Four Catholic women denied Holy Communion at All Souls Catholic parish

Susan Doty lined up Saturday to receive Holy Communion much as she’s done her entire life.

The 81-year-old walked down the aisle of Englewood’s All Souls Catholic Parish, her hands outstretched to receive the wafer representing the body of Christ.

But, she said, the priest took one look at her rainbow-colored face mask and shook his head, denying her Communion, and motioned for her to move along.

“I felt demeaned, and I said to him, ‘This isn’t right,’ and then I moved away feeling so sad and kind of unbelieving,” Doty said in an interview Monday. “I went back to my pew and wanted to cry, but I tried to hold it in.”

Doty alleges that she and a Catholic friend were refused Communion at the Englewood church on Saturday because they wore rainbow-patterned face masks — a gesture they intended to show solidarity with the teacher fired from the church’s affiliated Catholic school after the Archdiocese of Denver learned she was in a same-sex relationship.

Kelly Clark, a spokeswoman for the Denver Archdiocese, said nobody from All Souls was available to discuss the matter with The Denver Post. She said the Archdiocese would not make a statement addressing the allegation, but noted in an email that “the most sacred thing we do as Catholics is celebrate Mass.”

“It is a time to worship God, not a time to seemingly make a statement or enter Mass with the intent of provoking a response,” she wrote. “It is perfectly acceptable for a priest to decide to give a blessing instead of Communion if it appears the person isn’t ready to receive the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  We encourage anyone who feels they were wrongly denied Communion to speak to the pastor of their church.”

The denial of Communion in the Catholic Church notably has come up in relation to abortion, with U.S. Catholic bishops in 2021 having considered — but ultimately rejected — adopting language that called for withholding the sacrament from politicians such as President Joe Biden who support abortion rights.

When Sally Odenheimer, 71, heard about Maggie Barton’s firing from All Souls Catholic School, she said she wanted to find a way to support the beloved technology teacher.

Barton lost her job Jan. 26, a day after she said she was informed the Archdiocese had obtained a photo of her kissing another woman. The Archdiocese said the teacher was fired for violating the terms of their employment agreement.

Odenheimer asked a few of her Catholic friends to wear LGBTQ-supporting rainbow attire and go to Mass at the parish where Barton was terminated. None of them normally attend All Souls.

Odenheimer and her friends Doty, Jill Moore, 64, and Cindy Grubenhoff, 48, donned rainbow face masks. Moore also wore a Pride ribbon pinned to her shirt. And Odenheimer wore a sweater with a Pride flag on it.

“We were intent on not being disruptive at all, but to be a witness to those who support the teacher,” Doty said.

The women said they sat and participated in the church service as they normally would, and most opted to take Communion.

Grubenhoff — who wore a shirt that read “Love, Empathy, Compassion, Inclusion, Justice, Kindness” in rainbow letters —  stayed seated, not wanting to participate in the Eucharist.

A mother to one nonbinary transgender child and another queer child, Grubenhoff had read The Post’s reporting about the Archdiocese of Denver advising Catholic schools not to enroll transgender students and said she could no longer bring herself to receive Holy Communion at an institution that opposes her children.

She watched as her three friends made their way to the front of the church.

First came Moore, who cupped her hands in front of the priest. When the priest did not present her with the bread offering, Moore said she uttered “amen” and continued holding out her hands, but the priest shook his head and motioned her to move along.

Next came Odenheimer, who said she crossed her arms to receive a blessing instead of the Eucharist and was motioned to move along.

Then came Doty, who said she was denied Communion as well.

“It’s hard not to conclude that the only reason they were denied is because they had a face mask on with a rainbow on it,” Grubenhoff said. “Where does that end? Does that mean that anyone wearing a rainbow of any kind is going to be denied Communion? Does a little girl wearing a rainbow unicorn sweatshirt get denied because she’s wearing the mark of LGBTQ supporters? It’s a slippery slope and a scary place to be.”

Even after being denied communion, Doty — who has a master’s degree in theology, a doctorate in scripture and taught at Regis University — said she will remain a practicing Catholic. However, she did feel compelled to stop giving her money to an Archdiocese she believes discriminates against gay people. Her late brother was gay, Doty said, so she thinks of him as she stands in solidarity with the LGBTQ community.

“I love my church,” Doty said. “We’re supposed to be seeking to enlarge the space in our tent like Pope Francis said. It’s not easy, but I won’t give up because there’s still hope.”

The experience did not change Grubenhoff’s faith in God, but it does alter her relationship to Mass.

The Denver mother said she can’t imagine going back to church knowing the Archdiocese rejects her, her children and her friends.

“If Pope Francis can’t get through to these people, then Cindy Grubenhoff isn’t going to be able to,” Grubenhoff said. “I will find other ways to express my faith and live my faith and be in community, but it won’t be at Mass and won’t be inside a Catholic church.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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