Pope Francis Replaces Conservative Archbishop of Philadelphia

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who was appointed to the position by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, has long been known as a theological and political conservative, often at odds with Pope Francis.

Pope Francis and Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia during a mass in Philadelphia in 2015.

By Elizabeth Dias and

Pope Francis sought to shift the ideological balance of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States on Thursday, replacing one of his most prominent conservative critics as the archbishop of Philadelphia.

Pope Francis announced in a statement that Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia was retiring, and that Bishop Nelson J. Perez of Cleveland, a former Philadelphian and relative newcomer to the national scene, would assume the role.

“The Holy Father has accepted the resignation” of Archbishop Chaput, the statement said, adding that the pope had named Archbishop Perez to take his place.

“I cannot think of a better successor to lead this Archdiocese,” Archbishop Chaput wrote on his Facebook page Thursday morning, calling the nomination a “moment of great joy” for Philadelphia’s Catholics. He said that Archbishop Perez “is already known and loved by our priests and people.”

Archbishop Chaput, who was appointed to the position by Pope Benedict XVI in 2011, has long been known as a theological and political conservative, often at odds with Francis’ mission to move beyond the culture wars. The move is a sign that the pope, who has installed key allies in Chicago and Newark, is still intent on changing the ideological direction of the American church by directing one of its most traditionalist dioceses toward a more pastoral approach.

Francis recently acknowledged that a good deal of the opposition to his pontificate emanated from the United States, telling a reporter who handed him a book exploring the well-financed and media-backed American effort to undermine his agenda that it was “an honor that the Americans attack me.”

Archbishop Chaput’s departure was expected, as he had offered his resignation to Pope Francis when he turned 75 in September. Church law requires every bishop tender his resignation to the pope at that age, but the pontiff can choose not to accept it, often allowing prelates to remain in office for several more years.

In this case, the pope did not wait long before saying yes.

Archbishop Chaput became a favorite among Catholic conservatives for supporting the denial of communion to Catholic politicians who back abortion rights, opposing the legalization of gay marriage and, as archbishop of Denver before gay marriage was legalized nationally, helping defeat legislation that would have legalized civil unions for gay couples in the state.

Many conservatives around the church counted his removal as yet another power play by Francis, whom they have called a “dictator pope” who ignores their complaints that he is diluting the faith and breaking church traditions.

A small but vocal and influential group of American prelates has consistently raised the possibility that Francis may be leading the church toward schism. But Francis has mostly brushed those threats off as dust on the shoulders of his white robes.

“I pray that there are no schisms,” he said on a flight from Africa in September. “But I am not scared.”

At a press conference in Philadelphia on Thursday morning, Bishop Perez thanked Archbishop Chaput for his influence in his life, calling him “a great mentor, a great friend.”

“I am concerned of the shoes that I have to fill,” he said. “We thank him for his incredible ministry for the church.”

He also acknowledged the complexities of his new assignment, apologizing directly to victims of clergy sexual abuse, and he addressed Hispanic Catholics, at times in Spanish, raising concerns about anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States.

“There’s a rhetoric at times that happens with our immigrants that is just not dignified, and we have to respect the dignity of the human person,” he said. “It is the role of the state and the government to protect our dignity.”

Archbishop Chaput said he would continue to live in Philadelphia and be involved in the archdiocese. He plans to take three months to read, cook, and pray, and then resume activities like giving talks and leading retreats around the country, a sign he likely will remain influential in the church as a prominent conservative thought leader.

A significant posting for the church in the United States, the archdiocese of Philadelphia is traditionally a cardinal’s seat, meaning that its leader is usually named a cardinal, the church’s highest clerical rank after pontiff. Cardinals under age 80 elect the pope, giving them critical sway in the future of the church.

Pope Francis notably never elevated Archbishop Chaput for the red hat. That denial has frustrated many conservatives, especially as Francis appointed a cardinal and ally to the archdiocese of Newark, which had never before had a cardinal, and which has outsized prominence as part of the New York media market.

