Monday, June 11, 2012

Why Catholics Can Vote 'No'

By Father Bob Pierson, OSB

Note: The following talk was delivered Sunday, June 10, 2012, at the "Catholics Vote No" event co-sponsored by Minnesotans United for All Families, Catholics for Marriage Equality MN, Call to Action MN, Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and Dignity Twin Cities.

My name is Fr. Bob Pierson, and I would like to talk to you today about “Why Catholics Can Vote NO” on the proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the freedom to marry in Minnesota.

The Catholic Church is obviously very supportive of this amendment, which would, they say, protect “traditional marriage”. But as an ordained priest, I feel compelled to speak out now, and let me explain why. On Saturday, June 2nd I celebrated my 28th anniversary of ordination. I became a priest because I felt called to share the Good News that God loves each and every one of us unconditionally. Too many of us have been taught to think of God in terms of God’s judgment rather than God’s tremendous love and mercy.

In 2001, I began a 5-year assignment in campus ministry. It wasn’t long before I found myself meeting gay and lesbian students who were being put down by some of their peers because of their sexuality. When I turned to my professional colleagues in Student Development to ask how I could support these gay and lesbian students, I was told, “There’s not much we can do. You know what the church says….”

Yes, I know what the church says. 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.” I spent many years as an LGBT ally on campus, starting a Safe Space training program on our campus, and while it was not without some controversy, I knew I was doing the right thing – I was called upon as a Catholic of good conscience, to do the right thing.

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.” 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.

As a Catholic priest, I am not here to criticize our Church’s teaching, but rather to lift up an aspect of the Church’s teaching that seems to have been forgotten by some who are supporting the amendment. The issue I am talking about is “Freedom of Conscience.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church states in #1782:

[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. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.” Dignitatis Humanae 3 § 2.

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.

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.

We have heard it said that if committed, gay and lesbian couples “are allowed to marry, then the church will be forced into recognizing the rights of those couples to adopt children.” According to the supporters of the amendment, “studies show that same-sex couples are not effective parents and that children need to have both a mother and a father.” But the truth is that the most reputable studies, those accepted by the American Medical Association, the American Pediatrics Association, and the American Psychological Association, say that same-sex couples are just as effective as parents as heterosexual couples are. This has no correlation to their effectiveness as parents.

We have heard it said that if committed, same-sex couples can marry, “then the church will have to recognize those marriages in its social service programming in housing, health care, and education.” This is true, to the extent that the church accepts government funding for social service programs—the same rules that everyone else must follow. Would we want other religious groups to discriminate against us based on their beliefs while using government tax dollars? I don’t think so.

In any faith, marriage is about love, commitment and responsibility. In our faith, it is a sacrament, a commitment to God to live with your partner, to raise a family together, and most of all, to live the word of God. We know that gay and lesbian couples want to get married for the same reasons as anyone else. And it is incumbent upon us as Catholics to ensure that the people in our community have the same freedoms—whether it’s the freedom to worship or the freedom to marry.

I would like to conclude my remarks with a quote from one of my favorite Catholic churchmen, Cardinal Basil Hume, who said in 1995:

Love between two persons, whether of the same sex or of a different sex, is to be treasured and respected... When two persons love, they experience in a limited manner in this world what will be their unending delight when one with God in the next. . . .To love another, whether of the same sex or of a different sex, is to have entered the area of the richest human experience.” (Note on the Teaching of the Catholic Church Concerning Homosexual People, 1995)

See also the previous Sensus Fidelium posts:
Hundreds of Catholics Gather to Speak Out Against Marriage Amendment as a Matter of Conscience
Archbishop Just One of Many Catholic Voices in Gay Marriage Debate
"This is the Living Word"

Related Off-site Links:
Catholics Against Marriage Amendment Rally in Edina – Drew Miller (South West Minneapolis Patch, June 11, 2012).
A Catholic Case for Same-Sex Marriage – Jeannine Gramick and Francis DeBernardo (The Washington Post, February 14, 2012).
Some MN Priests Differ with Catholic Hierarchy Over Marriage Amendment – Sasha Aslanian (Minnesota Public Radio, May 17, 2012).


