CLEVELAND, Ohio – A Bay Village priest is facing backlash after saying the church is “under attack” and referencing a pro-LGBTQ nonprofit in a sermon Sunday.
The Mass was interrupted when someone stood up and challenged the issue. Later, police were called to an incident outside of the house of worship.
During a service at St. Raphael Parish, the Rev. Timothy W. Gareau, the church’s pastor, referenced the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence being awarded the Community Hero Award by the Los Angeles Dodgers for service to the LGBTQ community.
“Look at the Los Angeles Dodgers. Look what’s happening. Defaming the name of Jesus Christ. Defaming the name of every Christian here on Earth. It just burns a hole in my heart, angers me and embitters me. And it should you,” he said during his homily, which was live streamed online.
The videos have since been removed from the church’s Facebook page.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is a California-based non-profit organization that uses drag performances and religious imagery to satirize the Catholic Church and raise money for the LGBTQ community.
“I don’t want to give these people a name,” Gareau said. “I don’t want to give them that much credit. But it’s happening. And it’s also being affirmed. I want to cry. But we have the spirit. We have the spirit of the living God, who is upon us, who is with us, who is among us and within us.”
Afterward, a person who attended the service walked up to the altar, approached the microphone and condemned Gareau’s sermon.
“Queer and trans people also carry the Holy Spirit, and that was really painful to hear. That was really hurtful,” the person said.
The speaker, who went by the name of “Avery,” said they now live in Georgia with their wife but was once a member of St. Raphael. Avery said they are transgender and use “they” pronouns in an email to cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer.
“You baptized me. I carry the Holy Spirit within me,” they told Gareau. “I know you’re talking about the Sisters of Indulgence, and I understand that from the outside it looks like they are defaming the Catholic faith. … There are queer children here. The spirit of God moves through all people.”
Then, three men attending the service approached Avery and led them off the altar.
After facing backlash for honoring the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence’s work within the LGBTQ community, the Dodgers retracted the Community Hero Award and withdrew the invitation for the group to attend the team’s Pride Night on June 16. Last week, the Dodgers apologized, reinvited the non-profit and reinstated the award.
“In the weeks ahead, we will continue to work with our LGBTQ+ partners to better educate ourselves, find ways to strengthen the ties that bind and use our platform to support all of our fans who make up the diversity of the Dodgers family,” the team said in a statement posted on social media.
Gareau declined to comment when contacted by cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer.
In a statement from the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, a spokesperson said Gareau “talked about a subject that was of deep concern to him and to the Catholic Church more generally. That subject was the growing acceptance of anti-Catholic bigotry in our society…”
Daniel Sweeney, a former parishioner and a member of the community group called Bay Village Anti-Racism Network, said he wrote a letter to the church after hearing what had happened Sunday.
“Father Tim is a very reasonable man. He has always been a strong faith advocate,” he said. “He let loose and brought cultural war into the pulpit.”
Sweeney, who has lived in Bay Village for 40 years, said Gareau should apologize.
People attending the service in Bay Village on Sunday cried and said they would not be returning to the church following the interaction, according to a parishioner who has been active with the church for nearly 35 years but wished to remain anonymous.
“Father Tim was doing his homily and was coming to a close and then he got started on this tirade,” she said. “The point of the homily is to preach the Gospel. And nothing else needs to be brought in. You go to church to get away from politics in everyday life. And that was neither the time nor the place.”
The parishioner added that she was sad that someone felt like they did not belong at her church.
“She meant no harm. She was upset, and rightly so. And she finished what she had to say. She walked off the altar, and she went outside,” she said.
In a statement, the diocese said people who disagree with the Church’s teachings are free to do so, but “are not free to disrupt the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to express their opinion.”
The diocese also urged those who seek to defend the Church to “do so lovingly and without in any way threatening or committing violence.”
“The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland applauds Father Gareau for his courage and fully supports him in calling on Catholics to speak out when others disparage our faith and to fight hatred, not with violence, but by embodying Christ’s love and boldly proclaiming the Gospel,” the statement said.
Bay Village police said officers were dispatched to the main entrance of St. Raphael at 10:46 a.m. Sunday for “a possible assault in progress,” but it was not clear whether the incident was related to the service. The one-sentence report had no other information.
The parishioner said she did not see any police at the church after mass.
“And as far as I’m concerned, he threw the first punch by bringing this up,” she said. “He’s open for whatever criticism comes his way. Because I’m sorry, but Jesus loved everyone.”