DECATUR, Ind. - An Indiana man has filed a complaint against his family’s parish church, which he said denied him the chance to sing at his grandmother’s funeral after the priest learned that he had attended a gay pride rally.
Connor Hakes of Decatur told WANE in Wayne, Indiana, that he and his relatives are longtime members of St. Mary’s of the Assumption Catholic Church, where his grandmother’s funeral was planned earlier this month. Hakes said he contacted the church after her death to get permission to sing in tribute to her.
The Rev. Bob J. Lengerich denied the request, citing concerns that Hakes was living a life that “could scandalize (the) congregation and neighbors” attending the funeral. Hakes said that Lengerich based his decision on a photo from a gay pride rally last year in which a friend tagged him on Facebook.
“This priest had judged me and really formed an opinion about me without ever communicating with me,” Hakes told the news station.
Hakes said that he has sung many times in the past for the church’s congregation and that Lengerich never approached him to find out if he was participating in a “gay lifestyle.”
Hakes posted to his Facebook page a Nov. 23 letter from Lengerich in which the priest said that the Catholic Church forbids those who “openly defy tenants (sic) of (the) faith” to serve in positions that make them public representatives of the church. That includes divorced or remarried congregants who have not had their terminated marriage annulled, people who openly support abortion rights and those “openly participating in unchaste same-sex relationships.”
Because Hakes’ grandmother was so well-loved, Lengerich wrote, the funeral would not be a private affair but one involving the community. The priest said that Hakes was welcome to honor his grandmother with a song, but only “outside of the Mass and outside of the church.”
Because a funeral Mass begins when the casket is closed after the wake and doesn’t end until the final blessing at the gravesite, however, “there (would be) no opportunity within the Church to offer a solo during” the funeral, Lengerich wrote.
Hakes told WANE that he had always felt loved and welcomed in his home parish, but now, he feels “very ostracized.” He and his family have filed a formal complaint with the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.
St. Mary’s issued a statement regarding the situation: “Having become aware of the painful situation at Saint Mary’s Parish in Decatur, the diocese is working on fostering healing and reconciliation between the pastor and the Hakes family. We encourage all to move forward with genuine Christian love and mercy and with respect and prayer for one another.”
In posting the letter on Facebook last week, Hakes wrote that both of his deceased grandparents would be “disgusted” by their parish.
“Their compassion and empathy was abundant, no matter who you were,” Hakes wrote. “They saw beyond race, religion, sexuality and social class. They loved everyone. That is what it means to be a Christian. That is what it means to be Catholic.”
In a follow-up post, Hakes thanked people for the love, support and prayers since his story gained traction.
“May we pray for the softening of hearts and the healing of those hurt,” he wrote.