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Barnesville teen denied Catholic confirmation after Facebook post supporting gay marriage

Lennon Cihak holds up the sign Wednesday that he photographed and posted on his Facebook page. Dave Wallis / The Forum

BARNESVILLE, Minn. - If you want to be a Catholic, you have to be 100 percent Catholic.

That's the lesson one family here learned after their 17-year-old son was denied confirmation after the priest at the Assumption Church here found a pro same-sex marriage post on the teen's Facebook.

The decision by the Rev. Gary LaMoine to deny the religious rite of passage for Lennon Cihak in mid-October shocked his mother, who said her son has gone to church every week and volunteered around the community in preparation for his confirmation this year.

"You kind of know the Catholic beliefs, but I never thought they would deny somebody confirmation because you weren't 100 percent. I guess that's what shocks me," Shana Cihak said.

The Facebook post in question was a photo of Lennon in front of an altered political sign. Originally reading "Vote Yes" on the Minnesota Marriage Amendment, which would have changed the state's constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, Lennon scribbled out the "yes" and replaced it with "NO!"

Shana, who said she was confirmed at the same church, was called into a private conversation with the priest soon after the photo was discovered and was told her son wouldn't be allowed to complete confirmation.

A man who answered the door at the rectory adjacent the church at 307 Front St. N. here just after 9 p.m. on Wednesday said he had no comment. Shana said La-Moine lives at the rectory by himself.

Lennon said fellow 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," Shana said.

Her husband, Doug Cihak, agreed.

"(LaMoine) was talking about 'God doesn't believe in this.' Well, God created Lennon," said Doug, adding that he was baptized and raised in the same church.

But now the family is not allowed to participate in Communion there, Doug said, and he's worried as to how far the sanctions will go, expressing concern about being able to be buried alongside his parents.

Still, Doug insists he's not mad at LaMoine, calling him just a "messenger" of the church. The same could not be said for his wife, who said she doesn't plan on returning to the church ever again, her son nodding in agreement.

"You should be able to go to a church for support, help," Lennon said. "He pushed me away."

Shana said she contacted Bishop Michael Hoeppner of the Catholic Diocese in Crookston to see what her options were to appeal, but Hoeppner said not much could be done. A more formal appeal could still be filed, she said.

A St. Joseph's Catholic School teacher in Moorhead was also let go earlier this year after she expressed concern about Hoeppner preaching to children about the marriage amendment.

Calls to a phone number listed for Hoeppner on Wednesday evening resulted in a message saying the phone was temporarily not accepting calls.

But through it all, Lennon said his faith hasn't faltered.

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