In a June 2017 interview, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller, then the top doctrinal watchdog in the Roman Catholic Church, said he was “disappointed” that the archbishop of Philadelphia had not been elevated to cardinal, “because the appointment of the cardinals should not be a personal relation with the pope to these bishops.” Asked why Francis had declined to make the appointment, he said “politics.”

Weeks later Francis removed Cardinal Müller from his position.

As it became clear that Francis would never make Archbishop Chaput a cardinal, many church analysts noted that the conservative became more vocal in his criticism, often using a column on the archdiocese’s website as a soapbox to express a dissonant view.

Archbishop Chaput was also a firm administrator, tapped to reform a region in financial and spiritual disarray after extensive allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy in the area. A county grand jury in 2005 reported that leaders of the Philadelphia archdiocese, including two cardinals, had covered up extensive sexual abuse of minors.

A second grand jury in 2011 accused the archdiocese of not stopping the abuse, and Pope Benedict appointed Archbishop Chaput to lead the archdiocese about five months later.

Archbishop Chaput removed priests accused of abuse, closed 49 schools, and sold the archbishop’s mansion for $10 million as part of a plan to reduce the operating budget deficit.

Archbishop Chaput is also the first Native American archbishop and a member of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Tribe.

Bishop Perez, a Cuban-American born in Miami and raised in New Jersey, will be the first Hispanic priest to lead the church in Philadelphia. In a statement released by the Cleveland diocese, he said he accepted the appointment with a mix of “joy that I will be returning to serve the archdiocese in which I was ordained to the priesthood,” but also “sadness that I will be leaving an area and the incredible people in Northeast Ohio I have come to love deeply.”

The Hispanic population of the Philadelphia archdiocese has grown dramatically in recent years while the non-Hispanic population has remained relatively stagnant. The region has about 200 parishes and about 1.3 million Catholics.

Pope Francis has put himself squarely on the side of the immigrants whom many experts consider the future of the faith in the United States.

“Now you are facing this stream of Latin immigration which affects many of your dioceses,” Francis told American bishops in a 2015 visit to Washington. Speaking “as a pastor from the South,” the church’s first South American pope gave the recommendation “close to my heart” that the bishops “not be afraid to welcome them.”

Francis also visited Philadelphia during that trip, for the World Meeting of Families, a global gathering of Catholics. He was welcomed by Archbishop Chaput, who by that time had already said that his fellow conservatives had “not been really happy” with parts of Francis’ reign.

Pope Francis named Bishop Perez the bishop of Cleveland in the fall of 2017, making his elevation relatively quick. Bishop Perez chairs a committee on cultural diversity for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. His return to Philadelphia is a homecoming of sorts, as he spent 23 years serving in different Philadelphia parishes after ordination to the priesthood.

His installation as archbishop is planned for Feb. 18.

Complete Article HERE!

Arrested for having sex with men, this gay civil rights leader could finally be pardoned in California

Gay civil rights leader Bayard Rustin, who helped plan the 1963 March on Washington, is photographed in his New York office in 1969.

By Samantha Schmidt

A decade before Bayard Rustin became a chief organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, the civil rights activist was booked into a Los Angeles County jail on suspicion of “lewd vagrancy.”

On that night in January 1953, hours after Rustin had given a speech in Pasadena, Calif., police officers spotted him in a parked car, having sex with one of the other two men in the car. Rustin was sentenced to 60 days in jail and forced to register as a sex offender for the “morals charge,” which was often used to target gay people in those years.

Rustin would ultimately become one of the key leaders of the civil rights movement. He advised the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on nonviolent tactics, helped organize the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott and helped create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. But the arrest remained a stain on his record, nearly exiling him from the movement he helped build.

Now, on the anniversary of his arrest, lawmakers in California are asking Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to posthumously pardon Rustin and “right this wrong.”

“There’s a cloud hanging over him because of this unfair, discriminatory conviction, a conviction that never should have happened, a conviction that happened only because he was a gay man,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener, chair of California’s legislative LGBTQ caucus.

