Saturday, April 28, 2012

Bishop Joseph R. Cistone says openly gay speaker Dominic Sheahan-Stahl should not be honored


(The Morning Sun) Controversy grew Friday over a gay graduate asked to speak at Sacred Heart Academy.

Principal Denny Starnes said he had “heated debates” with the bishop over a planned speech by Dominic Sheahan-Stahl, but the bishop denied that and said media reports were the first word he heard.

In a dramatic and emotional announcement at noon Thursday, Sacred Heart Principal Denny Starnes confirmed that graduate Dominic Sheahan-Stahl will not speak at his younger brother’s upcoming graduation.

Starnes made it clear he did not agree with the decision of the Saginaw Diocese to not allow Sheahan-Stahl to speak.

But the bishop later issued a lengthy statement denying officials knew anything about the controversy.

Starnes was admonished by Bishop Joseph R. Cistone for the entire situation, including both the initial offer to speak and the later withdrawal.

“I am distressed by the way in which Sacred Heart Academy school leadership has handled this situation, and have expressed this to the school’s pastor,” Cistone said. “It has hurt an individual, a family, a graduating class and an entire school and faith community.”

Pastor Loren Kalinowski has been on vacation and unavailable to comment.

Sheahan-Stahl, reached at his New York City home, was shocked by strong wording from the diocese that he was unqualified to speak because he is gay and not living by the teaching of the Catholic faith.

“I’m just kind of blown out of my mind by that,” said Sheahan-Stahl. “They just gave me my own platform to speak.”

Cistone had harsh words for those who live “in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” and said those people cannot be given honors, awards or platforms, especially at schools the exist to educate students in the Catholic faith.

“It is the position of Bishop Cistone, on behalf of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, that individuals who are given an honor ­‑ such as serving as the keynote speaker for the culmination of a Catholic school education ‑ should reinforce, and not reject publicly, the teachings of the Catholic faith,” the official statement said.

Sheahan-Stahl, who was the recipient of numerous honors and awards while at Sacred Heart Academy, said he’s disappointed the church didn’t allow his speech and would continue pushing for change.

Sheahan-Stahl, a Sacred Heart alumnus and aspiring New York-based actor, had been asked to speak and then uninvited because he is openly gay.

A groundswell of controversy and support built over the past two days from community members, students and church members.

Sheahan-Stahl joined the announcement at Sacred Heart via a Skype hookup and asked why the church had to discriminate.

“I feel like God intended to love thy neighbor as I love myself,” he said. “I think the world would be better.”

Students filed into the Sacred Heart gymnasium to hear from both Starnes and Sheahan-Stahl.

Starnes addressed the assembled students for close to an hour in an emotional talk that balanced his faith and his religion’s teachings against his own preferences.

“Denny Starnes is not the diocese, not the Catholic Church,” he said. “I’m torn. My family expects me to do the right thing.”
“My priority is this decision. It’s not the same as the diocese, which I respect. They don’t share the same view on outcome.”

Speculation swirled that Starnes would either be fired or quit over the issue, and he told underclassman he would not be there for them.

“Remember this message, I will not be here to remind you,” he said. “If you’re willing to cast first stone, think first.”

Sheahan-Stahl told Sacred Heart students who supported him that they are making a difference and that things can change.

“I’m sorry if I have hurt anyone,” he said. “I have been hurt, my family has been hurt, but we are strong.”

Sheahan-Stahl said that he will attend his brother’s graduation in support of him, and will deliver a speech soon at Warriner Hall on the campus of Central Michigan University.

Starnes asked if he could join him at that speech.


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