Calling Pope Francis to Lewistown, MT

Calling Pope Francis to Lewistown, MT September 19, 2014

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Paul Huff, 73, and Tom Wojtowick, 66, are lifelong Catholics. For the past eleven years they’ve worshipped at St. Leo the Great in Lewistown, Montana (population 6,000), where Tom is an organist, where he and Paul sing in the choir.

Paul is chairman of the local County Fair board, and a retired board member of the Lewistown Art Center on Main Street in downtown Lewistown. Tom, recently retired as executive director of the Fergus County Council on Aging, is chairman of the Lewistown Public Library Board of Trustees.

Lewiston is Tom’s hometown.

Paul and Tom have been life partners for over thirty years. For twenty years prior to moving to Lewistown the couple lived in Seattle, where, in May 2013, they were legally married.

At the beginning of last month St. Leo’s was assigned a new priest, the Rev. Samuel Spiering.

Four days after taking office, Rev. Spiering phoned Paul and Tom at their home.

“I heard a rumor that you two got married,” he said. When Paul confirmed it, Spiering asked him and Tom to come to his office the next day.

At that meeting Rev. Spiering told Paul and Tom that, due to their relationship, they could no longer receive the sacraments of the Catholic church, or be any part of St. Leo’s ministry. If they wished to regain full privileges within the church, Spiering informed them, then they must first get divorced, cease living together, and write a statement renouncing their marriage.

As you might imagine, the situation has caused considerable strife at St. Leo’s. So much so that tomorrow evening Bishop Warfel (in an affair he is striving keep strictly private) will address the church’s parishioners on the matter.

Though Warfel has told The Billings-Gazette [link removed because as far as I can tell the newspaper has taken offline its story on this matter?] that he knows Paul and Tom to be “good people,” he also said to the newspaper:

As a Catholic bishop I have a responsibility to uphold our teaching of marriage between one man and one woman. And I think there’s very solid scriptural teaching on it and our sacred tradition is very strong on it. Either I uphold what Catholic teachings are or, by ignoring it or permitting it, I’m saying I disagree with what I’m ordained to uphold … .There are certain convictions, beliefs or behaviors that are in direct contradiction to what we believe and teach, and this would be one of them.

So it’s safe to venture that things aren’t likely to exactly roll Tom and Paul’s way.

In July of last year, Pope Francis famously said, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

It seems to me that a reasonable answer to that question is, “You are the Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the Vatican City State, Servant of the servants of God, direct successor of St. Peter, who was appointed by Jesus to be the head of His church. You are the Pope, Francis. That’s who you are to judge.”

If the Pope, after all, is incapable of judging the difference between right and wrong, then what is the purpose of his position?

More to the point: by what authority does Pope Francis relinquish his moral authority? Surely not from Jesus, who was appointed by God to be the “the judge of the living.”

I like Pope Francis, a lot. But sooner or later he and the bishops who heed him are going to have to quit waffling on the gay issue.

In 1997, the American Catholic bishops published a pastoral letter about homosexuality, titled Always Our Children, in which they wrote:

God does not love someone any less simply because he or she is homosexual. God’s love is always and everywhere offered to those who are open to receiving it. … Church ministers must welcome homosexual persons into the faith community, and seek out those on the margins. Avoid stereotyping and condemning. Strive first to listen.

That’s some pretty fancy fence sittin’, right there.

What those words mean, of course, is “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” Which means, of course, “Homosexuality is an abominable offense to God.”

Which is a morally reprehensible thing to say—especially, of course, to a gay person—and especially to a gay person who has given their life to honoring the very God they’re now being told—and being told by His authorities on earth, no less—finds them, purely by virtue of them being the person they were created to be, repugnant to Him.

Please, please join me in calling upon the good Pope Francis, in his role as defender of the weak and champion of the oppressed, to recognize the moral travesty being visited upon Paul Huff and Tom Wojtowick, of the tiny parish of St. Leo in Lewistown, MT, as an absolutely stupendous opportunity for the Catholic Church to once and for all come down unequivocally on the right and just side of the homosexual issue.

Come to Lewistown, Father. Look to your conscience, now, and judge.


I’m the author of UNFAIR: Christians and the LGBT Question:

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