Rules Are for Schmucks: House Rules

The former Oakhurst Retreat Center near Worcester, MA. Photo via

In 2012 a married couple in Massachusetts negotiated with the Catholic Diocese of Worcester to purchase a mansion previously used as a retreat center. They were puzzled when negotiations seemed to stall. Then, in an act of sublime stupidity, the church’s real estate broker accidentally forwarded them a private email from Monsignor Thomas Sullivan, chancellor of the diocese, instructing her to stop dealing with these potential buyers because of the possibility they might use the house to conduct gay weddings. The married couple, you see, were both men.

They sued, and now the attorney general of Massachusetts is weighing in on their side. What’s truly astonishing in this day and age is that the church is contesting the case. You would think they’d instead act like a ten-year-old with her hand caught in the cookie jar: “Oops! My bad.” Instead, they are asserting their constitutional right to sell or not sell to whomever they please, as part of their free exercise of religion. As their lawyer puts it, “The legal question is: Do we have the right to refuse to sell the property for a use that we don’t approve of, that the diocese would not approve of?”

This grabs my attention because I currently have a house on the market, as administrator of an estate. It’s a gorgeous waterfront location, and anyone who’s interested should let me know. I’m thinking, though, of imposing some restrictions on potential buyers. After all, if Catholics can rule out buyers who might do things they don’t approve of, I should be able to do the same thing too. Here’s my first draft of a list:

  • I won’t sell to Catholics, because they might perform exorcisms there.
  • I won’t sell to Jews, because they might slice babies’ genitals there.
  • I won’t sell to Protestants, because they might handle snakes there. The neighbors would hate that.
  • I won’t sell to Mormons or Muslims, because they might perform polygamous marriages there. The house really won’t accommodate four wives.
  • I won’t sell to Hindus because they might burn widows there.
  • I won’t sell to Buddhists, because all the chanting might make the neighbors reconsider their position on the snakes.

Upon further consideration, though, I’ve decided not to impose any of these restrictions, and to narrow the rules to just one: I won’t sell to anyone who can’t come up with big bucks. You see, I get a warm spiritual glow from having a full belly, a condition that I hope (but am not yet convinced) will persist through the golden years of my retirement. The sin of not getting enough money from the sale to assure that would weigh on my conscience.

The idea that it’s wrong to refuse to sell a property to someone just because you don’t like “their kind” has been around for a long time. When I was growing up as a political junkie in Maryland, we had a Democratic gubernatorial primary in 1966 that I still remember well. There was a party establishment candidate, a flashy liberal candidate, and a race-baiting candidate whom no one took seriously. Until he came up with a catchy slogan, “A Man’s Home Is His Castle,” which he plastered on bumper stickers and signs all over the state. He didn’t need to spend money on expensive broadcast advertising because everyone knew that he was simply expressing opposition to what eventually became the Fair Housing Act of 1968. He won. (The denouement is that he lost the general election to future vice president Spiro Agnew, largely because he had no political talents other than consuming staggering quantities of alcohol.) Anyway, the United States did enact the Fair Housing Act, which says that hatred should not be allowed to interfere with housing market transactions.

Unless, according to the Diocese of Worcester, God tells you otherwise.

What’s truly memorable here is Monsignor Sullivan’s explanation of his position. “We wouldn’t sell our churches and our properties to any of a number of things that would reflect badly on the church,” he said. “These buildings are sacred to the memory of Catholics.”

A fascinating point of view, when you consider why the diocese is selling this particular property in the first place. For many years, this retreat center served as home base to a ring of pedophile priests, who committed the grave sin of getting caught. The huge financial payouts to the victims are what caused it to shut down and be put on the real estate market in the first place. Now, of course, the hallowed ground where this all occurred is too “sacred to the memory of Catholics” to allow a future legal wedding that might “reflect badly on the church.”

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  • Stefan Dewald

    The typical double standard of the church and clerics.
    The sheep should now to leave their rams.

    • fourdemocracy

      Who has more gays and pedophile priests than the Catholic church? Hypocrites. Gay riests with AIDS were denied health care, etc.

  • Discordia

    It has become obvious to me that the Catholic Church considers CONSENSUAL relationships between members of the same gender as sinful but non-consensual sexual relationships between members of the same gender as acceptable, most especially if one of those involved is a juvenile.

    • Mario Strada

      clearly because the rape of a minor is a sin that whomever commits it can repent of and get a nice clean slate.
      Marrying someone of the same sex (and of similar age and consenting to the deed) is a choice and it’s not acceptable. The odds of repentance are much slimmer.

      Or something like that. It seems to me as logical as religion can be. My guess is that if I could read their minds I would only find the sound of tin cans rattling down a shoot and little more. Wind maybe.

  • Marisa Totten

    Oh man, loved the ending. Gay sex = icky, pedophilia = okie dokie!

  • Architeacher

    Has this property been “tax exempt”? If so, they’ve relinquished any considerations on the sale.

  • Lunatic Fringe

    Somehow I’ve stumbled into the twilight zone and I don’t think there is a way out.

  • bigGAYjohnson

    So about your place

  • Ron Babineau

    maybe if the gay couple profess an honest liking for little boys the Archdiocese will reconsider, after all, they’ve already set that precedent and it is what the facility was previously used for ….

    • fourdemocracy

      Maybe there are neighbors who don’t want a half way house or clergy who child molest next door. The Catholic church has destroyed any credibility they once had. Even then it wasn’t much.

