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Michigan priest asks judge in same-sex marriage not to receive Communion


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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (CNS) -- The Diocese of Grand Rapids said it supports the decision by one of its pastors to request a Michigan judge not to present herself for Communion at Mass because she is in same-sex marriage.

Judge Sara Smolenski, the chief judge of Michigan's 63rd District Court, told local CNN affiliate WOOD-TV 8 that she received a call Nov. 23 from Father Scott Nolan, pastor of St. Stephen Parish in Grand Rapids, in late November and asked her not to go to Communion.

Smolenski, 62, and her partner of over 30 years, Linda Burpee, married in March 2016, about a year after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the U.S. Constitution provides same-sex couples the same right to marry as heterosexual couples. The marriage was publicized not by the couple's choice but because Smolenski is a public official.

In the Dec. 1 TV interview, the judge said Father Nolan told her he was glad to see her in church the previous Sunday but added: "Because you and Linda are married in the state of Michigan, I'd like you to respect the church and not come to Communion."

In its statement, the diocese said: "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." Smolenski has donated to what has been her parish for all of her 62 years; in June 2017 she gave $7,000 for the renovation of St. Stephen.

She was baptized at the church, her parents were married there, and she and her nine siblings went to the parish grade school.

The diocesan statement quotes from Pope Francis' 2016 apostolic exhortation, "Amoris Laetitia" ("The Joy of Love"), which says: "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."

"Lifelong Catholics would surely be aware of this," the statement said.

"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, especially on "matters as central to Catholic life" as marriage between one man and one woman.

Smolenski told WOOD-TV 8 the situation over Communion "feels like selective discrimination. Why choose gay people, and why now?"

In its statement, the diocese noted Father Nolan "approached Judge Smolenski privately. Subsequent media reports do not change the appropriateness of his action, which the diocese supports."

The priest "has dedicated his priesthood to bringing people closer to Jesus Christ," it said. "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," it added.

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