Parishioners from a Lincoln Park Roman Catholic parish are marching in today's Pride Parade to show their solidarity with Dignity Chicago, an independent ministry for gay, lesbian and transgender Catholics.
More than a dozen parishioners from St. Clement Catholic Church in the Lincoln Park neighborhood marched behind the Dignity banner Sunday, donning T-shirts that advertised their parish affiliation.
"We don't want to be dictated to anymore," said Rob Svendsen, 41, a parishioner at St. Clement for nine years. "With the new pope, we've all been given a new ray of hope."
Many of the parishioners in Sunday's procession were marching for a second time. Chris Pett, 64, former president of Dignity, said a group of about two dozen parishioners showed up last year and asked if they could join them.
"What St. Clement demonstrates is there are Catholics in the pews out there who think this is a time to be united and give witness to what the church's true mission is," Pett said. "We are here to advance justice. We should be a church united in justice, love and respect for one another. What's exciting about it is they come from a very affirming community."
Svendsen is not gay but said he could identify with gay Catholics who feel alienated by the church's opposition to same-sex marriage. He was unable to marry his second wife in the Catholic Church because he had not annulled his first marriage. Pett appreciated that broader approach to marriage equality.
"It calls to mind the bigger picture," he said. "This is all about justice. Justice in religious traditions means right relationship … To feel really inclusive, to feel welcome, is as important an issue as same-sex couples coming together and being acknowledged legally."
Susan Burritt, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said the parishioners didn't need the church's permission to participate. Anything the parish does is "under the governance of the pastor," she said.
The Rev. Ken Simpson, the senior pastor of St. Clement who's on pilgrimage to Israel, could not be reached for comment. But the Rev. Rex Pillai, the parish's associate pastor, said the group's participation in the parade wasn't an official parish activity.
"Individual parishioners are free to do what they want," he said. "St. Clement has always been a welcoming parish for people of certain various beliefs. It doesn't necessarily mean we agree … especially with what Pope Francis is saying he's trying to build a church that's more inclusive and more engaging."
Chicago's Cardinal Francis George fought the gay marriage legislation that went into effect this year.
In 2012, he caused a stir by comparing the Pride Parade to the Ku Klux Klan. Clarifying his remarks later, he said although church teaching does not judge same-sex relationships as morally acceptable, it does encourage the faithful to "respect everyone."