The Catholic campaign of spiritual bullying against LGBT people continues… Dominic Sheahan-Stahl, an actor in New York City, was invited by his alma mater to be the keynote speaker at next month’s commencement exercises. The event carries added significance because his youngest brother is graduating — the last of three generations of Dominic’s family to attend Sacred Heart Academy in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.
But yesterday, Sheahan-Stahl’s mother called him in tears to tell him that he was no longer allowed to speak at graduation. The reason? The Catholic school found out that Dominic is gay and engaged to be married, and a gay, soon-to-be-married man could not take a public role in an event where the local bishop would also be appearing.
Dominic never hid his sexual orientation; his “mistake” was that he posted his engagement photos (including the one above) on Facebook. Nobody from Sacred Heart Academy even bothered to inform Dominic of the decision; instead, they left it up to his mother to break the news to him. His brother in Michigan was so hurt and upset that he could not listen to the phone conversation and had to leave the room.
Sheahan-Stahl posted a video on YouTube this morning (check it out below) to tell his side of the story and speak out about the injustice of the whole situation. In it, he holds up a copy of his speech and notes that the text makes absolutely no mention of his sexual orientation or his plans to marry his fiancée. The message he would have delivered to the Sacred Heart Academy class of 2012, though, was one of courage: “If you can’t face fear of people. . . not liking what it is [you] have to say, then you’re not going to make a difference in life.” I would submit that by publicly standing up to the spiritual bullying he’s receiving from the Catholic Church and refusing to be silenced, Sheahan-Stahl is conveying that message even more powerfully than a speech would have been able to achieve.
Dominic’s story is intensely personal for me — I, too, was pushed out of a public role in the Catholic Church because of marriage equality. Several years ago, I was a music minister in the Diocese of Green Bay who also happened to be then-bishop David Zubik’s favorite cantor. (I even sang his mother’s funeral Mass at his request.) But one evening, one of the bishop’s vicars informed me that we needed to have a serious talk. We met a few days later at a local park, and as the two of us walked along a wooded trail, this priest told me that my ministry was no longer welcome in the diocese. “John, your voice is beautiful,” he said. “Even so, it would be inappropriate to have you sing at the Cathedral anymore. I’ve heard that you are married to a man, so your continued presence at diocesan functions would cause a scandal.”
Like Dominic, I never hid the fact that I was married — in fact, every time I raised my hands at Mass to invite the congregation to sing, my wedding ring was on my finger. And like Dominic, staying true to myself came at a painful price: being pushed out of public view by the Catholic Church because of sexual orientation.
Dominic and I are only two of the scores of LGBT people who’ve been wounded by the Catholic Church, which continues to fight relentlessly against our basic civil rights and human dignity in the name of God. I applaud him for speaking out and giving hope to LGBT Catholics, especially teenagers in Catholic schools. As long as stories like Dominic’s keep happening, I’m going to continue bringing attention to them — because as Dominic said in his video, the Catholic Church has to know that they cannot continue to do this without incurring the kind of public shaming that their reprehensible bullying rightly deserves.