Most people selling their home, business or other property, likely feel entitled to reserve the right to either accept or refuse potential buyers based on any number of reasons. But if that much is true for private citizens, it could ring doubly so for religious institutions. Such is the case with the Catholic Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts, which has refused to sell an aging mansion house on 26-acres to a married-gay couple. Now that couple is suing the Diocese over what they claim is discrimination.
The Diocese claims it has refused the sale based on the couple's finances, but James Fairbanks and Alain Beret say it is because the church believed they would be holding same-sex marriages at the mansion -- a practice that goes against Catholic doctrine.
The home, a former retreat center, was affiliated with the Diocese and according to Boston.com and had been on the market for quite a while. The couple reportedly believed that the property would serve as the ideal setting for their next venture: an inn that would host weddings and other events.
Boston.com explains what happened next:
When the Diocese of Worcester unexpectedly dropped out of negotiations with them in June, Fairbanks and Beret were shocked — and flummoxed. Then, they say, a church attorney inadvertently forwarded their broker an e-mail from Monsignor Thomas Sullivan, chancellor of the diocese, advising a church broker that he was no longer interested in selling to Fairbanks and Beret “because of a potentiality of gay marriages” there.
Beret, 59, and Fairbanks, 57, plan to file a lawsuit Monday morning in Worcester Superior Court against Sullivan, the bishop, the church’s real estate agent, and the nonprofit retreat center, the House of Affirmation, alleging they discriminated against Beret and Fairbanks on the basis of sexual orientation in the course of a real estate negotiation, violating state law.
“I have lived quietly in the mainstream for nearly 60 years, and I expected to continue that,” Beret said in an interview on Monday. “But I will not continue that at the expense of my dignity.”
Sullivan, meanwhile, is maintaining that he did not know Fairbanks and Beret were gay and that his e-mail was taken out of context. He asserts that negotiations waned because the two men could not secure financing for their first offer and that their second offer was unacceptably low.
“They didn’t have the money, that was it,” he said.
Boston.com provides additional context:
It was not until weeks after the financing fell through, he said, that the church’s broker told him that, in her presence, Fairbanks and Beret had mentioned hosting same-sex weddings at Oakhurst.
Sullivan said, however, that the church, as a matter of policy, will not sell properties where Masses have been celebrated to people who plan to host same-sex weddings. The church will not sell to developers who plan to transform them into abortion clinics either, he said — or to bars, lounges, or other kinds of uses that church officials deem inappropriate.
“We wouldn’t sell our churches and our properties to any of a number of things that would reflect badly on the church,” he said. “These buildings are sacred to the memory of Catholics.”
For his part, Beret insists that Sullivan's claims that he and his partner who hold same-sex marriage ceremonies at the property are an “outright fabrication.” Beret believes that weddings are weddings, stating, “we never would have had a discussion about ‘gay wedding this’ or ‘gay wedding that.'”
According to Boston.com. Beret said the property was originally listed for $1.45 million -- a price he believed was over-market. They reached an agreement to purchase Oakhurst for $1 million, but then claim to have discovered the property was actually in disrepair and would require roughly half-a-million dollars in renovations. Thus, their second offer to the Diocese came in at $550,000.
“With lightning speed,” the church then allegedly decided to pursue other options regarding the property. Sullivan insistes that the couple's second offer was simply too low and not realistic.
So do you believe the Diocese chose not to sell to Beret and Fairbanks out of a suspicion that the couple who hold same-sex weddings at the venue in the future, or do you think that the couple's offer of $550,000 was simply untenable? Perhaps it's a little of both? Weigh in below.
Watch the ABC news clip below that describes the story in detail: