Graduation speaker rejected because he's gay - KCTV5

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Principal speaks out after school rejects speaker because he's gay

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A story of rejection is generating a lot of emotions in Mid-Michigan after a local Catholic school went back on its offer to have a former student give a speech during graduation.

Dominic Sheahan-Stahl is a graduate of Sacred Heart Academy in Mount Pleasant.

Three generations of his family attended the school, but now the offer to talk to grads has been rescinded, allegedly because Sheahan-Stahl is gay.

"My speech is all about fear and what the world can be like, and how fear can stop you from making a difference in life," said Dominic in a YouTube video. "I was very taken a back and shocked by this, yesterday my mom had to call and tell me, I wasn't even told by anyone at my school."

But not everyone agrees with the school. A Facebook page called "Let Dominic Speak" has more than 3,000 "likes" in support of Dominic Sheahan-Stahl.

The family says they are disappointed with the school's decision.

"I was honored that they asked my son to do it, and Dominic was excited to do it. He didn't think that the issue would come up," said Dominic's mother, Kathleen Sheahan-Stahl. She says what's happening with her son hits home. She suffers from cerebral palsy and because of her condition, she says she raised her children, not to discriminate.

"I was pretty upset with the decisions that were made," says William Sheahan-Stahl, Dominic's younger brother. He is graduating from Sacred Heart this year and was looking forward to hearing his big brother speak to his graduating class.

The Sheahan-Stahl family says they are not sure what's next for them, but they are hoping the school will reconsider.

Meanwhile, the principal at Sacred Heart held an assembly Friday at noon to talk to students from grades 7th through 12th about the controversy. According to TV5's Liz Gelardi, who was at the gathering, the principal, Denny Starnes, expected to have a statement from the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, but hadn't received one yet. Starnes said that it was the decision of the Diocese not to allow Dominic to speak during graduation.

Dominic attended the meeting via Skype and told the students to "Live through love, God wants us to love our neighbors." Gelardi said students and people in the audience were crying, and Dominic teared up too. He said he would be attending his brother's graduation to support his brother.

Gelardi tweeted that Starnes said he was trying to abide by the teachings of the church to the best of his ability and wanted to allow Dominic to speak, but that the church didn't share his opinion. Starnes said his in-box was flooded with hundreds of emails from supporters and non-supporters alike and that it was very hard to tell Dominic's mother that he wasn't going to be allowed to speak.

Sacred Heart Academy is a private school that does not accept public funding.

Dominic said he will be speaking on the Central Michigan University campus sometime after graduation and he invited all the students at Sacred Heart to attend.

NEW: The Saginaw Diocese released the following statement regarding the situation:

The events that have unfolded regarding the graduation address at Sacred Heart Academy Catholic school in Mt. Pleasant are unfortunate. The decisions to invite, and to rescind an invitation to a graduate who was to deliver the commencement address were done independently of and without any discussion with the Office of Catholic Schools or the Office of the Bishop for the Diocese of Saginaw.

The Most Rev. Joseph R. Cistone, Bishop of Saginaw, learned about the events Thursday, only after the situation was reported by local news outlets. Further, neither the bishop nor the diocese were informed of, or invited to participate in, a news conference that was held at the school today.

"I am distressed by the way in which Sacred Heart Academy school leadership has handled this situation, and have expressed this to the school's pastor," Bishop Cistone said. "It has hurt an individual, a family, a graduating class and an entire school and faith community."

"The Catholic Church is very clear in her teaching, that men and women who have homosexual tendencies must be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided." The bishop added that, "the Catholic faith teaches that individuals with homosexual tendencies, as well as unmarried heterosexuals, are called to lead a celibate lifestyle."

Sacred Heart Academy exists to educate and form students in the teachings of the Catholic faith. It is the position of Bishop Cistone, on behalf of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, that individuals who are given an honor — such as serving as the keynote speaker for the culmination of a Catholic school education — should reinforce, and not reject publicly, the teachings of the Catholic faith. Citing the 2004 Speaker-Presenter Policy of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, those "who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles… should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."

"My thoughts and prayers are with all of those who are suffering from this painful experience," Bishop Cistone said. "Graduation should be a joyful and exciting time for students and families as together they celebrate their vast achievements and look forward to the future. I pray for healing and unity for the entire Sacred Heart school and faith community."

WNEM TV5 will continue to follow this story and update with new information as it comes into our newsroom.

Copyright 2012 WNEM (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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