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Lennon Cihak holds up the sign Wednesday that he photographed and posted on his Facebook page. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Teen gets confirmation offer: Barnesville family 'overwhelmed' by attention

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A nontraditional Catholic organization has offered to provide confirmation services to a Barnesville teen after they were denied because of his support for gay marriage.

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"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, 17, says he was denied participation in the confirmation ceremony at Assumption Catholic Church in Barnesville after their priest -- the Rev. Gary La-Moine -- was made aware of a pro same-sex marriage photo on Lennon's Facebook page last month.

A message left on the family's answering machine Wednesday was not returned.

Lennon's parents, Shana and Doug, both of whom have lived in Barnesville their entire lives and attended the same church for just as long, told The Forum newspaper that LaMoine denied the religious sacrament to their son in mid-October.

This came, they said, just a day after LaMoine was shown a Facebook photo of Lennon with a political sign encouraging people to vote against the Minnesota amendment on the ballot earlier this month that would have changed the state's constitution to define marriage as explicitly being between one man and one woman -- a measure that ultimately failed.

"The family has been informed they can't participate in the Sacrament of Communion anymore," Wilkowski said.

"Not only has their son been dropped from confirmation class, but the family has been prevented from receiving the Sacrosanct of the Eucharist. There's a tremendous amount of pain and trauma the family is going through."

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," Wilkowski said.

The church was founded in 1997, he added.

"We are a new branch on the old tree of Catholicism," Wilkowski 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 in Barnesville has not yet decided whether to take his church up on its offer of confirmation.

"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 does decide to seek confirmation, 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."

Wilkowski said his church holds no rancor towards the Roman Catholic Church, but says there have been membership battles between the two in Illinois and Wisconsin, and threats of excommunication towards church members considering the switch.

He believes the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy in Minnesota is angry about the defeat of the marriage amendment and the Cihak family was caught in the backlash.

"I want to make it very clear," he said. "My offer to confirm Lennon is not an act of sticking my nose into Rome's business -- Rome has discarded this boy -- they've put him on the junk pile.

"I believe I have a responsibility as a Catholic and a priest to reach out to him ... I truly understand and appreciate the trauma he is going through," he said.

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