Family and Parish In Conflict Over Ouster of Gay Youth

Peter Lanza, Jr., with his father, Peter Lanza, Sr.

Peter Lanza, Jr., a gay teenager, says his parish’s religious education program dismissed him from classroom instruction and assigned him to home-schooling because he is gay.  Rev. John Bambrick, the pastor of St. Aloysius parish in Jackson, New Jersey, said in a statement that reports that the teen was ” ‘kicked out’ of the program because of his sexual orientation are completely false.”

Who to believe?

In a Facebook statement, reported by The Asbury Park Press, the pastor said:

“There are times when any number of circumstances might warrant that a student should change from in-class instruction to home study … ranging from specific needs of the family to physical limitations of the student to disciplinary problems exhibited in class.

“However, no child has ever been required to change to home study due to sexual orientation. St. Aloysius Parish respects the dignity of all persons, without exception, and welcomes the opportunity to teach the faith to every Catholic who wishes to learn it.”

Yet, neither the pastor nor anyone else from the parish will comment further on the matter.

According to a second article in The Asbury Park PressLanza had already been transferred from one religious education classroom, but that something changed in December:

“Lanza said a school official told him a parent called and said she was uncomfortable with him being in her child’s class.

“Less than 24 hours later, Lanza said, there was a different phone call, this time to Lanza’s parents: The Rev. John Bambrick suggested that Lanza be home-schooled, according to Lanza’s father.

“No reason was given for the teen’s removal, the Lanzas said, nor was there any mention of the purported complaint from another parent. The Lanzas say It was only after lawyers got involved that a ‘behavioral issue’ was referenced, though the church has never offered a further explanation.”

Lanza, Sr. believes that the parent who complained is the same one who last summer referred to his son as an “ugly queer.”

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, a national organization of LGBT Catholics, criticized the pastor’s handling of the situation:

“We really need church officials to stand up to this kind of message. You’d think that, at a minimum, the priest or CCD teacher would say, ‘we need to be treating each other with respect.’ Pulling a kid out of CCD class doesn’t sound very respectful.”

It is hard to know who to believe in this situation.  The pastor has not been forthcoming with information. The family considered a lawsuit, though Lanza, Sr. said that he is not likely to do so since the church seems immune.  Often, when a legal case is considered, institutional leaders become reticent.

Pastors have a responsibility to be pastors.  While the possibility that this youth was moved out of a religious education classroom because he is gay is odious, what is even more troublesome is that the pastor will not speak honestly with a parishioner, or with the press.  The silence of the pastor, even with the youth’s parents, will lead many to believe that he is hiding something, whether he is or not.

But the pastor’s responsibility goes beyond being more forthcoming. If the accusations harassment by the Lanza family are even remotely true, the pastor has a responsibility to look into this matter.  Parishioners should not be allowed to bully other parishioners.

Regardless of what the precipitating cause of this situation was, what is apparent now is that a pastor and a family of the parish are at loggerheads.  What seems to be needed most in this parish is reconciliation.  While the Trenton Diocese has stated that this is a parish issue, and so will not comment or become involved, the seriousness of this situation requires that they do intervene.  The pastoral harm that this family is experiencing, whether real or imagined, and the division this can cause the parish require that an outside religious organization become involved with healing.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, March 16, 2017

Related articles:

My9NJ.com: “Kicked out of class for being gay?”

NJ1015.com: “Church denies Jackson teen was ‘kicked out’ of CCD because he’s gay”

New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss: LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis, is scheduled for April 28-30, 2017, Chicago, Illinois. Plenary speakers:  Lisa Fullam, Leslie Griffin, Rev. Bryan Massingale, Frank Mugisha. Prayer leaders:  Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv.  Pre-Symposium Retreat Leader:  Sr. Simone Campbell, SSS.  For more information and to register, visit www.Symposium2017.org.

 

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