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The Church For Those Who Disagree With Each Other

In last Friday's edition of the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead*, reporter Erik Burgess advanced the story of Lennon Cihak, the Barnesville MN teenager denied the sacrament of confirmation by his pastor, Fr. Gary LaMoine of Assumption Parish, for Cihak's public support of same-sex civil marriage. Burgess reported, among other things, that:

  • a classmate of Cihak's also was denied confirmation, and for the same reason;
  • in an open letter to the parish, Fr. LaMoine maintained that Cihak voluntarily chose not to seek confirmation; however,
  • Fr. LaMoine told a reporter that he would not have confirmed Cihak anyway;
  • Fr. LaMoine apparently became aware of the issue because "My secretary Googled his name"; and,
  • both Bishop Hoeppner and diocesan spokesman Msgr. David Baumgartner remained unavailable for comment.

Here at dotCommonweal we've had a lively and far-ranging conversation about this situation (see here and here) and what it says (or doesn't say) about the wider Church. In addition to reading those threads (thanks to all the commenters!), I took some time over the weekend to check out Lennon Cihak's Tumbler and Twitter feeds. It helped disabuse me of an overly simplified notion of "parallel churches"---if only because I'm not sure which church would have room for a music-making, gay-marriage-endorsing, chocolate-milk-drinking, abortion-opposing, Romney-supporting, Obamacare-hating, part-time grocery-store worker with an (appropriately) adolescent sense of humor, who roots for his high school's football team and loves his grandma. (I'm also not sure whether he'd be interested in joining either of those "parallel churches".)All of which is to say that Lennon Cihak reminds me of so many 17 year olds: fearfully and wonderfully made, bursting with surprises and contradictions, full to the brim with possibilities. He also reminds me that one of the things I've always loved about the Catholic Church is the way it's a church for people who otherwise have nothing in common---other than their love of God and the nourishment they find in the sacraments.*Thanks to John Hayes for linking to this article in one of the threads, and to Eric Buygis for his post on this topic.

About the Author

Luke Hill is a writer and community organizer in Boston. He blogs at dotCommonweal and MassCommons. 



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I would imagine that if Fr. LaMoine were to closely question all 17-year-olds slated for Confirmation, there would be good cause, by his standards, to deny a great many of them the sacrament. And no doubt if he were to closely question his parishioners on certain issues of Catholic teaching, he would find good cause to deny a significant portion of them communion.

The disagreement is over the wisdom of voting on an amendment to the state Constitution not doctrine. .Does the Archbishop of Minnesota think that an amendment to the US Constitution on this issue is the way to go? If they think it is the way to go, do they think that it could it ever garner 2/3rds of both Houses and States? Will they join the Tea Partiers { Bachmann MN 6th] and push for a Constitutional Convention!Where is the fraternal correction when you see some bishops/pastors going off the doctrinal/pastoral cliff? The silent pastors and bishops in their silence on this obsession with civil SSM are undermining the Faith. Will not one bishop stand up and say," this SSM civil law obsession is not a wise course of action' The military changed to 'open' service and the only problem resulting, was hetro sexual activity in the 4 Star general ranks Haven't the hierarchy learned anything from their silence in the abuse crisis?

Fr. John Coleman has his take on this over at America:I was reminded of a conversation I had with a retired archbishop about an earlier letter by Archbishop John J. Meyers of Newark who wrote in a pastoral letter that Catholics who supported marriage equality for gays and lesbians should abstain from communion. The retired archbishop told me Meyers needed to consult a good canon lawyer. While Meyers, in his letter, said he wanted to be clearer than some other of his fellow bishops regarding homosexuality, in fact he went beyond what good pastoral practice and canon law allow.

After the recent election, I heard one bishop or priest remark on radio that if a Catholic is teaching in the public school system, and if due to all the recent babble about gay marriage - the school curriculum changes to require the teacher instruct children on the validity of gay marriage, that Catholic teachers should ask to not be required to teach such things. Corrupting the minds of the young is a very serious thing of course.The pro-gay marriage folks will make it very difficult for Catholics to teach in public schools.Interestingly, I recall my mom mentioned that in the town where she grew up (in SD) there was only one Catholic teacher in the entire public school; basically there was one Catholic teacher allowed because folks in that town considered themselves broadminded enough to tolerate that much. With things like the HHS mandates and gay marriage coming fast at Catholics, we may be headed for that sort of situation again.

