Priest Bans Gay Man from Singing at Grandmother’s Funeral

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.


Connor Hakes

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.”


Fr. Bob Lengerich

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



31 replies
  1. Patrick Gallagher
    Patrick Gallagher says:

    Such ignorance on the part of the parish priest. I am not surprised this took place in Indiana where Governor Pence and his homophobic views are so prevalent.
    It is hard to believe a priest in this century can be so ill informed and lacks the empathy for a young man wanting to honor a grandparent. This is the kind of behavior that drives young people from the Church.

  2. Paula Ruddy
    Paula Ruddy says:

    I empathize with the grandson, very painful for him and the family. I look at the bishops who have put that relatively young priest in the no-win situation he is in. He should be strong enough to stand up for his parishioners but the universe that has formed him and that he views the world from haven’t empowered him to do it. He has to learn the hard way if he can, while causing so much pain. That is the scandal in my view.

  3. Kevin Welbes Godin
    Kevin Welbes Godin says:

    Fr. Lengerich could be struggling with his own sexual attraction. It really is shameful that rigid rule followers play such a vicious role at times when mercy, common sense, and respect for the dignity of the human being is called for.

  4. Thomas
    Thomas says:

    This is precisely why the Church is watching the pews getting emptier by the year. Mr. Lengerich ( not Father Lengerich ) is surprisingly young for such a negative tone. Where is simple charity here? Too many priests , especially here in the U.S. , are missing the big picture and narrowing their focus to Taliban like purity. I hope Lengerich has an epiphany of some sort, or maybe decides politics is his real calling.

  5. Vincenzo
    Vincenzo says:

    My intuition impishly suggests to me that the Very Reverend Fr Bob Lengerich has some deep-seated internalized homophobia that he has yet to acknowledge, let alone even begin dealing with. This can be the only rational explanation for his violent behaviour towards Connor Hakes. For a self-professed Christian to maltreat another human being when they are mourning the passing of a loved one beggars belief. Perhaps Fr Bob should re-read the Gospels. I wonder how he interprets Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, or Jesus’ parables (such as the good Samaritan), let alone the idea that what you did to the least of these you did to Jesus himself? I pray that Fr Bob will learn to love himself and allow God to work some Divine Therapy on his heart of stone. Ezekiel comes to mind … “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

  6. D_Chesterman
    D_Chesterman says:

    Queen Elizabeth I, famously told her subjects, “I have no desire to make windows into men’s souls.” but apparently some priests do. Don’t ask the question if you don’t want to know the answer because once you start looking for sins you will find them for all.

    • D_Chesterman
      D_Chesterman says:

      I am not meaning to imply he is a sinner for his orientation or in my mind any actions related to it but that there are plenty of sins as some are defined to be found.

  7. Loretta
    Loretta says:

    I am not surprised at the apparent age of the priest. With the exception of second career priests who are ordained, this is the more common type, i.e. they wear their cassocks and French cufflinks, seem to consider only a law or rule that reinforces their position, power and prestige. At least that has been my experience. It’s very sad. In fact, I feel more sorrow for the priest than Connor. Why? I have only to remember the stories of Jesus particularly the one about seeking seats of honor, etc. Connor is among the most vulnerable for whom our Lord pointed out and lovesd (lies) so tenderly.
    My Jesuit professors taught me that chastity means a loving reverence for one’s own sexuality and that of others. Abstinence is refraining from sexual activity. We are all called to be chaste in all of our relationships. The priest wants Connor to abstain from sex. Sadly, he doesn’t know the difference when he said “unchaste.” In fact, it is the poor priest who is demonstrating an unchaste regard for Connor. Prayers for all.

  8. Larry
    Larry says:

    Please have this vicious prelate explain how someone singing at his grandmother’s funeral causes a scandal to the church. What he is really saying is that gay folks must be so quiet about their sexuality and their life affirming relationships that they disappear into the back pew if they want to participate in Christ’s church. The irony is that Fr. L is the real scandal to the church.

  9. James Sheya
    James Sheya says:

    I hope you replied very strongly to Fr. Longerich regarding his insulting letter he sent to Mr. Hakes. The Catholic church has driven thousands of gay people away from the church because of their unbending willingness to accept us. The church must face reality and make changes where all people are accepted with love and respect.

  10. Ann Connolly
    Ann Connolly says:

    This post is profoundly saddening to me! Just when I think our Church may be making baby steps toward becoming a more open and hospitable place, there is yet another example of hateful (not too strong a word) treatment of a grieving young man, paying respects to his beloved Grandmother! The priest is in need of counseling (and perhaps, sanctioning) — meantime, a few more members of the Church are probably DONE in putting up with a distinctly non-Christian pastoral presence! My condolences to the young man in this story! Thankfully, he knew he had the unconditional love of his grandparents, models of TRUE faith!

  11. Tom Bower
    Tom Bower says:

    This priest is typical of the way the mean-spirited Ft. Wayne-South Bend diocese operates. I am from Indiana and went to the University of Notre Dame which is within the diocese. From the 1960s, the local bishops have tried to make the university a conservative enclave, but generally failed. As was noted above, we are seeing the rise of a Catholic version of the Taliban. The hierarchy doesn’t understand the love of the Gospels, only the all-important rules to protect them from scandal. I am bemused by the appeal to avoid scandal which they have made so evident. I suspect everyone knew the grandson was gay and would not have objected to his singing for his grandmother’s funeral, but now the ugliness of the priest’s stance reveals the real scandal.

