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Chicago bishop offers to confirm Barnesville teen

Lennon Cihak holds up the sign Nov. 14 that he photographed and posted on his Facebook page in Barnesville, Minn. Forum file photo

A nontraditional Catholic organization has offered to confirm a Barnesville 17-year-old after he was denied confirmation because of his support for gay marriage.

"I did speak to the father of the young man and let them know the Evangelical Catholic Diocese of the Northwest would be happy to confirm the young man if he is interested in doing so," said Bishop James Wilkowski, of Chicago.

The family of Lennon Cihak says the Rev. Gary LaMoine of Assumption Catholic Church in Barnesville wouldn't confirm the boy after learning from a photo on Lennon's Facebook page that he supports gay marriage.

Lennon's parents, Shana and Doug, who have lived in Barnesville their entire lives and have always been members of Assumption, say they have also been denied Holy Communion there since the dustup.

"There's a tremendous amount of pain and trauma the family is going through," Wilkowski said.

LaMoine has maintained it was Lennon's choice to not go through with his confirmation in October.

Wilkowski describes the Evangelical Catholic Church as "separate but equal" to the traditional Roman Catholic Church. "We are a validly consecrated Catholic faith community," he said. "We do have some pastoral differences between the Roman Church and ours."

One difference is that priests can marry. Another is that women can become priests. The church also offers a quicker path to annulments after a divorce - a process that Wilkowski said can take up to 10 years in the traditional church, leaving members in limbo.

The Evangelical Catholic Church is also "non-discriminatory," when it comes to the sexual orientation of its members.

"All people are welcome," he said.

The church was founded in 1997, he said.

"We are a new branch on the old tree of Catholicism," he said. "Seventy-five percent of the people who have come to us have come to us via Rome - others are from the Lutheran tradition."

He said the Cihak family has not yet decided whether to take his church up on its offer of confirmation. A message left on the family's answering machine last week was not returned.

"The family is extremely overwhelmed by all the media attention," he said. "They're looking for a quiet couple of days, waiting for the dust to settle."

If the teen agrees to the proposal, Wilkowski said he would be willing to meet the family in Wisconsin, where an Evangelical Catholic Church exists, or travel to Minnesota, if necessary.

"I'd be happy to come to Minnesota if we could find somewhere to celebrate the Mass of the sacrament in a dignified place," he said.

Nathan Bowe writes for Detroit Lakes Newspapers