The three gay Catholics who were arrested in November 2002 at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., during the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) were found guilty of the criminal misdemeanor of unlawful entry after a two day bench trial with Judge Mildred Edwards in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
However, Judge Edwards refused to order the defendants to stay away from the Hyatt in the future, and declared the complete suspension of the imposition of sentence. They could have received 6 months in jail and a fine of $350.
Kara Speltz, Ken Einhaus, and Mike Perez, the defendants in the case, are all life-long Catholics and had been denied the Eucharist (Communion) for no apparent reason during the Bishops’ Mass at the National Shrine on November 11, 2002. They all testified that they entered the lobby of the Hyatt Hotel the next day and knelt in hopes that at least one bishop present would serve them the Eucharist. No bishops came forward and the three were arrested, charged with unlawful entry, and spent more than 30 hours in jail.
“Terrible violence was done to you when the body of Christ was denied to you,” said Judge Edwards, who also ordered the defendants to each pay $50 to the Victims of Violent Crimes Compensation Fund.
“You are in solidarity with all victims of violence,” Judge Edwards continued as she addressed the three defendants. “I am terribly sorry for what happened to you. As a member of the Church, I ask you to forgive our Church. There is no way I am going to order you away from the Hyatt. You can engage in peaceful demonstration as long as it is law abiding. Go in peace.”
Tears of joy were visible as court was adjourned. Kara, Ken, and Mike had all testified that they have made repeated attempts over the past few years to dialogue with several of the Bishops regarding the spiritual violence and mistreatment of gays and lesbians in the Catholic Church, but to no avail. They all plan to come back to Washington, D.C., with Soulforce in November 2003 for the annual meeting of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to once again attempt to dialogue with the Bishops.
“This verdict gives me hope that the desire of people of the church for justice and healing will prevail over the church leaders who misuse authority to control and silence us,” said Ken Einhaus. “This is a great victory for the three of us as faithful gay Catholics, and for all those who love God and seek healing for the wounds the Church has inflicted upon gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.”
Lead witness for the defense was Catholic Bishop Thomas Gumbleton from the Archdiocese of Detroit. Bishop Gumbleton testified that he was at the Hyatt for the USCCB, and was leaving the meeting during lunch recess when he saw the police arresting the defendants in the lobby of the hotel, and was unable to approach them because of the police.
“This experience reinforces my opinion about how important it is that the Catholic Church reach out to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people,” said Bishop Gumbleton after his court testimony.
Kara, Ken, and Mike were all in Washington, D.C., in November with Soulforce, a national movement committed to ending spiritual violence committed by religious policies and teachings against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.
Soulforce was at the Conference of Catholic Bishops for the third year in a row to protest of the churches anti-gay policies and teachings when they were denied the Eucharist without explanation or justification. Soulforce plans to once again be in Washington, D.C., for the annual United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2003.
Activist and ally Laura Montgomery (Rutt) Williams has served as executive director of Equal Partners in Faith, communications and media coordinator for Soulforce, and media, publicity and logistics coordinator for the United Methodist Church trial of Rev. Jimmy Creech, who was defrocked in 1999 for marrying same-sex couples. She is also co-founder of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable for LGBT Equality.