Priest says all are welcome in his church

Venite Ad Me Omnes: photo by Patricia Drury

Believe it or not, the title of this post was also the headline for an article on the front page of the Metro section in Monday's Boston Globe.

Priest says all are welcome in his church

That's news? That gets a headline? Well, it does these days in Boston because...


Well, it's not easy to complete that last sentence. This is only a blog post and hardly a space sufficient to resolve complex pastoral concerns.  And I'm not going to join in tossing out one-liners from scripture or the Catechism of the Catholic Church or the Code of Canon Law to make a point on one side or the other of this issue. Don't get me wrong. The bible, the Catechism and the Code are primary resources for everyone in parish ministry but proof-texting from any or even all of them seldom yields a definitive or even a substantive contribution to informed dialogue.

A number of people on all sides in the fray here (the people and pastor of St. Cecilia parish, the Archdiocese, the critics) have something of value to contribute to the discussion. Unfortunately, the heat of the debate (fueled by the anonymity of some and the conviction of many that there's really nothing to be discussed) leaves little room for coming to any mutual understanding let alone a resolution of the issues.

What's needed in every parish is more than a simple, "Y'all come!" What's needed is a genuinely warm welcome into the mystery and ministries of Catholic life. What's needed is a heaping helping of wisdom for discerning what's true, good, right and just.  And what's needed is witness to the Word that calls to holiness everyone who comes through the parish doors.

St. Cecilia Parish in Boston, already home to many people, has announced that it welcomes all people. No news in that: most parishes do and every parish ought to welcome all people.  Is the mission of the Church anything less than this?

Writing this post brought to mind a statue of the Sacred Heart  (photo above) at the center of the campus at Notre Dame .  I passed that statue hundreds of times and read its inscription, Christ's own words, VENITE AD ME OMNES: Come to me, all of you!  It is the Lord calling each of us and all of us to turn our hearts to his heart - and to his Word, his truth, his Cross, his service and his mercy.  VENITE AD ME OMNES!

(If the previous paragraph is a violation of my one-liner rule - mea culpa!)

I ask you to pray for Fr. John Unni.  He has a unique parish with pastoral opportunities most pastors will never encounter.  Pray that he will continue to welcome all with the warmth, wisdom and gospel witness that mark his ministry.

And pray, too, for Cardinal Sean O'Malley and for all those who have voiced their support or their criticism of St. Cecilia Parish.
Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, 
   and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, 
   for I am meek and humble of heart; 
   and you will find rest for your selves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.
       (Mt 11:28-30)
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  1. Thank you.

  2. Amen. Thanks for this important post.

  3. Your blog prompted me to google Fr. Unni and I found a video of his homily. My feeling for Fr. Unni was one of pride. I am also pleased to read what Fr. Austin wrote. Our Lord welcomed everyone, that is for certain. If all he wanted were the saints among us, the churches would probably be empty.

  4. Thank you, Austin. "AF"

  5. It is me, Fran, I am at work. Thank you for this.

    There are so many pastoral opportunities, even in large suburban parishes. I have, at two different parishes, had the privilege of serving at funerals where women had lost partners - other women - with whom they had lived, loved, worshipped and prayed for 40 years in one case and 30 in another. And in the last one, the final 3 years were spent caring, tenderly and personally, with some nursing and then hospice help, to her beloved.

    I think about the families that I know, 2 men or 2 women, who dutifully bring their children to church weekly, educating them in the faith, often sending these kids to Catholic school. I understand the teaching but I can't help but see the witness of lives of love and service.

    I mean honestly - all are welcome. We all have much to learn and ways to grow more deeply in Christ. It is through these very mysteries that we encounter Christ in many forms, including one another, and are transformed.

    Thanks be to God for that. And thank you for such a thoughtful post, as always.

  6. Well said Austin !
    The video showing Fr Unni's speech is here

    I think Fr Unni is brave and the look on the face of the auxiliary archbishop is well worth seeing.

