In 2012 a married couple in Massachusetts negotiated with the Catholic Diocese of Worcester to purchase a mansion previously used as a retreat center. They were puzzled when negotiations seemed to stall. Then, in an act of sublime stupidity, the church’s real estate broker accidentally forwarded them a private email from Monsignor Thomas Sullivan, chancellor of the diocese, instructing her to stop dealing with these potential buyers because of the possibility they might use the house to conduct gay weddings. The married couple, you see, were both men.
They sued, and now the attorney general of Massachusetts is weighing in on their side. What’s truly astonishing in this day and age is that the church is contesting the case. You would think they’d instead act like a ten-year-old with her hand caught in the cookie jar: “Oops! My bad.” Instead, they are asserting their constitutional right to sell or not sell to whomever they please, as part of their free exercise of religion. As their lawyer puts it, “The legal question is: Do we have the right to refuse to sell the property for a use that we don’t approve of, that the diocese would not approve of?”
What’s truly memorable here is Monsignor Sullivan’s explanation of his position. “We wouldn’t sell our churches and our properties to any of a number of things that would reflect badly on the church,” he said. “These buildings are sacred to the memory of Catholics.”
A fascinating point of view, when you consider why the diocese is selling this particular property in the first place. For many years, this retreat center served as home base to a ring of pedophile priests, who committed the grave sin of getting caught. The huge financial payouts to the victims are what caused it to shut down and be put on the real estate market in the first place. Now, of course, the hallowed ground where this all occurred is too “sacred to the memory of Catholics” to allow a future legal wedding that might “reflect badly on the church.”