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Catholic priest denies communion to judge in same-sex marriage — and parishioners are angry about it


'He has made it clear that gay people are not welcome'

Image source: WOOD-TV video screenshot

Sara Smolenski is chief judge of the Kent County District Court in Michigan and has been a member of St. Stephen Catholic Church in East Grand Rapids for over 60 years, WOOD-TV reported.

Image source: WOOD-TV video screenshot

"I was baptized there, my parents were married there, every one of my nine siblings went to school [from] first through eighth grade. We buried my parents out of that school," she told the station. "This is a church that is a part of who I am. This is a church who helped form my faith."

Image source: WOOD-TV video screenshot

Difficult news

But all that changed Saturday when parish priest Father Scott Nolan called Smolenski to tell her she can't participate in communion since she's in a same-sex marriage, WOOD said.

"The way he said it was, 'Because you're married to Linda in the state of Michigan, you cannot accept communion,' that's how he said it," Smolenski told the station. "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.'"

Image source: WOOD-TV video screenshot

Adding to the judge's upset is the fact that she donated $7,000 to the parish building fund just a few months ago, WOOD said.

"Oh my gosh, I'm not going to get Jesus at the church I have devoted my life to," Smolenski said as she grew emotional during her interview with the station. "I thought of my mom and dad who devoted their whole life to raising us Catholic, spending all that money [on] Catholic education."

Up in arms

A number of parishioners said Smolenski wasn't the first to experience such a denial, as a same-sex couple was prevented from taking communion during their child's communion service several months ago, WOOD said.

Micki Benz — who's been at the church for 40 years — is among a group of parishioners speaking out and saying it's part of a pattern with Nolan who's "eliminated teachers who are gay. He has made it clear that gay people are not welcome," she told the station.

Image source: WOOD-TV video screenshot

More from WOOD:

For a period of time, Nolan forbade non-Catholics from participating in church services, including choir and reading before the congregation, members say.

Parishioners met with Nolan and were hopeful that he was changing his ways, until last Saturday when the beloved judge was denied communion.

Nolan talked to News 8 briefly Tuesday, promising he would speak on the issue but then did not call back or return messages.

There are those who believe Nolan is in the right, but they would not go on camera. Others with kids attending school would not go on camera due to fear of reprisal, but all say they love the church and want healing.

“We don't see Father Scott changing," Benz told the station. "Therefore we've come to the conclusion that it'd be better for him and us if there were a change in our pastors."

The Diocese of Grand Rapids told WOOD that it's a "spiritual matter between" Smolenski "and her pastor."

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