Faithful Montana Priest Blasted for Comments on Homosexuality

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by Anita Carey  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  April 18, 2018   

Diocesan school officials unapologetic: "This is our attitude. Our school is inclusive, everyone is welcome"

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GREAT FALLS, Mont. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A faithful priest is being attacked over his objection to a gay couple being featured on a diocesan school fundraiser.

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Fr. Ryan Erlenbush

In response to the Billings Catholic School Foundation invitation showing a "married" homosexual couple as the event chairs, Fr. Ryan Erlenbush, the pastor of Corpus Christi Catholic parish in Great Falls, posted a condemnation on his personal Facebook page. The post has since been removed but is reported to have said: 

You know a Catholic school has lost its way when a prominent homosexual couple is advertized [sic] as the chairs for the annual fundraiser. Billings Catholic schools have really let us down with the Mayfair invitation this year. Why would any Catholic (indeed, any Christian) attend or donate to Mayfair 2018? What does a Catholic school have to do before people say enough and take their kids (and their money) elsewhere? I'm an alumnus of the Billings Catholic schools, and I say, enough.

Various reports noted that responses were roughly split between those supporting Fr. Erlenbush's call to withhold donations, and others condemning his post.

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Gay couple Travis Heringer & Dan Sutter featured as event chairs

The Mayfair Gala Dinner and Auction is Billings Catholic School Foundation's (BCSF) largest fundraiser of the year.  The BCSF is the fundraising arm of the Billings Catholic schools, and its website claims it is "dedicated to fostering the continued success and enrichment of the Billings Catholic Schools by providing and increasing an endowment and overseeing all fundraising efforts to ensure long and short-term financial stability and support."

The BCSF admits its board of directors "are committed to protecting the body of the endowment fund." The endowment fund was created by gifts given to the BCSF with the stipulation that the principle is untouchable and "a portion of the investment income" will be given to the schools to offset expenses.  

The BCSF executive director, Janyce Haider, is hoping to raise over $500,000 for the foundation. Haider noted that several donations were made since Fr. Erlenbush's post went viral.

According to their IRS 990 report from 2015–16, the latest available, BCSF takes in over $3 million in contributions annually and has net assets topping $26 million. 

Haider is one of four paid employees at the foundation, which has seen its net assets increase by approximately $10 million since 2012–13, $6 million of that increase during the 2013–14 fiscal year alone. The foundation distributed $988,851 in assistance to Catholic schools during the 2015–16 fiscal year, although in the previous two years, it claimed to have given over $1 million each year. 

Haider told the Billings Gazette that she and Billings Catholic Schools president, Shaun Harrington, are supportive of all of the event chairs. Haider said, "They're loving, kind, caring people. They're living a good life, and they're giving back."  

 

In an interview with local media, Haider noted they have a "tremendous amount of support for their chairs," and said of their donors, "They trust what we're doing."

Harrington said the six co-chairs volunteered together to help with this year's fundraiser, and the boards of the schools and foundation welcomed the help. Both Harrington and Haider told the Billings Gazette they didn't expect any backlash, as the school district embraces a more welcoming attitude towards homosexuality. 

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Travis Heringer and Dan Sutter

Haider said, "This is our attitude. Our school is inclusive, everyone is welcome."

Travis Heringer and Dan Sutter were given top billing on the Mayfair announcement. They claim to be married, and in one Instagram post from December, Heringer said:

A decade. Happy Anniversary, Dano. I'm so proud of you, proud of me, proud of us. The life we've built together, the future we are working hard for, you're the only one I want to do this life with. Thank you for choosing to be my husband.

Church Militant spoke with Darren Eultgen, the diocesan chancellor, and was told that Bp. Michael Warfel is aware of the situation but is away from the chancery all week. Eultgen said he didn't expect that a statement would be made by the bishop. 

In March 2017, the diocese of Great Falls was the 15th U.S. diocese to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy resulting from settlements with over 400 victims of sexual abuse. 

Church Militant reached out to Haider and Fr. Erlenbush but did not hear back by press time. 

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