ST. PAUL -- A Roman Catholic priest denied Communion to more than 100 people yesterday, saying they could not receive the sacrament because they wore rainbow-colored sashes to church to show support for gay Catholics.
Before offering Communion, the Rev. Michael Sklucazek told those at the service at the Cathedral of St. Paul that anyone wearing a sash could come forward for a blessing but would not receive wine and bread.
A group called the Rainbow Sash Alliance has encouraged supporters to wear the multicolored fabric bands since 2001 on each Pentecost Sunday, the day Catholics believe the Holy Spirit came to give power to Christians soon after Jesus ascended to heaven. But yesterday's service was the first time that sash-wearers had been denied Communion at the altar.
Catholics in other cities also have worn the sashes, but only some have been denied Communion. The church has no specific rule on the matter.
Archbishop Harry Flynn told the St. Paul group earlier this month that they would not receive Communion because the sashes had become a protest against church teaching.
Sister Gabriel Herbers said she wore a sash to show sympathy for the gay and lesbian community. Their sexual orientation ''is a gift from God just as much as my gift of being a female is," she said.
Ann McComas-Bussa did not wear a sash, but she and her husband and three children all wore rainbow-colored ribbons and were denied Communion. ''As a Catholic, I just need to stand in solidarity with those that are being oppressed," she said.
While other parishioners sat or kneeled after going to the altar, sash-wearers remained standing with their hands cupped as a symbol that they, too, wanted the sacrament. Their silent protest lasted about five minutes, until other parishioners rose to hear the announcements and the benediction before being dismissed.
The Rainbow Sash Alliance maintains that by wearing the sash, members ''publicly claim our place at Christ's table, sacramentally expressing the truth in our lives, and calling the church to embrace a new day of integrity and freedom."
Organizer Brian McNeill wrote to Flynn last month, explaining that the sashes are a symbol ''to celebrate the gift of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender sexuality." Flynn wrote back, saying the sashes are ''more and more perceived as a protest against church teaching" and declaring that it has never been acceptable ''to use the reception of Communion as an act of protest."
Parishioner Larry Pavlicek was not sympathetic. As a divorced man, he said, he has to live with the church's teaching that he cannot remarry without obtaining an annulment and cannot have sex outside marriage.
''If you're going to be a Catholic, either live with it or call yourself something different," he said. ''They're trying to change something that has been taught by the church for 2,000 years."
Dennis McGrath, spokesman for the archdiocese, said Flynn decided to deny Communion after a cardinal asked bishops to adopt a consistent policy on the sashes.
Last year, members of some conservative groups in St. Paul kneeled in church aisles to block sash-wearers from Communion.