Montana Couple Denied Communion Responds, as Does Cardinal Dolan

Paul Huff and Tom Wojtowick

During this week’s coverage leading up to the Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, there have been developments on several stories reported on by Bondings 2.0. We offer updates below with links provided if you wish to read further.

Montana Communion Denial

A Montana same-sex couple dismissed from parish ministry and told to divorce before receiving Communion, is speaking out, as divisions at the parish, St. Leo’s Church, grow. One of the men, Paul Huff, told the Great Falls Tribune:

” ‘I’ll be 73 on Oct. 1, and I’ve been a Catholic since I was 2 weeks old…I still have the same God that I believe in, and I don’t need this in my life…We’re getting old…There is no other avenue for us in the Catholic Church to protect ourselves financially — our Social Security benefits or our home, which is in both our names. If something happened to one of us, we need some protection…I basically said, if this is the way it is then I’m done.’ “

Tom Wojtowick, once a priest for nine years, has deep roots in Lewistown, Montana and told KULR News:

” ‘Born here, I was baptized in this church, 7 generations of family in this parish…We didn’t think anything would happen, church is one thing, civil society is another.’ “

Further details about the priest who would deny the couple Communion have emerged as well. Fr. Samuel Spiering, 27, was ordained in 2012 and had only been at the parish four days when he called the couple based on a rumor he heard about their marriage. He attended the conservative Ave Maria University and is a canon law student at the Catholic University of America.

According to the Independent Record, Bishop Michael Warfel of Great Falls-Billings met with parishioners last week to discuss the incident. The couple, as well as liturgy and music director Janie Shupe, dispute the bishop’s statement that support for the couple was 50-50 and say it was more 80-20 in support of Huff and Wojtowick. Shupe, who has since resigned, and now worships at the neighboring Episcopalian church, commented:

” ‘I just felt like my world had fallen out beneath me…I can’t believe this is the church I believed in for so many years…I thought we were moving forward, and we did have a very joyous, very vibrant community going all these years. It feels like we’ve been thrust back in the dark ages.’ “

Moving forward, Huff no longer attends the parish and Wojtowick attends half of Mass and leaves before Communion. The couple is considering canonical action, believing they have a case after consultation with canon lawyers and is waiting to see what the bishop’s actions will be.

In a lengthy editorial, the Billings Gazette harshly criticized Fr. Spiering, Bishop Warfel, and church leadership, writing in part:

“Ubi caritas et amor deus ibi est. Those are the beloved Latin words of the Christian hymn, often sung on Holy Thursday, in the Roman Catholic Church. They translate: Where charity and love are, God is. And somehow, God feels a little less close in the Roman Catholic Dioceses of Montana…

“How should we judge a church that preaches love but practices condemnation?…

“The real problem with these situations in Montana’s Catholic Church is that there continues to be a message of exclusion practiced in the name of doctrine, dogma and scripture. Instead, the church — any church — is at its best when members come together not to find the imperfections in each other, but to heal the broken nature of this world. In that respect, the Catholic Church has become more of the problem than any solution.”

Bob Shine

Cardinal O’Malley on Firings

Bondings 2.0 broke news that Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley said LGBT-related employment disputes against church workers “need to be rectified.” New Ways Ministry staff member, Bob Shine, spoke with GLAAD about his interaction with the cardinal and said, in part:

” ‘I am Catholic and my relationship with Jesus impels me to institute in this world structures that are just and inclusive…

” ‘It’s not that often that you get someone of his prominence in the church, in the official church structure, saying such a forcefully inclusive statement…It seems like the first time we know of that a bishop, never mind one who is a close papal advisor, has come out and said there’s a problem here with these firings. Previous instances of episcopal involvement in these employment disputes has been either affirming the firings, some level of saying I don’t have the power to get involved or remaining silent and deflecting the issue. So, this is, even if it was not fleshed out, this is a really important statement to have on the record.’ “

Shine did not believe O’Malley’s comments are indicative of the American hierarchy’s attitude, and resistance remains to Pope Francis’ message of mercy and inclusion, though hopefully the cardinal would be a “trend setter.”

