Catholic gay groups in the US declared a moral victory this week after a judge refused to sentence activists charged with unlawful entry and offered an apology instead.

The Washington Post reported that protesters Ken Einhaus, Mike Perez and Kara Speltz were arrested after unsuccessfully seeking Communion from bishops in the foyer of the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Washington. The bishops were attending the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and had refused Communion to the three activists during Mass on the day previously.

A spokeswoman told the Post that the group were mistakenly identified at the Mass as members of the Rainbow Sash movement, and that the archdiocese of Washington denied sacraments when sought as a political protest. The group were not wearing rainbow sashes but are members of Soulforce, a protest movement committed to ending spiritual violence -¦ against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

Judge Mildred M. Edwards had no choice but to charge the group, who had broken the law by refusing requests from the police to leave the private hotel lobby. Instead of passing sentence, however, the Catholic judge offered an apology.

Terrible violence was done to you when the body of Christ was denied to you, Judge Edwards told the group. As a member of the Church, I ask you to forgive our Church. There is no way I am going to order you away from the Hyatt. You can engage in peaceful demonstration as long as it is law-abiding. Go in peace.

The defendants were ordered to pay a $50 fine to the Victims of Violent Crime Compensation Fund for being convicted, although the payment is not considered a sentence.

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