Catholic Priest in Grand Rapids Denies Married Lesbian the Eucharist, and She’s Calling Discrimination. Where are We Headed?
On Saturday, November 23rd, 63rd District Court Judge Sara Smolenski spoke on the phone with Scott Nolan, a priest at the St. Stephen Catholic Church in Grand Rapids.
According to the judge, Father Scott was chummy:
“It was good to see you in church on Sunday.”
But then came this:
“Because you and Linda are married in the state of Michigan, I’d like you to respect the church and not come to communion.”
Lesbianism may be crackerjack, but Father Scott says “No cracker, Jack!”
And Sara’s hurt.
As reported by CNN, she grew up in the church and was baptized there as a child.
She even attended St. Stephen’s school for years.
“This feels like selective discrimination. Why choose gay people, and why now?”
However, her priest has defended his request to NBC8:
“I’ve taught what all of the popes who have ever said something about the emergent family have said up to and including Pope Francis.”
Though, he hasn’t taught it for all that long — WoodTV notes the uniqueness of Scott’s service to the Church:
At 33, Nolan, a Muskegon County native, is what the Catholic Church says it needs more of: young priests. Church leadership valued Nolan enough that three years after his ordination, he took the helm at the venerable 96-year-old St. Stephen in East Grand Rapids.
And he’s expanded St. Stephen — partly thanks to his gay parishioner:
He led the church through a significant building program that 62-year parishioner Kent County District Court Judge Sara Smolenski says she contributed $7,000 to.
Sara, who’s been married for three years, explained to the outlet that it’s her mission to serve God. So why is the church that influenced her now denying her participation?
“I try to be a good and faithful servant to our Lord Jesus Christ. My faith is a huge part of who I am. But it is the church that made that faith, the very church where he is taking a stance and saying ‘Ho-ho, not you.’”
However, as asserted by Scott, he has no choice — it’s church teaching. Taking the Eucharist signifies the church’s acceptance of the recipient:
“Some of that criteria are just around what’s happening in that person’s life and what do they believe and what are they doing and what are they not doing.”
Furthermore, denial to his congregants isn’t uncommon; he simply prefers to keep those conversations private.
But her experience elsewhere has been quite different:
“How come all these other priests everywhere — good and decent, wonderful priests — they know me and they give me Communion?”
Scott’s reply: “I’m not the one responsible for them.”
He does recognize and lament the pain denial can cause:
“To me, this is also a cause of great sadness in my own life as a priest.”
But he doesn’t believe it’s discriminatory:
“It might look like it is discriminatory or particular or specific or targeted but I disagree. Bishop (David Walkowiak), who is the principal of unity of the Catholic Church here in West Michigan, has been and is supportive of me.”
They sure have — the church is backing him up, as illustrated via a statement Wednesday from the Diocese:
Those who approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not wound that same Body by creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among its members,” the statement reads. “…No community of faith can sustain the public contradiction of its beliefs by its own members. This is especially so on matters as central to Catholic life as marriage, which the Church has always held, and continues to hold, as a sacred covenant between one man and one woman.
Furthermore, Scott did it the right way:
“Father Nolan approached Judge Smolenski privately. Subsequent media reports do not change the appropriateness of his action, which the diocese supports.”
As the divide between conventional religious dictates and the progressive culture grows wider, it seems to me that these kinds of clashes are going to become more common.
Some denominations, of course, have altered their doctrine in order to accept homosexuality. Others have gone rogue — find a novel example here.
Meanwhile, of course, as the culture transforms, we’re seeing political manifestations which may lead to legislative mandates — just recently, presidential candidate Beto announced he’d snatch tax exemption from any church that didn’t support homosexuality (here).
The Beto story was covered by the Catholic News Agency, which noted the following:
Of the five largest Christian denominations in the United States–the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention, the United Methodist Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the Church of God in Christ–none condone or perform same-sex marriages and all consider same-sex activity to be sinful.
Surely more conflict’s a-comin’.
As for Father Scott Nolan, despite derision from some within his own flock, he’s staying put:
“I think this is the movement of the Holy Spirit is to have me be the pastor here until the Bishop decides otherwise. Yes, I think I am the right person for the parish.”
And Sara understands it isn’t personal:
“This is not about me against the priest, and it’s not really me against the church.”
What are your thoughts? Where are we going to end up? It’s certain to be somewhere different than where we are at the moment.
I look forward to hearing from all of you.