However as in golf, every shot makes somebody happy. With that in mind, maybe Catholics can parlay all this change into an expansion of Catholic schools; to justify a greater investment in Catholic school systems.

By golly, if he keeps this up he'll be made the new Bishop of Oakland! He's a direct clone of The Croc.

Luke -- Well said. I'm a Catholic high school teacher, and your description is right-on.

Luke -- Well put. One factor I would add to your excellent list is the dynamic transition that many 17-year olds are living through, say from 15 to 17 to 19. It should not be at all surprising to see some of the most deeply held convictions (TBD) reverse or disappear or otherwise change in a year or two. Viewing a 17-year old as cast in stone seriously misunderstands the nature of the boy-man in process.

I was confirmed in the third grade. Maybe we should go back to the days when you were confirmed before you were old enough to have an opinion on any dispute more profound than doughnuts vs. Pop-Tarts.

Her is something from Litesite news. Quite a different take or spin.Fr. Lamoine told LifeSiteNew.coms that the final decision to delayconfirmation was made by the boy himself -- and that his support for gay"marriage" would have precluded him from receiving the sacrament.BY John JalsevacBARNESVILLE, MN, November 16, 2012, ( The parents of a17-year-old boy in Minnesota are claiming that their parish priest deniedtheir son the sacrament of Confirmation because he posted a photo in supportof gay marriage on his Facebook page a claim that the priest, Fr.Gary LaMoine, has denied.The story broke earlier this week on the Fargo Forum, and has since beenpicked up by numerous other media outlets, including the Associated Press.The mother of the boy, Shana Cihak, told the Forum that she was shocked bywhat she says was the priests decision to bar her son, Lennon, from thesacrament.You kind of know the Catholic beliefs, but I never thought they woulddeny somebody confirmation because you werent 100 percent, she said.I guess thats what shocks me.But Fr. LaMoine, the pastor of Assumption Parish in Barnesville, that there were other concerns that contributed to thedecision to delay Lennons Confirmation, and that the final decision wasmade by Lennon himself, not the priest.According to Catholic teaching, Confirmation is a sacrament of initiationthat confirms Catholics as mature Christians. It is usuallyadministered to young teens.Fr. LaMoine said that his conversations with the Cihak family began in earlyOctober, when he sent a letter to Lennons parents, Doug and Shana,encouraging them to start coming to church to support their son.The priest told that he only discovered Lennons gaymarriage post by accident on October 25, the day after having a two-hourmeeting with the family. During that meeting the priest had brought up thefact that the Cihaks were not coming to church, as well as othermatters that the priest said, I cant get into here. No mentionwas made of Lennons views on marriage during that meeting.The following day Fr. LaMoines secretary, who is Facebook friends withLennon, chanced upon the controversial post and alerted the priest to it.The priest says that he then telephoned Lennon, and in the course of thatconversation the boy said he had chosen not to go forward with Confirmation.Click like if you want to defend true marriage.Lennons post came days before Minnesotans were slated to go to the pollsto vote on an amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Itshowed him holding a pro-marriage sign that he had defaced to express hissupport for equal marriage rights.The priest admits, however, that once he knew that Lennon supported same-sexmarriage, and was unwilling to retract his views, that he would not havebeen able to confirm him.You cant have people out there saying things that are so contrary tothe central teaching and doctrine of the Catholic faith, and going throughConfirmation, he said. After he put it out in the public, we wouldhave looked like a bunch of hypocrites in confirming him.Fr. LaMoine said that in the course of teaching the confirmation classes, hehad addressed the Churchs teaching on marriage at significant length,including speaking to the Minnesota amendment directly.At the moment, says Fr. LaMoine, his primary concern is for Lennon, who isnow the center of a major media controversy. Im more worried aboutLennon than I am about anyone else, because hes so vulnerable andtheyre sticking him out there.The priest decried the tone of the media coverage. This is coming out asif I just kicked [Lennon] out in anger, he says. I dont functionthat way as a pastor. I called him up and talked to him. And Im not angryat him.In a statement which Fr. LaMoine plans to read to his congregation onSunday, the priest says he is dismayed that what should have been kept aninternal Church matter has now become a public controversy. To place this controversy into the public forum was the decision of theyoung man and his family, he said. It was not my intention or theintention of Bishop Hoeppner who was informed about the situation shortlyafter the young man withdrew from candidacy.Meanwhile Doug Cihak, Lennons father, has told media that he is not madat the pastor, and understands that he is just being a messenger ofthe Church.Lennon himself has said he doesnt want the church to be put down,but expressed his concern that the priest is being so strict. He wontloosen up about things.Follow us on Twitter: Follow @LifeSite!function(d,s,id){varjs,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0];if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src="//";fjs[removed].insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document,script,twitter-wjs);

