Like many Catholic faithful, some parishioners at Immaculate Conception Parish in Clarksville, Tennessee, have simply had enough.
Their parish pastor, Fr. Stephen Wolf, is openly “gay.” He just got his fifteen minutes of fame as one of the subjects presented in the recent New York Times piece on “gay” priests. And Wolf is using his position in his parish and the larger community to undermine the Church’s teaching on homosexuality.
Several parishioners tried to take appropriate action—they met with their pastor to dissuade him from this pathway. He was not dissuaded. So, they went to their bishop, Bishop J. Mark Spalding, of the Diocese of Nashville. To date, Spalding has not properly addressed this grave scandal and has effectively left deeply concerned parishioners to fend for themselves.
What’s the big fuss about Fr. Wolf? Maybe it’s his vanity-press booklet “Gay Respect in the Good News.” Maybe it’s his association with dissenting Catholic groups like New Ways Ministry, Fortunate Families, and Equally Blessed, or with other non-Catholic groups like “PFLAG” and the active LGBT agenda-pushers in the heart of the Bible Belt community of Clarksville. Maybe it’s the fact that, despite claiming to a parishioner that he thinks he was “born gay,” it wasn’t until he “discovered” he was “gay” at age 33 that Wolf decided to enter the seminary. Maybe it’s the fact that Wolf led a retreat for self-identifying “gay” clergy in 2017, ironically titled “Following Jesus in Holy Honesty.”
But perhaps the biggest problem in all this is that he let his bishop (the late Bishop David Choby, who died in 2017) know he was “gay but celibate” more than a dozen years ago, and his bishop did nothing to properly address the admission.
Wolf says that in seminary he had effectively remained “in the closet” despite the astonishing fact that his seminary’s vocation director, rector, and spiritual director, as well as some seminarians, already knew he was “gay” because “I was counseled in the seminary to see this as part of the sacred truth of who I am and no one else’s business.” But that changed after the release of the 2005 Vatican document stating anew that men with deep-seated homosexual tendencies—and, significantly, men who supported the “so-called ‘gay culture’”—shouldn’t be admitted to seminary or receive Holy Orders.
It was his anger at the “institutional Church” over this document that prompted him to “come out” to his bishop for the first time. But it wasn’t until years later, in 2014, during a leave of absence granted by Bishop Choby, that Wolf “came out” to family, friends, fellow clergy, and parish staff, even writing his parish council a letter in July 2015 that announced he was “gay.”
According to Wolf, after his eventual decision to publicly “come out,” Bishop Choby told him he personally “could peaceably say to anyone, ‘Yes, I know that Fr. Wolf is gay, and that he is celibate. He is a good priest. Anything else?’”
But Wolf’s celibacy isn’t the problem. His undermining of Church teaching and resulting harm to souls is.
Wolf accepts as true a remarkably false premise that comes from “unincardinated” priest and ex-Dominican homosexualist James Alison, who also identifies as “gay.” Wolf says:
[O]ne of the more helpful writings in my personal healing has been from James Alison who proposes that the world is undergoing a discovery that there is a regularly occurring non-pathological minority variant in the human condition … which we currently call “being gay.”
Everyone got that? That’s Wolf’s bedrock of truth upon which he builds a flimsy house of cards that is now deeply and adversely affecting his own parish. Wolf adds: “One’s sexual and gender identity is a sacred discovery revealed by our Maker, sometimes in a moment of clarity and sometimes quite gradually.”
While there are numerous troubling and false statements of this kind in Wolf’s writing, it’s time to hear from a few of the parishioners with firsthand experience of the devastating toll Wolf’s agenda is having on his—and their—parish.
Already-concerned parishioners like Scott Audet, Dan Calderon, and Patty Holland reached a real turning point at an April 2018 adult faith and RCIA session in the parish, led by Wolf. Scott Audet explains:
Towards the end of the session, one of the RCIA core leaders asked Fr. Steve to give a brief explanation of what his “LGBTQI Vespers” group is. Fr. Steve explained that the LGBTQI group is about gathering together and discussing the hardships and difficulties that LGBTQI people struggle with and the trials that they encounter. After that he proceeded to explain to us that if an active same-sex couple discerns after much prayer that they do not agree with current Church teaching in regards to homosexual sex then it is not a sin for them to act on their attractions, following up with the statement “who are we to deny them Holy Communion”? He also brought up the many passages of Sacred Scripture that speak of the sinful nature of homosexual acts. He called them “clobber passages” and said that we can throw them out.
Audet further describes how Wolf’s “LGBTQI Vespers” group has impacted their parish:
The group meets on Sunday evenings, and Fr. Wolf ensures that this is announced before Mass about every other Sunday. Many parishioners are put off by this. It has become an embarrassment within the community. Clarksville is firmly within the Bible belt, and many denominations call this area home. Other parishioners tell me they have been questioned about this group by non-parishioners and often don’t know how to respond.
Parishioners Dan and Nancy Calderon were also at that shocking session led by Wolf. Dan writes:
Neither Nancy nor I were fully aware that Fr. Steve had these issues until that April meeting. Since then, we both have read his book and have noticed his increased effort to promote the book and the LGBTQ Vespers.
Calderon also noted that their pastor has become increasingly involved with LGBT activists in their community.
