Gay Couple Sues Diocese in Real Estate Deal Over Fears of ‘Gay Marriage’

September 12, 2012

UPDATE: The Rainbow Times provides commentary from canon lawyer Rev. Thomas Doyle after Msgr. Sullivan suggested canon law barred the Diocese of Worcester from selling property if it was to be used for same-sex marriages:

“In his assessment, Catholic priest and canon lawyer, the Reverend Thomas Doyle said, ‘There is no basis whatsoever in canon law’ for the diocese’s suggestion it is prohibited by church policy from selling to buyers who may allow same-sex wedding celebrations.

“‘In the first place, the diocese’s action is pure discrimination based on their twisted concept of gay, as well as their condemnation about what may happen, not what has happened,’ he said. ‘They have no right to condemn what has not happened.’

“’Apart from that, canon law says that it is forbidden to use a sacred place for a profane use unless the place is de-sacralized by an act of the bishop or if they have been given over to secular uses either de facto or by decree,’ Doyle explained.

“’However, this applies to churches, chapels and shrines and not mansions that were used as therapy centers.  In light of the scandal that arose out of then Houses of Affirmation they could hardly be called a “sacred place.”‘”

Additionally, the Boston Globe editorialized about the growing incident in support of Fairbanks and Beret.

A Massachusetts married couple is suing the Diocese of Worcester for discrimination after church officials broke off real estate negotiations allegedly over the men’s sexual orientation.

Alain Beret and James Fairbanks outside of Oakhurst mansion.

James Fairbanks and Alain Beret are business partners as well and sought to buy Oakhurst mansion, a former retreat center, to convert it into a banquet facility as they had done in other locations around New England. As the Milford Daily News reports:

“’It was a facility we were extremely interested in,’ he said. ‘We have made our life by restoring old buildings.’

“’Now that it’s lost to us, it’s a great disappointment to me,’ he added.

“Beret said he first became suspicious when the diocese ended negotiations abruptly.

“Beret said an email from Monsignor Thomas Sullivan, included in the complaint, explained the sale’s failure. In the email, Sullivan reportedly writes, ‘Because of the potentiality of gay marriages there, something you shared with us yesterday, we are not interested in going forward with these buyers.’”

The Worcester Telegram reports about events after the two businessmen made an offer on the property on June 8:

“The email was later inadvertently forwarded to Mr. Beret, according to the suit, which seeks unspecified monetary damages for alleged violations of state housing discrimination laws and infliction of emotional distress.

“Msgr. Sullivan, who oversees the sale of diocesan property, is named as a defendant in the suit, along with the House of Affirmation Inc., Bishop Robert McManus and Eastern Alliance Realty, LLC, which acted as an agent for the diocese in the negotiations.”

The Diocese of Worcester repeatedly cites financial failings for cutting of the sale with Fairbanks and Beret, denying any knowledge of the men’s sexual orientation:

“’They couldn’t come up with the money. This happens all the time,’ he [Msgr. Sullivan] said in July…

“’From the diocese point of view, this case is not about discrimination against gay persons. It’s simply a failed real estate transaction,’ Mr. Reardon [a diocesan attorney] said.”

Bondings 2.0 reported on this story when it first broke in July, ‘Monsignor Is Caught in a Lie as Diocese Backs Out of Selling Property to a Gay Couple.’

In the column cited there, Beret and Fairbanks reject the diocese’s continued financial narrative and Worcester Telegram columnist Diane Williamson reports on their take:

“’Their [the diocese] message was, “These guys are gay. Get rid of them,”’ Beret said. ‘I don’t argue with their right to stand on the pulpit and condemn. But they don’t have the right to chase me down with their poison.’”

“Their lawyer, Sergio Carvajal, said state law prohibits discriminating agasint buyers based on sexual orientation, and said the potential for gay marriages would exist regardless of the sexual orientation of the buyer.”

