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Worcester Art Museum’s Gay Wedding Promotion Provokes Catholics

Monday, July 01, 2013


The Worcester Art Museum's embrace of gay marriage has provoked at least one Catholic organization to revoke its institutional membership.

The Worcester Art Museum's embrace of gay and lesbian weddings has put the prominent arts organization head to head with prominent Catholic organizations in the area. One has even revoked its institutional membership with the Museum over the issue.

The same day that the US Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Worcester Art Museum posted a congratulations to the LGBT community, following it up with a solicitation to host LGBT weddings.

Although the Worcester Art Museum said in a statement that it has “received no negative feedback” following the post, St. Bernadette’s Parish in Northboro, MA, which had an institutional membership with the Worcester Art Museum, has revoked its membership. According to Fr. Stephen Gemme at St. Bernadette’s, “We are no longer an institutional member of the Worcester Art Museum, following the direction of the Diocese of Worcester.” The parish also runs a Catholic School.

When contacted for a follow-up statement, Adam Reed Rozan, Director of Audience Engagement at WAM reiterated that “Worcester Art Museum welcomes ALL guests to the museum.”

WAM also said that they have received no communication from St. Bernadette’s Parish.

Role of the Diocese of Worcester

The day that the US Supreme Court struck down provisions of DOMA, the museum posted this message on Facebook.

The Diocese of Worcester’s Director of Communications, Raymond Delisle, denied St. Bernadette’s claim. “I would suspect that someone at the parish is making a broad interpretation of some other statement by the Bishop which stated the Catholic Church does not support gay marriage," Delisle said. "If the parish felt that their membership was in part supporting the promotion of gay marriage I would think that they are within their rights to not continue that membership, but it is their decision, not the result of a specific directive regarding the circumstances.”

St. Bernadette’s Parish refused to comment further on the issue, saying simply “St. Bernadette’s Parish is no longer an institutional member of the Worcester Art Museum.”

Worcester Art Museum's pro-LGBT stance

Worcester Art Museum has actually long been open to serve as a venue for gay and lesbian couples, and has been facilitating LGBT weddings since gay marriage was made legal in Massachusetts in May of 2004. “The museum welcomes people of any sexual orientation to have their wedding or unity ceremony here at the Worcester Art Museum,” said Allison Berkeley, media relations at WAM.

Other Catholic institutions in Worcester, from the Diocese to Catholic colleges, have not kept quiet about their thoughts on the issue either. Gay marriage is among many of the social issues that the Catholic Church opposes.

On the day that the Supreme Court struck down DOMA with its already-historic ruling, Bishop Robert McManus of the Worcester Diocese issued a statement saying “Today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act is a tragic error in judgment for the American people. As a statement from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pointed out, ‘The preservation of liberty and justice requires that all laws, federal and state, respect the truth, including the truth about marriage. The common good of all, especially our children, depends upon a society that strives to uphold the truth of marriage.”

Anna Maria College

Anna Maria College, one of the many Worcester-area Catholic colleges, is also an institutional member at WAM. When contacted for a statement, they refused to comment on the issue. Anna Maria has a reputation for being a very conservative institution, raising speculation about how the college will handle relations with the museum going forward.

Anna Maria College made headlines in March of 2012 when Bishop McManus of the Worcester Diocese instructed Anna Maria to withdraw its invitation to Victoria Reggie Kennedy to be the commencement speaker at the graduation ceremony because of her views on gay marriage, contraceptives, and other hot button issues relating to the values of the Catholic Church. Amid an outpouring of support for Ms. Kennedy, the college complied with the direction of the Diocese.

Assumption College

Assumption College, another Catholic college and longstanding partner of the Worcester Art Museum, said that it respected the decision of the museum but did not agree with the decision of the Supreme Court. The Associate Director of Public Affairs for Assumption, Lorraine Martinelle, told GoLocalWorcester, "As a longtime partner and supporter of Worcester Art Museum, Assumption College respects the museum's opinion of the recent Supreme Court decision. Assumption is a Catholic institution of higher learning, however, and the court's decision does not reflect the teachings, mission, and values of the Catholic Church, which the college espouses."

Holy Cross

Another major Catholic institution in Worcester, College of the Holy Cross, is an avid partner of the Worcester Art Museum. College of the Holy Cross sponsors many programs at WAM and operates the Worcester Art Museum Library. Holy Cross did not respond to calls for comment.

Holy Cross has made headlines regarding its strict Catholic Jesuit tradition in the past. Earlier this year, Holy Cross garnered nationwide attention for threatening student organizations that hand out contraceptives on campus with disciplinary action.

Local LBGT groups respond to DOMA decision

Local LGBT groups, also prominent in the area, are happy with the Supreme Court Decision, but pointed out that much remains to be done on the issue.

Reverend Judith Hanlon, a Christian Pastor at Hadwen Park Church in Worcester who has involvement in the LGBT Asylum program, said “DOMA's lifting may not directly benefit our LGBT asylum seekers for quite some time. Since we take care of folks from the over 70 countries where it is illegal to be gay, they are certainly not married.”

In response to statements made by the Catholic Church, Hanlon also said “The Catholic Church as an institution has broken the hearts and bodies of the LGBT population around the world and here at home. And, the fundamentalist, anti-gay Protestants are doing just as much damage.”


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