Avery Arden, who is transgender, was not going to return to their childhood church in Ohio just to hold their tongue as the pastor preached that the Catholic church was “under attack” in reference to a pro-LGBTQ+ nonprofit.
“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,” Rev. Timothy Gareau of St. Raphael professed in a sermon last week. “It just burns a hole in my heart, angers me and embitters me. And it should you.”
While the priest said he didn’t “want to give these people a name,” Arden knew he was referring to the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and in an interview with Cleveland, said dodging the group’s name “felt like a dog whistle.”
So the 28-year-old parishioner took to the altar to share their piece.
“Queer and trans people also carry the Holy Spirit, and that was really painful to hear. That was really hurtful,” Arden said.
The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is an LGBTQ+ advocacy group composed of “a leading-edge Order of queer and trans nuns” known for bright drag makeup and attire. Recently, the nonprofit was thrust into the national spotlight after the Los Angeles Dodgers invited, uninvited, and then reinvited the nuns to their annual LGBTQ+ Pride Night event. The team apologized and upheld its promise to honor the Los Angeles chapter’s sisters with the Community Hero Award on June 16.
In their confrontation of Gareau, Arden acknowledged the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence “from the outside” “looks like they are defaming the Catholic faith,” but emphasized that “the spirit of God moves through all people.”
“The idea that the church is under attack in this way that needs defending is laughable,” Arden said in an interview. “If I can’t convince people that what [the Sisters] do is not offensive, that’s fine. You can at least agree they don’t actually pose a real threat to the Catholic Church.”
Arden’s pushback drew heat from fellow churchgoers, and three members of the congregation escorted them out of the church. There, a parishioner started “storming towards” them, Arden shared, and allegedly even threatened to “shoot us.”
“I am a real Catholic. I go to mass every day, okay? I go to mass every day,” the man yelled, according to a video obtained by Cleveland. “Don’t defame the Lord Jesus. Get out of here.”
Local authorities responded to a “possible assault in progress” at the church at around 10:46 a.m., a police report stated. The incident is still under investigation and information remains preliminary.
A spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland denounced the response of the man who shouted at Arden but said in a statement to Cleveland that “Catholics rightly feel outraged and violated when such a disruption occurs.”
“The act of disrupting the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the most sacred part of Catholic life, is a serious matter,” the spokesperson said. “In keeping with the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, virtually all present at the Mass responded to the disruption with prayers for the person who interrupted the service and for the Church.”
Formerly an active member in the Catholic community, Arden—who now lives in Georgia—stopped by the church while in the area to visit family. Although Gareau has witnessed the devotee’s baptism, first Holy Communion, and confirmation, his latest comments marked the last time Arden will step foot in St. Raphael, Cleveland reported.
“St. Raphael is more than this hate,” they said. “I truly love Father Tim, and I do believe that he didn’t mean to promote violence. And I have hope that once he’s able to process what happened after his homily, that he will see how he did have a role and reflect on that.”
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