-respected priests in the country, and Fr. John Unni, the well-loved pastor of St. Cecilia’s.
I hope and pray that the Archdiocese will stand firmly with Fr. Unni, the Rainbow Ministry of St. Cecilia’s, and announce to the good people of the parish and the wider community that all, indeed, are welcome.
Here’s what the parish bulletin said in announcing the liturgy:
“Liturgy to commemorate Boston Pride 2011
The Rainbow Ministry of Saint Cecilia Parish invites all friends and supporters of the LGBT community to a Mass in celebration of Boston’s Pride Month. The liturgy will take place on Sunday evening, June 19, at six o’clock, with a reception following. The theme of the liturgy, “All Are Welcome,” honors Christ’s message of hope and salvation to all people. We will also celebrate the diverse community that finds its home at Saint Cecilia and acknowledge, in a special way, the generous and warm welcome extended to the members of the Jesuit Urban Center in 2007. The Mass will be celebrated by Father John Unni and concelebrated by several of the priests who faithfully ministered at the Jesuit Urban Center for so many years. Please plan to attend this special liturgy and support the diversity that makes Saint Cecilia such a special place.”
I’m proud to call John Unni a friend; but more importantly, he’s clearly a friend of Jesus, Whose love and message John lives daily.