Despite Pope Francis’ encouragement for church leaders to drop their “obsession” with marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples, some persist in this respect, some times to the point of absurdity, as this story from Charlotte, North Carolina, illustrates.
Back in February 2012, Bondings 2.0 reported on the case of Steav Bates-Congdon, a music director at St. Gabriel’s, a Catholic parish in Charlotte, who was fired for legally marrying his longtime same-gender partner in New York State. Bates-Congdon has found other employment at an Episcopal parish in the area, yet he still remains the focus of Catholic obsession, it seems.
Now, a second Catholic parish, St. Matthew’s, recently pulled out of plans for an interfaith service for the Thanksgiving holiday because Bates-Congdon was identified as the person who would be conducting the liturgical music for it, and the parish, which would be hosting the event, would not allow him to do so.
“Mecklenburg Ministries’ 38th annual Thanksgiving Interfaith Service is still on for Nov. 26. But it’ll be held at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Dilworth, not at St. Matthew Catholic Church in Ballanytne – Charlotte’s biggest house of worship. . . .
“Monsignor John McSweeney, who pastors St. Matthew, said Sunday he declined Mecklenburg Ministries’ request that he formally invite Bates-Congdon to again help plan the service because “in no way would we give the impression that the Catholic Church approves of same-sex marital covenants.”
“That view clashed with the mission statement at Mecklenburg Ministries, which has nearly 100 member congregations of various faiths. So it moved the event.
“ ‘At the heart of our core values is honoring the dignity of all people and not excluding anyone,’ said the Rev. Christy Snow, who chairs the committee planning the interfaith service.”
The news story recounts a tortured process which began with Bates-Congdon receiving threatening messages from people claiming to represent the two Catholic parishes telling him that he should not participate in the planning of this event. Both Catholic pastors deny parish involvement in these phone calls. Bates-Congdon, not wanting to cause controversy, planned to bow out of the planning, but the prayer service organizers thought otherwise:
“[A]t the August meeting of that committee, chairwoman Snow asked Kathy Bartlett, music director at St. Matthew and a member of the planning panel, if she would ask McSweeney to issue a formal invitation to Bates-Congdon to clear up any misunderstanding.
“Mecklenburg Ministries also wanted a statement from St. Matthew – Charlotte’s largest church – welcoming everyone to worship.
“McSweeney said he had no problem with inviting all to worship. But he said he felt the request to formally invite Bates-Congdon was out of bounds, given Catholic teaching opposing same-sex marriage.
“ ‘I don’t think we should have to violate (those teachings). And we were the hosts, and they were the guests,’ he told the Observer. ‘Because you are welcome does not mean we have to agree to everything you may hold to.’ ”
Over the past few years, we have seen news stories where Catholic leaders have closed adoption services, de-funded immigration rights’ groups, fired teachers and pastoral ministers–all because of not wanting to appear to support committed lesbian and gay couples. Last month, the two Catholic bishops in North Carolina even pulled out of the state’s Council of Churches because of the organization’s favorable outlook on marriage equality.
This latest incident of pulling out of a Thanksgiving prayer service because one of the musicians is a legally married gay man harms not only the church’s relationship with the LGBT community, but also its credibility as an interfaith partner. If Catholics can pray with people who have fundamentally different views on major points of theology, surely they can pray with someone whose legal marriage is not approved by Catholic leaders.
With so many other differences that Catholicism has from these churches, one has to wonder why difference over marriage equality is the one which is the deal-breaker on praying together.
The only answer I can think of is “obsession.”
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry