Catholic School Disinvites Graduation Speaker After Finding Out He’s Gay

***Update***: According to the “Let Dominic Speak” Facebook page, the principal spoke to students today:

Denny Starnes, principal of Sacred Heart Academy addressed the senior class today. According to the students, he took the time to apologize for his mistake in cancelling Dominic as the keynote speaker at commencement, and ensured them that he would do whatever it takes, even putting his job on the line, in order to fix the situation. He also said that he was initially acting in a way that he thought was best for the school and most in line with church practices, but now has realized that his actions were wrong. The decision, according to Starnes, is now entirely in the Bishop’s hands. The students claimed he made statements in support of gay rights and of our protest of intolerance. They have said that they are grateful for the courage exhibited by their principal in admitting his mistake and working to make a change.

Now we must turn our attention on Bishop Joseph Cistone and ask him also to change his mind and apologize for his homophobic and intolerant behavior.

When Sacred Heart Academy in Mount Pleasant, Michigan was looking for a speaker for their graduation ceremonies, they thought of Dominic Sheahan-Stahl. He graduated from the school, his brother was a senior — it seemed like a good fit. So they invited him.

Dominic, excited about the opportunity, knew exactly what he would talk about:

“My speech was about putting faith over fear,” he says of the his speech’s content, “I wanted the students at Sacred Heart Academy to know that life should be lived with the goal of achieving their dreams, and knowing that fear is something created in ourselves and can be the biggest setback.”

Seems inspirational enough, right?

Then, a couple of days ago, the school rescinded the invitation.

Because it turned out Dominic was gay. (I guess Jesus condemned gay people speaking in public or something like that…?)

“My mother kept asking why and what does his sexual orientation have to do with giving a graduation speech,” Sheahan-Stahl says. “She cried and didn’t sleep at all that night. My poor brother, whose graduation it is, couldn’t even be in the room when my mom had to tell me. Even my sister cried herself to sleep that night.”

Dominic talks about the whole situation in the video below:

Here’s the kicker:

Even more surprising, and perhaps more telling, is that this move to keep a gay person from even speaking at their school came a day after the same principal delivered an anti-bullying speech to the student body.

So what does the school have to say about all this?

Nothing. They haven’t issued a public statement yet, though they say one is coming. But what else is new? Church officials making gay people feel unwelcome and wanted is something they do all too well.

At least the students seem to be overwhelmingly opposed to their actions. A Facebook group called “Let Dominic Speak” was created a couple of days ago and is at nearly 5,000 Likes already. A graduate of the school started a petition in support of Dominic. Current and former students are inundating local media and Twitter in support of him.

It’s just another example of how out of touch the Catholic Church is with younger people — and another self-inflicted nail in their coffin. When a Church pulls shit like this, is it any wonder kids come to their senses and leave the Church as they get older?

How can any Catholic school claim to teach you about love and compassion when they refuse to let someone they invited to speak at graduation after finding out he’s gay?

If the school ends up letting him speak, I hope Dominic changes his topic. He should speak about how you should do the right thing even when your faith compels you to do otherwise.

(Thanks to Robin for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Fsq

    This is a clear cut case of a (excuse the metaphor) mixed blessing.

    For the positive: It shows the catholic asshats doing their thing the way they do best, with bigotry and hypocrisy…so the outcry is a great way of showing the world the man behind the curtain is a vile evil old man draped in a cross….second positive thing, and I say this sort of tongue in cheek, but this isn’t in a southern state! 

    And the negative: chaotic asshattery at its finest. Vile, cruel, mean spirited and disgusting. 

    • amycas

       I’d rather they not be asshats in the first place. If the Catholic leadership wasn’t filled with so many asshats, then I wouldn’t care about it at all.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    To Dominic, Dominic’s family, and the students of Sacred Heart Academy:
    Vote with your feet.
    Acceptance of guidance in matters of faith and morals from the Bishop of Rome, aka the Pope, is an integral of being Catholic. It has led to schisms in the past. If you are not willing to accept guidance in matters of faith and morals from the Pope, then:
    1) Hooray for you, because he’s wrong about a lot of things.
    2) You’re not really Catholic.

