BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A gay couple has been told they can no longer receive Communion or participate in church ministry after a new priest at a Roman Catholic church in central Montana learned they had been married in a civil ceremony more than a year ago.
The decision set off a split that has cut attendance at St. Leo the Great Catholic Church in Lewistown. Bishop Michael Warfel of the Diocese of Great Falls-Billings plans to visit on Saturday to discuss how church teachings apply to the situation.
Paul Huff, 66, and Tom Wojtowick, 73 — who have been in a committed relationship for more than 30 years and have lived together in Lewistown for 11 years — said they were stunned by the decision of the Rev. Samuel Spiering, who also said the men could not sing in the church choir.
Wojtowick said the men married in Seattle in May 2013 so they could make medical and financial decisions for each other.
During an Aug. 25 conference call with Spiering, Warfel and other diocesan officials, Huff and Wojtowick agreed to write a restoration statement that, in part, would support the concept of marriage being between a man and a woman, Huff said.
"It was not our intent to challenge that (concept), but to have the rights of civic protections in our old age," Wojtowick wrote.
However, when they met with Spiering to write the statement, Wojtowick said, the priest told them it would also have to include a timeline for the two men to quit living together and divorce, which the men said they did not agree to.
The men declined further comment until they hear from the bishop on Saturday.
Warfel told The Billings Gazette he knows Wojtowick and Huff are good people.
"This is not animus against someone who happens to be homosexual; this issue is the same-sex marriage," Warfel said, stressing that he's obligated to uphold church teachings.
Warfel said he understood that Huff and Wojtowick did not publicize their marriage in the community. But once it became known in the town of 5,900 people, it had to be dealt with publicly, he said.
Spiering declined comment Friday, saying it was a private, pastoral issue.