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Gay Man Refused Last Rites?

BY Simcha Fisher

| Posted 2/20/14 at 5:38 PM

 

Boy, does this story make my spidey sense tingle:  Gay patient says Catholic chaplain refused him last rites  The Washington Post reports,

A Catholic chaplain at MedStar Washington Hospital Center stopped delivering a 63-year-old heart attack patient Communion prayers and last rites after the man said he was gay, the patient said Wednesday, describing a dramatic bedside scene starting with him citing Pope Francis and ending with him swearing at the cleric.

The heart patient, Ronald Plishka recounts their conversation, in which he indicated that he had been raised Catholic, and did not come out as gay until he was in his 50's.  According to Plishka

I said: ‘Does that bother you, that I’m gay?’ And he said ‘no,’ ”

But then, inexplicably, the priest changed the game.  He first offered to pray with Plishka, but refused to administer . . . some sacrament. It's not clear whether he refused anointing, or communion, or confession, or some combination of those three.

The Washington Blade, a newspaper covering gay issues, has more details:

According to Plishka, [Fr. Brian] Coelho, who brought a supply of holy water to his hospital room, never said in so many words that he was refusing to administer communion and last rites.

Asked what Coelho told him, Plishka said, “Well, I mean he stopped. He would not do it. By him not doing it I assumed he would not do it because why was he getting ready to do it and all of a sudden when I say I’m gay he stops?”

Plishka said Coelho gave no reason for not giving him the sacraments he requested but offered instead to pray with him.

“He said what he wanted to do,” said Plishka. “He wanted to pray. That’s what he wanted to do. He said well I could pray with you. And I just told him to get the f[***] out of here — excuse me. But that’s what I told him.”

Doesn't make sense, right? This story doesn't make sense. The only explanation is that the priest in question got skeeved out at a gay man, and decided he didn't want anything to do with him -- even if it meant denying him the sacraments.  That's certainly the story that fits in neatly with the current media narrative in the U.S.:  gay people just want to live their lives, and the Church just wants to humiliate and wound them before consigning them to hell.

But let's step back for a moment, and return to this idea that the story, as told by Plishka, doesn't really make sense. One problem: in neither story is it clear which sacrament Plishka was hoping to receive.  Just anointing? Confession?  Anointing and communion, without confession?

That's kind of important, because here's what may have actually happened:

Maybe Plishka asked to receive communion, and the priest rightly asked to hear his confession, first. There is no indication that Plishka is a man who leads a chaste life according to Catholic teaching. (This is possible, of course, but seems highly unlikely, since the story that is presented by Plishka and by both newspapers is a story about how unjust the Church is to condemn homosexual behavior.) It is common to make a confession before receiving communion, especially if there is no imminent danger of death.

So let's assume the priest asked Plishka for his confession, so that he would not commit the mortal sin of receiving communion unworthily.  Did Plishka refuse to confess?  In that case, the priest may very well have decided that he could not, in good conscience, continue with the anointing. Perhaps he was afraid Plishka saw the sacraments as some kind of magical ritual. His approach to the sacrament seems sentimental and superstitious (and he went on to receive "sacraments" from a methodist minister).

Here's a second possibility:  did Plishka begin his confession, and did he tell the priest something that led the priest to believe that -- as above -- he was not in a fit state to receive the sacrament of anointing?  Look at Plishka's behavior:  he curses at the priest, he calls him a hypocrite, he demands his "due."  In this situation, the priest would be bound by the seal of confession not to disclose what they talked about. The priest would, in fact, even be bound to refuse to acknowledge that Plishka even confessed to him.

The priest is bound by the seal of confession. Plishka went to the Washington Blade.  Tell me how this is a fair and balanced story.

Maybe the priest did the wrong thing. Maybe he should have stayed and talked with Plishka further, to help him understand why someone who refuses to repent his sins cannot receive communion.  Maybe he should have called in another priest.

Or, maybe the guy just made the whole thing up. Maybe he made threats or blasphemous jokes to the priest, and it was only through heroic charity that the priest was able to stay as long as he did.  Most likely of all, Plishka left out extremely important details which would entirely change the character of the story, but which the priest is bound not to disclose.

Or heck, maybe the guy is just old, agitated, and confused and does not understand what happened.  In any of these cases, the story as told stinks, it limps, it gaps and wobbles and it makes no sense. Does this post sound like a lot of speculation to you?  It is. That's the problem:  the original stories do not provide plausible facts.  They are not journalism.  They are propaganda. 

The Church is just taking its first steps in developing a compassionate, humane approach to serve gay people.  The Church's history in this matter isn't pretty.  But that doesn't mean we have to nod and say "amen" every time a gay man or woman thinks the Church is being mean. We are all called to repent. This is not an insult or a jibe or a slur. It's just a fact:  we are all called to repent, especially when we are near death.  This story sounds like it's told by a man who refused to repent.

Plishka says:

“I think there comes a time when as a gay man you have to take a stand, you know? It’s just intolerable to be treated like you’re nothing. And I could have died. And all I did was ask for the rites of the church that are due to me. But because I’m gay I’m denied that.”

Or maybe he's denying it to himself, by choosing drama over the repentance that is truly "what is due" to every man and woman, gay, straight, or undecided.  You want drama?  It's right there, inside the confessional, where Jesus Christ washes away our sins with His very blood.