A group called the Concerned Catholics of Atlanta started the petition. The group claims the scandalous activity involves priests who “openly endorse LGBTQ lifestyles, activities and behaviors.”
Petitioners are specifically targeting Father Henry Gracz, pastor of the Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, a church which has long welcomed the gay community.
“In the pews, if you go in right now, you’ll see where it has gay pride t-shirts that you can purchase,” churchgoer Damon Smith told CBS46 reporter Ashley Thompson.
Father Gracz has been at the church for 18 years and works with victims of sexual abuse.
The church itself has been pro-gay since the 1980s when it opened its doors to support those suffering from aids.
So why the petition now?
“Yes we’re pro-gay because everyone deserves God’s love,” Gracz told Thompson.
Gracz believes petitioners are looking for a scapegoat, someone to unfairly blame for recent shocking reports of pedophilia within the church.
“I think that the pain and the wounds of the pedophilia was so deep, so people were saying there’s got to be an answer, there’s got to be answers,” he explained.
After mass, CBS46 caught churchgoers who were on both sides of the argument.
“I think what he’s doing is outstanding,” said Gabriel Orthous. “He’s calling for people on all walks of life and opening the doors of the church.”
“I saw flyers like they’re marching in the gay pride parade and they’re supposed to have a booth there,” said Smith. “I don’t know what they’re saying there but it seems like it’s contradicting church teaching with regards to that.”
The Archbishop responded to CBS46’s request for comment with the following statement:
“Msgr. Henry Gracz is one of three spiritual advisers we have available for any victim-survivors, if they choose. He is one of our most compassionate and understanding priests who does not hesitate to respond to anyone in need of help. There are no plans to remove him or any of our spiritual advisers at this time.
As pastor of The Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Msgr. Gracz continues a 30 year generous outreach tradition of ministering to those who are disenfranchised or alienated from society. This is often criticized and/or misinterpreted. Msgr. Gracz is following the admonition of Pope Francis to accompany people on the periphery of society. His priestly heart is not closed to those who find themselves misunderstood or rejected.
My hope is that people would understand that The Shrine is a place of healing in the true Catholic tradition using hospitality and a welcoming atmosphere to relay the message that every life has dignity and is loved by God.”
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