The video below from WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids tells the story:
Judge Sara Smolenski, chief judge of the Kent County District Court, has been denied Communion at the church where she has been a parishioner for more than six decades because she is married to a woman.
It is a move that for many was the final straw in a pattern of behavior that has them calling for the removal of a priest — a priest who came to St. Stephen Catholic Church about three years ago.
In 1966, under the leadership of Rev. Msgr. Edward N. Alt, St. Stephen Catholic School became the first integrated Catholic school in Metro Grand Rapids and had a student body that was nearly 40 percent non-Catholic.
This tradition of inclusion and acceptance would be the essence of the school and the church for 50 years.
But now, some here say that is changing.
“I’ve been a member of St. Stephen’s Catholic Parish for 62 years, basically,” Smolenski said.
Smolenski who has been on the bench for nearly 30 years, comes from a family of prominent community members, including her father who was also a district court judge, and her brother, a state appeals court judge.
“I was baptized there, my parents were married there, every one of my nine siblings went to school (from) first through eighth grade. We buried my parents out of that school,” Smolenski said. “This is a church that is a part of who I am. This is a church who helped form my faith.”
News 8 featured Smolenski in March of 2016, when she became the first Kent County elected official to marry someone of the same sex.
But it was just last Saturday that Smolenski got a call from the parish priest, Father Scott Nolan.
“The way he said it was ‘because you’re married to Linda in the state of Michigan, you cannot accept communion,’ that’s how he said it,” Smolenski explained. “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.”
I’m left to wonder: why was the priest moved to take this step now? And over the phone? Was that the best way to handle this? I’d like to hear his side of the story.
UPDATE: Rod Dreher appears to have more on the story — which is, as you can probably imagine, more complicated than first appeared:
I’m told by a lay Catholic source in Grand Rapids, someone who is close to the situation, that Judge Smolenski was part of a group of gay local Catholics who skyped with Father James Martin about his pro-LGBT book “Building A Bridge” (they talked about it on Facebook). A week or two later, Judge Smolenski and others showed up at mass wearing Pride pins. Father Nolan gave the judge communion, so as not to cause a scene, but phoned her later and told her not to present herself for communion any more. If true, that shows that the priest was willing to tolerate the gay-married judge receiving communion, but not if she was going to turn it into a political stunt.
Now she’s leading a campaign within the parish to demand Father Scott’s ouster for acting according to Catholic teaching.
Back in 2016, when Judge Smolenski and her partner married, the same reporter, Barton Deiters, did a story, featuring her fighting back tears on camera because neither her church nor her partner’s church would allow them to marry within either church. So she’s been public for years in her anger at the Catholic Church over this.
He also quotes another priest from Michigan, who writes:
Of course, there is a group of parishioners demanding the pastor’s ouster, and mounting a letter-writing campaign. They generously allow that they are “prepared to be very respectful.” But having been involved in these sorts of things myself in the past, I can all-but guarantee that that respect won’t last an hour into any meeting or confrontation. I’ll also note that for the letter-writers, the only conceivable solution is to get rid of the pastor. There is no thought of conversion or submission to church teaching on their part. They also mention their expectation that the *pastor* needs to change. Ecclesial reeducation camps, anyone?Predictably, they cite Pope Francis, that the church should be “a place for everyone.”
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.” (186) Lifelong Catholics would surely be aware of this.
Inclusion and acceptance have been a hallmark of Catholic Churches in the Diocese of Grand Rapids throughout the diocese’s history. They remain so. They presume, however, a respect on the part of individuals for the teachings and practice of the wider Catholic community. No community of faith can sustain the public contradiction of its beliefs by its own members. This is especially so on matters as central to Catholic life as marriage, which the Church has always held, and continues to hold, as a sacred covenant between one man and one woman.
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.”