In a news conference Tuesday, Wiener joined with Assemblywoman Shirley Weber, chair of the state’s legislative black caucus, to formally ask the governor for the pardon.

While the state has repealed many of the discriminatory laws that targeted black and LGBTQ people such as Rustin, Wiener wrote in a letter to the governor, “we must acknowledge and make amends for the harm that California’s past actions have had on so many people. Pardoning Mr. Rustin will be a positive step toward reconciliation.”

In response, Newsom released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying he “will be closely considering their request and the corresponding case.”

“History is clear. In California and across the country, sodomy laws were used as legal tools of oppression,” Newsom said in the statement. “They were used to stigmatize and punish LGBTQ individuals and communities and warn others what harm could await them for living authentically. I thank those who are advocating for Mr. Bayard Rustin’s pardon.”

Wiener came up with the idea over a breakfast with longtime LGBTQ activist Nicole Ramirez, who has spent years seeking a postage stamp dedicated to Rustin. Ramirez said he has heard concerns from some officials that Rustin’s arrest record could get in the way of the stamp approval process.

The stamp, Ramirez said, would help honor a leader who paid a steep price for living authentically as a gay man at a time when he could be arrested, fired and even hospitalized for his sexuality.

“For him to come and speak out and be openly gay, can you imagine that?” Ramirez said. “He was subjecting himself to more than that arrest but to commitment to a state hospital.”

Ramirez met Rustin briefly during a march in Washington in 1987, shortly before Rustin’s death. But at the time, Ramirez didn’t know who Rustin was, he said.

For decades, Rustin has been overlooked as a key strategist of the civil rights movement, historians say.

“Early on, he wasn’t so well known because the civil rights leaders tried to keep him in the shadows … they were fearful of being tainted by Bayard’s gay sexuality,” said Michael Long, who wrote a young-adult book about Rustin and edited a collection of letters by the civil rights leader.

From left, the Rev. Ralph Abernathy, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bayard Rustin, leaders of the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., leave the Montgomery County Courthouse on Feb. 24, 1956.

After his arrest in California in 1953, Rustin’s career nearly derailed. He was forced to cancel all upcoming speaking engagements and resign from his position with a pacifist organization, the Fellowship for Reconciliation, Long said. He struggled to find work, and even began doing manual labor as a furniture mover, said Walter Naegle, Rustin’s partner for the last decade of his life.

Naegle described the fallout from his arrest as a “very dark period.”

“I remember him saying he would be walking around in the streets and checking phone booths for loose change,” said Naegle, now 70.

Rustin had been arrested before, for nonviolent protests that included refusing to leave white areas of local movie theaters and restaurants. But it was this arrest that was used to humiliate him and tarnish his reputation. While Rustin never hid his sexuality, he was deeply aware of the way it could affect his work.

In a letter written in March 1953, about three months after his arrest, Rustin wrote: “I know now that for me sex must be sublimated if I am to live with myself and in this world longer.”

Rustin eventually landed a role with the War Resisters League, launching him back into the civil rights movement, Long said. But his sexuality continued to threaten to sideline him. In 1960, after threats from powerful Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (N.Y.), King pushed Rustin out of his inner circle, and Rustin resigned from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

But then, in 1963, as leaders planned the March on Washington, Rustin’s longtime mentor, A. Philip Randolph, appointed him as a key organizer of the gathering. Rustin was tasked with steering the logistics of the massive event, coordinating between civil rights groups and recruiting off-duty law enforcement personnel to serve as marshals.

As the march approached, Sen. Strom Thurmond (S.C.) attacked “Mr. March-on-Washington himself” on the Senate floor, dredging up Rustin’s arrest record from Pasadena.

“The words ‘morals charge’ are true. But this again is a clear-cut case of toning down the charge,” Thurmond said on the Senate floor. “The conviction was sex perversion and a subsequent arrest of vagrancy and lewdness.”

