Montana Catholic church bans aging gay couple after they marry to protect assets
A Montana couple spoke out this week after their priest banned them from church activities because he heard a “rumor” that they were gay and had married.
Tom Wojtowick, 66, and Paul Huff, 73, told KULR that they had been together more than 30 years, and finally decided to get married in Seattle last year for financial protection as they get older.
The couple said that only four days after Father Samuel Spiering took over St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Lewistown in early August, he asked to meet with them.
“’I have heard a rumor, have you and Tom been married have you gotten married?’ And Paul said yes, he would like to talk to us the next day,” Wojtowick recalled Spiering telling them.
The next day, the 27-year-old priest warned them that they had broken Cannon Law, and that their 11 years working in the church ministry had come to an end.
“I’m an organist, we both sang in the choir, and we couldn’t go to Communion anymore,” Wojtowick explained, adding that 7 generations of his family had been in the parish.
According to Wojtowick, he spoke to Bishop Michael Warfel of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings and other church leaders by conference call in late August, and the couple was given a permission to resume church activities if they agreed to write a “restoration statement” saying that marriage was between a man and a woman.
“It was not our intent to challenge that (concept), but to have the rights of civic protections in our old age,” Wojtowick pointed out in a time line the couple provided to the Billings Gazette.
But the so-called restoration came with a catch: the couple must begin taking steps to separate and divorce.
Wojtowick and Huff did not agree.
So Bishop Warfel visited St. Leo the Great Catholic Church on Saturday to try to calm members who were upset about the decision to exclude the couple.
“The comments from the parishioners were probably 50 – 50,” Warfel noted following the meeting. “In balance, those were both supportive of what the pastor had done in his decision, and then some who were very angry and non-supportive of that decision.”
“There obviously is polarization, and certainly what I want to do is try to effect some healing.”
Warfel said he would ponder the situation and try to come up with a solution that would take into consideration the feelings of church members.
“At the same time as a Catholic bishop I uphold our Catholic teachings,” he insisted.
For now, he said that the church would continue with the “status quo,” in which Wojtowick and Huff were banned from the ministry.
“We didn’t think anything would happen, church is one thing, civil society is another,” Wojtowick lamented to KULR.
For his part, Huff said that he still wanted to go back to St. Leo’s.
“But if it doesn’t happen, I’m okay with it,” Huff remarked. “I still have a strong faith.”
Watch the video below from KULR, broadcast Sept. 23, 2014.