The Wedding Present

This should have been a love story, pure and simple. It should have been a story about rejuvenation, about finding meaning in life when too much of the good and the glory seem to have slipped into the past tense.

The short version follows: Two chaplains at Caritas Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton, one a widower, the other surviving a divorce, fell for each other and decided to get married. These were good, God-fearing people who spent their days counseling the sick.

Frank Gates understood that his impending marriage might cause a problem with his chaplain's job. As a Catholic deacon, he was forbidden by church doctrine to be remarried. So he told his superiors at the hospital about his plans and, with their full understanding, sought a promotion to a secular job as director of guest and volunteer services.

The fact that he was a deacon or married or unmarried was irrelevant to his new position. He was another guy doing another day's work in a hospital that employs people of all faiths. The hospital management promoted him last March.

Frank, 68, and Pauline Gates, 60, got married in June. Some friends and colleagues at Good Sam, as the hospital is known, gave them cards. Others gave them gifts. Bishop Richard Lennon of the Boston Archdiocese gave them something entirely different. He gave them the ax.

First, a word about Lennon: trouble. It seems like whenever anything goes awry in the archdiocese, Lennon's hand can usually be felt, whether in the removal of a popular parish priest in Newton for reasons that are dubious at best or the lockout of kids at a parochial school in Brighton for no apparent reason at all.

In August, Lennon summoned Frank Gates to the Brighton chancery and told him that Pauline would be terminated as a hospital chaplain. And that wasn't all.

''Bishop Lennon then shocked me by telling me that I would probably be terminated, as well," Gates wrote under oath in a complaint filed this month with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination by his lawyer, Adam Whitney.

''I asked the bishop for mercy and stated that, if both my wife and I were terminated, we would have no income," Gates wrote. ''The bishop had no mercy. He stated that my marriage to Pauline had caused a 'scandal' and that people still thought of me as a deacon."

Six days later, the Gateses were called into the human resources office at Good Sam, fired and then escorted to their cars. Their transgression: being human, getting married. Would it be that the church had handled pedophilic priests with such dispatch.

I called the chancery yesterday and asked if Lennon would talk about the case. ''No," said archdiocesan spokesman Terry Donilon.

So I asked if Donilon wanted to address it. ''The archdiocese has not seen the complaint, so we're going to reserve comment at this time," he said.

Now's a good time to pay respects to Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, elevated this week to cardinal. He's a benevolent leader who labored over a fair settlement with abuse victims, sold his mansion to help pay for it, and lives in a state of austerity. But he continues to allow Lennon and other holdovers from Cardinal Bernard F. Law's tenure to set the tone. Now more than ever, O'Malley, the cardinal, needs to become his own man.

Six months after the firing, Frank Gates, a youthful, bespectacled man with salt-and-pepper hair, a graying beard, and a wealth of management experience, still can't find a job, though he needs one. His wife works as a hospice chaplain counseling the terminally ill. They sing in a church choir in Randolph. They pray together at home each night. Like I said, these are good people.

I asked Frank Gates how this affected his faith. ''I love our church; I love our faith," he replied. ''The church is all of us people. It's not the hierarchy. It's the people."

That's a nice thought from a virtuous man. It just seems that the hierarchy, or select members of it, keeps getting in the way of grace.

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