    • Wintermute

       This times a goddamned thousand.

      I’m sick of reading stories of the form ‘good person X is persecuted by religious group Y for totally predictable reason.’ Just this week there’s this story and the story about the pope badmouthing nuns who focus too much on social work. THIS IS WHAT THE CATHOLIC CHURCH DOES. If you don’t LIKE that, then stop parking your ass in the pews every Sunday and putting money in the basket. You’ll either cause them enough pain that they have to change (though I wouldn’t hold my breath, honestly) or you’ll at least no longer be supporting this kind of hateful stupidity. But to be a part of this group of assholes and then complain about what assholes they are kind of makes you an asshole, too.

      • http://www.zazzle.com/godless_monsters The Godless Monster

         

        “…to be a part of this group of assholes and then complain about what assholes they are kind of makes you an asshole, too.

        THIS times a fucking million.
        You said it. I’m way past irritated with hearing all of these non-stories of how  this or that (adult) theist gets dumped on by their particular sect and then whines publicly about it as if this is something new, unique and unexpected.
        Don’t stick your arm in a bag of venomous snakes and then bitch and whine to the world when you get bit. Many of us don’t give a shit for these all-too-willing adult victims.

      • Fsq

        Fan-fucking-tastic.

        Well said and dead on the point. If you sit it he pew and tithe, you are supporting this. The argument about “what about the good the church does” is a straw an of epic proportions. Hitler (sorry, Godwin just showed up) developed the Volkswagen and other social programs that had merit, but his evils trumped they’ll. Same wi the catholics.

        Put this archaic and evil entity out to the trash she it belongs. In the dumpster of history.

        • Fsq

          I am learning how to use this iPad and apparently the auto correct kinda screws things up!

    • Stev84

      A school is not a church. He wants to speak at graduation ceremony, not hold a sermon in a church. Theology shouldn’t play any role here.

      • dorothy30

         but in this case the school IS part of the church….it’s a religious school, run by the catholic church, so it’s church property.

  • Lady_ravenchilde

    Well, duh. This boggles my mind. With the centuries, nay, millenia of repression, oppression, misogyny and homophobia ingrained into and taught by the Catholic Church…

    they’re surprised? Really?

  • Matto the Hun

    While I support Dominic as a human being and all, I find it very confusing that we have groups like “Let Dominic Speak” spring up.

    If a white man joins the KKK, and gets invited to speak at their Grand Goober Ceremony but gets disinvited because it is discovered he is gay or straight but in a “mixed race” marriage (gasp!) nobody is going to try to convince the KKK to let him speak. It’s absurd. Why do we expect different from the Catholic Church.

    Hell the hypothetical person from my example doesn’t even exist because people who are not hateful and white don’t join the KKK. So why do gay or gay friendly people stay in a Church that openly hates them? 

    I mean sure, technically gay people should get out of the Christianity racket all together. The bigotry is as plain as day in the Bible. However, I get that people regardless of whether they are gay or straight may have a need to believe and in particular believe in Christianity. If that’s the case at least find a denomination that has bullshitted itself into believing those evil Biblical preachements aren’t there or are negated by Jesus an love and whatever. 

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      Most people don’t choose to join the Catholic church, though. They’re born into it, and they’re groomed throughout their childhood to remain in it. Take the students who attend this school, for example. I’m sure 99% of them were born into Catholic families and encouraged to develop an emotional relationship with the Catholic church.

      With that in mind, it’s no wonder that so many Catholics feel an emotional attachment to the church even after encountering the less-savory parts of the belief system. I would wager most of it is due to childhood indoctrination and misplaced notions of loyalty, but I think a lot of American Catholics hold out hope that they can reform the hierarchy. They can justify staying because the people they know personally are more accepting, so they don’t see the homophobia, sexism, etc. in their own school or parish. Of course, in this instance, the homophobia is staring them in the face, but they can’t see it as a systemic problem. They think that they can fight it or ignore it, but it’s still there. There’s no alternative except to leave, but most of them won’t do that.

