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By Dawn Wolfe
ST. CLAIR SHORES A lesbian couple has been turned away from St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church because they are in a committed same-sex relationship.
On their first visit to St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in February, Cheryl Mathers and her life-partner Mary Horon filled out a membership card to join the church, but never received the promised materials in the mail to complete the process of joining.
According to a report by Triangle Foundation, after several phone calls over the space of several weeks between the couple and the church, Father Michael Bugarin finally called Horon and said, “Oh, you’re the gay lady.” Horon replied by saying they were a gay couple and wanted to join the church. Bugarin replied with, “No, I cannot allow that. This is a family-oriented church.”
The priest added, “I can’t have gay people here. You obviously won’t hide it and God knows you’re a sinner. I am sorry you are not welcome here.”
Mathers and Horon then called several Catholic churches in the area and all of them said they would accept them as a family in their church. They are now members of St. Basil the Great Catholic Church in Eastpointe.
According to Mathers, “The father (at St. Basil) called and spoke to Mary and asked, ‘Do you have a problem being gay?’ She said, ‘Of course not.’ And he said, ‘Neither do I – you’re a member. Give me your information right now, I’ll do it myself.'”
“More and more Catholics have left the church in recent years because of homophobia and discrimination,” said Sean Kosofsky, director of policy for Triangle. “How can any church turn away good and decent people simply because of their sexual orientation?”
“It’s one thing to be turned away by a friend and quite another to be turned away by a church,” added Mathers.
While calls to Father Bugarin were not returned by press time, he did have the Detroit Archdiocese respond to BTL inquiries with a statement on March 28.
The statement affirms the Catholic Church’s support of “the marriage of one man and one woman,” and says that, “to register in a parish as a ‘gay couple,’ provides, in fact, a recognition the Church cannot concede.”
The statement goes on to say that individuals “who embrace the teachings of the Catholic Church” are welcome and that Triangle’s press release “ignores the Church’s rejection of unjust discrimination against homosexuals.”
The archdiocese statement does not explain why refusing to acknowledge committed relationships between couples is not an example of the “unjust discrimination” the Church claims it condemns.
Horon, was unimpressed by the Archdiocese statement.
“We know what a marriage is, and that’s what we have,” Horon said. “Like it or not, we have been in the church and we are part of the church. The church is people, it’s not a building. And we know marriage as well as the next person – we are in a committed, loving, caring marriage. And will continue to be.”
During the 2004 election campaign, the Michigan Catholic Conference made a political contribution of nearly $1 million supporting Proposal 2, which wrote a ban on marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples into the constitution. Last week the Detroit Archdiocese announced the closing of many parish schools, citing lack of funds to operate them.
“The Archdiocese can apparently find money to invest in anti-gay politics but not to operate their schools,” said Jeffrey Montgomery, Triangle’s executive director. “Between shunning good Catholics from their pews and making questionable contributions that hurt families, it should not surprise anyone that the shepherd is losing the flock.”
Not only is the Catholic Church as an organization losing funds, but St. Joan’s has lost something, too, through their decision to bar Mathers and Horon.
According to Mathers, during their visit to St. Joan’s visitors were handed small pieces of wood and were asked to attach something to the wood signifying their family. The collected pieces of wood were slated to be joined to the church’s large wooden cross.
“We’ve kept ours,” said Mathers, “and now we feel that their cross will never be complete, without our piece of wood.”