    It's interesting to compare this with the situation here in the UK.
    The so called Soho masses are well known here and actively support ministry to the gay community and have done for a number of years.
    Here's a link

  7. Very good Father. You are a good man and pastor.

  8. Elizabeth from St. LouisJune 15, 2011 at 1:43 PM

    For Easter this year we were in Minnesota. At the beginning of the Mass a man and woman welcomed all in attendance - married, divorced, single, handicapped, gay, straight, aged, etc and we responded "All are welcome here" after each welcome of the different groups. I thought it was wonderful and a great opportunity to welcome visitors with the possibility of them joining the parish because they felt welcome

  9. Father Fleming,

    Have you considered looking into the work of the Courage apostolate for Catholics with same-sex attraction? I suggest you seek expert advice within the church on this particular ministry. There is a body of written material from the group that does not cherry pick the teachings of the Church but presents them whole, with comprehensive citations.

    Now, about your post: I have read the Globe stories and find it hard to believe Fr. Unni's statement that he was unaware of the meaning of gay pride. I suspect photos from past Gay Pride events would quickly clear up his confusion.

    Also, I am offended by the comment above that Fr. Unni is "brave" and the look on the face of the auxiliary bishop "is well worth seeing." It seems that Fr. Unni certainly invited in the TV cameras knowing what he was going to do. The word ambush springs to mind.


  10. Mary,
    Like most parish priests I'm certainly familiar with Courage and the materials that describe the program's philosophy and what it offers.

    If you find Fr. Unni's statement, as reported by the media, hard to believe I suggest you take that up with him.

    The person who made the comment about Fr. Unni being "brave" might want to respond to you. I suspect that commenter is unfamiliar with Bishop Hennessey and that might account for her not realizing that Bishop Hennessey's visage in that clip is not an unusual one for him.
    I wouldn't read much into his countenance there, but neither do I know what the Bishop's reaction to Fr. Unni's remarks might have been.

    You must have more information than I do, Mary, about whether Fr. unni invited the press to the liturgy or not - or who, if anyone, authorized their presence. I do not know.

  11. I was deeply blessed by your post and watching the clip of Fr. Unni's address to parishioners. Why blessed? Because that's how I feel whenever someone in our church so passionately and eloquently reminds us what Jesus taught -- and what so many have yet to learn. #PBWY

  12. I watched the video, and I must say I'm surprised and disappointed at Fr. Unni's claim not to know what the Gay Pride agenda is. That part of it strikes me as disingenuous, at best.

    Everything else he says on the video seems okay, especially at the point where he mentioned "Gay Pride agenda," and immediately said, "No," which seems to deny that he supports such an agenda.

    It is a fine line that he seems to be attempting to tread between acceptance of all people and implicit condoning of homosexual conduct. I hope he will never cross the line.

  13. Mary,
    You say, "It seems that Fr. Unni certainly invited in the TV cameras knowing what he was going to do. The word ambush springs to mind."

    You obviously don't know Father Unni. I can assure you that he did not invite any tv cameras or reporters. I am sure that he is not enjoying any of this. I think you should keep your unfounded opinions to yourself.

  14. Shouting matches between commenters will result in this combox being closed.

  15. Fr. Fleming,

    Since you moderate the comments, the only way ad hominen attacks can appear is with your approval, right?
    How then can a shouting match occur?

    Now, back to the facts of the case. There are only two explanations for Fr. Unni's statement that he didn't know what Gay Pride was. He was telling the truth or he wasn't. If he was telling the truth, then he must truly be clueless about the realities of the gay life. If so, he shouldn't be pastor of a parish with a large gay population. If he wasn't telling the truth and did know what Gay Pride meant, he shouldn't be pastor, because only the Truth can set you free.

    Same deal with the camera. This was professional quality video that appeared on a news website, not a cell phone or Flip. Hard to miss the difference. Most priests don't allow cameramen into church during their Mass. A pastor certainly has control of his premises (short of a riot). If Fr. Unni was aware of the videographer, then it was a set-up. If he was unaware of the videographer, then he is clearly clueless. Either way, it raises questions about his pastoral style and prudence.


  16. It's not my intention to start trying to decide which comments are published and which aren't. So, if I find raised voices in my inbox, the combox will close.

  17. Hi Father Austin! Thank you for your post and for being the wonderful pastor you are. I will never forget one of the first masses I attended at HF and you spoke of what the "parish family" was. I felt welcomed and knew that any person, single, married, gay, straight, divorced,etc. felt welcomed too. There are many churches who say they welcome everyone...you don't always feel it the way I did at HF. Thank you for your warmth and wisdom!


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