As Catholic bishops gather, protesters from right and left too
(RNS) – Protests are common at U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ gatherings, which often touch on national politics or attract media scrutiny, as at the height of the Catholic sexual abuse crisis.
But this year’s annual USCCB fall gathering in Baltimore, convened Nov. 15-18, is expected to host at least two exceptionally visible events that present the growing spectrum of American Catholic thought.
Particularly charged is the planned “prayer rally” by Church Militant, a controversial conservative Catholic media outlet known for espousing inflammatory rhetoric that is sometimes condemned by critics as inflammatory, racist and homophobic. The event, which organizers say is designed to express a series of grievances with U.S. bishops, is slated to take place on Tuesday at a pavilion that sits next to the Baltimore Waterfront Marriott – the hotel that houses the USCCB.
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Church Militant, who is based in Detroit but has been reprimanded by local archdiocese leaders, has staged similar protests outside the Marriott in previous USCCB meetings. But this year’s effort drew additional attention for its range of speakers – particularly the inclusion of Milo Yiannopoulos, a far-right agitator, and Steve Bannon, former adviser to former President Donald Trump.
News of Yiannopoulos and Bannon’s participation sparked concern from Baltimore city officials, who sued the end of the protest in September. Lawyers for the city have raised security concerns, noting in their legal file that violence erupted during past events featured by Yiannopoulos and that Bannon had previously called for the beheading of political opponents – namely, suggesting that he would put the head of infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci. and FBI Director Christopher Wray “on spades”.
In addition, lawyers accused Church Militant founder Michael Voris of praising those who attacked the United States Capitol on January 6. reference to the widely debunked allegations of massive voter fraud in the 2020 elections.
Church Militant, also known as St. Michael’s Media, rejected the city’s arguments and insisted their rally was legal, citing their First Amendment right to free speech. They ultimately prevailed: a federal judge ruled in their favor last month, paving the way for the protest.
“We are disappointed with the court’s decision and remain concerned about the potential threat to public safety of Baltimore City property posed by the rally,” Cal Harris, mayor’s communications director, said in a statement. “Protecting Baltimore residents and their property is our top priority, however, we will follow court directives.”
A spokesperson for Church Militant told Religion News Service that the rally, known as the Enough is Enough rally, is intended to “provide a place and a voice for hundreds of thousands of victims of the abuse of bishops (physical, financial, spiritual, liturgical) and doctrinal). According to the Associated Press, Yiannopoulos said he wanted to speak at the event because he was a survivor of sexual abuse by a priest and wanted to encourage others to “confront the facilitators and aggressors ”.
As to unease over the potential violence, the spokesperson said Church Militant “has no concerns about violence emanating from legitimate participants in the rally,” adding that the organization is taking “various precautions” to avoid disruption. .
“St. Michael’s Media is a Catholic non-profit organization entirely dedicated to peace and has never condoned violence, despite the city’s fraudulent claims, which were dismissed by the court,” read a statement. of the group.
The spokesperson confirmed that a speaker recently “changed his plans” for the event, which is expected to include a number of controversial conservative Catholic figures. The spokesperson did not name which speaker might drop out, but noted that it was “not Bannon”.
Bannon was charged with contempt of Congress on Friday (November 12) for defying a subpoena from the House committee investigating the January 6 insurgency. It was not immediately the impact of the indictment on his apparent presence at the rally.
A USCCB spokesperson declined to comment on the Church Militant rally.
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Meanwhile, a coalition of liberal-leaning Catholic groups is planning a separate protest on Monday. Calling their protest “Bread, Not Stones,” organizers plan to pray outside the hotel to express their disapproval of what they describe as the bishops’ efforts to politicize the Eucharist.
The event centers on a debate scheduled at the USCCB meeting on a document on communion. While the document is said to be less political than some critics originally feared, the controversy surrounding its creation gained international attention after some bishops suggested denying the Eucharist to Catholic politicians who support the right to abortion.
Organizations that helped organize the event include Catholics for Choice, Women’s Ordination Conference, DignityUSA, and FutureChurch.
“We are taking this step on behalf of the majority of faithful Catholics who believe there is no room for partisanship, shame or division at the Eucharist table,” read a statement by Jamie L. Manson, President of Catholics for Choice. “The Eucharist is the central unifying sacrament of our church, and the very idea of using the body of Jesus as a tool of punishment and intimidation against pro-choice Catholics is a grave betrayal of all that Jesus has given us. teaches.
Manson added, “As we bring this message to the bishops’ door on Monday, we warn them: you can choose to arm the Eucharist, but please don’t do it in the name of our faith.”
Other groups have launched virtual protests ahead of the rally, such as a petition calling on Archbishop of Los Angeles José Gomez, the current president of the USCCB, to apologize for a recent speech in which he called the movements of social justice of “pseudo-religions”. The petition, which has garnered more than 9,000 signatures, is a joint effort of liberal-leaning groups Faith in Public Life and Faithful America.
“Catholic bishops and other religious leaders should be in the streets with these movement organizers, without demeaning them with language that only emboldens opponents of racial equity,” the petition says.
Another Catholic group, Pax Christi USA, also issued an open letter to Gomez this week, denouncing his remarks as denoting a “negative and misleading stereotype”.