Hundreds Turned Away From Only Session On Gays At Catholic Meeting

The room was changed last minute from one that could hold 10,000 to another that seated just 1,000.
At the World Meeting of Families, Ron Belgau, center, and his mother Beverley Belgau, right, described to a packed room what it was like for them dealing with Ron’s same-sex attraction.
At the World Meeting of Families, Ron Belgau, center, and his mother Beverley Belgau, right, described to a packed room what it was like for them dealing with Ron’s same-sex attraction.
Madi Alexander

PHILADELPHIA (RNS) Homosexuality was such a combustible topic at the World Meeting of Families, a four-day Catholic gathering under way here, that it was doused twice.

First, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput earlier this month barred LGBT Catholics from holding a workshop at a Catholic parish near the event. It moved to a local United Methodist Church instead and is operating simultaneously, but with vastly smaller numbers than the 17,000 people on hand for the main event at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Then, just as the single session on homosexuality at this Vatican-approved meeting of Catholic families was to begin on Thursday afternoon (Sept. 24), a conference official took the stage in the main hall, capable of seating at least 10,000, and announced the location had been moved.

Thousands of people got up and made their way up one floor to another room capable of seating only about 1,000. Hundreds of others were turned away, the doors shut on them by convention center officials citing fire code regulations.

Inside the session, it was standing room only, with some people sitting on the floors and in the aisles. All were silent as Ron Belgau, the sole openly gay man allowed to make a presentation here, took the microphone and, with his mother Beverley, described how he follows a “traditional Christian sexual ethic” that says homosexual activity is sinful.

“Some people have described me as the official face of gay celibate Catholics,” Belgau, 40, said from a small podium at the front of the room. “But the last thing I want after this session is people looking at me. Every parish has gay kids, every family has a member suffering with same-sex attraction. I hope that when you return to your parishes you will be able to accompany them in whatever struggles they face and speak up” against the stigma of same-sex attraction.

At that, the crowd broke into applause — something they did multiple times throughout the session. They seemed especially absorbed when Belgau’s mother, Beverley, took the podium and described her son’s coming out at age 21 as “the worst day of my life.”

“You may think the fact that he is celibate makes my life easier, and in some way it does,” she said. “But to be attracted to the same sex and publicly celibate in a sexually free society is no easy road to walk.”

World Meeting of Families organizers were not immediately available to answers questions about the last-minute move to another room.

But for members of Equally Blessed, a coalition of several groups supportive of LGBT Catholics who are not celibate, the move was an echo of the earlier rebuffs.

“We are just trying to understand and give them the benefit of the doubt,” said Ryan Hoffmann, director of communications for Call to Action, one of the groups in Equally Blessed.

Hoffmann was there with several members of Equally Blessed. He characterized Ron Belgau’s appearance as “generous,” “sincere” and “courageous.”

But he added: “The frustration is that he didn’t speak to the many expressions of love LGBT Catholics and their families experience every day.”

Still, he said, the fact that so many were turned away is a positive sign.

“This just speaks to the fact that people want to talk about LGBT Catholics and their relationship with the Catholic Church,” Hoffmann said.

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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Pope Francis, left, has a selfie taken with Michael Brown as he walks through the crowd during a visit to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington September 24, 2015 in Washington, DC.
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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Cartrice Haynesworth, center, has a selfie taken with Pope Francis, left, as he walks through the crowd during a visit to Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington September 24, 2015 in Washington, DC.
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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Pope Francis (2-R) pauses in front of a sculpture of Spanish-born Junipero Serra, the Franciscan Friar known for starting missions in California, in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol on September 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. Pope Francis is on a five-day trip to the USA, which includes stops in Washington DC, New York and Philadelphia, after a three-day stay in Cuba.
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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on September 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. Pope Francis is the first pope to address a joint meeting of Congress and will finish his tour of Washington later today before traveling to New York City.
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WASHINGTON, USA - SEPTEMBER 24: His Holiness Pope Francis enters the House of Representatives chambers to address a joint session of the United States Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, USA on September 24, 2015.
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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Pope Francis addresses a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on September 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. Pope Francis is the first pope to address a joint meeting of Congress and will finish his tour of Washington later today before traveling to New York City.
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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Pope Francis is greeted by members of Congress as he arrives to speak during a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol on September 24, 2015 in Washington, DC.
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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) (R) speaks with Pope Francis (L) in the U.S. Capitol building before the Pontiff speaks to a joint meeting of Congress September 24, 2015 in Washington, DC.
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Pope Francis greets well-wishers the Apostolic Nunciature to the United States on September 24, 2015 in Washington, DC.
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People pray while Pope Francis celebrates a Canonization Mass for Rev. JunÃpero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception September 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. Pope Francis is in the United State for 6 days during his first trip as the leader of the Catholic Church. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Pope Francis celebrates a Canonization Mass for Rev. Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception September 23, 2015 in Washington, DC.
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Pope Francis delivers a homily during a Canonization Mass for Rev. Juni­pero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception September 23, 2015 in Washington, DC.
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People sing while Pope Francis celebrates a Canonization Mass for Rev. Juni­pero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception September 23, 2015 in Washington, DC.
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People listen during a Canonization Mass with Pope Francis for Rev. Junipero Serra at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception September 23, 2015 in Washington, DC.
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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23: Pope Francis speaks to bishops during the midday prayer service at the Cathedral of St. Matthew on September 23, 2015 in Washington, DC.
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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23: Pope Francis attends the Midday Prayer Service at the Cathedral of St. Matthew on September 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. The Pope began his first trip to the United States at the White House followed by a visit to St. Matthew's Cathedral, and will then hold a Mass on the grounds of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
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Pope Francis arrives at a midday prayer with US bishops at the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle in Washington, DC, on September 23, 2015 on the second day of his six-day visit to the US.. AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23: Pope Francis stands at the altar of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel for a private prayer before participating in the Midday Prayer Service at the Cathedral of St. Matthew on September 23, 2015 in Washington DC.
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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23: Pope Francis arrives for the midday prayer service at the Cathedral of St. Matthew on September 23, 2015 in Washington, DC.
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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23: Pope Francis blesses a child handed to him during a parade on the streets around the Ellipse, south of the White House, September 23, 2015 in Washington, DC.