At a news conference in 1963, Bayard Rustin points to a map showing the path of the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

But this time, the organizers of the march — including King — stood by Rustin. And even as his sexuality was repeatedly used against him, Rustin never shied away from it, Naegle said.

“They really picked the wrong guy,” Naegle said. “The thing that separated Bayard from many people was he wasn’t going to be silenced.”

In a recently released interview with the Washington Blade, Rustin said: “It was an absolute necessity for me to declare homosexuality because if I didn’t I was a part of the prejudice. I was aiding and abetting … the prejudice that was a part of the effort to destroy me.” He couldn’t be a “free whole person,” he said, living in the closet.

The week after the March on Washington, the cover of Life magazine featured not a photo of King, but of Randolph and Rustin, standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

More than two decades later, upon his death in 1987, Rustin’s obituary was featured on the front page of the New York Times, identifying him as a civil rights activist and chief organizer of the March on Washington.

But it barely mentioned his identity as a gay man. In the obituary, Naegle was referred to not as Rustin’s partner but as his “administrative assistant and adopted son.”

It wasn’t until recent years that Rustin began to receive recognition not only as a major civil rights leader but as a rare example of an openly gay leader at the time.

Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, Naegle traveled across the country organizing programs dedicated to spreading the word of Rustin’s legacy. And in 2013, Obama posthumously honored Rustin with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, noting his role as an openly gay African American who “stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.”

A pardon from the California governor would represent much more than personal vindication for Rustin, Naegle said. It would recognize the injustice and damage done to scores of other members of the LGBTQ community who never received the same level of recognition as Rustin.

“He survived, he thrived, he did fine, but there were a lot of people that didn’t,” Naegle said.

To Long, a pardon would be “an affirmation of what Rustin knew all along: that he was not a criminal for being gay.”

Complete Article HERE!

I Quit the Priesthood

Len Schreiner couldn’t help falling in love. So he wrote a letter to Pope John Paul II and waited.

by Danya Issawi

I grew up in a very Roman Catholic atmosphere in western Kansas and had always been drawn to the priesthood.

I joined the Capuchin religious order in 1976, and I was ordained in 1978 at age 28. Almost immediately, the underlying tension I had felt about intimate relationships really came to the fore. I struggled greatly.

I was in various flirtations with women, or little romantic relationships, but that’s a normal part of life. The Roman Catholic priesthood, though, with its mandatory celibacy, discourages any close contact with women.

I would look at my brothers and sister and the families they raised, and I couldn’t accept the notion that I was making a greater sacrifice than they were in their jobs and raising children.

I went on a leave of absence from the priesthood in 1989 and started dispensation two years later, which means I had to write up a paper to John Paul II in Rome to explain why I wasn’t able to continue. I wrote that there were two things that prompted my leaving: that I wanted to be more involved in social justice and peace work, and that I felt I could not successfully live a celibate life.

I sought dispensation both for my own peace of my mind and for my family. I knew it would soften the blow for my parents — it was a heartbreak for them.

A lot of priests did not get dispensations. Their applications would be in a pile someplace for years. One priest said to me, “They haven’t gotten back to me in 11 years.”

In my case, by the grace of God, I received a letter and document in January of 1992 granting me “a dispensation from the obligations of priestly ordination, including celibacy, and from religious vows.”

Then I was considered, in the eyes of the church, a lay person. I was free, and in June of that same year, I got married in a Catholic church in Seattle.

I knew my wife for seven years before we got married. I had met her when I was still a pastor of a church in Denver. She had been in a religious order of nuns, but had left three years prior to our meeting.

We became friends, and by the time I left the Roman Catholic priesthood in 1989 we were in a relationship. We weren’t married until 1992, and part of that was just my slowness to mature. I had to work through a lot.

The transition was huge. I had gone to a high school seminary and a college seminary, where it’s a celibate atmosphere and an all-male atmosphere, and both psychologically and on a sexual level, I was quite immature. The first 10 years of my relationship with my wife, Nancy, were about learning how to be in a romantic relationship, and it was a long learning curve.

