Sash Wars V: The Archbishop Strikes Back

Four years ago, St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop Harry Flynn opened the cathedral’s doors to open homosexuals who desired to change Church teaching. Every Pentecost since, members of the Rainbow Sash Alliance have donned multicolored sashes for Sunday Mass and were given the Eucharist. This year that changes.

In a move that surprised both members of the Rainbow Sash Alliance, and Catholics in the archdiocese and neighboring dioceses, Archbishop Flynn sent a letter to Brian McNeill, leader of the Rainbow Sash Alliance USA, a local affiliate of the international Rainbow Sash Movement — an organization of homosexual and “transgender” Catholics, and their supporters, who disagree with Church teaching regarding homosexual behavior.

In that letter, made public by McNeill on May 5, Archbishop Flynn told McNeill that those wearing sashes this Pentecost would not be permitted to receive the Eucharist.

“You first wrote me in 2001 about the presence of people wearing the Rainbow Sash,” said Archbishop Flynn in the May 2 letter. “Because you assured me that the wearing of the sash was not a denial of Church teaching, I have not interfered with anyone’s desire to receive Holy Communion. It has become apparent to me that the wearing of the sash is more and more perceived as a protest against Church teaching.”

The letter concludes, “I am asking you to remove your sashes before you receive Communion. No one wearing the sash will be permitted to receive the Blessed Sacrament.”

McNeill compared removing the sash to “going back into the closet.”

“I’m not going to do that,” McNeill said, adding that the Archbishop’s letter changes nothing and that he will not refrain from wearing the sash.

“My position remains the same,” said McNeill. “We feel the sash is a symbol of the grace given to us, therefore we will wear the sash and we will go up for Communion.”

Archbishop Flynn’s actions have drawn widespread support, as well as questions about the apparent change in policy. Why the change?

Clearly, Archbishop Flynn’s approach, from the very beginning, has been a pastoral one. Not desiring to exclude anyone from the Lord’s Table, he took the Rainbow Sash Alliance at their word, that the sash was a symbol of “celebration,” rather than one of protest. In doing so, he allowed members to use the Mass to make a statement. Members took Archbishop Flynn’s “inch” and made it a mile.

In recent years, the true nature of the group’s intentions has come to light.

In November of last year, members of the group were asked by Father Ralph Talbot to remove their sashes before coming forward for Communion. Some did. Most did not.

Earlier this year, the Rainbow Sash Movement issued separate press releases calling for members to wear not only rainbow-colored sashes, but also encouraged women to wear purple-colored sashes to draw attention to women’s ordination. One priest even suggested that those faithful to the Church wear yellow and white, the colors of the papal flag, threatening to turn Mass into a multi-colored kaleidoscope of varied social protests.

In addition, the Rainbow Sash Movement had asked members to wear sashes at the cathedral as well as their local parishes this year.

A separate press release instructed sash-wearers to make their presence known at Mass if they were denied the Eucharist: “Should you be denied Communion, go back to your pew and remain standing while the rest of the congregation kneels,” the release stated.

Archbishop Flynn’s letter notes that he was responding to a Vatican directive — “a directive that all bishops will adhere to.”

Yet, for all of the talk regarding sashes, it’s important to remember what the real issue is, and that is one’s proper disposition before receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

The Church has always taught, and continues to teach, that one must be free from mortal sin, and in a state of grace, before receiving Christ in the Eucharist. The Church teaches that those not in a state of grace, must first receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation before approaching the altar to receive Jesus Christ — Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

It is unfortunate that the situation had to reach the point that it did in the Twin Cities. Hopefully, this is the beginning of the end for those who wish to use the Blessed Sacrament for political purposes.

Historically, only a small number of US bishops have allowed sash-wearers to receive Communion. It remains to be seen whether the bishops in Detroit, Los Angeles, Rochester, NY, and Saint Cloud, Minn. will follow Archbishop Flynn’s lead.

© Copyright 2005 Catholic Exchange

Tim Drake is the author of Young and Catholic: The Face of Tomorrow’s Church (Sophia Institute Press, 2004). He originally broke this story in the National Catholic Register. He writes from Saint Cloud, Minnesota.

Young and Catholic can be ordered by calling 1-800-888-9344 or visiting Sophia Institute Press.

Tim Drake


Tim Drake is an award-winning journalist, the author of six books on religion and culture, and a former radio host. Widely published, and a long-time contributor to the National Catholic Register, he serves as Senior Editor/Director of News Operations for the Cardinal Newman Society.

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