The activists, Ken Einhaus of Arlington, Mike Perez of Seattle and Kara Speltz of Oakland, Calif., told Edwards in the nonjury trial that they went to the Hyatt Regency on New Jersey Avenue NW on Nov. 12, seeking someone from the clergy to give them Holy Communion. They also wanted an explanation of why they were refused Communion the day before during Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The Mass was held during the annual Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington, said a member of the shrine staff misidentified the three as members of the Rainbow Sash movement and told the priest. The priest declined to give them Communion at the Nov. 11 service, Gibbs said, because the Rainbow Sash group had informed the church that members planned to receive Communion as a form of protest.
"The Eucharist is the core of our faith and a sign of our unity," 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.
"But the three were not members of that group," Gibbs said. "This was a case of mistaken identity." The priest, Michael Bugarin, was unavailable for comment, Gibbs said.
But lead defense attorney Mark L. Goldstone said the three believed they were denied Holy Communion either because the church believed they were gay or because officials thought they were going to protest on behalf of gay issues.
Einhaus said withholding Communion was an abuse of power, but Gibbs said canon lawyers have established a right to deny the Eucharist when priests think someone might use it as a political tool. Detroit Auxiliary Bishop Thomas J. Gumbleton flew in to testify on behalf of the activists.
That's a shock. Anyway.
Get a load of what the judge said:
Judge Mildred M. Edwards, who is Catholic, told the activists that she had to convict them but that she would do something she had not done in 15 years on the bench -- dispense 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 Holy Communion had prompted their actions. "As a member of your church, I ask you to forgive the church."
....At the end of sentencing, Edwards offered the activists the words priests use at the end of a Catholic Mass: "Go in peace."
A lot of food for thought here. The bishops' meeting behind a figurative fortress. The question of using reception of communion as a political statement. (For those of you not familiar with it the "Rainbow Sash" movement started in Australia - openly gay folks wear rainbow-colored sashes to receive communion, often from a priest or prelate opposed to their movement.) The amazingly pretentious judge.
Go for it.