By the grace of God we have been married now for 26 years. You have to learn how to be a “we” rather than a “me” — the celibate priesthood is kind of honing you to be individualistic, yet also an overly generous servant of the church.

When you leave, you have very little financially. I worked in lots of labor jobs. I was a furniture laborer. I worked day jobs for $5 an hour. I dug ditches. I unloaded trucks. During what I call the 14-year hiatus, I wanted to get back to ministry as a priest, but there wasn’t an avenue to do that in the Roman Catholic church.

It wasn’t until 2004 when I found the Ecumenical Catholic Communion that I could be a priest again.

We are one of the expressions of independent Catholicism, which are churches that follow the practices, the beliefs and the teachings of the Catholic church but are not under Rome, not under the pope. The pope is not our superior. I’m still functioning as a priest because I was accepted by the founding bishop of this Ecumenical Catholic Communion.

There’s another way of being Catholic. There’s another way of being to be complete. That’s what all transitions are about. I’ve taken everything that I learned in my life as a Capuchin and as a Roman Catholic priest.

It’s with me all the time, but I have gone beyond the limitations of that to a much more extensive consciousness.

Complete Article HERE!

Catholic activism, not repentance for sexual abuse, is what forces clergy to resign

Bishop Richard Malone of Buffalo, at a news conference on Nov. 5, 2018, in Cheektowaga, New York.

By

The Roman Catholic bishop of Buffalo, New York, Richard Malone, became the seventh U.S. bishop since 2015 to be forced out of power for his role in covering up clergy sexual abuse cases. Malone resigned on Dec. 4, stating that his departure stemmed from a recognition that “the people of Buffalo will be better served by a new bishop who perhaps is better able to bring about the reconciliation, healing and renewal that is so needed.”

By comparison, during the prior 35 years, only three U.S. bishops had resigned because of the scandal, even though there were more than 10,000 cases of clergy sexual abuse reported to the American bishops during that time.

In my research, I have found that this increase in bishop accountability is due not to an improvement in the Vatican’s protocols, but rather to the activism of local Catholic reform groups.

Start of survivor-advocacy groups

I study how survivors and their advocates have exposed the problem of clergy sexual abuse.

Survivors first went public with their stories of abuse in the 1980s. But other Catholics did not begin forming survivor-advocacy groups until 2002, when a series of reports detailing how Cardinal Bernard Law, then the archbishop of Boston, had protected more than 230 abusive priests.

Energized by the Boston Globe’s investigation, Boston parishioners founded Voice of the Faithful in 2002, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting clergy abuse survivors and increasing transparency in the Catholic Church.

Within months, Voice of the Faithful had grown into a national movement of 50,000 members organized into 220 local chapters. It was through their public protests and petitions that Cardinal Law was forced to resign in December 2002.

Voice of the Faithful erected a sign at a Denver hotel on June 15, 2004, where more than 250 U.S. Catholic bishops were meeting.

Seeking reforms, not revolutions

Voice of the Faithful’s rapid ascension came in part, sociologists have concluded, because their leaders were highly educated professionals with a proven track record as activists.

Founding Voice of the Faithful president James Muller, for example, was a recipient of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which joined Soviet and American doctors during the Cold War. With Muller and other accomplished professionals in their leadership, Voice of the Faithful was able to quickly attract national media attention and financial support.

Most Voice of the Faithful members remained active Catholics, and they often used parish halls and Catholic campuses for their meetings and events.

Although some bishops decried Voice of the Faithful as radical, many Catholic intellectuals and priests discretely welcomed the movement. These priests opened their parishes’ doors to Voice of the Faithful members, but they didn’t sign petitions or write op-eds criticizing the bishops in their own diocese.

The group was never declared schismatic, and the top archbishops and cardinals in the United States met with its leaders from the very start. Several bishops also openly supported the group.