      • Matto the Hun

        yeah, there’s that too.

      • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

        So much depends on one’s own life experiences.
        I left Islam. Do you know what the proscribed penalty is for apostasy in Islam?
        When the Pope starts calling for the death of former Catholics I’ll cry a little inside for those adults who choose to stay in the Roman Catholic Church.
        Most people don’t choose to join ANY religion, so being born into this or that sect is certainly no excuse in my eyes. If the cult one belongs to is doing harm to others then it’s time to grow up, take responsibility, do the right thing and leave.

        • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

          I’m not saying we should fall all over ourselves and excuse their behavior, but I think it’s important to realize that most of these people didn’t choose to join in the first place. I do think they should be held morally accountable for their actions, but it’s not quite like a black person choosing to join the KKK and then being shocked that the organization is racist. I can see how it’s possible, if someone has grown up in progressive Catholic circles, to be unaware or unwilling to face the fact that the problem isn’t a few bad apples, but rather the entire foundation.

          • NiftyAtheist

            I agree Anna.  The KKK analogy is erroneous. A better analogy is being born an American. There is plenty that we are ashamed of as a nation, and plenty that we are proud of. Do we just throw up our hands and walk away because of the worst parts of our history? No, we try to effect change from within.  People like to say that others “choose” to be Catholic (or Jewish or Muslim), but in fact, these three religions are more than a mere religion – they are an identity.  That is not easily thrown off. People want to fix it – keep the good stuff, fix the bad.  Obviously, I don’t think there is enough good to keep anymore, but many Catholics are not there yet, and may never be.

            • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

              Sometimes with Catholics, it seems as if there’s a kind of tribal loyalty, similar to the one seen in the Jewish community. Maybe it’s left over from centuries of Protestant-Catholic conflict? Catholicism seems to be a label that many people think they cannot renounce. This probably isn’t helped by the church’s “once Catholic, always Catholic” stance.

    • http://www.facebook.com/cburschka Christoph Burschka

      A millennia-old racket is not abolished by simply saying it should die, and ignoring anything that happens inside it. It is eroded over generations by small victories that diminish its authority, and make its members think more.
      A gay speaker, even a Catholic one, being invited to speak at a Catholic school despite opposition from a bishop, is such a thing.

    • Pedro Lemos

      He wasn´t exactly in the church, he just attended a school that is run by the church. I studied my whole childhood in a catholic church, and I´m not catholic. Though, if you asked me at that time, I´d probably say I was. It´s difficult for a child or  a teenage to sepparate his thoughts about religion from the thoughts of the parents, colleagues and teachers.

  • guest

     Recent update from their facebook page:

    SHA’s principal addresses the students

    Denny Starnes, principal
    of Sacred Heart Academy addressed the senior class today. According to
    the students, he took the time to apologize for his mistake in
    cancelling Dominic as the keynote speaker at commencement, and ensured
    them that he would do whatever it takes, even putting his job on the
    line, in order to fix the situation. He also said that he was
    initially acting in a way that he thought was best for the school and
    most in line with church practices, but now has realized that his
    actions were wrong. The decision, according to Starnes, is now entirely
    in the Bishop’s hands. The students claimed he made statements in
    support of gay rights and of our protest of intolerance. They have said
    that they are grateful for the courage exhibited by their principal in
    admitting his mistake and working to make a change. Now we must turn
    our attention on Bishop Joseph Cistone and ask him also to change his
    mind and apologize for his homophobic and intolerant behavior.

