Because the leadership of the Catholic Church has emerged as one of the main drivers of homophobic bigotry and primary opponents of LGBT rights — especially marriage equality — I’ve made highlighting Catholic anti–LGBT extremism one of the primary areas of focus in my writing for Truth Wins Out. (They’ve given me a lot of material to work with.) As each story breaks, many of us wonder if there’s any depth to which the Catholic hierarchy won’t sink in order to bully LGBT people. Sadly, these days we don’t have to wait very long before the next appalling story emerges and the cycle repeats itself.
Enter this story out of Massachusetts: the Diocese of Worcester is trying to get rid of Oakhurst, a 44-bedroom mansion in Northbridge that was once used as a treatment center for pedophile priests before being shuttered amid allegations of sexual and financial misconduct. James Fairbanks and Alain Beret placed a bid on the property, hoping to renovate the mansion and turn it into a banquet facility as they had previously done in Vermont and Barre, Massachusetts. The diocese gladly accepted their bid and Northbridge officials expressed enthusiasm for the pair’s plans, glad that the historic mansion would be spared the wrecking ball.
When diocesan broker LiSandra Rodriguez-Pagan abruptly emailed the pair cancelling the sale, saying the diocese wished to pursue “other plans” for the property, the couple — who’ve been together for 35 years and married in 2004 — became suspicious. Worcester Telegram reporter Dianne Williamson investigated:
This week, Monsignor Thomas Sullivan, who oversees the sale of diocesan property, told me the deal fell through because of financing.
“They couldn’t come up with the money,” he said. “This happens all the time.”
I told him the potential buyers believed that he rejected the deal because of their sexual orientation, or the prospect of gay marriages someday being performed at Oakhurst. Was that an issue?
“No, it wasn’t,” Msgr. Sullivan said. “It was an issue of them not having the financing. That was all.”
It turns out that the good monsignor was, in fact, telling a bald-faced lie. After absorbing the initial shock of the diocese’s rejection, Beret scrolled down to the bottom of the email thread. Inadvertently attached to Rodriguez-Pagan’s message was a previous email from Msgr. Sullivan that confirmed the couple’s suspicions (emphases mine):
“I just went down the hall and discussed it with the bishop,” Msgr. Sullivan wrote. “Because of the potentiality of gay marriages there, something you shared with us yesterday, we are not interested in going forward with these buyers. I think they’re shaky anyway. So, just tell them that we will not accept their revised plan and the Diocese is making new plans for the property. You find the language.”
In addition to being absolutely disgusting, the diocese’s actions may also be against the law: in Massachusetts, it is illegal to discriminate against buyers in real estate transactions on the basis of sexual orientation. Neither spouse disclosed his sexual orientation to Rodriguez-Pagan or other diocesan officials, so Beret suspects that the broker either assumed or found out about their marital status. Their lawyer notes that the potential for same-sex marriages being performed at Oakhurst would exist regardless of the sexual orientation of the buyer.
Needless to say, the couple plans to sue. Beret told Williamson: “I have plenty of sins, but being gay isn’t one of them. This is not a fight I wanted to pick. But for the sake of my dignity, I’m not walking away.”
I guarantee you that, in keeping with recent history, the Catholic Church will in this case assert a non-existent “right” to violate state law in the name of “religious freedom.” If there’s any justice left in the American judicial system, that spurious argument will be smacked down by the courts. In a democracy, people can’t pick and choose which statutes they wish to follow. In a democracy, religious freedom cannot give churches a special “right” to bully disfavored minorities in the public square. And in a democracy, no one is above the law. Not even the church.
h/t: New Ways Ministry