    • nigelhuffingwaysmythe
      nigelhuffingwaysmythe says:

      Mr. Lengerich (who notably follows only right-wing politicians on twitter) was apparently preaching from the pulpit that it was a sin to vote for Hillary Clinton because of her abortion stance. Connor Hakes objected to that idea, and apparently Lengerich believes that revenge is a dish best served cold.

      Lengerich’s Facebook page sets most people’s gaydar pinging, especially his photo with his “cousin” the boxer. I think it’s clear there are some deep seated issues of self-hatred being played out here.

  12. Bishop Carlos A Florido. osf
    Bishop Carlos A Florido. osf says:

    I find interesting that pedophiles, whether clergy or laity were allowed to celebrated and receive the sacraments.

  13. Jose Vieira Arruda
    Jose Vieira Arruda says:

    This is indeed so sad and it is clear test this priest needs help. Tragic though that there are so many like him. It is also more than clear that Francis’ pastoral message and style are not being accepted. How sad!

  14. John Hilgeman
    John Hilgeman says:

    Two things struck me about this article: 1) Father Lengerich “concluded the letter saying the parish did want Hakes present and did ‘want to enter into a real dialogue and conversation.'” And 2) “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.” Assuming this report is accurate, Why didn’t the pastor talk with the grandson personally, rather than sending a letter? And what was he doing checking the grandson’s Facebook page? I really don’t understand why one’s sexual orientation or sexual behavior (whether real or perceived) has become such a central tenet (not “tenant,” as the pastor wrote) of the Catholic religion. Funerals are extraordinarily sensitive times for those closed to the deceased. I would not be surprised if this man never sets foot in this church again. And the words in the letter: “You are loved by your Heavenly Father and by your Church Community. We want you here…” ring quite hollow and discordant.

  15. Friends
    Friends says:

    Eloquent comments, all. This entire narrative report (and our readers’ responses) need to be emailed directly to his bishop — for whatever good that may accomplish. If the diocesan bishop himself is complicit in this priest’s attitude of “jihad”, then I’m afraid the only remaining recourse would be to try to get through to Pope Francis himself, through the Vatican’s media channels. There’s no way I can see Pope Francis himself supporting this sort of counter-pastoral behavior by a Catholic priest.

  16. Janelle Lazzo
    Janelle Lazzo says:

    This young priest is probably very well-meaning, but hopefully he will get better guidance from his bishop about the welcoming attitude of Jesus than he has obviously had till now. No wonder it is getting to be such a challenge for many of us who love our Catholic Faith to stay in an institution which tolerates such behavior toward a member of the Mystical Body.

  17. Janice
    Janice says:

    This makes me so sad, and so grateful for what occurred at my sister in law’s funeral last summer. The family lives in upstate New York, but the funeral Mass was in a New England parish. None of my family are church-goers, Even if all were born Catholic. The pastor, an older and experienced priest, could not have been more welcoming. One of the nephews, who is gay and lives with his partner, did the second reading. So many non-Catholics and others commented on the richness of the Mass and the pastor’s presence. This is what “evangelizing” can be.

  18. Fernando Arrieta
    Fernando Arrieta says:

    I am a young adult experiencing Same Sex Attractions and to read articles like this really, really discourages me.

    I am glad that we are talking about ‘homosexual people’ because before all else comes the individual person, in his wholeness and dignity. And people should not be defined only by their sexual tendencies: let us not forget that God loves all his creatures and we are destined to receive his infinite love.”

    – Pope Francis, The Name of God is Mercy

    I also think the Church needed a pontiff like Francis. I have friendships in Europe who have came back to the Chruch since Francis has been pontiff!

  19. barry
    barry says:

    Indianna. a State that I remember with rather less than affection over the Sylvia Likens affair, A girl who was tortured for over a year by a self rightious woman and her family .And it seems there are other people here thaht enjoy the noriety of persecution. That anyone should be so uneducated as to humiliate a homosexual man in this day and age is unbelievable.

  20. Catholicboyrichard
    Catholicboyrichard says:

    Reblogged this on Catholic Boy Richard and commented:
    I see many things differently than New Ways Ministry in that I accept the traditional teaching of the Church on homosexuality and same-sex attraction. However coming from that background and world I also recognize that the very real ostracizing of actively or not LGBT Catholics is not the way to reach out to people who may be at different places in the journey than I or some others happen to be. 12 years ago I came back to Rome after many years away, and during those many years I was in every way an LGBT activist for 15 years. Even after returning to the Church I have at times had to sort and re-sort my understanding of where I fit in, particularly in regards to those particular issues which hit me at a very personal level. I would dare to say that I might have never returned if I had encountered a priest such as the one in this article at the beginning crucial stage of that return. Here is a young man who was raised Catholic, still identifies as such, and had a loving gift for his grandmother. To deny him the opportunity to sing in his home parish for her funeral is unbelievable to me, especially without at very least a phone call or in person conversation to discuss the matter. My heart aches for Connor–and for our Church, when we think that denying people the opportunity to grieve is part of our “ministry” to them. Thank you New Ways Ministry for sharing this important piece.


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