'No community of faith can sustain the public contradiction of its beliefs by its own members,' diocese says
A Michigan diocese said it supports a priest who told a parishioner that because of her same-sex civil marriage she should not receive the Eucharist.
“Inclusion and acceptance have been a hallmark of Catholic Churches in the Diocese of Grand Rapids throughout the diocese’s history. They remain so. They presume, however, a respect on the part of individuals for the teachings and practice of the wider Catholic community,” the Diocese of Grand Rapids said in a statement Thursday.
“No community of faith can sustain the public contradiction of its beliefs by its own members. This is especially so on matters as central to Catholic life as marriage, which the Church has always held, and continues to hold, as a sacred covenant between one man and one woman.” the diocese added.
The diocesan statement came after a Nov. 26 report from local news channel WOOD TV 8, which claimed that Fr. Scott Nolan of St. Stephen Parish in East Grand Rapid had “denied Communion,” to Judge Sara Smolenski, chief judge of the Kent County District Court.
Smolenski, 62, did not apparently tell the news channel that she had been denied communion during Mass, but rather that Nolan had instructed her by telephone not to continue receiving the Eucharist at the parish.
The priest did administer the sacrament to Smolenski Nov. 17, according to a letter some parishioners sent to Grand Rapids’ Bishop David Walkowiak.
The parishioners wrote that Smolenski stopped attending St. Stephens “last spring for fear that she would be denied the Eucharist,” as other parishioners apparently had.
While Smolenski attended Mass Nov. 17, and received the Eucharist, the parishioners wrote that Nolan subsequently “called her to demand that she ‘respect the church’ and not return for the sacrament in the future.”
Smolenski told the news station that: “The way he said it was ‘because you’re married to Linda in the state of Michigan, you cannot accept communion.’”
“I try to be a good and faithful servant to our Lord Jesus Christ. My faith is a huge part of who I am, but it is the church that made that faith, the very church where he is taking a stance and saying ho-ho, not you,” she added, also telling the local news station that she had devoted her life to the Church and recently given a $7,000 gift to the parish.
Smolenski reportedly told a fellow parishioner that she was attending Nov. 17 Mass to see whether Nolan would administer communion to her, according to sources in the parish.
The priest told WOOD TV 8 Nov. 27 that he “taught what all of the popes who have ever said something about the emergent family have said up to and including Pope Francis,” regarding the reception of holy communion.
Nolan said that he is required in his ministry to ensure that those who receive the Eucharist do so in accord with Catholic doctrine and discipline.
The Church teaches that homosexual activity is a moral evil, and that those conscious of grave sin should not receive the Eucharist. The Church also has taught that contracting a same-sex civil marriage can be “obstinate perserverance in manifest grave sin,” which would prohibit a person from being admitted to communion.
The diocese agreed with the priest’s version of events. “Father Nolan approached Judge Smolenski privately. Subsequent media reports do not change the appropriateness of his action, which the diocese supports,” the Nov. 27 statement said.
Nolan, 33, was ordained a priest of the Grand Rapids diocese in 2013.
Smolenski and Nolan have had previous run-ins. The judge is one of several parishioners who has criticized some of Nolan’s actions as pastor of the parish; which have included requiring that lectors at parish Masses be Catholics.
In October, Smolenski co-authored a letter to Michigan lawyers raising concerns about Nolan, who is chaplain to the Catholic Lawyer’s Association.
The letter said that Nolan had refused the Eucharist to two women in a same-sex civil marriage.
“This hurtful and humiliating action of publicly denying communion because they are gay has caused much hardship at the parish and in the greater community.”
“This act by Fr. Scott is a clear indication that he will continue to practice selective discrimination against members of our community,” the letter said.
Nevertheless, Smolenski wrote, “We acknowledge Fr. Nolan’s right, under the authority of the Church, to deny communion to those who are not in conformity with the teaching of the Church.”
The diocese also recognized that right.
“Father Scott Nolan, pastor of St. Stephen Parish, has dedicated his priesthood to bringing people closer to Jesus Christ. Part of his duty in pursuing that end is to teach the truth as taught by the Catholic Church, and to help it take root and grow in his parish. Mercy is essential to that process, but so are humility and conversion on the part of anyone seeking to live an authentically Catholic Christian life,” the diocesan statement said.