  • rootsmusic1

    The basic tenet that always seems to get overlooked in these disputes, it seems to me anyway, is that selling the home is a relinquishment of ownership, free and clear. What makes them think they can keep strings attached no matter who they sell it to? People change, or some can change. What if they sell it to a catholic couple who walks upright and they decide down the line to leave the church, go they way of the atheist and become certified to perform weddings and don’t want to discriminate in the administration of services performed there. What’s Monsignor Sullivan going to do, huh? He has no say over what the new owners can do with their property.

  • Elsie13

    Maybe the real estate broker deliberately ‘accidentally’ forwarded the email.

  • MrTH

    Take a lesson from the Jews. Those Hassids I buy cameras from in Manhattan probably think I’m going to burn in hell. But they’ll sell me a camera.

  • Kathy Riley Kakacek

    Excellent essay. The monsignor’s hypocrisy/short memory is staggering.

    • rdn


  • fourdemocracy

    My grandmother worked as an upstairs maid for a doctor who owned a big home on Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, NY. When the doctor died he wrote in his will to remove the house and keep that lot empty. The whole street which was full of big mansions was being bought up by the Catholic church (tax free). Those Catholic homes were a loss to the tax basis for the city. He didn’t approve of that.

    I think tax exempt status has gone too far in this county. Between that and Faith Based funding some religious organizations are richer than some countries in the world. Yet…they want to run the government too. They neve prospered so well. The Vatican was upset when our dollar fell they rely on it so much.

  • Anthony Groeblinghoff

    2 adult males in a consenual relationship = A sin! Its in the Bible!
    1 adult male in a legally non consenual relationship with a minor male = Not a sin! Its not in the Bible!
    That should tell you everything about this story, the catholic church, and blind faith of religious texts that were written down before we knew the Earth revolved around the Sun.

    • rdn

      Well put.

  • RM

    typical stupidity from a typically stupid man made, unbelievable belief system

  • rdn

    I detect a Libertarian bias here (and I’m not a Libertarian). To answer your last question, one thing has nothing to do with the other. In one case, the hypothetical house was no longer the property of the pot-sellers (not that I agree with what I consider to be a miscarriage of justice). In the other, regardless of whether or not the priests were pedophiles, the diocese still owned the house (and I’m not a Catholic either).
    However, no one (in my less than humble view) has the right to limit the sale of anything because they don’t like or approve of the race, religion, sex, age, national origin or any other such constitutionally protected designation. In other words, I don’t respect such bigotry, regardless of who grew up in the house or whatever warm fuzzy feelings they have about it.

    • Isabella Mockery

      What the hell difference does it make what the house is going to be used for. Once it is not yours, you have no say.

      You seem to think that a church has the right to dictate to society even when they do not own the property in question. That is a major president that has never been established.

      This is not a private sale at all. It is an corportation that is selling the house.

      • rdn

        I think you meant to direct this to JAK. I don’t disagree with your point. But more important for me is that no one should be discriminated against on the basis of their religion, sexual orientation, etc.

  • Maryelizabeth

    What a sublimely perfect example of hypocritical behavior so typical of the Catholics! Do as I say…not as I do but, if your religious feelings are hurt (awwwwww) you can be a racist, homophobic dirtwad and escape the law!

    • WmJB

      Wow, you get it! Christianity is a means to control, and a means to avoid control by others. It is sheer genius! It really works extraordinary well most of the time.

  • Isabella Mockery

    So obviously you are in favor of ignoring hate and sellers putting major restriction on property into the future when they no longer own it.

    What the hell difference does it make what the house is going to be used for. Once it is not yours, you have no say.

    You seem to think that a church has the right to dictate to society even when they do not own the property in question. That is a major president that has never been established.

  • Christina Johnson

    If you love them (as you claim), are you okay with them burning in hell for not believing in Jesus?

    • Donna Rowe

      I think William realizes that he can not force them to believe. He has shared Christ’s message, and that is ALL Christians are called upon to do. That, and the two great commandments: Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. William is doing just that.

      Leave the conversion itself up to the individual to be converted and to God. That’s THEIR responsibility. YOUR job is to share the gospel and to love.

      • Christina Johnson

        Actually, MY job is to spread the glory of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. He was boiled for our sins, heathen! Don’t you realize that?! If you let him into your life, you will most assuredly feel his noodly appendage at work in your life.

        • Donna Rowe

          I see. I let him into my stomach tonight. Does that count?

          P.S. He was delicious. 😉

          • Christina Johnson


  • William b Parker

    No I am not ok with anyone going to hell, but I do not have the power to send anyone there or to heaven either. I have called to share the gospel, I can’t make anyone believe it. If someone chooses to not believe it does not change how I feel about them or how I treat them as a person. This is what true Christianity and loving thy neighbor is all about. Even when someone chooses to insult mt faith and my savior I am still called to love. I don’t hate nobody because I am nobody. I hope this clears things up a little.

    • Christina Johnson

      “I am nobody”. That’s a terrible way to view yourself.

      • Williambparker

        It simply means that I don’t view myself as being better than others.

  • This really just highlights all that is wrong with organized religion. Do they even realize how ridiculous they look??

  • When you own a property you’re allowed to put deed restrictions on its usage, and then sell is as restricted property. Most people wouldn’t do that because it could drastically reduce its future value, but there’s very good reason to prevent “undocumented” restrictions like this – otherwise its far too easy to institutionalize discrimination. After all, once you sell the property you are, by definition, selling the right to determine what goes on inside it.