Two decades ago, while I was serving as the religion writer for The Charlotte News (the afternoon newspaper that later merged with The Charlotte Observer) I heard about a fascinating event in a major local parish.
It seems that at the end of a confirmation class, one of the teen-agers told the youth minister that he simply did not believe some of the doctrines included in the vows that he would be asked to recite as part of the sacramental rite. He could not, in effect, affirm the authority of the Episcopal Church and its teachings. Did that really matter?
The youth minister said it certainly did matter and advised the young man to withdraw from the confirmation class.
At that point, something interesting happened. The teen was fine with this, but his parents went totally ballistic and proceeded to lead an effort to get the youth pastor fired. I heard about this through back channels because my wife and I were attending a nearby church.
I told my editor that this was a really interesting story because it symbolized the whole plight of mainline churches in our society today. Would these churches, under any circumstances, stand their ground and defend the doctrines that had been given to them by generations of earlier believers and saints? I thought this was a highly symbolic event and, in particular, I was struck by the fact that this teen was more being more honest about his beliefs than his parents and some of their friends.
The bottom line: Is there any connection between accepting the teachings of a church and becoming a professed, sacramental member of that body? Did the vows in the confirmation rite have meaning or could one merely speak the words with fingers crossed and that was that?
The editor just didn’t see the point.
Well, clearly, that was before Facebook and denying the divinity of Christ is not as important, in the long run, as rejecting your church’s teachings on the sacrament of marriage. Consider this news out of the Midwest.
BARNESVILLE, Minn. — If you want to be a Catholic, you have to be 100 percent Catholic.
That’s the lesson one family here learned after their 17-year-old son was denied confirmation after the priest at the Assumption Church here found a pro same-sex marriage post on the teen’s Facebook.
The decision by the Rev. Gary LaMoine to deny the religious rite of passage for Lennon Cihak in mid-October shocked his mother, who said her son has gone to church every week and volunteered around the community in preparation for his confirmation this year.
“You kind of know the Catholic beliefs, but I never thought they would deny somebody confirmation because you weren’t 100 percent. I guess that’s what shocks me,” Shana Cihak said.
It helps to know that the mother’s version of this story — the hook for the first news story — is somewhat different from the account given by the Rev. Gary LaMoine and, it appears, her own son. More on that in a minute.
The key is that the parents have backed their son’s right to be confirmed. It also appears that some of the other members of the confirmation class clicked the “like” button on the pro-gay rights Facebook message. The other kids, it appears, were confirmed. The story went on to add:
… (Now) the family is not allowed to participate in Communion there, Doug [Cihak] said, and he’s worried as to how far the sanctions will go, expressing concern about being able to be buried alongside his parents.
Still, Doug insists he’s not mad at LaMoine, calling him just a “messenger” of the church. The same could not be said for his wife, who said she doesn’t plan on returning to the church ever again, her son nodding in agreement.
The son, meanwhile, stressed that he is still a Catholic. The goal in the future is to find a parish with a priest who is more, well, flexible:
“I don’t want the church to be put down. I don’t want the Catholic religion to be put down,” he said. “It’s just the way the priest has things running. He’s so strict. He won’t loosen up about things.”
Meanwhile, a Catholic wire service has the priest’s side of this:
…Fr. LaMoine, the pastor of Assumption Parish in Barnesville, told LifeSiteNews.com that there were other concerns that contributed to the decision to delay Lennon’s Confirmation, and that the final decision was made by Lennon himself, not the priest. According to Catholic teaching, Confirmation is a sacrament of initiation that confirms Catholics as “mature” Christians. It is usually administered to young teens.
Fr. LaMoine said that his conversations with the Cihak family began in early October, when he sent a letter to Lennon’s parents, Doug and Shana, encouraging them to start coming to church to support their son.
The priest told LifeSiteNews.com that he only discovered Lennon’s gay marriage post by accident on October 25, the day after having a two-hour meeting with the family. During that meeting the priest had brought up the fact that the Cihaks were not coming to church, as well as “other matters” that the priest said, “I can’t get into here.” No mention was made of Lennon’s views on marriage during that meeting.
The following day Fr. LaMoine’s secretary, who is Facebook friends with Lennon, chanced upon the controversial post and alerted the priest to it.
In other words, it appears that the family has been having issues with the church, or at the very least this priest, for some time. This incident is part of a larger picture.
Now, it also appears that this one teen-ager is not alone. This story has legs, because the priest has informed members of the parish — via letter — that at least one of Lennon’s friends backed him up in rejecting the church’s teachings on marriage.
In the letter, addressed to the parish of Assumption Church at 307 Front St. N., the Rev. Gary LaMoine says “a couple of candidates chose not to enter into full communion with the Catholic community because of their disagreement with the teaching of the Church concerning marriage.” … LaMoine says Lennon voluntarily withdrew from the program after LaMoine saw the photo and challenged him on why he was “rejecting a central teaching of the Church.”
But even if Lennon hadn’t withdrawn, LaMoine said he wouldn’t have confirmed him, he said on Friday.
“We just simply couldn’t do it no matter what, given what was out there,” LaMoine told The Forum in an interview. “He could be confirmed, but he’d have to change his mind about some things, and I don’t know if Lennon is going to do that.” …
Lennon is drawing support online. Since its inception on Thursday, the “I Support Lennon Cihak” Facebook group had garnered just under 1,000 “likes,” as of 8 p.m. Friday. The teen tweeted on Friday evening: “No matter how much negative feedback I get, I will ALWAYS support the #LGBT community … Support what you believe in!”
So what’s my point?
My point is that I still think this is a valid story for news coverage, in large part because of the parents’ opposition to their church’s teachings and their anger at church leaders attempting to defend centuries of Christian doctrine on these matters. Sure, the Facebook wrinkles are timely, but the essential questions in the story are both ancient and modern: Should people be honest when they take sacramental vows?
Whatever your stance on the actions of these parents, and their candid son, that’s a fascinating question. Should Catholics be Catholics? That issue is worth some coverage.