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Published November 24 2012

Forum editorial: Fractures not new to church

Imagine if Lennon Cihak, the Barnesville, Minn., teenager who recently was denied confirmation in the Roman Catholic Church, had kept his views supporting gay marriage to himself. He would have joined countless American Catholics who quietly observe a sort of a la carte Catholicism – disagreeing with the church’s positions on an issue here or there, yet contentedly embracing most of the church’s rich traditions and strict teachings.

But as many now know, Lennon expressed his views in a very public way, with a posting on the social network Facebook. He posted a photograph of himself in front of a sign that originally was in support of the proposed gay marriage ban in Minnesota but altered to become a statement in favor of gay marriage – and therefore publicly proclaiming a position contrary to the Catholic Church’s well-known position that marriage is only between a man and a woman.

The message soon found its way to the rectory of Assumption Church in Barnesville and the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Crookston, and it wasn’t long before Cihak was told that he wouldn’t be confirmed unless he went before the parish and denounced his support of gay marriage. He wasn’t willing to do so, and that’s more or less where the dispute ended, with his parents left to contemplate whether they have a future in the church both had been raised in.

Elsewhere, the controversy continues to simmer. A page supporting Lennon Cihak’s stand in support of gay marriage has attracted about 3,000 supporters. Popular themes among his sympathizers were the view that he should be praised for his courageous stand, and the Catholic Church is a relic run by aging men who are out of touch. Those views, of course, mean nothing to the Catholic hierarchy, which long has made clear it does not bow to public opinion, especially on moral issues.

For years, many Catholics have quietly differed with their church’s teachings on issues like contraception, abortion and whether married clergy should be allowed. But the flap in Barnesville over gay marriage is a sign of more restlessness ahead for the church, which remains rigid and authoritarian as society becomes less tolerant of that style of leadership. There will be more Lennon Cihaks, as society’s acceptance of gay marriage continues to grow, and the impulse to proclaim their beliefs publicly on places like Facebook becomes more common.

Some Catholics will ask themselves whether they still belong in the church with which they find themselves at odds, unable to denounce, even to their inner selves, core beliefs. It seems the Catholic hierarchy is comfortable with that, content to watch stray members leave the fold, while telling themselves the church will be stronger when those who are not “real” Catholics go elsewhere to worship.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.