GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Michigan bishop is supporting his priest who denied Holy Communion to an openly lesbian judge.
Bishop David J. Walkowiak of the Grand Rapids diocese has thrown his support behind Fr. Scott Nolan, who denied the Eucharist to a parishioner after the priest approached the parishioner in private about being in a same-sex "marriage."
Wood TV 8 reported on Wednesday (with an updated report Thursday) that Fr. Nolan of St. Stephen Catholic Church in Grand Rapids denied Holy Communion to Judge Sara Smolenski, chief judge of the Kent County District Court in Grand Rapids, since Smolenski is "married to a woman."
According to the report, this denial served as the final straw for some, who called for the priest's removal.
"We don't see Fr. Scott changing; therefore we've come to the conclusion that it'd be better for him and us if there were a change in our pastors," said Micki Benz, a 40-year member of the parish who also said Fr. Nolan "has eliminated teachers who are gay" and "made it clear that gay people are not welcome."
Father Nolan first approached Smolenski in private. She recalled that encounter: "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."
The diocese issued a statement on behalf of Bp. Walkowiak explaining that Fr. Nolan had handled the situation correctly as a Catholic priest:
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.
Smolenski said she tries to be a good disciple: "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."