    • Alchemist

      I guess it’s nice of the headmaster to apologize and admit he was mistaken, but to say it’s now entirely in the bishop’s hands is passing the buck.
      I’m so sick of hearing “it’s not MY fault, HE’S the one who made the decision!”
      The headmaster is simply covering his arse with the students. How exactly is he “putting his job on the line” here?
      He’s not. He’s just told the bishop what he thinks and said he’ll leave it to HIM to decide. Has he said he’ll walk if the kid can’t speak? No, he hasn’t. He hasn’t put anything on the line.
      All we are seeing here is hot air and excuses, and the kids feel grateful?

      • NiftyAtheist

        I disagree that this is hot air and excuses. He is putting his job on the line, because he has defied the bishop and can (and probably will) be fired for it.  That is the power of religious schools.
        He has batted the ball into the bishop’s court to make the bishop and the church accountable, which is exactly what is needed. The usual path of church hierarchy is that the church stands by while its followers and minions do the dirty work. The pressure is subtle and very real – and church power is absolute in the church organizations.
        This principal is saying “Hang on, NO, I was wrong to give in to that pressure and I am reversing my decision. If the bishop wants a different decision, he will have to overrule me and take it clear that it is the stance of the CHURCH. I won’t do its dirty work anymore.”  That is the way some Catholics hope to make change from within the church, and I think it is a courageous thing to do. He may pay the price of losing his livelihood for it.  This isn’t passing the buck, This is taking a principled stand. 
        For many Catholics, born and raised, “walking away” is no more possible than it is for an American to walk away from his country because the actions of its leadership outrage him. It is that much a part of their identity.  It is not just a lifestyle choice. Many do walk away, but often at a terrible price. 

        • Wintermute

           You can see it that way, but to me it just seems like buck-passing. He has taken a position at odds with the church over the appropriateness of the speaker, but he has also acknowledged that it’s the bishop’s call. So if the bishop said ‘sure, he can speak’ then principle is a good guy for admitting his mistake and reversing it. If the bishop says no, the principle can shrug and tell everyone he’s so sorry, but they have to follow the diocese policy. It’s face-saving.

  • TheAnalogKid

    This is such a non-story to me. Jeez, I wonder if they would invite the president of Planned Parenthood to speak? You know what? Fuck the RCC. Don’t have anything to do with them.

  • Onamission5

    I see quite a few comments which border upon, if aren’t outright, victim blaming. In response to those comments, I would like to point out that meaningful change to any organisation or group almost always comes from within. If no one from within the RCC ever takes a stand, if no one ever says, “Hey, this dogma is flat out wrong,” then the RCC will never catch up to the 21st century. Do we not want them to at least try to catch up? To right some wrongs, to change some policies? To accept that this is the year 2012, and much of their membership doesn’t believe what is handed down from the gilded castle?

    • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

      Change inside the church would be positive. But not as positive as people simply leaving. My advice wouldn’t be to stand up to the BS, but to walk away from it.

      • Onamission5

        I don’t disagree with you, as I am one who did walk away, but sometimes people just aren’t ready to walk away from something in which they are so emotionally invested. In those cases, I will heartily support any push for progress they make, lest their religion end up under exclusive control of extremists and fundies.

        • Onamission5

          I should clarify, what I walked away from was not the RCC but a branch of christianity more insideous– fundamentalist, dominionist protestantism.

    • Wintermute

       Not that I claim to be any kind of expert, but wasn’t Vatican II supposed to be the church’s effort to modernize? And isn’t the current church leadership actively trying to roll that back even as we speak?

      Further, while I understand where you’re coming from, how much effort should be put into saving an organization as putrid as the Catholic Church? Would you argue that racially tolerant people should have joined the KKK during the Jim Crow era in order to reform it from within?

      Maybe it is victim blaming, to a degree, but what do you say to good people who insist on clinging to an institution that craps on them? I’m sure Dominic Sheahan-Stahl is a great guy with a lot to offer, but if he chooses to participate in this system, how is he not asking for this kind of bigoted nonsense?

