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Bishop takes to Facebook to defend firing of gay music director

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin has seemingly taken to social media to address a Providence pastor’s decision to fire Michael Templeton, a gay music director, due to his same-sex marriage. (WJAR/Photo courtesy of Michael Templeton)
Bishop Thomas J. Tobin has seemingly taken to social media to address a Providence pastor’s decision to fire Michael Templeton, a gay music director, due to his same-sex marriage. (WJAR/Photo courtesy of Michael Templeton)
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Bishop Thomas J. Tobin has seemingly taken to social media to address a Providence pastor’s decision to fire a gay music director due to his same-sex marriage.

The pastor of the Church of St. Mary, along with a diocesan employee, terminated Michael Templeton on Sept. 19, noting that his marriage is “inconsistent with the teachings of the Church.”

While the bishop didn’t directly mention Templeton, he posted about homosexuality and the faith on his Facebook page Sunday night, referencing Pope Francis.

“When Church leaders have to respond to situations involving persons living an openly ‘gay lifestyle’ these days, we’re often scolded and told that we should be ‘more like Pope Francis,’ presumably the ‘Who-am-I-to-judge, Pope Francis,'" the bishop wrote. “Perhaps those critics should also remember the Pope Francis who said that same-sex marriage is destructive of families and is the work of the devil.”

Bishop Tobin then listed bullet points, citing examples of the Church’s stance on the issue. He noted that the pope “has now supported the Mexican bishops’ campaign to oppose gay marriage in their country,” as well as “rejected the nomination of the Ambassador from France because the Ambassador is openly gay.”

The bishop went on to write that the Pope Francis administration “immediately fired and disciplined a priest who was working in the Vatican upon learning that the priest was gay and involved in a relationship.”

The post gained 185 likes, 79 shares, and 20 comments as of Friday night. Some thanked the bishop for his “clarity” on the matter, while others criticized him.

Templeton, who told NBC 10 News he left the parish because he no longer feels a sense of security there, said he is struggling to understand why leaders within any context would knowingly and deliberately choose division over unity.

“The bishop’s responses to the events at St. Mary’s have been just that -- divisive -- and contain not even a shred of ministry that feels pastoral,” Templeton said.

Just as Bishop Tobin did, Templeton cited Pope Francis to make his point.

“In a homily earlier this month, Pope Francis warned against an excessive rigidity, saying those within the Church who tell us ‘it’s this or nothing’ are heretics and not Catholics,” Templeton said. “He reflected on the harm caused by Churchmen who do the opposite of what they preach and urged them to free themselves from a rigid idealism that prevents reconciliation between each other.”

He went on to say that Jesus preached the same message.

“As trite as it may sound, it’s really about all of us asking, ‘In this same situation, what would Jesus do?’” Templeton said. “My belief is that the Jesus who scriptures tell us spent time with the lost, the wounded, the broken and the marginalized, would open his arms and say -- just like the sign in front of St. Mary’s reads – ‘All are Welcome.’”

Ahead of the 10 a.m. Mass on Sunday, parishioners handed out rainbow ribbons to show their support for Templeton. One parishioner, who doesn’t want to be identified, said several people sang, “All are Welcome,” as Father Franceso Francese recited the Nicene Creed following the homily.

“Some boycotted the pastor's communion line, but I processed up, tears in my eyes, with my ‘Love Conquers Hate’ shirt, and looked him in the eye as I said, ‘Amen.’ Some said, ‘Goodbye’ instead of ‘Amen,'" the parishioner said. “Many, many people skipped the collection basket and withheld their usual contributions. The pastor preached about justice -- yes, you read that right -- in such a way that brought only one word to mind: hypocrite. He skipped the usual invitation to the community to add to the prayers of the faithful, knowing that the prayers in the hearts of the parishioners were likely misaligned to his interpretation of the Gospel.”

The parishioner went on to note that Father Francese also has been making other changes in the parish that are upsetting the congregation. Templeton shared similar sentiments.

“This isn't just about people who happened to be gay and in loving relationships. The pastor has publicly stated that he would next address divorced and remarried Catholics who do not belong serving in ministerial roles,” Templeton said. “This feels very much like only the tip of the iceberg for Catholics. It certainly gives a person pause: what's next?”

Diane DiSanto, who joined the parish about a decade ago and served as the church’s pastoral associate for the last three years, quit her job the same day Templeton was fired. She said she gave a verbal notice at first, and then followed up with a written statement a few days later.

“I simply said, ‘If Michael Templeton is not welcome here, then I am not welcome here,’” she said. “It was as simple as that. I don’t believe Christ would want Michael Templeton, or any other person, to be treated this way, to be ostracized, to be excluded. I just don’t believe that’s Catholic.”

That’s why DiSanto said she was stunned when she learned of his termination.

“It was not something I thought would ever happen,” she said. “He’s a very giving, kind person who is extremely talented and well liked. We had a strong community at St. Mary’s and I believe that the community represents a Christ-like bond. That’s what church is all about to me. I pray for the Church, that it can be more open and accepting. I love the Catholic Church.”

Templeton also said he loves the faith. While he has left the parish, he said he will never forget his friends at the Church of St. Mary.

“I continue to pray for the bishop, the pastor and, most importantly, for the people of St. Mary’s, whose hearts are crushed and whose sense of spiritual safety has been taken from them," he said.

As for Bishop Tobin, he said the Church’s stance on homosexuality is clear and that those who don’t agree are misinformed.

“It seems to me, then, that when we uphold the faith and teachings of the Church about homosexuality, we are indeed a lot like Pope Francis,” Bishop Tobin wrote.

Multiple calls to the Church of St. Mary went unanswered, as did an email NBC 10 sent to Father Francese.

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