All not welcome

Priest refuses communion to long-term church-goer because she’s gay

Priest holds a communion chalice
A Catholic priest holds a communion chalice (Photo: Shannon Douglas on Unsplash)

A diocese in Michigan, US, is backing one of its priests after he decided to stop offering communion to one of his parishioners because she is in a same-sex marriage.

The woman in question is Sara Smolenski, a judge with the 63rd District Court in Grand Rapids, MI.

She has attended the same church in the city, St Stephen’s Catholic Church, for over six decades. Her parents married in the church and she was later baptized there.

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Smolenski, a lesbian, married her wife in 2017. They had been together 27 years, and because of Smolenski’s position, her marriage made local news.

She says since marrying she has attended St Stephen’s but has also been to other churches – all of whom have welcomed her for communion. It’s during this holy sacrament, the culmination of the mass, that Catholics believe they receive the body and blood of Christ.

Then, last Saturday, the church’s priest, Father Scott Nolan, called Smolenski on the phone and told her she would not be allowed to receive communion anymore. Nolan has been at the church for approximately three years.

Smolenski says Nolan was aware of her sexuality and has given her communion before, leaving her particularly confused by the decision.

“Why now? And why me?” she said in an interview with MLive.

According to Nolan in his call, it’s all down to Smolenski’s marriage.

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Smolenski told WOOD TV 8, “I try to be a good and faithful servant to our Lord Jesus Christ. My faith is a huge part of who I am, but it is the church that made that faith, the very church where he is taking a stance and saying ho-ho, not you.”

The priest told the same news channel he was just following through on, “what all of the popes who have ever said something about the emergent family have said up to and including Pope Francis,”. In other words, you have to respect Catholic teachings if you want to receive communion.

According to another parishioner, it’s not the first time he’s done this. Kelly Shadoens told WGVU News, “He singled out a same-sex couple last, late last January and denied them communion at a mass, in front of their daughter with no prewarning.”

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Now, Nolan’s local diocese, on behalf of bishop Bishop David John Walkowiak, has issued a statement backing his decision.

“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.’ Lifelong Catholics would surely be aware of this.”

It goes on to say, “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.”