(CNSNews.com) - The Catholic Action League of Massachusetts is seeking state and federal hate crimes charges against homosexual protestors who "disturbed" Sunday's Mass at Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross.
"This was a bigoted expression of contempt for Catholics," C.J. Doyle, executive director of the league, told CNSNews.com. Doyle referred to the protest as "a premeditated assault on the First Amendment religious freedom rights of Catholics" and "a very crude intimidation tactic intended to silence Catholic opposition to same-sex marriage.
"But it was also a crime," Doyle said.
The protest, staged by 11 members of QueerToday.com - a self-described Boston-based online community of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth and allies nationwide - was triggered by four Massachusetts bishops who called on priests Sunday to remind their parishioners of the Church's stance against same-sex marriages.
Parishioners were also asked to urge their state legislators to vote in favor of a proposed amendment to the state's constitution that would legally define marriage as the union between a male and a female.
Doyle said that as Monsignor William Roche began to read the bishops' statement in favor of traditional Catholic marriage, the protestors "stood up and turned their backs on the pulpit.
"A number of them embraced one another, held hands, and at least two male homosexuals kissed each other," Doyle said. "A number of parishioners had to get up and actually move because either their view of the sanctuary was being blocked or because they felt somehow threatened or menaced by these protestors, who then - after a short time - walked out."
Mark Snyder, the 20-year-old founder of QueerToday.com, said he "did not break any laws at the church.
"There were police present in the back watching to make sure that the service was not disrupted, and because it was not disrupted, I was not arrested, and nobody in our group was arrested," Snyder told CNSNews.com.
According to press reports, fellow protestor and former altar boy Carl Sciortino said: "I'm not turning my back on my church or my God, I'm turning my back on the bishops who are promoting this discrimination.
"As a Catholic, I find it disgusting that I have to protest my own church to have equal rights under state law," Sciortino told the Boston Globe Monday.
Snyder told CNSNews.com that any kissing "was very subdued - like a kiss on the cheek or a hug." He was quoted in the same Globe article as saying that when he "kissed his friend Diego Maldonado" during the protest, it "was meant to symbolize the kiss that straight couples are allowed when they are married in a church."
According to Doyle, the issue is not whether the protesters "disrupted" the Mass, as some in the press reported. "The law doesn't say 'disrupt,' the law says 'disturb,' and (Commonwealth of Massachusetts General Law) Chapter 272, Section 38, says: 'Whoever willfully interrupts or disturbs an assembly of people met for the worship of God shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than $1,000."
Doyle also cited General Law Chapter 265, Section 37, "which prohibits people from interfering with anyone in the exercise of a constitutional right, such as the right to worship in peace, unmolested."
According to Doyle, letters were to be sent Tuesday to state Attorney General Thomas Reilly and Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley, urging them to investigate the Holy Cross incident for potential hate crimes charges against the protestors.
"We're also writing to U.S. Attorney (for the state of Massachusetts) Michael Sullivan because there is a provision of...the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act which also prohibits interference with churches," Doyle said.
Boston Archdiocese spokesperson Fr. Christopher Coyne told CNSNews.com that while there were "concerns that there was a protest inside the church," the archdiocese would not "pursue any kind of legal remedy based on something like a hate crime or disruption of a worship service.
"People who come to the church specifically to protest, we'd ask them to stay outside the church and not disrupt in any way - peaceful or otherwise - the worship."
A spokesman for Sullivan had no comment on the matter.
Snyder said he found it "hurtful and offensive that I'm being accused of a hate crime because I've been a victim of hate crimes before growing up."
Snyder, a senior public relations major at Boston's Emerson College, recalled being "verbally and physically harassed on a daily basis" while attending a Pennsylvania high school.
Protests are not unusual at Holy Cross. According to Doyle, parishioners of the church have "been under siege for about 15 months now" from protests over charges of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the Boston area. He said church attendees went to Mass "amid a heavy police presence and through a gauntlet of protestors, some of them with bullhorns shouting at them."
Doyle added: "We have a long history of these kinds of hate crimes going on here in Boston." He mentioned a 1990 incident where "condoms were thrown at priests, and obscenities were shouted at worshippers during ordinations" and a 1991 incident where "mock homosexual weddings were taking place on the steps of the cathedral.
"In 2001, we had a group of homosexual militants who harassed signature gatherers outside of Catholic churches when they would attempt to gather signatures for a protection of marriage amendment," Doyle said. "So we have a long history of very thuggish, very aggressive behavior."
Most recently, Doyle said, a woman with children complained to him about an incident by "anti-Catholic hate groups" with bullhorns at Holy Cross.
"One of these psychopaths actually shouted at her for the children to cover up their genitals because Catholic priests were present...something you would expect more from Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia than in a free society," Doyle said.
Remarking on the possibility of the protestors being charged with hate crimes, local WRKO AM radio talk show host Howie Carr told CNSNews.com:"For once in my life. I'm with the Catholic Action League."
Carr, who said he doesn't personally favor hate crimes laws, said: "We have too many sets of double standards in this country.
"If you're going to have hate crimes for one section of the population, you've got to have hate crimes for all segments of the population," Carr said. "Sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander."
See Earlier Story:
Homosexual Marriage Debate Heats up in Massachusetts
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