Tuesday, December 16, 2008
When Archbishop Mark Shirilau founded the Ecumenical Catholic Church in 1987, he did so to provide a religious home for gays and lesbians.
Now, with the Episcopal Church ordaining gay priests and the United Church of Christ performing same-sex weddings, the Riverside-based denomination is losing members.
As more mainstream churches reach out toward gays and lesbians, many gays are leaving churches like Shirilau's. The largest gay Catholic group, Dignity, lost nearly half its active members in the past decade.
"There's less need," Shirilau said inside a chapel in his Riverside home. "You can church-shop and find at a local level a parish that is accepting."
In 1995, the Ecumenical Catholic Church had about 2,000 members in 25 churches. Now, there are about 500 members in 20 churches, some of which have only a few members and meet once a month.
Even Shirilau worships at an Episcopal Church.
Shirilau said he never felt a strong need to attend a church geared toward gays and lesbians. He was happy in the Episcopal Church even in the mid-1980s, when the denomination was more conservative on gay and lesbian issues.
But he and his late partner realized that other gays were not comfortable in mainstream denominations, so they founded the Ecumenical Catholic Church. The church adheres to the majority of Roman Catholic teachings and uses a blend of Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran liturgy.
About half the members are Catholic, Shirilau said. Some former members now attend Roman Catholic churches, even though the Vatican teaches that same-gender sex is a sin.
But Shirilau said what's important to many gays and lesbians is how individual parishes treat them, not what a Vatican document says about homosexuality. And an increasing number of priests are accepting toward their gay congregants, he said.
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