Its motto, “Keep the faith, change the church,” indicates how Voice of the Faithful worked toward specific reforms without upending the broader institutional framework of the Catholic Church. For example, they stressed the value of women’s leadership, but they did not demand that the Church begin ordaining women priests.

For Catholics who felt betrayed by their bishops – even if they were not sexually abused – Voice of the Faithful provided a mechanism to voice their dissatisfaction. Through listening sessions held in dioceses across the country, Voice of the Faithful provided more direct access to the cardinals and bishops. These sessions offered Catholics a glimpse of democratic participation, and they also helped shape the American bishops’ new policies to protect children.

Local Catholics and their role

Voice of the Faithful was unable to recruit “millennial” Catholics into its group, and its membership has declined as its baby-boomer base has aged. But new Catholic organizations continue to emerge.

In Buffalo, New York, a community of affluent and highly educated Catholics formed the Movement to Restore Trust in 2018. The group is led by executives in business, law and education, and they were the most powerful of several Catholic organizations in calling on Bishop Malone to resign.

Other Catholics in Buffalo staged protests and created an online petition demanding Malone’s departure. Borrowing a strategy that Catholic survivors began using in the 1990s, some parishioners placed protest notes instead of money into the weekly collection basket. The notes said they were withholding donations to the church until Malone stepped down.

Priests join groups in supporting survivors

Like Voice of the Faithful, the Movement to Restore Trust and other Catholic survivor-advocate groups in Buffalo have tried to work within the Church, maintaining close ties with clergy.

These strong relationships allowed Buffalo Catholics to eventually win the public support of their local priests.

At the Vatican abuse summit in February, former priest and survivor James Falfaluszczak appealed to Pope Francis to remove Malone from office. Falfaluszczak was trained alongside many of Buffalo’s accused abusers when he was a seminary student.

In September, the Rev. Bob Zilliox, head pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in the Diocese of Buffalo, recruited 12 New York priests to sign a letter of no confidence in Malone. Several days later, additional priests in Buffalo signed onto another campaign asking Malone to resign.

The courage of whistleblowers

These priests and survivor-advocates in Buffalo were also empowered by whistleblowers from Bishop Malone’s own staff.

In March 2018, Bishop Malone issued a press release naming 42 sexually abusive priests in the Diocese of Buffalo. In the following months, his executive assistant, Siobhan O’Connor, began leaking documents to journalist Charlie Specht, including the bishop’s full list of 117 suspected abusive priests. O’Connor also revealed that Malone had returned at least one suspected predator back into the diocese.

In September 2019, a second key whistleblower emerged in Buffalo. Malone’s priest secretary, the Rev. Ryszard Biernat, leaked audio recordings in which the bishop admitted to hiding a suspected abuser in order to protect his own reputation.

Holding bishops accountable

After O’Connor leaked diocesan files to the media, the FBI and the New York attorney general initiated their own investigations into Bishop Malone, adding to the pressure for him to resign.

Two sisters from Pennsylvania, Patty and Lara, are suing the Archdiocese of Newark and the Diocese of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

This year, there has been an avalanche of new lawsuits filed by survivors across the country. Lawmakers in nearly half of the country’s 50 states reacted to the 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report by changing their state’s laws for child sexual abuse.

In February 2019, legislators in New York enacted the Child Victims Act, which extended the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse to age 55. The new legislation also opened a one-year window for survivors of any age to file suit if they were abused prior to the new law taking effect.

Within the Diocese of Buffalo alone, the Child Victims Act resulted in more than 200 new clergy sexual abuse lawsuits filed by victims who were unable to seek justice under the prior laws.

Bishop Malone’s resignation represents the dramatic increase in Catholic support for survivors since 2002. No longer alone in their calls for bishop accountability, survivors now have the support of fellow Catholics, whistleblowers, their parish priests, state lawmakers and federal prosecutors.

Complete Article HERE!

EGR priest denies Communion to gay judge

Judge Sara Smolenski

by:

Judge Sara Smolenski, chief judge of the Kent County District Court, has been denied Communion at the church where she has been a parishioner for more than six decades because she is married to a woman.

