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.
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