Metro Weekly

Michigan priest under fire after denying gay woman communion because of her marriage

Father Scott Nolan told Judge Sara Smolenski she couldn't receive communion, after years of attending the church

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Father Scott Nolan and Judge Sara Smolenski — Photos: WOOD TV 8

A priest in Grand Rapids, Mich., is under fire after he denied communion to a gay woman because of her same-sex marriage.

Judge Sara Smolenski, a justice with the 63rd District Court, told MLive that the priest at St. Stephen Catholic Church advised her not to come forward for the Eucharist, or Holy Communion, a sacrament at the end of mass.

Smolenski, a long-term congregant who was baptized in the church, said that Father Scott Nolan had previously provided communion on Nov. 17, but during a phone conversation on Nov. 23 was told to no longer come forward and receive it.

“In 62 years, this is the first time I’ve ever been denied,” she said, adding, “Why now? and why me?”

Stephen told Smolenski that her marriage to Linda, her partner of 27 years, was the problem.

However, Smolenski married her partner three years ago, around the time when Nolan joined St. Stephen, and said her marriage was public news.

It also hadn’t prevented her from being welcomed and receiving communion at other Catholic churches.

Nolan told WOOD TV 8 that he stood by his decision, saying he has “taught what all of the popes who have ever said something about the emergent family have said up to and including Pope Francis.”

Since taking over at St. Stephen, Nolan has been accused of denying communion to other LGBTQ people, including a same-sex couple who were denied the Eucharist during a communion service for their child.

“He singled out a same sex couple…last January and denied them communion at a mass, in front of their daughter with no prewarning,” parishioner Kelly Shadoens told WGVU.

Micki Benz, a 40-year member of the church, told WOOD TV 8 that Nolan has “eliminated teachers who are gay. He has made it clear that gay people are not welcome.”

However, Nolan denied that refusing communion to LGBTQ people is discriminatory.

“It might look like it is discriminatory or particular or specific or targeted but I disagree,” he told WOOD TV 8. “Bishop [David Walkowiak], who is the principal of unity of the Catholic Church here in West Michigan, has been and is supportive of me.”

The Diocese has since issued a statement confirming that support, saying that those who “approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not wound that same Body by creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among its members.”

“No community of faith can sustain the public contradiction of its beliefs by its own members,” the statement continues. “This is especially so on matters as central to Catholic life as marriage, which the Church has always held, and continues to hold, as a sacred covenant between one man and one woman.”

The Diocese added: “Father Nolan approached Judge Smolenski privately. Subsequent media reports do not change the appropriateness of his action, which the diocese supports.”

Parishioners have reportedly drafted a letter to Walkowiak asking for a meeting about the matter and the possibility of replacing Nolan as priest at the church.

“We don’t see Father Scott changing,” Benz said, “therefore we’ve come to the conclusion that it’d be better for him and us if there were a change in our pastors.”

Smolenski said that Nolan and the Diocese’s decision goes against what she was taught as a long-term parishioner.

“I was raised in that church. It created who I am. We were taught ‘love everyone,’” she told MLive.

Speaking to WOOD TV 8, Smolenski added: “I try to be a good and faithful servant to our Lord Jesus Christ. My faith is a huge part of who I am, but it is the church that made that faith, the very church where he is taking a stance and saying ho-ho, not you.”

As for why she went public with what happened, Smolenski said she wants to “help somebody out there who’s never even been born to make their life a little bit easier — by standing up and speaking the truth.”

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Rhuaridh Marr is Metro Weekly's managing editor. He can be reached at rmarr@metroweekly.com.

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