Man barred from singing at grandmother’s funeral hopes to spark change

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A man barred from singing at his grandmother's funeral because of his "gay lifestyle" says he hopes that his story will inspire a dialogue and change.

The pastor at Connor Hakes' family church in Decatur, Ind. told him he could not sing in the church because he participated in a gay pride event, and "could scandalize" the church.

Hakes, who grew up going to St. Mary of the Assumption, a Catholic church, said the he is a devout and practicing Catholic, and did not expect his request to sing at the funeral to be an issue.

"I have felt so welcome, and accepted, and loved in this church," Hakes said.

He said Pastor Bob Lengerich is fairly new, and he actually sang at the priest's first service inside the church.

"He made a judgment call and formed his opinion on me, and that was it, quite frankly," Hakes said.

Lengerich told Hakes by phone that he could not sing, then later handed over a two page letter. It said, in part, that Hakes' singing "could scandalize our congregation and neighbors." It specificially mentioned that the church "does not permit same-sex relationships and openly advocating for them because it causes scandal," and while it does suggest that the church has "several LGTB parishioners who are...warmly welcomed to worship with us," it states Hakes may not sing in church "until our present situation is resolved."

Hakes said he believes a photo of him at a gay pride event prompted the decision, and that is has caused a rift in the church and pain to his family.

"It’s been really, really tough because we are supposed to be grieving and also celebrating my grandmother’s life and then this is on top of it," Hakes said.

He decided to post the letter on Facebook, and it has since taken off. He said that the Diocese of Ft. Wayne-South Bend has apologized, and he has even received supportive messages from other priests around the country.

"I think this could be an opportunity to really open a dialogue for the church, to really poise itself as a place of really, truly being inviting and welcoming of all people," Hakes said.

His grandmother was laid to rest last weekend and he did sing at her gravesite, instead of in the church.

"Initially I wasn’t going to but then I decided, you know, she would’ve wanted me to anyways," Hakes said. "She loved all people no matter what, plain and simple."

The diocese sent this statement:

“Having become aware of the painful situation at Saint Mary’s Parish in Decatur, the diocese is working on fostering healing and reconciliation between the pastor and the Hakes family. Bishop Rhoades met with Connor's parents and looks forward to meeting Connor. We encourage all to move forward with genuine Christian love and mercy and with respect and prayer for one another.”