When Connor Hakes’ grandmother died, he wanted to honor her with a song at the funeral. But because he is a gay man, the parish priest denied Hakes’ request to sing, adding more pain to an already painful time.
Hakes’ family are longtime parishioners at St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Decatur, Indiana. Generations of the family, including his grandmother, were part of the community there, and Hakes had even sung at the church before, reported WANE.
But Fr. Bob Lengerich, pastor, banned Hakes from singing at the parish until the “present situation” was resolved, though he did not, in the letter explain what the “present situation” is. One of the issues mentioned in the letter that would ban people from liturgical roles was “openly participating in unchaste same-sex relationships.”
Father Lengerich made his thoughts known in a letter to the grieving grandson. The letter also said that scandal is caused by someone “openly advocating” for same-gender relationships. He claimed there were “several LGTB parishioners who have openly declared their intentions to embrace a homosexual lifestyle” and therefore do no receive communion at Mass, nor serve in any parish liturgical ministries.
The priest told Hakes that he could sing to honor his grandmother “as long as it is outside of the Mass and outside of the Church,” even suggesting the post-burial luncheon as a possible moment. He concluded the letter saying the parish did want Hakes present and did “want to enter into a real dialogue and conversation.”
Hakes claimed that Fr. Lengerich based his claims about the gay man’s sexual life on a picture posted to Facebook several years ago of Hakes celebrating Pride. The grandson told WANE that Lengerich “had judged me and really formed an opinion about me without ever communicating with me. . .All of a sudden I felt very ostracized” from the parish that had always welcomed him.
The family has filed complaints with the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, which is now involved to seek healing after the divisive incident. Hakes said he prays that Lengerich’s heart will soften to allow the priest to become “a better leader for the Catholic Church.” Hakes is also very clear about where his grandparents would stand on the matter and what Christian discipleship entails, reported PinkNews:
“Both my Grandma and Grandpa would be disgusted by their parish. Their compassion and empathy was abundant, no matter who you were. They saw beyond race, religion, sexuality, and social class. They loved everyone. That is what [it] means to be a Christian. That is what it means to be Catholic.”
Whatever his intention, Fr. Lengerich’s offer of dialogue and conversation falls flat when framed wihin the context of the priest denying Hakes the opportunity to honor his deceased loved one. Why didn’t he enter into dialogue and conversation before making a decision? It is particularly disturbing that Lengerich somehow dug up a years-old photo of Hakes, and then seems to have inferred from it that Hakes was in a same-gender relationship. Certainly, there are more productive uses for Lengerich’s time and energy as a priest.
Once again, a priest who should be a source of consolation and unity has added to a grieving family’s pain and divided a parish community. Denying LGBT people the ability to participate in mourning rituals or denying them Communion at a funeral Mass are not infrequent events sadly. If church ministers cannot even be merciful and welcoming in these most painful moments, how can the church expect LGBT people and their families to show up at any other moment?
–Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, November 30, 2016