The pastor of a Roman Catholic church in Northwest Washington, supported by the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington, has barred the church's gospel choir from singing in a concert with the choir of the gay Metropolitan Community Church of Washington.
"It's a gay church and it advocates something that is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church, and as a Catholic parish , we cannot support that," said the Rev. John J. Mudd, pastor of St. Augustine Roman Catholic Church, 15th and V streets NW.
Jay Cormier, communications director of the archdiocese, said that Archbishop James A. Hickey "supports" the decision.
The concert, scheduled for next Saturday night by the Metropolitan Community Church, was heavily publicized, according to Cassie Culver, chairman of the concert committee of the Metropolitan church.
Three hundred letters from Metropolitan's pastor and accompanying fliers were sent to the pastors of area churches; 800 special invitations were mailed; and about 100 posters were put up on April 9, less than a week before the St. Augustine choir pulled out eight days ago, Culver said.
The publicity cost was "close to $700 in printing and postage," Culver said. The concert is the first major public performance scheduled by the 20-voice Metropolitan church choir, she said. Proceeds will benefit the music ministry of the church.
Culver said the concert committee has not yet found a replacement for the St. Augustine choir, but that the concert would not be canceled.
The Metropolitan church is an interdenominational church that ministers to the gay community. The church rents space from the First Congregational Church at 10th and G streets NW.
The church is a member of the Metropolitan Community Churches, a gay-oriented denomination that began 15 years ago with a church in Los Angeles. The denomination now has 181 churches in eight countries.
The National Council of Churches, the largest ecumenical organization in the country with 32 Protestant and Orthodox member denominations, has been embroiled in controversy for more than a year over the denomination's application for membership. The organization is expected to vote on the application later this year.
The 50-voice St. Augustine Gospel Choir had contracted orally with the Metropolitan church in mid-March to do the concert, Culver said. The St. Augustine choir, one of the best known in the city, was to be paid $300 for the concert.
The St. Augustine church was founded as a black parish in 1858 and is the oldest black parish in the city, although it has white members as well. Its membership is diverse, including some gay members, and it is considered a progressive church with a history of community involvement.
Mudd said he canceled the concert "because I thought it would cause more controversy and the ultimate benefits would not outweigh the problems." He said he did not know of the concert until last week after the publicity went out.
"I apologize for that, and I told them the Metropolitan church that," he said. A special problem, he said, was that the concert was to raise funds for the gay church, and that the Catholic church would be "seen as supporting that church and its philosophy" if it participated.
He had learned about his church choir's participation from another Catholic priest who had received a flier and called him about it. "I suspected performing with the Metropolitan church would blow up and that it would be misunderstood," Mudd said.
The Rev. Larry J. Uhrig, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church, said that "the attitude of our choir was that it was a group of Christians getting together and singing together. It was just a good ecumenical celebration of Christian music."
This week Uhrig wrote an "open letter" in protest to Hickey "expressing my grave concern as to the nature of the current relationship between the Catholic church and gay and lesbian Christians."
The "Gospel of Christ and the Scriptures do not offer condemnation to gay people," the letter says.