God’s velvet rope 

It’s been all fire and brimstone since a priest at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in St. Clair Shores turned a lesbian couple away from his congregation.

Last month, Cheryl Mathers and her partner, Mary Horon, visited the church and, seeking to join, filled out a membership card. They were promised a prompt mailing completing the application process. That never took place.

After several calls, Father Michael Bugarin replied to Horon by saying over the phone, “Oh, you’re the gay lady,” Mathers says. When asked if Horon and her partner could join, Bugarin flatly refused, reportedly saying: “This is a family-oriented church. We just can’t have you here.”

Mathers says she and her partner were surprised that the priest turned them away. “After all,” she says, “the sign out front said, ‘All are welcome.’”

Bugarin did not return several phone calls from News Hits seeking comment.

“My first reaction was shock and disbelief — it’s tough to be turned away from a church,” said Mathers. “I’d like to believe it’s not the whole church that feels this way.”

Sean Kosofsky is even more vocal. Kosofsky is the director of policy for the Triangle Foundation, a Detroit-based civil rights advocacy group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons statewide.

“This is raw bigotry. We’re incredibly insulted,” Kosofsky says. “It’s 2005 and the church can do better. The level of hypocrisy the church shows on gay and lesbian issues is towering.”

Nor is it without precedent, Kosofsky says. In 2001, Bugarin denied communion to three gay Catholics at the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C. Referring to the group, now known as the “D.C. Three,” he adds: “This is the closest thing to excommunication you can get.”

But this is a problem across Michigan, Kosofsky adds. Last year, the Michigan Catholic Conference made a $1 million political contribution in favor of Proposal 2, which banned marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples.

“What are the priorities of the church?” Kosofsky asks. “At the same time, church officials are closing schools. It’s hypocrisy.”

Father John H. West, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Detroit, says he is not familiar with the situation in St. Clair Shores. However, he says, St. Joan of Arc, like all religious entities that the Archdiocese represents, preaches tolerance above all else.

Well, to a point, anyway.

“We follow the teaching of the church — we respect all persons — especially Christians and Catholics,” West says. Still, he adds, “Everyone’s welcome in our parishes.”

That, apparently, is not the case. On the other hand, not all priests are as close-minded as Bugarin. Horon and Mathers contacted several other Catholic churches in the area, all of which said they would accept them in their congregation. They have since become members of St. Basil the Great Catholic Church in Eastpointe.

Curt Guyette edits News Hits. Contact the column with comments and hot news tips at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]

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