      • Onamission5

        NiftyAtheist said it better than I can, so I’m just going to quote here what s/he wrote upthread –

        “The KKK analogy is erroneous. A better analogy is being born an American. There is plenty that we are ashamed of as a nation, and plenty that we are proud of. Do we just throw up our hands and walk away because of the worst parts of our history? No, we try to effect change from within. People like to say that others “choose” to be Catholic (or Jewish or Muslim), but in fact, these three religions are more than a mere religion – they are an identity. That is not easily thrown off. People want to fix it – keep the good stuff, fix the bad. Obviously, I don’t think there is enough good to keep anymore, but many Catholics are not there yet, and may never be.”

        • Wintermute

           But if that’s the analogy you like, then I’d point out that I have the ability as an American to vote against candidates who take the country in a direction I don’t like. I can run for office myself if I think I can do better. These are limited hedges against some of the nastiness our elected officials get up to, but they are at least ostensibly a mechanism for driving favorable change.

          What is the analogous method for driving change in the Catholic Church as a worldwide organization, short of becoming a priest? I also think it’s a flawed analogy because for me at least, the
          government isn’t actively labeling me an enemy and oppressing me. I
          don’t think that ‘American’ is to ‘USA’ the way ‘gay person’ is to
          ‘Catholic Church.’

          And if we stick with your metaphor for a moment, I would probably argue that if things got bad enough in America, I would leave, despite all the ways that would upend my life. Some folks are probably doing this already.

          • Onamission5

            If you’re an american, I would argue against the claim that the government isn’t actively labeling you an enemy, at least rather large portions of it. It is the same in the RCC. There are parish leaders and members who do not agree with the edicts handed down by leadership, who are trying to drag their beloved church into this century kicking and screaming. They face much opposition, the kind that many of us can’t imagine unless we’ve been there. I for one am not going to ostracize reformists further by blaming them for the backlash they get. They’re on our side, silly supernatural beliefs or not, so I feel compelled to also be on theirs, at least in regard to issues of equity.

            Do I think that the RCC as a whole is a corrupt and gross organization, and we’d all be better off if it went the way of the dinosaur? Absolutely. I understand though why someone would stick with it and try to enact changes from within. It might be a losing battle. It probably is. I admire them anyway.

    • http://www.zazzle.com/atheist_tees The Godless Monster

      “Do we not want them to at least try to catch up? To right some wrongs,
      to change some policies? To accept that this is the year 2012, and much
      of their membership doesn’t believe what is handed down from the gilded
      castle?

      Some organizations are deserving of the patience and time that might be necessary to change them from within. The Roman Catholic Church is not one of those organizations. The world would be an infinitely better place if it’s position of power and influence was diminished as quickly as possible. That’s only going to happen if people stop acting like victims and leave this evil organization en masse.

  • dorothy30

    and the response from the bishop basically hangs the school and the principal out to dry. tow the party line or else!
    http://www.saginaw.org/dos-news/statement-regarding-keynote-address-at-sacred-heart-academy-catholic-school.html

    • Onamission5

      It’s basically a bunch of flowery sounding, double speak bullshit, then this, “those ‘who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles… should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.’”

      Then more flowery bullshit.

      Not that I personally expected any different, but hopefully the studenst and staff will call BS and keep pushing against that almighty wall.

  • Ggsillars

    The last person I would rely upon to make the right decision, especially after 30 years of backtracking from Vatican II, is a Catholic bishop.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Margaret-Whitestone/100001682409207 Margaret Whitestone

    Three cheers for Christian Love.  Of course any time now we’ll hear how the school is being persecuted for standing up for “traditional values”.  

  • bismarket

    I tend to stay away from FB as much as possible but after watching this…well i just couldn’t. I sent the guy my best wishes & truly hope that whatever happens, in the end he feels happy. As an aside, i’m thinking changing my YT channels direction & doing a vid’ on why Atheists & Gays seem such natural allies. If anyone is interested please goto my YT channel & pm me, thanx! youtube.com/user/bismarket?feature=mhee

  • http://fatherryan.tumblr.com Fr Ryan

    Whether you believe the teaching or not, yes – Jesus does say homosexuals should not be given a forum to promulgate error. I agree with lots of comment here – if you don’t believe it, then respectfully walk out the door. So much of this drama is from people who want to have their cake and eat it too. Catholic school is not obligatory! If you want to stand for gay rights, then don’t stand on the steps of a catholic school. Easy enough. 