It is a move that for many was the final straw in a pattern of behavior that has them calling for the removal of a priest — a priest who came to St. Stephen Catholic Church about three years ago.

In 1966, under the leadership of Rev. Msgr. Edward N. Alt, St. Stephen Catholic School became the first integrated Catholic school in Metro Grand Rapids and had a student body that was nearly 40 percent non-Catholic.

This tradition of inclusion and acceptance would be the essence of the school and the church for 50 years.

But now, some here say that is changing.

“I’ve been a member of St. Stephen’s Catholic Parish for 62 years, basically,” Smolenski said.

Smolenski who has been on the bench for nearly 30 years, comes from a family of prominent community members, including her father who was also a district court judge, and her brother, a state appeals court judge.

“I was baptized there, my parents were married there, every one of my nine siblings went to school (from) first through eighth grade. We buried my parents out of that school,” Smolenski said. “This is a church that is a part of who I am. This is a church who helped form my faith.”

News 8 featured Smolenski in March of 2016, when she became the first Kent County elected official to marry someone of the same sex.

But it was just last Saturday that Smolenski got a call from the parish priest, Father Scott Nolan.

“The way he said it was ‘because you’re married to Linda in the state of Michigan, you cannot accept communion,’ that’s how he said it,” Smolenski explained. “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.”

It was a devastating revelation for the lifelong Catholic who months earlier gave $7,000 to the parish building fund.

“Oh my gosh, I’m not going to get Jesus at the church I have devoted my life to,” Smolenski said, fighting back tears. “I thought of my mom and dad who devoted their whole life to raising us Catholic, spending all that money at the Catholic education.”

Smolenski was not the first person to be denied, according to a dozen people News 8 talked to Tuesday, including one same-sex couple who was denied the Eucharist during their child’s communion service.

“The public shunning — everything about it was offensive,” Smolenski said of the denial months before her own.

It is part of a pattern, according to Micki Benz, a 40-year member of the parish who is a part of a group of members who have decided to speak out.

They point to the words of Pope Francis who wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation.

Evangelii Gaudium, translates as “joy of the Gospel,” that the Eucharist is not a prize for the perfect, but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak and the church is not a toll house but a place for everyone.

“(Nolan) has eliminated teachers who are gay. He has made it clear that gay people are not welcome,” Benz said.

For a period of time, Nolan forbade non-Catholics from participating in church services, including choir and reading before the congregation, members say.

Parishioners met with Nolan and were hopeful that he was changing his ways, until last Saturday when the beloved judge was denied Communion.

Nolan talked to News 8 briefly Tuesday, promising he would speak on the issue but then did not call back or return messages.

There are those who believe Nolan is in the right, but they would not go on camera. Others with kids attending school would not go on camera due to fear of reprisal, but all say they love the church and want healing.

“I love the St. Stephen’s I knew. I don’t love the St. Stephen’s of now,” Smolenski said.

Some members say it would be better overall for the church to change pastors.

“We don’t see Father Scott changing; therefore we’ve come to the conclusion that it’d be better for him and us if there were a change in our pastors,” Benz said.

Some parishioners have drafted a letter to Bishop David Walkowiak, bishop of the Diocese of Grand Rapids, explaining their position and asking for a meeting — a request he has not responded to in the past.

>> Inside WOODTV.com: Letter to Bishop David Walkowiak.

“We really, really want a meeting with him. Everybody is prepared to be very respectful. We just want him to know what this is doing to one of his parishes,” Benz said.

News 8 reached out to the Diocese of Grand Rapids who would not address the issue of whether Nolan’s actions are supported by the bishop.

A spokesperson did issue this terse statement presumably about what happened with Judge Smolenski: “This is a spiritual matter between her and her pastor.”

Smolenski says it is time to bring this into the light.

“I want to help somebody out there who’s never even been born to make their life a little bit easier — by standing up and speaking the truth,” she said.

Complete Article HERE!