  1. Certainly we are to follow our conscience. However, it is the duty of the Church to help us to form our consciences and that includes correction. He is giving the impression that a sacramental marriage is what a couple receives through having their marriage blessed by a priest or deacon. As such, this gives the impression that a couple can have a civil marriage and by having a Church wedding add a sacramental element. This is not true.

  2. Are you saying, Anonymous, that civil marriage is understood by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church as being equivalent to sacramental matrimony? If so, then you are imposing Roman Catholic theology onto people and marriages everywhere. Is this how you would like to be treated? Would you like a religion not your own dictating to you what marriage means based on how it understands marriage? I believe Fr. Pierson speaks wisely and truthfully when he says that "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."

  3. I have been thinking this issue of the Church concerning itself with civil marriage when it doesnt even recognize civbut arrange, but couldn't quite articulate it. You put the words in my mouth !

    I live in Maryland where our state legislature recently voted to permit gay marriage and the Catholic church is supporting a referendum that would allow the voters to decide.

    I don't have an issue with having a referendum, but I do have an issue with so many resources being expended on a matter that the Church doesn't even recognize !

  4. What ever happened to "separation of church and state?" Since when can a priest tell people they can vote "no" on a state constitutional amendment? Does this mean that my conservative Baptist pastor can now speak to his congregation in favor of the amendment?

  5. Take off your collar, since you disagree with what it stands for!

  6. The Church clearly recognises the validity of non-Catholic non-Sacramental marriages as real marriages. This is a 'red herring', we are talking about changing the nature of marriage altogether. For instance how is a marriage to be regarded as consummated in future? The Church is not alone in regarding marriage as being between one man and one woman, the idea that it is not would be regarded as outrageous by all cultures and religions until very recently.

  7. He is using the Church to further his rantings. Without the church - he is nothing. He steps up like he is some big MLK. He is nothing. He is a little misguided, confused boy who never got the love he so desparately desired.

    Now, his confusion is being spread, under the guise of Catholic teachings, to the equally confused (after Vatican II's heresy) American Catholic Church (in its full schism from Rome) so that there does not appear to be a decent Bishop anywhere in these US of A.

    WHERE ARE THE BISHOPS????? They are to LEAD the sheep.

    Instead, they sit and eat dinners.

    Gregory in Atlanta is more interested in getting rid of holy Priests than he is in removing gay Priests. One gay Priest caught in the act was reassigned to a Catholic Church in Lawrenceville, GA.

    Dolan in NY has invited Mr Abortion Obama to their HUGE fundraiser in NY.

    The Bishop in Little Rock has removed SEVERAL holy priests.

    The associate Bishop in Fresno, who was in TX, is well known for his disobedience to ANYTHING holy.

    WHERE ARE OUR BISHOPS?? Read a little of Bishop Sheen's writings and you will see how woefully short we fall from where Catholics SHOULD be.

    Go ahead, call Traditional Catholicism "13th century". That shows how little you know. The Catholic Church is from the FIRST century and we are proud Christ started our Church. Trouble is, the progressivists (who Popes, previous to John XXIII, warned about) took over Vatican II and shoved thru their notions. Now, for 60 years, we have been tending to that wound to the Church without any help from our leaders.

    "gay priests" needs to remove their collars - they have no interest in Catholic beliefs. Catholicism has been around for 2,000 years.

    Go start your own church and see if it lasts 2000 hours.

    1. What parish? I live in Lawrenceville. Any proof to the accusation?

  8. Pierson quotes the CCC only partially so as to support his claim. Read it for yourself and see if it means what he implies. 2358 The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition. Yes, all people should be treated with respect and compassion, but homosexuals are objectively disordered. They have a burden they must carry. I understand this part of it much better as we all have burdens to carry.