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Judge apologises to gay activists on behalf of Catholic Church

A judge in Washington DC declined to sentence three gay activists for disrupting a meeting of the US bishops' conference last November, saying that the Church had done "tremendous violence" to them by denying them the Eucharist.

The three activists from the group Soulforce said they went to hotel in the District of Columbia where the bishops were meeting on 12 November to demand that they be given Communion and an explanation of why they were refused Communion the day before during Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. They were arrested for refusing to leave the private building.

In the nonjury trial, Judge Mildred Edwards, who identified herself as Catholic, agreed that the activists had broken the law by refusing to leave the hotel's lobby when requested by police and hotel officials. Although prosecutors had requested a sentence of time served - the 30 hours they spent in jail - Edwards said even that sentence was too harsh and did something she said hadn't done in 15 years on the bench: she dispensed with a sentence.

"Tremendous violence was done to you . . . when the Body of Christ was denied to you," Edwards said, referring to the contention of the three that refusal of Communion had prompted their actions. "As a member of your Church, I ask you to forgive the Church."

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Washington said the three activists were denied the Eucharist at the November 11 Mass because they were misidentified as members of the Rainbow Sash movement, a group of gay activists who had said they were planning to receive Communion as a form of protest against the Church's teaching on homosexuality. "The Eucharist is the core of our faith and a sign of our unity," spokesman Susan Gibbs said. "It is very rare to deny Communion, but since it was publicly announced it would be a protest and not a sign of faith, the Rainbow Sash group was denied the sacrament."

A spokesman for the Catholic League said, "The worst part of this whole story is the abuse of the Eucharist by the protesters." He said their using the Eucharist as a political action constituted an abuse of their power as Catholics to receive the sacraments.

Catholic World News

Catholic judge apologizes for church, waives sentence for protesters (Catholic News Service)
Judge Declines To Sentence 3 Catholic Gay Activists (Washington Post)
Outlaw D.C. judge condones illegal protest; lectures Catholic Church (Catholic League)
Judge condones illegal homosexual protest; lectures Catholic Church (Lifesite)
Soulforce | Trial verdict: guilty, but complete suspension of the imposition of sentence | Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton Testifies at Trial of Gay Catholics Refused Communion

3 Feb 2003