An out gay Catholic priest addressed a gathering of 200 Catholics in Edina, Minnesota, on Sunday to explain why, as good Catholics, they could vote “no” in that state’s ballot measure to amend their constitution to ban marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples.
Benedictine Father Robert Pierson, OSB, gave a ten-minute talk to the gathering of Catholics co-sponsored by Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, Minnesotans United for All Families, Call to Action MN, Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and Dignity Twin Cities. The Sensus Fidelium blog carries a full text of Fr. Pierson’s remarks, which you can read here. You can also watch the ten-minute YouTube video of his talk here:
My favorite part of the talk is this excerpt:
“My conscience tells me to vote NO on the amendment because I have yet to hear a convincing reason why we need such an amendment to our state constitution. In fact, I believe that the church does not have the right to force its moral teaching on others outside our fold. When the religious beliefs of any particular religious group become the law of the land, we run the risk of violating everyone’s freedom to believe and their freedom of conscience. Allow me to mention three examples of where I see the church ‘fudging’ the facts.
“We have heard it said that civil marriage for committed, same-sex couples ‘will destroy the sanctity of the Sacrament of Matrimony.’ But the truth is, until now the church has not concerned itself with civil marriage. The church does not recognize the civil marriage of its members. If a Catholic is married in a civil ceremony, they are said to be married “outside of the Church” and the marriage is not recognized as a sacrament due to ‘lack of canonical form.; Civil marriage for committed, same-sex couples is not the Sacrament of Matrimony, and the government cannot tell churches who they may or may not marry.”
“Father Pierson, who had worked in campus ministry at St. John’s University and is currently the director of the Spiritual Life Program at St. John’s Abbey, speaks of his own homosexuality, his experience in ministering to gay and lesbian students, and then describes why he bas concluded that a Minnesota Catholic may vote “no” on a proposed state amendment that would prevent same-sex marriages. In 2005, Father Pierson had resigned from his post as director of campus ministry after the Vatican officially barred men with ‘deep-seated homosexual tendencies’ from ordination, and because of broader issues in the church’s teaching. ‘Because I can no longer honestly represent, explain and defend the church’s teaching on homosexuality, I feel I must resign,’ he said at the time.”
Fr. Martin also provides some context as to why Fr. Pierson’s remarks are so courageous and prophetic:
“Needless to say, his comments on same-sex marriage are in direct opposition to the U.S. Catholic bishops, including Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who has vigorously supported the amendment (that is, opposing same-sex marriage) and asked parishioners in his archdiocese to recite a ‘A Prayer for Marriage‘ as part of the Prayers of the Faithful (petitionary prayers) at Masses. The bishops could not be clearer in their opposition, which rests primarily on the Christian tradition of marriage as between a man and a woman (as well as on the church’s opposition to homosexual activity). Father Pierson’s appeal is primarily to freedom of conscience, and on that topic he quotes both the Catechism and Pope Benedict XVI. ‘Our Holy Father taught in 1967 that we must obey our own conscience, even if it puts us at odds with the Pope. I doubt that he knew that he was going to be Pope when he said that.’ “
Terence Weldon, who blogs at QueeringTheChurch.com, provided another political context for Fr. Pierson’s remarks. Weldon recounts his own personal experience with a conscience decision on an issue of justice:
“For half a century in South Africa, my education in Catholic schools, and decades of parish life thereafter, firmly imprinted on me that we have not only the right but the obligation to follow conscience before the law, especially if those laws areunjust – as many so clearly were under apartheid. In company with countless other South African Catholics, I took this to heart, and did what I could in my small way to make a contribution to justice, including at times knowingly and deliberately breaking some laws when my conscience dictated I do so.
“As an openly gay Catholic, I fail to see why the principle of compliance with conscience rather than with unjust laws should not apply equallly when the injustice is perpetrated by Catholic bishops, and not secular authority.”
The Sensus Fidelium blog post notes describing the Minnesota gathering notes that LaDonna Hoy, a parishioner at St. Bartholomew’s church in Wayzata, MN, offered remarks that complemented Fr. Pierson’s:
“As a Catholic I would also ask: How then can it be right for a particular faith tradition–for us–to support legislation that defines marriage in a way that removes the rights and limits the freedoms of all Minnesotans regardless of their beliefs or lived experience? We are called as Catholics to bring forth a kingdom of love and justice in our midst. What is core to our tradition and its teachings is that the intrinsic dignity of each person must be respected in word, in action, and in law.
“I pray that we become that church. . . . A church that upholds the sacredness of marriage and its commitments for all people and that is open and informed by the insights and wisdom of the lived experience of its people. A church where inclusive love is once again our guiding principle and justice lights our way.”
I have only two words to add to all these speakers and commenters: “Bravo!” and “Amen!”
May their examples be multiplied.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry