Support group for homosexuals moves talk after church concerns

2010-04-07T16:25:00Z Support group for homosexuals moves talk after church concernsSUSAN OLP Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
April 07, 2010 4:25 pm  • 

When the group, Always Our Children, a support group for parents of gays and lesbians, slated its April 6 open house, it assumed it could hold the gathering at St. Pius X Parish in Billings.

That’s where the organization has its monthly meetings. Spokeswoman Debbie Schenk didn’t have a reason to believe it would change for the special April gathering.

The difference this time was Always Our Children invited speaker Bill Konigsberg, a gay man who lives with his partner, Chuck, in Billings, to share the story of his journey as a gay sportswriter and author.

A week before the event, the group learned it would not be able to meet at the Catholic church.

“We were told we could not have it there because of the mention of Chuck being Bill’s partner, and that it promoted and condoned same-sex marriage,” Schenk said.

The e-mail came from Bishop Michael Warfel, head of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings. It was sent after a March 27 Gazette article previewing the talk, and the diocese got several questions about it.

“I received a number of inquiries from Catholics who were confused about the presentation and who was sponsoring it,” Warfel said Wednesday.

The bishop said it appeared “as if there was some confusion about St. Pius sponsoring it, and, explicitly, the diocese.”

“And there was some question about a conflict with Catholic teaching on homosexuality,” Warfel said. “So I asked that it be moved to another site in order to eliminate confusion.”

According to Catholic teachings, homosexual people should be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity. But they are called to chastity, and homosexual desires that are acted upon are considered sinful.

Always Our Children, a nondenominational group, doesn’t have a church affiliation. It was founded in 2000 as a support and educational group for gays, lesbians, transgenders and bisexuals, their families and friends who felt alienated from churches because of issues related to sexuality.

The event was intended to be an open forum for people who wanted to know more about the group, as well as for those who have questions, concerns and fears about the GLBT lifestyle.

Schenk said the 60 people who attended the open house instead met at Mayflower Congregational Church.

“We want to give a generous thank you to Mayflower Church for letting us come there,” Schenk said.

At the same time, she thanked St. Pius for allowing the support group to gather there from its inception.

“We don’t want to bash the Catholic Church,” she said. “Father Steve over at St. Pius has always been more than gracious in allowing us to have our meetings there.”

Schenk said those who met Tuesday night, didn’t dwell on the reactions that required them to move the meeting.

“We used it as a way of saying ‘this is just one more proof of the work that needs to be done right here in our community,’ ” she said. “There were definitely people there who were very stressed about it.”

Konigsberg said in regard to such a divisive issue as this one, he’d like to see a healthy dialogue between the two sides.

“How can we expect people to understand each other, how can I expect a person to understand me if they don’t know me, and vice versa?” he said.

Contact Susan Olp at solp@billingsgazette.com or 657-1281.

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