The orthodoxy police have apparently invaded Facebook. The first victim: Seventeen-year-old Lennon Cihak, who after completing all the requirements for confirmation was denied the sacrament by his pastor over a photo that Cihak posted on his Facebook page.
The controversial photo in question shows the Minnesota teen next to a political sign endorsing the state's proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. The amendment, which failed, was heavily endorsed by the state's bishops and received a strong push from the church, even if Catholics in the pews weren't 100 percent behind the initiative. Cihak posed with the "Vote yes" sign, having written "No" over "Yes" and adding the words "Equal rights!"
Once Cihak's pastor was tipped off, the teen was told he could not receive confirmation, and now his parents–whose only sin appears to be standing up for their son–have been told they can't receive communion in their longtime parish. Cihak and his mother both expressed that they have no intention of returning to the parish, and may leave the church altogether. Another sad story of Catholics being driven from the church.
Of course, we don't know the details of the conversation between the family and the pastor. It would seem, however, that there wasn't much of an attempt to be pastoral, to reach out to the teen, or to find a common understanding. Perhaps the priest was just upset that a young person who went through his parish's religious education program wasn't convinced that the church is correct in its stance on gay marriage. I'd be worried if I was the parish's confirmation teacher.
I'm sure Cihak isn't the first teen to come out of their religious education program with some doubts about the church and its teachings, yet many who share his doubts or disagreements still receive the sacrament of confirmation (in fact, many of his classmates "liked" the Facebook photo yet were still confirmed). The sacrament isn't a stamp of approval for someone who has shown complete loyalty and obedience, it is a step on our admittedly flawed paths of faith, working toward a greater understanding of God and his role in our lives.
For Cihak and his parents to be reprimanded so severely over a silly photo posted on Facebook seems more than a tad extreme. It would be much better to allow young people in the church to bring their opinions, questions, and challenges to light and to engage with them in dialog. It might be a great learning opportunity for them. And more importantly, it would be a learning opportunity for the church.