Skip to content

The perpetuation of homophobia and transphobia: Grand Rapids Catholic Church denies communion to LGBTQ parishioners

December 2, 2019

Over the past few weeks there have been news local news stories about how the priest at St. Stephens Catholic Church has been denying communion to members of that church who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (lgbtq).

While this is abhorrent and should be condemned by any decent human being, the formal response by the Grand Rapids Catholic Diocese is even more insidious. Here is what the statement, which is in direct response to a story done by WOOD TV 8:

“We appreciate Judge Sara Smolenski’s service to the community. We are grateful for her past generosity. These facts are not at issue in this matter.

As Pope Francis explains in Amoris Laetitia, “The Eucharist demands that we be members of the one body of the Church. Those who approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not wound that same Body by creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among its members.” (186) Lifelong Catholics would surely be aware of this.

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. 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.

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.

Father Nolan approached Judge Smolenski privately. Subsequent media reports do not change the appropriateness of his action, which the diocese supports.”

First of all, the Catholic Churches in the Diocese of Grand Rapids have NOT been about the business of inclusion and acceptance. From the very beginning of settler colonialism, the Catholic Church did not accept the indigenous people who lived along the Grand River, otherwise the priests who not have tried to convert them.

Secondly, the Grand Rapids Catholic Diocese makes it clear that they support the priest, Father Nolan, who has made this decision to enforce the Catholic Teaching which says that those who identify as LGBTQ will be denied communion. I am not interested in arguing if this or isn’t catholic teaching, since I am more interested in what such an endorsement from the Grand Rapids Catholic Diocese actually means.

For me, the defense of Fr. Nolan by the Grand Rapids Catholic Diocese means that he has the full support of this local church to deny members of the LGBTQ community the eucharist. This action and the diocesan statement could also have further repercussions. First, by sanctioning the denial of communion to LGBTQ members, the Catholic Church is likely sending a message to other priests in the diocese that they now have license to do the same. Second, now that this issue has been made public, it could cause others who are LGBTQ to not be public about how they identify, thus not allowing people to be who they truly are.

Deny people communion is a long-held tradition in the Catholic Church. Is the early church, if you were a soldier, you could not take part in communion. Once the Catholic Church became the official religion of the Roman Empire during the reign of Emperor Constantine, their stance on soldiers and religion changed. Within a one hundred year span the Catholic Church went from saying that soldiers could not take communion to, you could not be a soldier unless you were a christian.

However, another way to look at this issue is, who gets to take communion, even if they engage in morally objectionable behavior? For instance, if a man beats his spouse, he isn’t denied communion. If a member of the Catholic Church is involved in the manufacturing of nuclear weapons, they are not denied communion. Hell, I remember that when I was in the catholic seminary in 1983, we held a Good Friday walk from Aquinas College to what was then called Lear Siegler. Lear Siegler manufactured flight systems for nuclear weapons in the 1980s, right about the time that the US Catholic Bishops came out with a document against nuclear weapons. After our Good Friday march, we were called into the office of the President at Aquinas College. The AQ president lectured us and told us that the CEO of Lear Siegler was a member of the Catholic Church. We also found out later that the CEO was also a major contributor to Aquinas College.

Other examples of those who can continue to receive communion are ICE agents or prison guards, despite what role they play in doing harm to the immigrant community and other communities of color. Then there are those who are worth millions or billions. If you are super rich, you still get to take communion, even though your wealth is likely to have come about because of ongoing exploitation of workers and supporting politicians that pass tax policies favorable to those with massive bank accounts. In addition, you can hold deeply held racist attitude towards black or anti-semitic views towards Jews, and still part take in communion. In other words, the logic behind who the Catholic Church decides can take communion is anything but logical.

Denying communion to those who identify as LGBTQ might be the official policy of the Catholic Church, but that doesn’t make it right and it certainly doesn’t justify the harm it causes to individuals, along with how it perpetuate homophobia and transphobia in this community.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: