Meet Father Bob Pierson, Minnesota’s newest viral video star. An openly gay priest in the monastic community at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Pierson last month told some 200 Catholics at an event in Edina that they can vote against a proposal to amend the Minnesota Constitution to ban gay marriage.
“I believe this amendment violates an important principle in Catholic teaching, and that as Catholics, we can vote no,” Pierson said.
The event garnered virtually no attention from mainstream media, but a video of Pierson’s remarks has generated widespread interest on the Internet from websites and groups on both sides of the issue. The YouTube version, posted by the vote-no coalition Minnesotans United for All Families, has received more than 28,000 hits.
A transcript is available on Catholics for Marriage Equality’s blog.
“The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in #2358, gays and lesbians ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided,’” Pierson said.
‘Amendment violates an important principle’
“It was in November 2005 that I was offended to learn the Vatican had released a document that stated that gay men cannot be priests because they are ‘seriously obstructed from properly relating to men and women,’” he said. “I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I knew that I was gay when I was ordained. Did that mean that my 21 years of ministry was a mistake? My faith suggested that I could not in good conscience continue to remain silent, and I cannot remain silent today. I spoke up then, and I am speaking up now to say that I believe this amendment violates an important principle of Catholic teaching, and that as Catholics, we can vote no.”
Pierson even cited the Pope:
“A young theologian by the name of Joseph Ratzinger, whom many of you know now as Pope Benedict XVI, put it this way in 1967: ‘Over the pope as expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one’s own conscience which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.’”
In October, Archbishop John Nienstedt told a gathering of priests he wanted “no open dissention” on the church’s position regarding the same-sex marriage ban, which several Minnesota archdioceses have spent more than $1 million to promote.
“It is my expectation that all the priests and deacons in this Archdiocese will support this venture and cooperate with us in the important efforts that lie ahead,” he said. “The gravity of this struggle, and the radical consequences of inaction propels me to place a solemn charge upon you all — on your ordination day, you made a promise to promote and defend all that the Church teaches.
“I call upon that promise in this effort to defend marriage. There ought not be open dissension on this issue. If any have personal reservations, I do not wish that they be shared publicly. If anyone believes in conscience that he cannot cooperate, I want him to contact me directly and I will plan to respond personally.”
It’s unknown whether there have been repercussions for Pierson’s speech; he declined MinnPost’s request for an interview.
The archdiocese has warned at least one active priest, St. Frances Cabrini Pastor Mike Tegeder, that his public opposition to the proposed amendment could have consequences.
“Nienstedt told Tegeder unless he desists in opposing the amendment that would define marriage as a union only between a man and woman he would strip the priest of his ‘faculties to exercise ministry’ and remove him from his ‘ministerial assignments,’” UPI reported in January.
The Edina speech is not the first time Pierson has spoken against a church position. In 2005, after the Vatican announced that gay men should be barred from entering the priesthood, he resigned his position as St. John’s’ chaplain and director of campus ministry in protest.
“Because I can no longer honestly represent, explain and defend the church’s teaching on homosexuality, I feel I must resign,” he said in an e-mail to administrators and students at St. John’s and the nearby College of St. Benedict, according to the website “Behind the Pine Curtain.”
Monastic community’s stance on homosexuality
Pierson remained a member of the monastic community at St. John’s, which shares the university’s campus but is a separate entity. The abbey publicized its accepting stance on homosexuality in 2005 and reaffirmed it in 2010:
“We believe that human sexual orientation, both heterosexual and homosexual, is blessed by God as part of the original blessing of creation. We reject any suggestion that God withholds his blessings from some parts of his creation,” the statement reads.
“We believe that each member of the community has a serious moral and spiritual responsibility to live chaste celibacy in a manner assuring that others in and outside the monastic community are not harmed by inappropriate behavior or relationships.”