Honest teen meets an orthodox Catholic priest

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.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • DaveP

    I agree with the Priest. If the kid wasn’t willing to confess what the church teaches, he should not be confirmed.

  • http://cinemacatechism.blogspot.com/ Bender

    Is there any connection between accepting the teachings of a church and becoming a professed, sacramental member of that body?

    That really is not the question with respect to Confirmation. In Confirmation, one is not merely a member of the Body, rather, he takes up a solemn duty and obligation to be an active participant in the mission of the Church to be a witness of Jesus Christ, including proclaiming the faith of the Church. To confirm someone who not only fails to understand the teachings of the Church, but who publicly opposes those teachings, is to set the person up for failure, it is to impose an obligation upon them they we all know he will breach. In that respect, it is better not to place that duty upon him in the first place. But declining to confer the Sacrament upon him does not mean that he can never be confirmed — it is not a case of the Church saying “no” to his confirmation, but only “not yet.”

    • aahill

      Reception of the Eucharist similarly requires fidelity to all the teachings of the Church. Whether they admit it or not, those who receive this sacrament while consciously and intentionally rejecting Church teachings are lying to God and to themselves. The “Amen” we say to the Bishop upon receiving Confirmation, or to the minister of Holy Communion, is our covenental oath. One should not swear an oath before God which he does not intend to honor.

  • deepoctave

    It is certainly valid material for a religious new story! Too bad your editor of long ago couldn’t see it. My son made the same decision as a teen, and his pastor, his mother and I all agreed that he shouldn’t be confirmed. His issues with Church teaching differed from those of the young man in the article, but they were real, and we all agreed that to be a “member in good standing” (or whatever label should be appropriate) internal assent was essential. We all rejoiced when, a number of years later, he voluntarily went through the RCIA process and received Confirmation. Would that all those with authority in the Catholic Church had the wisdom to guide their flock thus!

  • ZJohn

    I do not understand why this whole ordeal is even newsworthy. The sacrament of confirmation is not just a milestone of maturity, it is a sacrament of complete entry into and unity with the Catholic Church. If one does not profess belief in the Church’s teachings, the Church has every right to refuse that initiation, much as a pro life group has every right to deny entry to a pro abortion activist. It just doesn’t make sense.

    • Bonnie

      I would venture a guess to say that the reason this is news worthy is simply because it is a growing problem. The church leaders are not leaders for the sake of being pushy shovey bossy tyrants. They are imbued with the responsiblity of protecting the integrity of the very foundations of the church AS WELL as the ongoing process of maturity and growth in faith for all its flock.

  • tmatt

    Just to be clear, I believe that:
    (a) this is a newsworthy story and
    (b) that the Catholic Church has every right to enforce its doctrines and sacraments.
    The fact that Catholic leaders rarely do this is precisely what makes the story newsworthy.

    • Justme

      You may be onto something here, or more like you hit the nail on the head

  • tmatt

    Bender:
    Thus, in my post, I said that the person is entering into a professed, SACRAMENTAL relationship with an ancient church — not just a membership. Eternal issues are at stake in these vows.

  • StephC

    Of course Catholics should be honest when making their sacramental vows! What, I’m going to *lie* when I vow to be true to my husband in sickness & in health, etc.? Commenter “aahill” has it spot on when he reminds us of the meaning of our “Amen” at every reception of the Eucharist.

    When I was a teenager in the 80′s, sitting through a woefully pathetic CCD class for Confirmation, I came to the same conclusion that many of the teenagers discussed in these examples did: I had issues with doctrines, no one bothered to really explain them thoroughly to me (sadly, my parents could not) and so I said, “No thank you” to being confirmed. My folks backed me up, my priest said, “Fine” and I wandered as a prodigal daughter for the next decade plus. At 28 I was caught by the Hound of Heaven and later confirmed, joyfully and with my wholehearted and whole-minded consent, at age 30.

    Teenagers can be foolish. But they can still be won by love, reason and sincerity. I give major “props” to all who work with teens in parish life – I couldn’t do it, that’s for sure, but there are those who can do teen outreach and catechesis amazingly well. Pray for them! St. Dominic Savio, pray for us.

  • Brad

    Though the story does not make it clear, I hope the teen was offered the chance to ask why the church teaches what it does. We have short changed too many people with shoddy religious eduction. We owe it to ourselves and our children to understand the what and WHY of what the the church teaches. Please check out some of the exceptional books and authors in this year of faith. Why the church teaches what she does is very understandable and the antidote to the secular culture.

  • dalea

    tmatt says:

    ‘…that the Catholic Church has every right to enforce it’s doctrines and sacraments.’

    Shouldn’t this be ‘its’ instead?

  • Deacon John M. bresnahan

    I agree it is a story and topic worth news coverage. But it should look into both why some priests are strict about who gets confirmed and why some others are more flexible. It also should be compared with how the ancient Orthodox and Eastern Catholics confirm babies at the time of their baptism. Maybe our western culture puts too much of an emphasis on the sacrament of confirmation as some sort of a mind-trip loyalty oath instead of a work of God’s love through the power of the Holy Spirit.

    • Chris Jones

      “a mind-trip loyalty oath instead of a work of God’s love”

      With respect, Father Deacon, I do not believe that expecting Christians freely to confess the faith of the Church when they participate in her sacramental life is a “mind-trip loyalty oath.” It is simply what we do as Christians: we confess the faith once delivered, in its fulness.

      Come to think of it, what exactly is wrong with a “loyalty oath”? To be a Christian is to be loyal to Jesus Christ, to His teachings, and to His Church. Why is it wrong to expect someone who calls himself a Christian to declare that loyalty and be accountable for it?

