For whom the bells toll on a downtown Atlanta thoroughfare is for anyone — meaning everyone — looking for a place to bow their heads in worship without judgment of being LGBTQ.
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As of late September, one-thousand, seven-hundred people saw fit to put their names on an online petition that cast not just one damning, digital stone at Atlanta’s Archbishop Wilton Gregory, but a second sharp and specific one at Monsignor Henry Gracz, both of whom are key figures for our city’s Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a long-beloved staple of MLK.
Concerned Catholics of Atlanta started the Change.org petition with the hopes of reaching 2,500 people. Sadly, they’re not far.
Though the number may feel like a punch to the heart of these gentlemen, it’s just over a third of what the Fox Theatre, shining right around the bend, holds on a slow night. It could be safely assumed that, given the billions-strong reach of the internet, those 1,700 are the “miniscule minority” we can always expect to show up, misdirected hostility in place with hair-trigger keyboards at the ready. But on the other side of the wafer, the insinuations are egregious, unwarranted, and too close to home.
The Aug. 19 petition is/was directed at “the laiety” of the Catholic faith, those laymen (and women) who comprise the body of people who show up during times of worship. So says the petition, these same people, the laiety, “[should] remove pro-homosexual priests from public ministry within [Atlanta’s] archdiocese.”
Their reason? To “shed light on activities, events, and personnel issues within the Archdiocese of Atlanta that are supportive of the LGBT agenda and lifestyle.” They say the Archbishop’s support of LGBTQ issues is a “grave source of confusion and scandal for the faithful of Atlanta (and beyond) and greatly diminishes the dignity of those who struggle with same-sex attraction, transgenderism, and related struggles.”
The petition has been spread by other anti-LGBTQ websites, making a startlingly false connection between LGBTQ-acceptance and an unfortunate pattern of pedophelia that has plagued the Catholic faith for generations. Without a modicum of evidence that their targets — Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory and Monsignor Henry Gracz — have any outstanding accusation against them but to support our community during Pride and to accept us openly to worship within their halls of God, the campaign of defamation continues.
“A bishop in Georgia is aiding the gay agenda,” accuses one website (ChurchMilitant.com) on the issue. A LifeSiteNews.com post, written by Lisa Bourne, goes on to claim: “The U.S. Church’s own studies have shown that the overwhelming majority of abuse in the Church’s sex abuse crisis has generated from homosexual clergy.” This is just beneath a banner asking for money to fund its nebulous cause, decrying in its next breath that it’s being targeted on social media for its hopefulness on regressive policies in a “cultural war.”
But where, whom, and what is the culture in this war? That we turn a nation of believers against one another? That we cast stones at a House of God? Since when did Jesus Christ speak against the gay (or LGBTQ) community at all, but most importantly, at large? If Christ is at the root of Christianity, one could reason that we haven’t been targeted by him at all, but rather by a bristly portion of His followers.
Those who know Monsignor Gracz say there’s nothing to be concerned about.
“I purposefully chose to have my daughter baptized at Shrine because of Monsignor’s beliefs,” Catherine Scavone tells us. “I have enjoyed going to a church that believes in all people and supports all members.”
Catherine is fond of the event. “I remember at the mass my daughter was baptized, he spoke in support of the march in Atlanta for immigrant rights.”
“I have attended several masses at Shrine of the Immaculate Conception,” says Catherine. She tells us several in her family are members of the Shrine. “Monsignor Gracz baptized my daughter and all of my nieces and nephews.”
When she found out about the online petition, Catherine tells us she “was extremely upset. I think that Monsignor Gracz is doing everything he can to support and carry the Catholic faith.”
Catherine isn’t the only one concerned. “I have spoken with others, including my neighbors who were married by Monsignor Gracz and I know of several people who are upset with this group’s petition,” she says. “Everyone that I know who has attended mass with Monsignor Gracz or has received Sacraments from him always speaks of him in the highest regard. Our Catholic faith needs priests like Monsignor Gracz to positively promote our faith for all people.”
Nevertheless, the petition remains, growing in numbers — however small — by the day.
Perhaps a forgiveness is in order, in spite of the hubris that refuses to see itself in need of forgiving. It’s within the nature of Jesus to forgive those who “know now that they do” when they attempt to drive people away from His houses of worship.
Regardless, the bells on 10th ring and they call for those in need of guidance, of healing to bring their weary souls in for a drink of mercy on a summer’s day. Is there an equivalent gesture of kindness and love from those who aim to tear down Atlanta’s Shrine of the Immaculate Conception? We hold out faith.
Peace be with you, Archbishop Gregory and Monsignor Gracz … and also with your dissenters.
At the time of printing, neither the Concerned Catholics of Atlanta nor members of the Shrine’s clergy have responded to requests for comment.