The Roman Catholic Church may frown on divorce for heterosexual couples, but Catholic officials in Montana have told a gay couple they must divorce if they are to have their church privileges restored.
In August, the Rev. Samuel Spiering, the new pastor of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Lewistown, and Bishop Michael Warfel, leader of the Catholic Diocese of Great Falls–Billings, told Paul Huff and Tom Wojtowick that they could no longer volunteer at the the church or receive communion because they had been married in Seattle in 2013, the Billings Gazette reports. The couple had just returned from a trip and had not met Spiering previously.
The clergy members told Huff and Wojtowick that to have their privileges restored, they men would have to sign a statement supporting the concept of marriage as a union of a man and a woman, which they were willing to do, and pledge to get a divorce and cease living together — which they were not.
Huff, 73, and Wojtowick, 66, have been in a committed relationship for more than 30 years and have attended St. Leo the Great since 2003, when they moved to Lewistown from Seattle, according to the Gazette. Both have sung in the church choir, and Wojtowick has served as an organist, but they can no longer participate in these activities. Both are lifelong Catholics. They have refrained from commenting on the situation since the initial media coverage.
Warfel met with about 300 parishioners Saturday about the matter, which has deeply divided the congregation and caused about 40 members to leave. “The comments from the parishioners were probably 50-50,” he told the Great Falls Tribune. “In balance, those were both supportive of what the pastor had done in his decision, and then some who were very angry and nonsupportive of that decision.” No changes have come about yet as a result of the meeting, and Warfel told the Tribune he plans to ponder the issue.
The bishop contends he has nothing against gay people but has to uphold church teachings. “This is not animus against someone who happens to be a homosexual; this issue is the same-sex marriage,” he told the Gazette last week. “A lot of people put those two together, and obviously there’s a connection, but it’s not the same thing.”
“As a Catholic bishop I have a responsibility to uphold our teaching of marriage between one man and one woman,” Warfel added. “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.”