The message that the Diocese’s actions amount to discrimination is made clear from the plaintiffs, joined by the Massachusetts Fair Housing Centerin the lawsuit. For Beret, a Christian who once considered the priesthood, this lawsuit is about something fundamental to Catholicism:

“ ‘I have plenty of sins,’ Beret said. ‘But being gay isn’t one of them. This is not a fight I wanted to pick. But for the sake of my dignity, I’m not walking away.’ ”

New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo commented on the story for the Rainbow Times:

“Nothing in church teaching prohibits the sale.  The decision not to do so comes from the church representatives involved in the business negotiations, not from the official teaching of the church.  The true scandal here is not the possibility of same-gender marriage taking place at the location but that church officials are negotiating in such a surreptitious way.”

What do you think? Is this a case of discrimination or should the Diocese be enabled to choose the buyer? Even if it is legal to reject Beret and Fairbanks offer, is Beret right that morally this is fundamentally about dignity of the human person?

Leave your responses in the ‘Comments’ section below.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Monsignor Is Caught in a Lie as Diocese Backs Out of Selling Property to a Gay Couple

July 31, 2012

The following story is a cautionary tale about how far some Catholic officials will go to dissociate themselves from marriage equality.  It’s also a cautionary tale about lying and diligently checking to whom you may be forwarding an email.

Oakhurst mansion

Dianne Williamson, a columnist for Massachusetts’ Worcester Telegram, reports that when a gay couple offered to buy a mansion for sale from the Diocese of Worcester, they were rejected as buyers.  A mistakenly forwarded email to the couple reveals that the diocese was concerned that the new owners might use the building to host gay weddings.  Moreover, a diocesan official has been caught in a lie to the newspaper about why the diocese refused the sale.

Williamson’s column begins:

“It’s bad enough that the Catholic Church discriminates against gay people. But it’s poor form — and possibly illegal — to document the bigotry and then mistakenly email it to the victims.

“This embarrassing etiquette lapse occurred as James Fairbanks and Alain Beret were pursuing the purchase of Oakhurst, a 44-bedroom mansion in Northbridge, owned by the Diocese of Worcester. Fairbanks and Beret had searched for two years for the perfect renovation project, and hoped to turn the run-down estate into a banquet facility. Previously, the pair had transformed mansions in Vermont and Barre into similar businesses.”

The diocese originally seemed very happy to sell the building, going so far as to suggest a lower bid because of renovations that had been done.  But after they rejected the deal which was in progress, Williamson called a diocesan official to get an explanation:

“This week, Monsignor Thomas Sullivan, who oversees the sale of diocesan property, told me the deal fell through because of financing.

“ ‘They couldn’t come up with the money,’ he said. ‘This happens all the time.’

“I told him the potential buyers believed that he rejected the deal because of their sexual orientation, or the prospect of gay marriages someday being performed at Oakhurst. Was that an issue?

“ ‘No, it wasn’t,’ Msgr. Sullivan said. ‘It was an issue of them not having the financing. That was all.’

“As noted, if you’re going to discriminate, you should cover your tracks. Inadvertently attached to the email rejecting the counter offer is an email from Msgr. Sullivan to the diocesan broker:

‘I just went down the hall and discussed it with the bishop,’ Msgr. Sullivan wrote. ‘Because of the potentiality of gay marriages there, something you shared with us yesterday, we are not interested in going forward with these buyers. I think they’re shaky anyway. So, just tell them that we will not accept their revised plan and the Diocese is making new plans for the property. You find the language.’ ”

Fairbanks and Beret are now planning to sue the diocese; in Massachusetts it is illegal to refuse to sell because of a purchaser’s sexual orientation.

An added wrinkle in this story is that the Oakhurst mansion had previously been used as a treatment center for pedophile priests, but had been closed because of allegations of sexual abuse and financial mismanagement:

“Speaking of reprehensible, Oakhurst is perhaps best known as the former House of Affirmation, a treatment home for pedophile priests, which closed amid scandal in the late 1980s. Ironically, Beret was willing to overlook that history; he’s a devout Christian who at one time studied for the priesthood.

“ ‘I have plenty of sins,’ Beret said. ‘But being gay isn’t one of them. This is not a fight I wanted to pick. But for the sake of my dignity, I’m not walking away.’ ”

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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