What is more important: family ties or connection to the institutional church? In which of these two arenas does one better encounter God? I know that sounds like a tough dichotomy, and most of the time people don’t have to make such choice. But recently, one priest did have to face that choice and he has been penalized for what he chose.
In Connecticut, Rev. Michael DeVito of Sacred Heart parish, Suffield, was reprimanded by Archbishop Henry Mansell of Hartford for doing a reading at the marriage ceremony of his male cousin to another man. The ceremony was officiated by a Lutheran minister, and an announcement of the wedding appeared in the society pages of the New York Times.
NBCnews.com posted the text of the archdiocese’s statement on the priest:
“Archbishop Henry J. Mansell has met with Father Michael DeVito regarding the priest’s participation in a same-sex marriage ceremony involving a cousin in New York City on August 19th. According to Father DeVito, his participation in the ceremony was limited to doing a reading. He wore no vestments, but had worn his Roman collar. Archbishop Mansell informed Father DeVito that his participation in this ceremony was understandably perceived by many Catholics as an implicit endorsement of same-sex marriage, which is contrary to Church teaching. As a consequence, and in accordance with canon law, the Archbishop formally rebuked Father DeVito and informed him that the rebuke would be a permanent part of his record. Fr. DeVito said that he would not participate in any way in same-sex marriages in the future.”
NBCnews.com also provided reactions from local Catholics, who had no problem with Rev. DeVito’s participation:
“ ‘I understand where the Catholic church is coming from, and it makes me really sad,’ said Robin McHelen, who runs True Colors, an advocacy group for the gay and lesbian community.
“ ‘I grew up Catholic. The word I grew up with was abomination,’ McHelen said.
“McHelen worried that the rebuke would hurt those struggling with their sexuality.
“’ It sends a message to kids that if you’re gay, you shouldn’t be Catholic,’ McHelen said.
“While some parishioners in Suffield thought DeVito crossed the line, most disagreed.
“ ‘I guess I don’t see anything wrong with it. If that’s his family member and he wanted to be there, that’s fine,’ Janine Liddell said.
“ ‘I think what he did was fine because he was with family … and family is family, no matter what,’ Carolyn Zartner added.”
(You can watch the video of the NBC report here.)
Ms Liddell’s and Ms. Zartner’s comments indicate that they believe family loyalty is the higher value when it is opposed to institutional regulation. Rev. DeVito’s action indicated the same thing. It is probably a safe assumption to say that Liddell, Zartner, and DeVito probably all came to this conclusion because their Catholic faith has taught them that the family is the domestic church, the place where love and faith are first learned.
As more states enact marriage equality laws, I predict that more and more priests are going to be placed in the same situation as Rev. DeVito. And I predict that their Catholic faith will move them to act on the side of family support over institutional discipline.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry