Catholic Priest Tells Minnesotans Why They Can Vote Against Proposed Marriage Equality Ban

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.”

In describing Fr. Pierson’s talk, Fr. James Martin, SJ, provides a succinct background bio of the speaker, on America magazine’s “In All Things” blog:

“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.comprovided 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.”

LaDonna Hoy

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

Minnesota Catholics Make Beautiful Music Together–for Marriage Equality

Catholics for Marriage Equality–Minnesota turned their pro-LGBT message into song recently, when they gathered 300 singers together to do a rendition of “For the Children,” a pro-diversity anthem penned by David Lohman, who works for the Institute of Welcoming Resources, a project of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

You can listen to the fruits of their labors, along with an interview with Lohman, by watching this video:

Catholics for Marriage Equality–Minnesota is working to defeat the proposed constitutional amendment for their state which will be on the ballot in November.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

In Maine and Minnesota, Different Catholic Responses to Marriage Equality Ballot Initiatives

Both Maine and Minnesota have marriage equality on the ballot this November.  The Catholic hierarchy in both states are opposed to legalizing marriage for lesbian and gay couples.  In Maine, as we noted a week ago, the Catholic bishop has said that the diocese will not take an active part in the referendum campaign, yet at the same time, he issued a pastoral letter on the sacredness of marriage.  In Minnesota, the bishops have taken a more activist approach to try to keep marriage equality from becoming law.

So, it seems appropriate that the responses to these two different strategies will also be different.  Responses this weekend in both states highlight the difference.


In Maine,  since the bishop has cast his opposition in the form of education, a proper response came from William Slavick, a retired professor and veteran church and social reformer, who set out to educate his fellow Catholics by penning an op-ed  entitled “Bishop Malone’s argument fails to persuade” in The Lewiston Sun-Journal. (Readers of this blog may remember Slavick’s other recent contribution to the marriage debate, “Catholic Church doesn’t need to take another battering.”)

Slavick offers a comprehensive critique of Bishop Richard Malone’s pastoral letter, “Marriage. . . yesterday. . . today. . . always.”  He argues against Malone on  cultural, historical, and philosophical grounds:

“For Malone, the ‘created order of nature’ — natural law — is determinative: a single man and a single woman marry. Only in a monogamous heterosexual relationship is the unitive, complementary, spiritual bond of love between a man and woman realized, a union that bears fruit in procreation and nurture of children.

What Malone calls the ‘truth of marriage’ sounds unarguable until one remembers that, in the East, the ‘created order’ includes a long history of multiple wives or husbands. And until one takes into account the millions of fellow human beings whose gay or lesbian sexual orientation is also part of the created order of nature and who experience a love for another human being that seeks a spiritual and bodily union akin to heterosexual marriage.

Rome largely ignores polygamy and polyandry. It ignored — possibly accommodated — homosexuality for centuries. But as homosexuals came out of the closet, the Vatican weighed in: it declared respect for gays’ and lesbians’ human dignity but found them ‘objectively disordered.’ ”

Slavick also critiques Malone’s process of developing the letter’s content:

“Catholics today have become acclimated to the hierarchy singing solo. But theologians and the wisdom of the faithful are part of the Church’s teaching authority. What light does theology and life experience provide? Christian mercy? Christian charity? The informed consciences of the faithful? Malone’s letter is indifferent to these voices. Nor does he walk one step with gays and lesbians in their life journeys.

“Malone regularly ignores the complexity of reality. He recognizes two vocations, celibate service of God or a loving, fruitful marriage, ignoring centuries of priests marrying, centuries of economic or political marriages, and good reasons not to have children.”

Were I to quibble with Slavick’s critique, it would be over his phrase, “Fathers and mothers contribute distinctly to parenting, as Malone observes. . . ”   The phrasing here makes it seem like a heterosexual couple are necessary to child-rearing.  But, clearly, this is not Slavick’s intent, since he ends the same sentence with  “. . . the evidence confirms that loving same sex couples are as successful as heterosexual couples in raising children.”   I would call his word choice a stylistic infelicity; perhaps “Each parent contributes distinctly to child-raising” would have been better, not highlighting the parents’ genders.  A small point in an excellently argued essay.


In Minnesota, where the bishops have taken a more activist approach to the marriage debate, an activist response seems proper.  Catholics for Marriage Equality MN have been organizing Sunday vigils during Lent at the archdiocesan cathedral in St. Paul.  (Readers of this blog may remember reading about plans for this action in “Will Minnesota Bishops Follow the Maine Example?”