Shine also wrote about his interaction with Cardinal O’Malley for the National Catholic Reporter, a sidebar to a lengthier article updating readers on these employment disputes in 2014. In the latter, he identified three developments now exacerbating the problem of firings, resignations, and dismissals: the expansion of marriage equality, enhanced morality clauses in church workers’ contracts, and the emerging question of pregnancy outside of recogonized marriage, which disproportionately affects lesbian women. You can read the article here and find Bondings 2.0‘s full employment coverage in the ‘Employment Issues‘ category here.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan
Cardinal Timothy Dolan

NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade

Cardinal Timothy Dolan continues to defend his welcome of an LGBT group to the New York City St. Patrick’s Day parade, writing on his personal blog. Dolan noted he did not make the decision, but in light of it has asked himself does “the new policy violate Catholic faith or morals?” He writes:

“From my review, it does not. Catholic teaching is clear: “being Gay” is not a sin, nor contrary to God’s revealed morals. Homosexual actions are—as are any sexual relations outside of the lifelong, faithful, loving, lifegiving bond of a man and woman in marriage—a moral teaching grounded in the Bible, reflected in nature, and faithfully taught by the Church.

“So, while actions are immoral, identity is not! In fact, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, people with same-sex attraction are God’s children, deserving dignity and respect, never to be treated with discrimination or injustice…

“I share the hope of the organizers that the March 17th parade will be loyal to its proud heritage of celebrating Irish identity, culture, and contributions—all a beautiful part of Catholicism— thus bringing this great community together in unity and festivity, and look forward to leading it as Grand Marshal.”

Meanwhile, three more Irish LGBT groups have petitioned to publicly march under their own banner and raised questions about whether the policy had been lifted or not if only OUT@NBCUniversal is allowed to march. For Bondings 2.0‘s ongoing coverage of the St. Patrick’s Day parade controversies, click here.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

7 thoughts on “Montana Couple Denied Communion Responds, as Does Cardinal Dolan

  1. Stephen October 8, 2014 / 1:07 am

    The Lord, I believe, put Cardinal Dolan on this earth in order to work out the virtue of patience in me because I find the man to be pompous and ignorant — God forgive me. He is just ridiculous. Drives me crazy. lol

  2. charlene pierson October 8, 2014 / 3:43 am

    Thank you Stephen! You said it graciously. I’m afraid I could not!

  3. Friends October 8, 2014 / 5:11 am

    Ironies abound…to put it mildly. Check out this Diocesan page, and scroll to the very bottom:

    http://www.diocesegfb.org/tribunal_303.html

    Beneath the photo of the young Fr. Spiering himself, whose official title is “Defender of the Bond”, we find the following words:

    “Office Mission: •To protect the rights and dignity of each person and to foster healing and spiritual growth through the compassionate and just application of Church law in the ministry of serving God’s people.”

    Does this sound to you like a suitable description of what these guys are actually doing, and of the way they’re actually behaving, in real practice? I think we’re entering “Alice In Wonderland” territory here!

  4. Joseph Gentilini October 8, 2014 / 8:54 am

    The bishops have said that gays are loved and not deserving of discrimination with one voice and then judges them and fires them from jobs. This is hypocrisy and not Christlike.

  5. Friends October 8, 2014 / 9:47 pm

    If I may pop back in with a useful update: it appears that the Director of the Diocesan Tribunal on which Fr. Spiering serves — (he’s the far-right-wing young priest who virtually excommunicated this elderly married couple) — can be reached at the following e-mail address:

    terri@diocesegfb.org

    Her name is Terri Reavley. I would invite all of our folks to e-mail her directly, and to let her know what we think about how these two loyal Catholic gentlemen — one of whom is in fact a retired priest — are being treated by their parish, merely because they are in a fully legal and faithfully-bonded relationship. Such mean-spiritedness is so far “off the charts” that it almost defies description. I simply can’t believe that Pope Francis himself would endorse what has happened here.

  6. Tim MacGeorge October 10, 2014 / 6:30 am

    I’m pleased to see that the Montana couple, Paul Huff and Tom Wojtowick, are considering canonical action. This attitude among some, mostly younger, priests that it is their right and responsibility to keep from Communion those whom they deem to be unfit –well, it just leaves me (almost!) speechless. Catholics need to know and understand their rights under Church law, and participation in Eucharist for fully-initiated Catholics is so fundamental to our practice of faith, there must be an extremely high bar whenever that right is infringed. This priest’s actions go against so many basic tenets of canonical, liturgical and pastoral theology. I pray that Messrs. Huff and Wojtowick do take action and begin to share again in Eucharist in their home parish.

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