Leaders of one of Chicago's oldest Roman Catholic churches are objecting to a newly-proposed route for the city's annual gay pride parade, saying the event will draw large crowds outside the church entrance and block access to Sunday Masses.
But the Rev. Thomas Srenn of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, at 708 West Belmont Ave., stressed the content of the parade wasn't the issue.
"We live in a very diverse community. We pride ourselves so much on respecting and being sensitive to other peoples' beliefs and cultures.. and what's important to them," said Srenn. "We like diversity. It's not about the parade. It's about the timing of the parade.
The parade, which has meandered through parts of the city's north side for more than four decades attracted 800,000 people last year, according to organizers, and has only grown. Crowds often pack shoulder-to-shoulder along the route and take over blocks and businesses during the event held the last Sunday in June to coincide with other pride parades nationwide.
Organizers in early October announced a change to the route, start time and size of the parade -- Chicago's second-largest -- to combat longstanding concerns about crowds, drinking, traffic and public transportation access.
Those changes now put the parade outside the church, and officials there are circulating petitions asking city officials to help change the route and earlier start time that conflicts with prayer times.
Church officials say they may not have morning Masses for the first time in nearly 100 years on the day of the parade.
"The idea of having to cancel a Sunday Mass is really foreign in traditional Catholic mindsets," said Srenn. "We believe that Mass is where we meet our Lord... Essential to our Sunday is Mass."
Church officials have directed parishioners to contact Chicago Alderman Tom Tunney, an openly-gay leader who attends the church in his ward.
Tunney said he has spoken to Srenn and that they are working on a solution.
"The previous route has passed additional churches in my ward and both the parade organizers and the city were able to work with and address their needs," Tunney said in a statement, adding that he "will continue to work on addressing their concerns while maintaining the parade as a neighborhood celebration of tolerance and diversity."
Tunney's office and parade coordinator Richard Pfeiffer said they didn't think discrimination was a factor in the petitions.
Pfeiffer added that there hasn't been damage to buildings along the route in years past. He said that three other churches were on the old route and have never reported issues. Pfeiffer said they've proposed adding barriers in front of the church or monitors to make sure people can get into Mass.
"Part of me thinks that if we change this, and if we change to a new route, then someone else is going to have some complaints," he said. "We know that no matter what you pick, there's going to be pros and cons to it, and a point in time you have to kind of stand up and say, 'You know, we've got to do this. We've got to do something.'"
He said the route wouldn't be finalized with the city until next year when organizers can apply for permits.