      I would apologize for straying from the journalistic issues, but in reality it is the unwillingness to engage these theological ideas — that someone who claims to belong to a religion might be expected to show some measure of loyalty to its teachings — that is the journalistic problem here.

      • Rick

        I think the deacon’s point is that Confirmation is something the Holy Spirit does to us: i.e. we are given the grace to live as mature Christians. Confirmation, from the Catholic perspective, is not an individual confirming that he or she believes in the Church or God. God gives the gift–not us.

        • Chris Jones

          Confirmation is something the Holy Spirit does to us

          I have no quarrel with that point. My point is that one’s participation in the sacraments — any sacrament, be it Confirmation, the Eucharist, Marriage, whatever — is predicated on one’s confession of the faith of the Church. To participate in the sacraments while refusing to confess the faith of the Church is to compromise oneself, at the very least, if not sacrilege.

          The misapprehension that Confirmation means that the individual confirms his faith (rather than being confirmed (i.e. strengthened) in the faith is unfortunate and muddies the waters somewhat; but it is not the basis of my point and so does not weaken it.

  • tmatt

    Dalea:

    Corrected. Thanx

  • http://www.authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    I only wish priests would be as thorough beginning with the sacrament of marriage, and in that couple’s life, following through with baptism and the other sacraments of their children. That confirmation is the sacrament in this story is telling – I bet the dissent runs way deeper in this family who has to have the priest request that they attend chuch. My own neighbor hardly goes go to church but expects the church to give Holy Communion to his kids – the boy doesn’t even know what the word “Mass” means, according to my kids. The Catholic Church has every right to restrict is sacraments to those who honestly want them and align with its teachings. The media however tend to turn that right into a persecution of poor victims. And while the issue is newsworthy in many ways, it is often that angle of victimization that gets this sort of story any attention. Hence the differences in the stories from the MSM and the religious news outlets.

  • Sari

    I think the religious press is a more appropriate place for this topic. There is no way to avoid the appearance of taking sides. What is gained by airing dirty laundry to a bunch of outsiders? I’d rather see the writer take the long approach and profile an individual who opted out as a teenager and then returned to the faith.

  • Pingback: Confirmation denied based on a political (non-spiritual) question | Subversive Thomism

  • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

    I find it interesting that the priest initially would not speak with the local newspaper but was willing to talk with LifeSiteNews and the perspective that LifeSite reported. There are many priests or bishops of the Catholic Church who are unwilling to speak to the press for fear that their words will be manipulated beyond recognition (see e.g. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/getreligion/2011/07/yes-its-time-for-a-times-chaput-interview/). Don’t know how that’s going to be resolved until reporters start “getting religion.”

  • bob

    To make this a religious story it would mean a reporter would have to learn what a Catholic is and what a Protestant is. This means a reporter might actually have to learn what was being “protested” about/against to begin with. Also what it takes to be a Catholic layman beyond being dragged to church by ones parents. That’s a tall order, no wonder an editor couldn’t get his mind around it; it’s not a sound bite, it’s a 10 course meal. To convey the idea of Fidelity to a faith being the reason for “confirmation” as a sacrament one might try comparing it to fidelity in a marriage, but even that analogy is getting dimmer to the public eye. You’d have to explain you meant a non-same-sex marriage and why that’s important……Yes, a good subject but you have to introduce some largely unheard of concepts to the audience. They mostly want to be told anything anywhere is OK. An article that suggests otherwise has a hostile audience to start.

  • http://magisterialfundies.blogspot.com Rick DeLano

    One day Lennon will have occasion to thank this priest for preventing him from multiplying his blasphemous communions.

  • Steve

    Maybe your lede should be “Honest Catholic Priest meets Honest Teen” — both then have integrity in what they believe and act accordingly. The young man wishes to “support what [he] believes in” — which is clearly not the Roman Catholic Church.

  • http://www.aquinasandmore.com Ian

    When I was in confirmation classes in VA the pastor refused confirmation to some girls who thought abortion was okay. It wasn’t a big deal there. Maybe because everyone knew that the parish was Orthodox and that complaining wouldn’t change anything?

  • Mariusz

    It all boils down to this fundamental question: why people who disagree with the Church come to the Church to receive the Sacraments whose validity depends on the belief in the teachings of the Church?

  • Julia

    “It also should be compared with how the ancient Orthodox and Eastern Catholics confirm babies at the time of their baptism. Maybe our western culture puts too much of an emphasis on the sacrament of confirmation as some sort of a mind-trip loyalty oath instead of a work of God’s love through the power of the Holy Spirit.”

    This is kind of what I was going to say myself. There has been a move in some Catholic areas to give Confirmation at the same time as Baptism, as is done in the East and formerly in the West. Confirmation has taken on the “rite of passage” image, perhaps as a Christian version of the Jewish bar/bat mitzva. This re-thinking is mostly in process and would make an interesting story to go along with the episodes described.

    In addition, there is a growing recognition that many kids are rarely seen again after Confirmation – meaning they quit coming to class thinking it’s not necessary. There is thinking that, perhaps, first Communion should be at a later age and Confirmation earlier with Baptism.

    As a young person, each 7th & 8th grader in my Confirmation class was slapped by the bishop as a sign that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we were to be brave Christians. It seems that aspect has gone with the wind.

    Lots of stuff to write about Confirmation. In my diocese, parents get upset that the Bishop dares to ask their children difficult questions about their faith, which sometimes humiliates their special child. Heavens, forfend.


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