Rev James Martin, above, has waded into a row over the cancellation of a human rights arts festival that was to take place on yesterday (Sunday) at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in New York.
The festival included a comedy improvisation, “Thank You for Coming Out”, about revealing gay identity, and a series of original cabaret songs by Maybe Burke, a transgender artist and activist.
According to this report, Martin, whose recent book about extending a welcome to gay Catholics sent the church into paroxysms of fury, said:
Hosting a play about coming out is not an endorsement, any more than hosting a Greek tragedy is an endorsement of murder and suicide.
After his book, Building a Bridge was published, conservative Catholics viciously rounded on him. They called him “effeminate”, a “homosexualist”,“a heretic”, “pansified” and guilty of:
Leading young men to perdition.
Campaigns by people opposed to him have prompted three high-profile Catholic groups to disinvite him from events where he was to have been the featured speaker.
The organisers of the festival had to scramble to find a new venue after the New York Archdiocese expressed last-minute concerns that performances dealing with gay and transgender issues were not in line with church teaching.
Father Andrew O’Connor, the administrator of St. Mary’s, said he had received a call from Bishop John O’Hara, the vicar for Manhattan, expressing concern on behalf of himself and Cardinal Dolan about the gay and transgender-themed performances of the festival.
Rather than remove the two pieces the church thought would be offensive to Catholics , the event’s producer, Tom Block, decided to pull the entire event from the church. He said:
We are a human rights arts festival. We are not going to abandon people.
The last-minute rejection came as a shock to the festival’s artists.
The festival was being held under the auspices of another arts group, the Culture Project, which had recently signed a contract with St Mary’s to use its 9,000-square-foot basement as its regular performance space.
Allan Buchman, the founder of the Culture Project, said he was told that he would have to be sensitive to the church in what he presented, but the example he was given was avoiding excessive profanity. He was not told, he said, that gay-themed work would be unacceptable.
Late Friday, organisers found a new venue: St Ann & the Holy Trinity, an Episcopal church in Brooklyn Heights.
Joseph Zwilling, the spokesman for the archdiocese, emphasised that the bishops had not directly requested that the performances be removed, but said that the move was right in principle.
Whenever parish property is used by an outside group of any sort, whether for a performance, speech, discussion, or other use, the expectation is that nothing would occur that would violate Catholic sensibilities and teaching.