A friend of mine from high school posted a link on Facebook to a story about my high school’s chaplain. The school’s chaplain is Father Brian Sistare, and he recently denied a gay couple communion. My friend who posted this stated that Mount Saint Charles (our high school) should consider having him as the school’s chaplain. After asking around, I learned that the school unfortunately does not have the authority to replace him. Bishop Tobin appointed him as the school’s chaplain, and Father Sistare can only be replaced by Bishop Tobin. I still think there needs to be a call for Father Sistare’s replacement for three reasons.
The first is that Rhode Island has legalized gay marriage. Same sex couples began getting married in the state on August 1. While I know this has nothing to do with the Church, it does mean there will be many more married gay couples in the state. According to the article, Father Sistare said he would not provide them with communion because their marriage is not recognized by the Church. If this is really the case, then many more than just gay couples should not be receiving communion. People are married outside of the church yet still go to church and receive communion. Others have been divorced and remarried without receiving an annulment, and they can still get communion. If Father Sistare did not know that these two men were gay and married, he would have provided them with communion just like he is sure to provide to others who were married outside of the church or those who have received a divorce.
The second reason is because of what Pope Francis has recently said about gays recently. When he was asked his thoughts on the gay community, he responded, “Who am I to judge?” He went further to say, “If they accept the Lord and have goodwill, who am I to judge them?” With this statement, Pope Francis has made a huge step forward for the relationship between the gay community and Catholicism. What Father Sistare did was judging this married couple despite the Pope’s, and therefore the Church’s, new stance on gays. According to Reuters, Pope Francis reaffirmed that homosexual acts are a sin, this still does not mean they should be shut out of the Church. The Church is full of sinners who are looking for acceptance and forgiveness. And this acceptance and forgiveness is what the Church has always preached. Sistare is letting his personal beliefs interfere with what his job requires of him. As someone who is not to judge and be the voice of the Catholic Church in the community, this is not acceptable.
Father Sistare does not only represent the Catholic Church but Mount Saint Charles Academy. As an educational institution, Mount is helping to raise the next generation. Every month Father Sistare gets to preach to these students at mass. His views and teachings do not align with those of Mount. Yes, Mount is a Catholic school. It hopes that their students will follow their Catholic faith. At the same time, Mount has always pushed students to question injustices in the world and to see equality. For middle and high schoolers who are learning about and questioning their faith, nothing will alienate them from religion more than knowing that their chaplain is prejudiced and judgmental, and that their school supports this behavior.
Mount has always prided itself on being a welcoming community. It wants its students to feel like they are part of a community and family. For the students who are questioning their sexuality, they will feel isolated and resentful towards Mount. It is also the chaplain’s job to help with the welcoming atmosphere. By denying communion to certain people, and using the pulpit to push his views, he is overstepping his bounds. If Mount students are even an inkling like they were when I attended four years ago, groups of them will start boycotting the masses, or at least communion, at school because of what Father Sistare has done. I know Mount has changed since I graduated, but I like to believe that it is still striving to be the same place.
When he first started at Mount, Father Sistare said he wanted to “someone the kids can come to, talk to…someone they can trust.” By shutting out the gay community, he is likely someone the students will no longer want to confide in or trust. Rather than representing the opening nature that the Catholic Church portrays, he is showing a judgmental and prejudiced face for the religion. Students will not feel comfortable around him nor is he a good image for the school, particularly when it comes to admissions. While I realize that the school cannot remove him, I hope other alumni, and current students, come forward and speak out, pressuring Bishop Tobin to remove Father Sistare from this position.