Priest stands by denying Communion to gay judge

Kent County

EAST GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An East Grand Rapids priest says Catholic Church teachings required him to deny Holy Communion to a prominent Kent County judge who is gay.

“I’ve taught what all of the popes who have ever said something about the emergent family have said up to and including Pope Francis,” Rev. Scott Nolan told News 8 Wednesday.

At 33, Nolan, a Muskegon County native, is what the Catholic Church says it needs more of: young priests. Church leadership valued Nolan enough that three years after his ordination, he took the helm at the venerable 96-year-old St. Stephen in East Grand Rapids.

St. Stephen Catholic Church in East Grand Rapids.

He led the church through a significant building program that 62-year parishioner Kent County District Court Judge Sara Smolenski says she contributed $7,000 to.

But Saturday, he called Smolenski, who has been married to her wife for three years, to tell her that she should not come forward for Communion at the church where she was baptized.

“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,” Smolenski told News 8.

Nolan told News 8 that Catholic teaching gives him no choice. He said the taking of the Eucharist is an act of saying that recipients are in actual communion with the Church and that they are accepted into the eternal universal body of believers.

“Some of that criteria are just around what’s happening in that person’s life and what do they believe and what are they doing and what are they not doing,” Nolan said.

He said that he never wants his conversations about receiving Communion to be public, but that denial happens with some degree of regularity.

Smolenski believes his actions are not what the Catholic Church should be about.

“How come all these other priests everywhere — good and decent, wonderful priests — they know me and they give me Communion?’ Smolenski asked.

“That other priests do or don’t do something is to say, OK, I’m not the one responsible for them,” Nolan said in response to that.

He acknowledged that his parish’s membership has dropped and at the school, which once had a 40% non-Catholic student body, has lost a lot of students. He also acknowledges that the denial of the sacrament causes pain to those denied.

“To me, this is also a cause of great sadness in my own life as a priest,” Nolan said.

But he denies that his actions are discriminatory against the LGBTQ community.

“It might look like it is discriminatory or particular or specific or targeted but I disagree,” Nolan said. “Bishop (David Walkowiak), who is the principal of unity of the Catholic Church here in West Michigan, has been and is supportive of me.”

That was confirmed in a Wednesday statement from the Diocese that says same-sex marriage is not condoned by church teachings and that Nolan’s actions were appropriate.

“Those who approach the Body and Blood of Christ may not wound that same Body by creating scandalous distinctions and divisions among its members,” the statement reads. “…No community of faith can sustain the public contradiction of its beliefs by its own members. 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.

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

Despite the wishes of some in his own parish, Nolan said he is not going anywhere.

“I think this is the movement of the Holy Spirit is to have me be the pastor here until the Bishop decides otherwise. Yes, I think I am the right person for the parish,” he said.

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