“The Catholic Church does incalculable good, providing immeasurable comfort – material as well as spiritual – to so many. But it contradicts and undercuts that mission when it fails to recognize what more and more parishioners do: that gay people deserve the same dignity as everyone else…
…certainly not what happened to the Montana couple. If Francis and his successors don’t get this right, all his other bits of progress and pretty words will be for naught.”, Frank Bruni, ‘I Do’ Means You’re Done, New York Times
The Opinion Pages | OP-ED COLUMNIST
‘I Do’ Means You’re Done
SEPT. 23, 2014
In and around Rome, the talk is of Pope Francis’ sage acceptance of the 21st century, of his empathy, of his departure from the stern moralizing on matters of the heart that his predecessors engaged in.
In Montana, a gay couple who have been together for more than three decades have been told that they’re no longer really welcome in the Catholic parish where they’ve been worshiping together for 11 years.
This happened last month, in the town of Lewistown. By all accounts, these two men, one of them 73, the other 66, had done no one any harm. They hadn’t picked a fight. Hadn’t caused any particular stir. Simply went to Mass, same as always. Prayed. Sang in the church choir, where they were beloved mainstays.
There was only this: In May of last year, without any fanfare, the men had traveled to Seattle, where they had met and lived for many years, to get married. And while they didn’t do anything after to publicize the civil ceremony, word eventually leaked out.
So in early August, a 27-year-old priest who had just begun working at the parish summoned them to a meeting, according to local news reports. And at that meeting, he told them that they could no longer be choir members, perform any other roles like that or, for that matter, receive communion.
If they wanted those privileges restored, there was indeed a remedy, which the priest and other church officials spelled out for them over subsequent conversations. They would have to divorce. They would have to stop living together. And they would have to sign a statement that marriage exists only between a man and a woman.
Translation: Renounce a love fortified over 30 years. Unravel your lives. And affirm that you’re a lesser class of people, barred from the rituals in which others blithely participate.
With those little tweaks, the body of Christ can again be yours.
In one sense there’s nothing revelatory here. For all the changes afoot in enlightened countries around the world, the church remains censorious of same-sex marriage — fervently so, in many instances — and Catholic teaching still forbids sexually intimate relationships between two men or two women.
But there are details to note, rue and reject. One is the hypocrisy (or whatever you want to call it) of punishing a same-sex couple for formalizing a relationship that was already obvious, as these men’s partnership was.
Such punishment has befallen many employees of Catholic schools or congregations since the legalization of same-sex marriage in many states allowed them civil weddings. Teachers long known to be gay are suddenly exiled for being gay and married, which is apparently too much commitment and accountability for the church to abide. Honesty equals expulsion. “I do” means you’re done.
I reached the Montana couple, Tom Wojtowick and Paul Huff, on the phone Tuesday, and Wojtowick expressed befuddlement. “We’re just two old men,” he said, and their relationship was no secret. “We’re only 5,900 people in this town, and Paul and I are really well known.”
He said that he and Huff had decided to get married not to make a statement but because they were getting on in years and didn’t want any confusion or challenge about beneficiaries, health care proxies and hospital visitation rights.
The Catholic Church does incalculable good, providing immeasurable comfort — material as well as spiritual — to so many. But it contradicts and undercuts that mission when it fails to recognize what more and more parishioners do: that gay people deserve the same dignity as everyone else, certainly not what happened to the Montana couple. If Francis and his successors don’t get this right, all his other bits of progress and pretty words will be for naught.
This tension was captured in a blog post Monday by Andrew Sullivan, who is both a leading gay marriage advocate and a practicing Catholic. He indicated that stories like the one from Montana are making those identities ever harder to reconcile. “There is only so much inhumanity that a church can be seen to represent before its own members lose faith in it,” he wrote.
A bishop in Montana conceded to a local newspaper that half the congregation was upset by the men’s ouster. Wojtowick told me that the choir had essentially disbanded, in solidarity with him and Huff, and that some congregants had stopped attending services, Huff among them.
Wojtowick still goes, but only for the first half of the Mass, before communion approaches. “Then I get up,” he said. “I make a profound bow to the altar. And I walk out.”A version of this op-ed appears in print on September 24, 2014, on page A31 of the New York edition with the headline: ‘I Do’ Means You’re Done