Belen Controversy Prompts New Discussion About Gay Marriage And Catholic Dogma

Oct 16, 2015

When South Florida marketing executive Richard Rodriguez went to his 10th class reunion at Miami's Belen Jesuit Preparatory School five years ago, he brought his partner, Cédric Mahé. They had a great time, and Rodriguez recalls them ending the evening playing beer pong with some of his straight classmates, who had no problems hanging out with a gay couple.

But when Rodriguez later received Belen's alumni publication, he noticed something strange. The editors had taken a reunion photo of him, Cédric, those classmates and their wives – but cropped Cédric out of the shot. When Rodriguez asked why, he says the editors apologized and claimed it wasn't intentional. Rodriguez says he accepted their explanation – until this week, when he heard the publication had been rejecting the same-sex wedding announcements of gay alumni.

"It's hard for me not to believe now," Rodriguez says, "that they didn't want Cédric in that picture because he was my partner."

Belen Jesuit is one of South Florida's most respected private prep institutions – a place that counts former Miami mayors and U.S. Congress members among its graduates. (Even Fidel Castro attended Belen when it was still located in Cuba.) It's also Roman Catholic and all-male. And, like most schools, it has its share of gay students and alumni (some of whom, like Tampa TV news anchor Eugene Ramirez, are also celebs).

All those realities are butting heads at the moment – and prompting a fresh discussion here about gay marriage just months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it a constitutional right.

"We feel rejected by a place that's been important to our lives," says alumnus Alex Correoso, who five years ago started a Facebook group for LGBT Belen grads like himself.

The controversy was stoked earlier this year when Correoso noticed that the wedding announcements of  gay grads weren't being printed in Belen's alumni publication. After inquiries, Belen this month confirmed it's because the Catholic Church opposes gay marriage.

That's evoked an angry reaction from Belen alumni both gay and straight, as well as South Florida LGBT advocates, who call the policy a gratuitous if not mean-spirited application of Catholic doctrine.

"We're not asking Belen to change their doctrine or even condone" gay marriage, says Correoso. "All we want is to be considered part of the community. True Catholic teaching teaches us that we are all made in God's image and to respect each other."

In a statement this week, Belen President Father Pedro Suarez insists the school’s “Catholic identity” left it no choice. But Correoso argues that given Belen’s gay membership, the school also has no choice but to discuss the matter.

"It's about moving forward and recognizing the fact that it's going to be a continuous issue," Correoso says, "with present and future alumni."

Correoso adds that’s particularly important right now because the Vatican is holding a synod on family issues this month.

As for Rodriguez and Mahé, they were married this year.