The priest says that he then telephoned Lennon, and in the course of thatconversation the boy said he had chosen not to go forward with Confirmation....andshortly after the young man withdrew from candidacySuddenly he was not interested in being confirmed?Fr. Lemoine's insistance than Lennon said "he had chosen not to go forward with confirmation" reminds me of the third-grade teacher who says "JImmy chose to stay after school. He knows that pupils who don't hand in their homework have to stay after school and he didn't hand it in".

It is noteworthy that Fr. LaMoine recalls what "in the course of that conversation the boy said" with no mention of what he himself said when he made the call. With his Sunday collections falling short of budget according to his Nov 18 parish bulletin, it might behoove him to find an improved approach to reforming and retaining his parishioners.

The real issue is that Fr. LaMoine said that regardless of whether the boy voluntarily delayed his confirmation, he would not have confirmed him anyway because of his support of gay civil marriage...FULL STOP.There is a contradiction in principle here where clergy is never reminded of their responsibilities. A priest or bishop has a responsibility to stand firm on teachings they believe are the truth regardless of the consequences. In this case, someone is denied confirmation and Eucharistic reception because of their support of gay civil marriage. The contradiction is that this decision in principle applies to all other parishioners who are about to be confirmed or are confirmed and believe in the support of gay civil marriage as well. Some may believe that the priest's decision is merely the exercising of required virtuous courage, but it is cowardice in like of the broader application of the moral principle to others with similar convictions. If the priest and bishop does not issue a communique applying the same decision to those parishioners who support gay civil marriage, then we have moral dilemma, inconsistency and contradiction in principle. This will likely "not happen" because of the consequences like more appropriate criticism, more empty pews and further diminishment of the Church's teaching authority. The Church often calls Catholics to virtuous courage in accepting other teachings (e.g., Natural Family Planning instead of contraception), yet where is the application of virtuous courage this case?Bishop John Meyer of Newark proclaimed that anyone who supports the marriage equality of gay and lesbians should refrain from Eucharistic reception. If this is a teaching of truth that should apply to all Catholics, then the USCCB should issue a national directive on the subject. If you are all hoping (my sarcasm) for this to happen, I have a bridge in Brooklyn for sale. The upshot is that these kinds of irresponsible decisions and contradictions in principle are ignored by parishioners for good reasons. They are focused on their relationship with Christ and strive to lead morally upright lives in accordance with the Gospel message. We live in a divided Church and in a crisis in truth and Rome continues to blame it on the ills of the modern age. Should not Rome claim responsibility for a lack of a convincing moral theory intelligible to most Catholics? When is comes to morals, faith without reason is blind and foolhardiness. Reason without faith is to deny the transcendent Spirit. We need both and that is Rome's responsibility.

Michael B. ==The clergy preach to us Faithful that we must value reason. Some even say that this appreciation of reason is a major difference between Catholics and Protestants -- we value reason and they don't. But it seems that the Catholic clergy is exempt from the requirement to be consistent. Go figure.

Ann O. Michael B. -- The Pope offered a view on faith and reason in his Nov 21 general audience, briefly addressing "the reasonableness of faith ". His conclusion is "The Gospel establishes a new humanism . It is rational to believe, as it is our very existence that is at stake". He looks to faith to provide the direction for scientific discovery. He appeared to me to be supporting somewhat defensively the role and necessity of faith, given science and rationality. Among other things, he appears to conflate "truth" as found by science, which is tentative since it is subject to change with further evidence, with the truth he would associate with faith. He also misstates a scientific experiment he could replicate by looking out the window -- what we see when we look directly at the sun. Amplification of his message might be illuminating on "Rome's responsibility" with which Michael concludes.

Jack B. --Benedict's defense of science is certainly welcome, especially given how many people these days are inclined to dismiss its findings when they don't like them. (I'm thinking of the weather problems.) But I think he's too confident about our understanding of the religious mysteries. He doesn't seem to want to admit that there appear to be contradictions in what we are told to believe, and for many people these apparent contradictions in the Faith are disastrous. It would be better to admit them outright and to look for the source of the contradictions in our inadequate understandings of what has been revealed. But to admit our partially wrong understandings is to admit error, and the Vatican doesn't do that.

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