John M. Becker

Catholic Priest to Gay Couple: Get Divorced & You Can Have Communion

Filed By John M. Becker | September 23, 2014 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: Catholic attacks on LGBT rights, Catholic Church, divorce, forced divorce, gay marriage, marriage equality, Michael Warfel, Montana, pro-LGBT Catholics, same-sex marriage, Samuel Spiering

tom-paul-montana.pngThe Catholic Church's unholy crusade against LGBT people and families continues...

Last month, a married same-sex couple in the small central Montana city of Lewistown was told by their new parish priest that he was banning them from receiving Communion unless they divorced, lived separately, and publicly renounced their marriage, signing a statement affirming the Catholic Church's discriminatory teaching that marriage is solely between a man and a woman.

Tom Wojtowick, age 66, and Paul Huff, age 73 (right), have been together for more than 30 years. They are pillars of their community, serving on the boards of directors of several civic organizations. They were actively involved in the parish community at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church as well -- Wojtowick played the organ, Huff served as a cantor, and both men sang in the choir. The couple were legally wed in Seattle last year so that they could secure the rights and protections of marriage during their twilight years.

But when the "Reverend" Samuel Spiering, age 27, was assigned to St. Leo's as the new parish administrator, he heard about Wojtowick's and Huff's marriage and decided -- before he'd ever even met or spoken with them -- to attack them. The Great Falls Tribune reports:

According to Huff, four days after the Rev. Samuel Spiering was installed as the new administrator of St. Leo's, the priest left a phone message at their home asking that either Huff or Wojtowick return his call. "He said, 'I heard a rumor that you two got married,'" Huff recalled.

When Huff confirmed that he and Wojtowick had indeed been joined in a civil ceremony 15 months earlier, Spiering asked for both men to meet him at his office the next day. It was at that point that Spiering informed both men that because of their marriage, they could no longer receive the sacraments in the church or be part of any ministry.

Huff and Wojtowick were also told that to regain full privileges within St. Leo's, they must first obtain a divorce, cease living together and write a statement renouncing their prior marriage.

Of course, the Catholic Church famously frowns upon divorce between straight couples, but apparently if you're gay and married, divorcing the person you love may be the only way to participate in the church you love. Can you imagine a more vile, repulsive, contemptible form of spiritual blackmail?

The couple said they were amenable to signing a statement affirming the Catholic Church's discriminatory teachings on marriage -- they entered into a civil marriage in order to protect their relationship, they said, not to protest the church -- but they refused Spiering's repugnant demand that they divorce each other and stop living together. (And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love...)

More, after the break.

Bishop Michael Warfel of the Diocese of Great Falls is standing behind Spiering's treatment of the couple, telling the Billings Gazette that while Wojtowick and Huff are "good people" and that marriage equality is "the issue of our era," supported by a majority of Americans, he had to uphold the Catholic Church's anti-equality views. But, he claimed, "This is not animus against someone who happens to be a homosexual."


Parishioners at St. Leo's are deeply divided on the issue -- 40 or so have left the congregation in disgust. Bishop Warfel met with a group of around 300 of them last Saturday, and he tells the Great Falls Tribune that the comments he received were evenly split:

"The comments from the parishioners were probably 50 - 50. In balance, those were both supportive of what the pastor had done in his decision, and then some who were very angry and non-supportive of that decision.

"There obviously is polarization, and certainly what I want to do is try to effect some healing."

Exactly how Warfel plans to "effect some healing" is unclear, since he has no plans to reverse Spiering's decision:

"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 or permitting it, I'm saying I disagree with what I'm ordained to uphold."

Wojtowick's and Huff's story hits very close to home: I, too, was pushed out of public ministry in the Catholic Church several years ago because of my marriage to my beloved husband Michael. I can empathize with what they're going through, words simply cannot convey the depth of my disgust at the way they are being treated, and the way Spiering (above) is using the Eucharist -- which is sacred to Catholics -- as a weapon with which to punish and humiliate two men who love each other.

I cannot think of anything more profoundly un-Christian.

Watch an interview the couple gave to KULR-TV:

KULR-8 Television, Billings, MT

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.