CHICAGO — 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.
The parade that has run through parts of Chicago'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.
To combat longstanding concerns about crowds, drinking, traffic and public transportation access, organizers have proposed a new route that extends further north, scales back on the number of floats and has an earlier start time.
But the revised route also would now go by Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church, where officials 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.
"Your help is needed," a post on the church's Facebook page reads. "Unfortunately, the parade will now pass in front of the church on Sunday morning, making it impossible for parishioners to get to church, not to mention the damage to parish property."
The Rev. Thomas Srenn said the church, which hosts a weekly evening service geared toward gay parishioners, doesn't oppose the parade on religious grounds.
"Many of our parishioners will be at the parade and some will be in the parade," he said. "The parish reflects all that diversity. It has nothing to do with the theme of the parade. The change of route and the time brought it right in the heart of our sacred time."
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.
He said the route wouldn't be finalized with the city until next year when organizers can apply for permits.