    • Stev84

       And you’re just another liar for Jesus

  • http://friendlyatheist.com Richard Wade

    So the original reason for rescinding the invitation to speak was only because they found out he is gay, even though there was no indication that he would say anything about being gay. So simply being gay disqualifies someone from doing anything.

    Let’s take this idea further:

    “Well, Mr Starnes, you seem to be recovering well after your heart valve replacement surgery.”
    “Thank you doctor. I feel good.  Oh I was curious, who is the man with you in that photo on your desk?”
    “Oh that’s my spouse, Craig. We were married in July 2008. He’s a terrific guy.”
    “You mean you’re, you’re …gay?”
    “Yes, I am.”
    “But, but, that’s … I mean I know that you’re the best cardiac surgeon in the country, but I can’t have a gay person performing surgery on me.  It’s just not right. It’s not acceptable.”
    “It’s not?”
    “No. I’ll have to have the valve removed by another surgeon, one who isn’t gay, and have him put in another heart valve. I can’t be walking around alive because a gay person saved my life. It’s just not right.”
    “I see. Well, I can refer you to one of my colleagues in cardiac surgery, who I am pretty sure is not gay, but I’ll have to warn you that even though the heart valve was developed by a team of some of the best medical engineers in the world, I happen to know that two of them are gay, and one of those was the team leader.”
    “Oh no! I can’t even use another valve! Oh this is terrible!
    “Perhaps you might want to discuss this with Dr. Stephenson. He’s a psychiatrist, and I am quite certain he is not gay.”

  • Srsly?

    Ok, I agree with most of the posts here. Being gay should not preclude his speaking, though it isn’t really surprising nevertheless, and the obvious solution is to leave the church, though for many Catholics that is harder than it sounds.

    But, I have to ask, what is up with this family? The brother can’t be around the mother while she gets the bad news. The mother is so upset she cAn’t sleep, while the sister cries herself to sleep. Was this a paying gig that was going to save the family farm or something? I mean, it’s just a speech, and they still should be celebrating the younger brother’s accomplishment. that place must have more melodrama than a reality TV show.

    • http://annainca.blogspot.com/ Anna

      I have to assume that the family is heavily invested in the school. If they sent all three of their kids there, I bet they think of it as their community. It could even be that they think of it as part of their family. So for their oldest son to be rejected must feel like all of them are being rejected by people who are very important to them. I think a lot of Catholics just never expect the church’s backward views to affect them personally. Sure, they know the Vatican is homophobic, but they never think it will intrude into their own lives. This family probably thought their own school was more accepting, only to find out later that it’s not.

  • Amy

    Homosexual behavior (not homosexuals) is condemned by God. The Catholic Church has an obligation to preserve what has been revealed by God. Having anyone who goes against Church teaching speak at a commencement is sending “mixed messages”. It would be no less hypocritical if someone were an advocate for abortion. 

    As far as the nuns, the LCWR have been going against Church teaching and they were well overdue to be chastised.

    Think of this way, if you belong to a group because  you believe very strongly in what they stand for and someone in the group does not and decides for whatever reason to undermine it, I would think you would not be pleased.

    • Onamission5

      Correction:

      People who are gay who want to have loving partnerships are supposedly condemned by the invisible dictator of your particular religion, or at least so says your leadership.

      There I fixed it.

      There’s plenty of people who believe in your version or other versions of deities who don’t believe their deities condemn gay relationships. As for your last sentence, if you’re born into a group and don’t agree with its policies of oppression, you either leave or you try to change things for the better, regardless of how high up the policies of oppression go or how long they’ve been in place. 

      But thanks for highlighting the main problem with trying to change things for the better, and that would be, rigid adherence to authority, even when authority is blatantly wrong.  


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