Nearly 30,000 people (and rising) have now watched Roman Catholic Priest Bob Pierson tell Minnesota Catholics why their faith can advise them to reject a proposed constitutional amendment that would ban marriage equality – despite what other Catholic leaders in the state are saying.
Father Bob Pierson has been an ordained priest for nearly 30 years. He knew he was gay when he was ordained and never felt that his sexual orientation precluded him from serving God. But when he ministered to young LGBT people during his five year assignment in campus ministry, he heard story after story of LGBT youth who were being “put down” by peers because of their orientation or gender identity. So he started the “Safe Space Training Program” to provide safe spaces for LGBT students. Father Pierson felt that the program was supported by Roman Catholic teaching, since “the Catechism of the Catholic Church states [that] gays and lesbians ‘must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.’” Now, he is invoking that passage, among others, to explain why Catholics are justified in voting no on a constitutional amendment that would ban marriage equality in Minnesota.
Father Pierson emphasizes that Catholic Catechism also states: “the human person has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience.” As a young theologian in 1967, Joseph Ratzinger, now better known as Pope Benedict XVI, wrote that “one's own conscience […] must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.” And yet, Archbishop John Nienstedt, of the Diocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, recently told a group of priests that the Catholic Church would not allow any dissent on the issue of the church’s opposition to marriage equality. The church has spent over $1million in Minnesota in support of the ban.
But Father Pierson is a member of the monastic community at St. John’s University, which has publically stated its support and acceptance of gay and lesbian people. In a statement released in 2005 and reaffirmed in 2010, the community says:
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 […] 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.
Father Pierson’s speech, given to some 200 Catholics at an event in Edina, Minn. in June, shows true commitment to the Catholic Catechism’s statement that gay and lesbian people should not be discriminated against. He states that “the church does not have the right to force its moral teachings on others outside the fold, [since] committed same-sex marriage has nothing to do with the sacrament of matrimony in the Catholic Church.” Faithful Catholics are justified in voting with their conscience in not enshrining discrimination into the Constitution of the state of Minnesota.
GLAAD commends Father Pierson for standing up for equality, despite pressure from the Catholic hierarchy. The constitutional ban will be put to a vote in November.