Fr. Steve was an invited speaker to the Leadership Clarksville “Religion and Social Diversity Day” last December. He was actually a part of both the religion and diversity sessions, along with outspoken local gay activist David Shelton [someone Wolf quotes in his Gay Respect booklet]. It is indicative that Fr. Steve is more and more publicly sharing his views.
Like Audet, Calderon was at the April 2018 session and recalls Wolf’s incredible statement about discounting the “clobber passages” in Scripture and, just as disturbing, he heard Wolf’s comments on conscience and sin. Calderon sought to address them in a subsequent meeting with Wolf that included a handful of other parishioners. He explains:
He said that, if they’re not giving assent to it being wrong, in their consciences, they have not committed a mortal sin. He went through an unusual series of comments regarding sin and whether someone who is in a committed same-sex relationship is actually in sin. The discussions about properly forming conscience also got twisted. He kept stressing that “these are good people.”
Calderon also tried to address Wolf’s pro-gay booklet, Gay Respect in the Good News:
He wanted to discuss his book a lot, and we asked him to submit it for Imprimatur and Nihil Obstat before publicly handing it out and sharing it in the bookstore. He said he would look into it. We haven’t heard from him since about this.
Fellow parishioner Audet echoes Calderon’s concern about Wolf’s writing:
His booklet has been of much concern. A group of us met to speak with him and he was adamant about using the booklet as his reference guide. When I questioned him regarding the section that mentions the regularly occurring non-pathological minority variant known today as being “gay,” he approached it as though this is a scientifically settled matter. He was actually taken aback when I challenged him.
After the April RCIA and adult faith session, Wolf asked Scott Audet to meet with him privately, as he had became aware of Audet’s mention of his concerns on social media.
Fr. Steve and I met in his office to discuss the matter. The meeting started off very cordially. Soon after though, it got quite intense. I explained to him that he presented erroneous teachings to newly baptized Catholics and to the adult faith formation class. I said that the Catechism clearly states that homosexual activity is always disordered behavior. Fr. Steve became very upset. He stated that the Church in his opinion will someday accept homosexual sex as legitimate, and that he disagrees with the paragraph in the Catechism.
Audet recalls that Wolf then assured him that, if Audet continued to speak against him, he would double down and become more emboldened to minister to the “gay community.”
Parishioner Patty Holland also attended the April session that had scandalized Audet and Calderon. She was no less affected. They were all part of a group that arranged to meet with Wolf to address their concerns:
We quoted the Catechism to him, quoted Scripture and tried to reason with him for more than an hour. He said the teaching on homosexuality offended him. He was not going to give an inch and argued with every point we made. We all came away frustrated. He truly thinks the Catholic Church is going to change its teaching to his way of thinking.
Having hit a brick wall with their own pastor, several in the group decided it was time to write Bishop Spalding in Nashville. On May 24, 2018, Scott Audet sent his letter detailing his concerns.
On May 30, I received an email from the Vicar of Priests for the Nashville Diocese, Fr. Pat Kibby. He explained that he had been assigned to look into the issue. He asked me if he could share my letter with Fr. Wolf. I said yes. I never heard back from Fr. Kibby and heard nothing from Bishop Spalding. I have spoken to a few priest friends and they are under the impression that Bishop Spalding is in the dark concerning our letters.
Patty Holland had also written her bishop, with no reply. So she reached out to Fr. Kibby instead. As with Audet, Kibby asked Holland if he could share her letter with Fr. Wolf. She consented.
A week or so later, I got an answer from Fr. Wolf defending his position, and a copy of his Gay Respect book. So, I asked for an appointment with the bishop and was put off. A week later I called the bishop’s office and tried to get an appointment through his secretary. She had Fr. Kibby call me again. When I told him the things Fr. Wolf had said, Kibby replied that Fr. Wolf was his ‘best friend’ and wouldn’t say those things. Then I called the bishop’s secretary once more and she directed me to the Chancellor, Deacon Hans Toecker. I talked to him on several occasions, trying to get an appointment with the bishop. I was never successful, even after hours on the phone. I am not sure the bishop even got any of our letters. I know for a fact that at least six were written.
Throughout, Calderon, Audet, and Holland all believe that significant discord and tension have arisen in their parish as a result of their pastor’s scandalous views. Audet says:
A few families have chosen to leave. I know that in one case, a parishioner who had left the homosexual lifestyle told me that the Church’s teaching on human sexuality had been a blessing and a huge part of his conversion. Because of Fr. Wolf’s views, he has been angry and nearly depressed, and he is less involved in the parish.
In the palpable vacuum of Bishop Spalding’s inaction, Wolf’s harmful and vocal dissent continues to shake Immaculate Conception Parish to its core. Patty Holland says:
Those who leave cannot accept the rhetoric of this priest. They have attended this parish for years, and most are very generous with their time and treasure, but just can’t justify what they are hearing. We have a core group of parishioners who want to learn, practice, and follow Church teaching. We love our faith and our Church, and we want to keep our parish pleasing in God’s eyes. It is very frustrating when we can’t even be heard. I always wondered how this scandal has gotten so widespread and gone on for so long in the Church, but I am beginning to see how. Nobody wants to listen to us or deal with the problem. But if we don’t deal with this now, I fear for the Church.
Holland’s sober words should give all Catholics pause and send us all to our knees in prayerful hope, for the sake of souls, that either Wolf repents or that his time as an openly “gay” parish priest and pastor will soon come to an end.
(Photo credit: Fr. Stephen Wolf video sponsored by Diocese of Nashville / Youtube screenshot)