“Seeing that empty frame every day is like a wound,” says Gwen Eden, a St. Ignatius parishioner who was part of the group that put up the banner, working with the church's social justice ministry to raise the funds.
The banner was already in danger before it was stolen: The Archdiocese of Denver had sent the church a directive to remove it.
“Do you think you might be having feelings about some of this? I bet you are, and I can guess at some of them: Confusion, anger, disappointment, sadness, frustration, disillusionment, surprise, bewilderment, et cetera,” pastor Dirk Dunfee wrote in the September 12 church bulletin. “Every one of those feelings is OK. And I guarantee you, you’re not alone in having whatever feelings you’re having.”
The banner was installed after George Floyd’s May 2020 murder at the hands of Minneapolis police prompted the parish to hold “Signs and Silence” events, during which parishioners created signs with slogans promoting racial justice and prayed silently in front of the church.
“As a multi-ethnic parish, it felt really important to have a strong statement and to put that banner up and say this is a pro-life statement as a Catholic parish,” says Erin Benson, a member since 2014. “I know that the office got some calls about it, and people really didn't understand. Certainly, it was taking a stance and it wasn't easy, necessarily. All of that, to me, just reinforced the need to do it at a pivotal time in our history and with what's going on politically. Now, to be asked to remove it without really understanding the why, I’m just left really confused and a little saddened.”
Benson joined St. Ignatius because the Jesuit spiritual practices of care appealed to her, she says; the banner and other church efforts like Signs and Silence are part of those caring practices. The diversity of the parish also makes it special, she adds.
Maria Rose's late mother, Anita, started attending St. Ignatius when she was sixteen years old and the parish was still segregated. Maria and her siblings grew up going to the church, attending elementary and middle school there. The family saw many changes over the years, including a growing inclusivity.
“I was so proud to see the Black Lives Matter sign in front of Loyola,” Rose says. “We were one of the only Catholic churches around to put it up.”
Rose considers it a blessing that Dunfee leads the parish in a way that seeks to practice Catholic teachings through action, promoting life and dignity of the human person, call to family, community and participation, and solidarity.
“It needs to be clearly understood that our sign was not an endorsement of any organization, rather a statement of fact and affirmation,” Rose says. “Black Lives Matter means Black Lives Matter too, or also, and is not a negation of any other groups or lives.”
She quotes the New Testament to explain the belief: “Whatever you do to the least of these you do to Me.” The banner is a way to show care for those considered “least” in American society, she explains.
But according to the Archdiocese of Denver, the sign is not an illustration of the idea that Black Lives Matter, but an endorsement of the activist organization Black Lives Matter Global Network.
“The Archdiocese of Denver fully supports racial equality insofar as every human being, created in God’s image and likeness, has the same natural dignity. Catholic parishes must play an important role in proclaiming this truth and living it out within their communities," the archdiocese says in a statement released by Mark Haas, director of public relations.
"However, the Archdiocese does not support the activist organization Black Lives Matter because it promotes practices that are against Catholic Moral Teaching, and a banner with just the phrase is easily confused as supporting the organization," the statement continues. "For this reason, on two occasions representatives from the archdiocese met with the pastor to discuss this concern, and ultimately asked Saint Ignatius of Loyola Parish to remove the banner or use other words to express their authentic and valid sentiments concerning racial equality.”
Dunfee did not respond to Westword's request for an interview, but parishioners say that the parish council plans to send a letter signed by many of the church's members to the archdiocese asking for a meeting with Archbishop Samuel Aquila, or another representative, in order to get clarification on the directive regarding the banner.
“Is it a fire hazard?” Benson asks. “Are they concerned because other churches have been targeted and there's been some theft? Maybe there is a good ‘why’ that I don't know.”
Curé d'Ars Catholic Church, a majority Black parish in Denver, was burglarized at the end of August. The Denver Police Department is still investigating that incident.
St. Ignatius members had previously sent a letter to the archdiocese regarding statements Aquila made about political candidates and the way the archdiocese discusses racism. Eden says they received a short letter in response but didn’t get to have the conversation they requested.
Because of that experience, she doesn’t have much hope that the archbishop will give them a meeting this time. But she says that won't stop the parish from pushing for social justice.
“There are many amazing people in our parish who have been Catholic for a very long time and struggled through these sorts of events much longer than I have," Eden notes, "and I really admire them for continuing to be their radical, hippie, Catholic selves.”