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Erik Burgess, Published November 16 2012

2nd student denied Catholic confirmation in Barnesville

BARNESVILLE, Minn. – The teenager who was not confirmed at the Catholic church here after he publicly supported same-sex marriage was not the only student who was denied the religious sacrament for backing gay marriage, the church’s priest said in a letter made public Friday.

In the letter, addressed to the parish of Assumption Church at 307 Front St. N., the Rev. Gary LaMoine says “a couple of candidates chose not to enter into full communion with the Catholic community because of their disagreement with the teaching of the Church concerning marriage.”

LaMoine also apologizes in the letter for the actions of 17-year-old Lennon Cihak’s family, who went public Wednesday with their claims that LaMoine denied their son confirmation after he posted a pro same-sex marriage photo on Facebook last month.

“I apologize to the parish for the actions of this family,” LaMoine wrote. “I have personally spent much time talking to them face to face about their unwillingness to accept the teaching of the Church on marriage but to no avail.”

Lennon’s parents maintain that their son was denied confirmation by LaMoine soon after he discovered the Facebook photo of the boy encouraging people to vote against a measure that would have amended the state constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman – a measure that ultimately failed.

In the letter sent out to the parish, LaMoine says Lennon voluntarily withdrew from the program after LaMoine saw the photo and challenged him on why he was “rejecting a central teaching of the Church.”

But even if Lennon hadn’t withdrawn, LaMoine said he wouldn’t have confirmed him, he said on Friday.

“We just simply couldn’t do it no matter what, given what was out there,” LaMoine told The Forum in an interview. “He could be confirmed, but he’d have to change his mind about some things, and I don’t know if Lennon is going to do that.”

When reached by phone Friday evening, Lennon said the other confirmation class member referred to in the letter is a “good friend” who also was at odds with church teachings about same-sex marriage.

“They were supportive of me,” he said of his friend’s family, who he declined to name. “He’s standing up for what he believes, too.”

The Cihaks has maintained that they wanted Lennon to be confirmed, but not if it meant lying to the church. Shana Cihak said that Bishop Michael Hoeppner of the Diocese of Crookston told her that if her son went before the church and retracted his claims, then he could be confirmed.

This is not the first time the Crookston Diocese has been wrangled into an issue around same-sex marriage.

Earlier this year, a St. Joseph’s Catholic School teacher in Moorhead was let go after she expressed concern about Hoeppner preaching to children about the marriage amendment.

According to state campaign finance records, the Crookston Diocese donated $50,000 to support the campaign to pass the amendment barring gay marriage.

A voicemail box for Monsignor David Baumgartner at diocese, who a receptionist said was acting as a spokesman for the incident, states that he is out of the office until Nov. 29. A receptionist said Friday that Hoeppner was also unavailable for comment.

The incident has caused “a lot of embarrassment” for the church, LaMoine told The Forum on Friday, which is why he apologized for the actions of the family in the letter.

“This has caused a great upheaval and a lot of hurt in the parish over this whole thing, but the family has really pushed this,” he said.

LaMoine said the church does not make a habit of scanning Facebook pages of confirmation students and instead prefers to “assume the best,” that all their students are following the church’s beliefs.

“If he hadn’t publicly stated his opinion at that particular time on Facebook, he would’ve been confirmed I’m sure,” he said. “Nobody would’ve known about his attitude.”

However, a woman in the church office has access to “a lot” of the students’ Facebook pages, LaMoine said.

“So she naturally is able to approach – to go in there and see what they’re doing,” he said. “We’re curious about what people are writing about the situation. That’s natural that we’d be curious.”

LaMoine said he’s concerned for Lennon based on what he’s seen on the teen’s Facebook, and that he wished the media blitz would stop. He added that he hasn’t spoken to Lennon in person since before the story hit the media.

“My secretary Googled his name. That’s not so good what came up,” he said.

Lennon is drawing support online. Since its inception on Thursday, the “I Support Lennon Cihak” Facebook group had garnered just under 1,000 “likes,” as of 8 p.m. Friday.

The teen tweeted on Friday evening: “No matter how much negative feedback I get, I will ALWAYS support the #LGBT community … Support what you believe in!”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518

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