The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports that this past Sunday, the “Gay-marriage ban protest draws 100 at Cathedral.”   Such a large turnout is evidence not only of Catholic support for marriage equality in Minnesota, but of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN’s excellent skill at organizing.  The article shows that the protest has been growing–and it likely will continue to grow–as well as offers some of the rationale for staging the protest:

“On Sunday across from the Cathedral of St. Paul, about 100 people held signs and rainbow flags and marched on the sidewalk. On the first Sunday of Lent, about 80 attended, and about 120 came out March 4, said organizer Michael Bayly of the Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, which supports gay marriage.

“Bayly said organizers hope attendance will increase through Palm Sunday.

” ‘It’s an attempt by Catholic people to stand up and say no to the priority the archbishop has set in spending last fiscal year, 2011, $650,000 of the diocese’s money to promote passage in November of the marriage amendment,’ said former priest Ed Flahavan of St. Paul. ‘It comes at a time when social agencies, including Catholic Charities, are hurting for adequate resources to feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless.’ “

For more information about the protest and Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, visit their website and their blog.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Will Minnesota Bishops Follow the Maine Example?

Catholics in Minnesota are asking the states’ bishops to follow the example of Maine’s Bishop Malone by taking a less activist approach to the state’s upcoming marriage equality referendum.  In the past week, the Maine prelate released a pastoral letter on traditional heterosexual marriage, and announced that the Diocese of Portland would not be funding or staffing the political campaign to make sure that marriage equality for lesbian and gay couples is defeated.

Catholics for Marriage Equality Minnesota has instituted a number of new initiatives to make sure that their state’s proposed constitutional amendment against marriage equality will be defeated, including asking their bishops to take a cue from Bishop Malone.  According to a news report in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

Michael Bayly

“ ‘We are encouraged by Bishop Malone’s decision to place at the center of the Church’s mission in Maine Jesus’ call to care for the poor and marginalized,’ said Michael Bayly, executive director of Catholics for Marriage Equality Minnesota. ‘We pray that the bishops here in Minnesota will not only follow the example of Maine but will also be open to the love and commitment embodied in the relationships of committed gay and lesbian couples.’ ”

According to Catholics for Marriage Equality Minnesota’s blog site, Sensus Fidelium, the group

” . . . has organized a weekly prayer vigil during the season of Lent. Over 100 people attended last Sunday’s vigil, and organizers anticipate the numbers of attendees to continue to increase. Those who gather bear public witness to the fact that they do not see anything of Jesus’ life or message in Archbishop John Nienstedt’s support of the so-called ‘marriage amendment.’

“The group has also started an online petition asking Archbishop Nienstedt to re-focus the energy and resources of the Church away from divisive and unnecessary constitutional amendments back towards the core Catholic teachings of compassion and care for others. The petition can be found at FocusOnSocialJustice.Com

You can learn more about Catholics for Marriage Equality Minnesota at their website,

For more information about the Maine bishop’s action, you can read yesterday’s Bondings 2.0 blog post.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

A Tale of Two Prayers

For Catholics in Minnesota, the debate over a proposed state constitutional amendment to prohibit marriage for lesbian/gay couples has become “a tale of two prayers.”

Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul sent out “A Prayer for Marriage” to all the parishes in the archdiocese, which he said is

“meant for use within the Holy Mass as part of the Prayer of the Faithful. In addition, I would encourage the posting of the prayer within Eucharistic Adoration chapels, along with an encouragement to adorers to pray for the success of the amendment and all efforts to strengthen marriage.”

You can read his letter to parishes and read the full text of the prayer here.

The natural question that comes to mind in response to this prayer is why is the archbishop offering a “prayer of the faithful” to the faithful?  Shouldn’t “prayers of the faithful” come from the laity, not the hierarchy?

Well, the faithful have issued a prayer for marriage.  Catholics for Marriage Equality-MN published a prayer on their website,, which supports marriage equality for lesbian/gay couples.  Written by Chris Wogaman, the prayer asks God for healthy and holy approaches to relationships and also

“God, we ask that you bring peace to the hearts of those who are troubled about the love that some people have for one another. Calm our defensiveness with your comforting Spirit, and enlarge our vision, for we can but see through a glass, darkly, the miracles of love you have empowered among us.”

You can read the entire text of this prayer here.

Since polls keep showing that lay Catholics are more supportive of marriage equality than the bishops are, we suspect that the prayer from Catholics for Marriage Equality-MN will be the one that is prayed more often in Minnesota.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry