LEWISTOWN, MT (AP) – Bad feelings that lingered since a Montana priest prevented two men in a civil union from participating in Mass at a Catholic church 18 months ago have re-emerged to disrupt the recent funeral of an elderly parishioner.
Diocese of Great Falls-Billings said Thursday that it was concerned with how the March 8 funeral of Pearl Valach, 92, was handled.
Bishop Michael Warfel “is making an effort to bring healing to the situation,” said the Rev. Jay Peterson, the vicar general of the diocese. “I don’t know exactly when we’ll be able to address everything thoroughly, but he’s very much concerned.”
Valach, a lifelong member of St. Leo the Great Catholic Church, wanted a former priest to preside over her funeral and for the former choir director to sing.
The current priest, the Rev. Samuel Spiering, objected because ex-choir director Janie Shupe was among about 40 people who left the church, along with two of Valach’s adult sons and the gay couple who refused to renounce their civil union.
The priest Valach requested left after the opposition to Shupe, and the vicar general ended up presiding over the funeral.
“I was happy to be of service to the family when they needed it,” said, but added that the situation was painful.
Spiering read a statement in church the next Sunday explaining that he had to make “an important pastoral decision regarding a sensitive matter.”
“I now realize that I should have let the funeral go on, and then after the fact, issue a funeral policy that would prevent such problems,” Spiering said.
He said he thought he was doing the right thing at the time.
“However, having thought and prayed about it all week, I realize that I pushed it too far,” he told his parishioners.