Church denies confirmation to pro-gay Barnesville, Minn., teen

  • Article by: ROSE FRENCH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 16, 2012 - 5:20 AM

He posted photo on Facebook rejecting marriage amendment.

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Lennon Cihak held up the sign that he photographed and posted on his Facebook page. His family says he was later barred from taking part in his Catholic confirmation at a Barnesville, Minn., church.

Photo: Dave Wallis, The Forum via AP

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A teenager in northwestern Minnesota was refused the Catholic sacrament of confirmation after he posted an online photo condemning the marriage amendment, according to his family.

Shana Cihak says her 17-year-old son, Lennon, was not allowed to participate in the religious rite of passage at Assumption Church in Barnesville last month after posting a Facebook picture of himself holding a political sign that he changed to oppose the constitutional amendment. The proposed measure to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota was defeated Nov. 6.

On Thursday, Assumption pastor the Rev. Gary LaMoine declined to confirm or deny whether Cihak was not allowed to receive confirmation. LaMoine said he's been in consultation with Diocese of Crookston officials and he plans to address the matter with parishioners at Assumption Church this weekend.

A spokesman for the diocese did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

"I'd prefer that it would have been handled internally but for some reason or another, it just hasn't been able to be done that way," LaMoine said. "So I'll say something to my parishioners. ... I don't want to let it go on without any kind of response."

Report went viral

The Forum newspaper reported the story Thursday, and it quickly attracted dozens of reader comments both supportive and critical of Catholic Church leadership. A Facebook page titled "I Support Lennon Cihak" was created and had more than 50 supporters and counting by Thursday afternoon.

"Stay strong, young man! You are so fortunate to have great parents and friends who support you. Love them back," one supporter posted on the page.

Shana Cihak did not immediately respond to several Star Tribune requests for comment.

She told the Forum she was called into a private meeting with the priest over the Facebook photo and told her son wouldn't be allowed to complete confirmation. Lennon has gone to church every week and volunteered around the community in preparation for his confirmation this year, she said.

Lennon said other students in his confirmation class "liked" the photo on Facebook, but they were still allowed to be confirmed.

"I just thought it was wrong to single him out," his mother said.

The family says they are also not allowed to participate in communion at Assumption. Lennon's father, Doug Cihak, says he's not upset at the priest, adding that he is a "messenger" of the church.

Tests of faith

Catholic bishops and clergy were among the most vocal supporters of the marriage amendment and called on Minnesota's nearly 1.1 million Catholics to vote for the measure. The Diocese of Crookston contributed $50,000 in support of it this year, according to state campaign finance records. If the amendment had won approval, it would have changed the state Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

A former schoolteacher at St. Joseph's Catholic School in Moorhead, located in the Diocese of Crookston, was asked to leave her job earlier this year after telling supervisors she objected to the church's opposition to same-sex marriage. She says she disclosed the information during a private, annual self-evaluation and noted that she would not bring her personal beliefs into the classroom but was asked to resign.

Despite his disappointment at being denied confirmation, Lennon said the experience hasn't changed his faith. His mother, however, said she was confirmed at the same church but doesn't plan to return.

"I don't want the church to be put down," Lennon said. "I don't want the Catholic religion to be put down. It's just the way the priest has things running. He's so strict. He won't loosen up about things."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Rose French • 612-673-4352

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