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CANTON — Parishioners and the presiding priest at a March 28 Mass at St. John the Evangelist Parish were shocked and angered when a protestor stood up in the middle of the 9 a.m. Mass to denounce a video favoring traditional marriage that was being shown.
An eight-minute video, distributed to every parish in the Archdiocese of Boston by the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC), was shown at the weekend Masses at the parish. The video focuses on the repercussions of the Supreme Judicial Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage. The video criticizes legislators’ plans to create “a so-called civil unions compromise they know voters will reject.”
After previewing the video, Father Michael J. Doyle, pastor at the parish, chose to show it to his parishioners because he “thought it was a good tool to communicate the problems inherent in support of the civil union compromise.” The video, he said, was first shown following the 4 p.m. Mass on Saturday, March 27.
After Mass, Father Doyle learned that someone in attendance had emailed numerous local media outlets telling them about the film. Father Doyle speculated that the man who disrupted the Mass the next day, Chuck Colbert, an openly-gay freelance journalist from Cambridge, was most likely alerted in the same way. Colbert frequently writes for the National Catholic Reporter newspaper (NCR), which recently endorsed same-sex marriage.
According to Father Hal N. Obayashi, who was presiding at the Mass, Colbert stood up after the movie aired and told the congregation that he was a gay Catholic man with a masters degree from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology. Colbert announced that he planned to be married May 20 and proceeded to denounce the Church for showing such a “scurrilous” video.
Parishioners reacted negatively to Colbert’s outburst and told him to sit down. An usher escorted Colbert out of the church, and the police were called to ensure order, Father Obayashi said.
"Parishioners at the Mass were shaken and disturbed by what had happened," especially because Colbert is not a parishioner at the parish, Father Doyle said.
"It's against the law and it is criminal behavior," he continued. "We chose not to prosecute, but we could have."
Showing the video is “part of our free exercise,” Father Doyle said. “We have the right to show a video that communicates truths that we believe, that are part of our Catholic faith tradition.”
Spokesman for the archdiocese Father Christopher Coyne, said that it is illegal in Massachusetts “to disrupt a religious gathering.” Though the Church in Boston has been subject to such disturbances in the past, it has decided not to press charges because “that keeps the unfortunate momentum of the disruption going,” he said.
"The unfortunate reality of what happened in Canton is that the protestor actually traveled to the Mass with the intention of disrupting the Mass," Father Coyne continued. "That's unfair to the people of Canton and the parish there, who have a right to the celebration of the Mass under their pastor and priest without protest, disruption or unfortunate incidences like this."
"If the man found [the video] offensive he did not have to come" to the Mass, Father Coyne stated.
Father Coyne said he has interacted with Colbert in the past and has routinely issued him credentials to attend media events held by the archdiocese. However, he noted that by disrupting the Mass, Colbert “crossed the line” from being a journalist to an activist and that, in light of Colbert’s actions, he may reconsider issuing him credentials in the future.
Contacted for comment, NCR editor Thomas Roberts agreed that Colbert has become too personally involved in the same-sex marriage issue and noted that Colbert was asked approximately two months ago to write only opinion pieces on the subject.
"If he does anything for us it will be in a first-person piece on the experiences of a Catholic gay man, but he will not do any reporting for us," Roberts stated.
"We don't ask people to give up their citizenship," he continued. "I don't think most papers would ask Catholics not to cover the Catholic Church, but when you become an activist in something you immediately disqualify yourself from covering that issue. It's a very clear line."