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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23: (L-R) Pope Francis and U.S. President Barack Obama stands for the national anthem of the United States during the arrival ceremony at the White House on September 23, 2015 in Washington, DC.
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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) shakes hands with Pope Francis (L) during the arrival ceremony at the White House on September 23, 2015 in Washington, DC.
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US President Barack Obama talks with Pope Francis during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, September 23, 2015.
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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23: (L-R) Pope Francis and U.S. President Barack Obama talk in the Oval Office during the arrival ceremony at the White House on September 23, 2015 in Washington, DC.
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WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) and first Lady Michelle Obama (L) wave from the balcony with Pope Francis (C) in an arrival ceremony at the White House on September 23, 2015 in Washington, DC.
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US President Barack Obama and Pope Francis walk down the West Wing Colonnade to a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, September 23, 2015.
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Pope Francis speaks during an arrival ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, September 23, 2015. More than 15,000 people packed the South Lawn for a full ceremonial welcome on Pope Francis' historic maiden visit to the United States. AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)
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US Secretary of State (C) greets clergy as US Vice President Joe Biden (R) looks on before the arrival of Pope Francis at the White House on September 23, 2015 in Washington,DC. President Barack Obama will host Pope Francis at the White House for the first time Wednesday, warmly embracing the Catholic pontiff seen as both a moral authority and potent political ally. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO (Photo credit should read VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images)
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JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - SEPTEMBER 22: Pope Francis waves from the back of his Fiat after arriving from Cuba September 22, 2015 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. Francis will be visiting Washington, New York City and Philadelphia during his first trip to the United States as pope. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - SEPTEMBER 22: (AFP OUT) Pope Francis departs in a Fiat after arriving from Cuba to the United States September 22, 2015 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. Francis will be visiting Washington, New York City and Philadelphia during his first trip to the United States as Pope. (Photo by Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images)
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JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - SEPTEMBER 22: Supporters cheer for Pope Francis after he arrived from Cuba September 22, 2015 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. Francis will be visiting Washington, New York City and Philadelphia during his first trip to the United States as Pope. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - SEPTEMBER 22: (EDITORS NOTE: Retransmission with alternate crop) Pope Francis (L) is escorted by U.S. President Barack Obama as he greets and other political and Catholic church leaders after arriving from Cuba September 22, 2015 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. Francis will be visiting Washington, New York City and Philadelphia during his first trip to the United States as Pope. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Pope Francis greets children alongside US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, September 22, 2015, on the start of a 3-day trip to Washington. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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Pope Francis (L) walks alongside US President Barack Obama (C) and US First Lady Michelle Obama (R) upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, September 22, 2015, on the start of a 3-day trip to Washington. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
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US President Barack Obama (L) greets Pope Francis (R) upon his arrival September 22, 2015 at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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US President Barack Obama welcomes Pope Francis upon his arrival on September 22, 2015 at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - SEPTEMBER 22: Pope Francis shakes hands with Vice President Joe Biden along with U.S. President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, and other political and Catholic church leaders after arriving from Cuba September 22, 2015 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. Francis will be visiting Washington, New York City and Philadelphia during his first trip to the United States as Pope. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - SEPTEMBER 22: Pope Francis shakes hands with Vice President Joe Biden along with U.S. President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, and other political and Catholic church leaders after arriving from Cuba September 22, 2015 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. Francis will be visiting Washington, New York City and Philadelphia during his first trip to the United States as Pope. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Pope Francis steps off his plane at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, September 22, 2015, on the start of a 3-day trip to Washington. Pope Francis arrived in the United States on Tuesday for his first-ever visit, a trip that will include a meeting at the White House with President Barack Obama and a speech to Congress. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
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JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - SEPTEMBER 22: Members of the Army's 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, or The Old Guard, roll out the red carpet for Pope Francis ahead of his arrival from Cuba September 22, 2015 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. The Pontiff will be visiting Washington, New York City and Philadelphia during his first trip to the United States as pope. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
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Pope Francis arrives at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, September 22, 2015, on the start of a 3-day trip to Washington. Pope Francis arrived in the United States on Tuesday for his first-ever visit, a trip that will include a meeting at the White House with President Barack Obama and a speech to Congress. AFP PHOTO/MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - SEPTEMBER 22: Pope Francis arrives to the United States from Cuba September 22, 2015 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. Francis will be visiting Washington, New York City and Philadelphia during his first trip to the United States as pope. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Jaweed Kaleem/The Huffington Post
Jaweed Kaleem/The Huffington Post
Jaweed Kaleem/The Huffington Post
Jaweed Kaleem/The Huffington Post
Jaweed Kaleem/The Huffington Post
Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images
JOINT BASE ANDREWS, MD - SEPTEMBER 22: Banners celebrating the visit of Pope Francis are hung ahead of his arrival from Cuba September 22, 2015 at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. The Pontiff will be visiting Washington, New York City and Philadelphia during his first trip to the United States as pope. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
MANDEL NGAN via Getty Images
Pope Francis T-shirts are seen for sale on a street corner near the White House on September 22, 2015 in Washington, DC.

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