Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Case for Equality & Justice

We were fortunate to attend a religious ceremony between our “Swiss daughter” (foreign exchange student who lived with us) and her husband. Yes, that’s right - her husband. In Switzerland the performance of marriage is exclusively a function of the Swiss civil authorities, i.e. the civil registrar. Only a civil marriage has legal status in Switzerland. A religious ceremony may be held after the civil marriage but has no legal authority.  Barbara and her husband, Michael, made a choice to follow their official civil union with a religious ceremony a week later.

If our sons were living in Switzerland they could have their relationship with their partner recognized by registering their partnership.  Switzerland was the first nation to pass a same-sex union law by referendum (58%). Their neighbor, France, will allow homosexual couples to marry and adopt children starting in 2013.

This could be the answer to the United States when marrying two people who want to make a lifetime commitment to one another. Many people in the United States cannot separate church and state in their thinking of what is equal and just for committed couples. United States marriages derive their legality from civil law; after all, you can’t get a divorce from a church as divorce is a function of our legal system.  This would remove the debate about what the Bible says or doesn’t say.  Churches could still make their own decision if they would perform a religious ceremony as a follow-up to the official civil ceremony.

Right now there is no equality or justice in the majority of our states regarding marriage and the rights under law that couples receive. Justice is defined as
"the quality of being just; fairness. It is the principle of moral rightness in action or attitude; equity. It is upholding of what is just, especially fair treatment and due reward in accordance with honor, standards, or law."
Civil Unions that meet the government requirements allow benefits and a defined status from our government. Marriage is a legal contract between a couple entitling that couple to rights and protections under the law such as of next of kin status, taxation, pensions, social security, insurance and shared possession of a dwelling.

For 39 years our religion has been our guide on many an issue in our married life but in this case, we feel that the organized church should not persuade the ongoing marriage debate.  We are allowing a non-legal entity (organized religion) to interject their interpretation of marriage and the rights that come with marriage rather than ensuring we are just to all of the people all of the time.  If the United States could follow the procedures of Switzerland in its legal status of marriage, we could then be on our way toward a just system for all couples who desire to make a lifetime commitment to one another.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Voice of Truth: A Gay Priest’s Story

(Paul and I received this beautiful story and have saved it for a special time. PRIDE is celebrated in the Twin Cities area this month and this seemed to be the time to publish his articulate story of his journey. We hope you benefit from his amazing courage.)
“The voice of truth tells me a different story;
The voice of truth says, ‘Do not be afraid.’
The voice of truth says, ‘This is for my glory.’
Out of all the voices calling out to me,
I will choose to listen and believe the voice of truth.”
--“The Voice of Truth” by Casting Crowns

In December 2005 I quit my job.  It was a carefully thought out decision that had been in the making since September of that year, when I read in our diocesan newspaper that the Vatican was soon to release a new document stating that gay men cannot be ordained as Roman Catholic priests.  There had been rumors that such a document was being considered for some time, but I still did not want to believe what I read.
I am a gay man, and at that point, I had served as a Benedictine monk for 25 years and as a Catholic priest for 21 years.  During that time, I lived my vow of celibacy faithfully, believing that God had called me to this way of life as a radical witness of God’s love for me and my love for God.  I had not questioned the church’s teaching on homosexuality as far as my life was concerned.  I had been living exactly as the church had told me I should live.

How could they say that my witness was not valid, should never have been allowed to happen?  As I prayed about my feelings of betrayal, I knew that I could not stand by silently and let such a document go unchallenged.  IF such a document actually came out, I would have to find a way to oppose it because it was simply not true.  As I was praying, I was listening to a CD by “Casting Crowns” when I heard the song, “The Voice of Truth.”  I knew God was calling me to “speak the truth in love,” and God reassured me, “The truth will set you free.”  And so it has.

I grew up as the oldest son of a Catholic family in rural Iowa.  We were farmers and had a love of God that showed itself in our love for the land and all that God had made.  Our family went to church regularly.  We never missed Mass on Sundays or Holy Days.  I attended religious education at our local parish, and began to wonder about a vocation to the priesthood as a boy.  In 8th grade, I made the mistake of admitting my interest in the priesthood when our teacher asked if any of us were considering a vocation to the priesthood.  From that time on, my nickname among my classmates was “Pope Pierson,” and my course was already being set.

            Around the same time, I was also becoming aware of myself as a sexual person.  I knew I was not interested in girls the way my other male classmates were, and I assumed that was a “sign from God” that I was meant to be a priest.  Marriage did not hold any fascination for me, and I saw no need to date as my friends were doing.  I was a very good student, and put my energies into my studies, the debate team, and into playing trumpet in our high school band.

            “Homosexuality” was not an issue for me.  I was not like “them.”  I did not want to wear dresses and makeup.  It never occurred to me that my interest in the men’s underwear ads in the Sears catalog, rather than the women’s underwear ads, was an indication of something else going on inside me.

            My vocation to the priesthood was furthered in my junior year of high school when I attended a SEARCH retreat at the urging of our assistant pastor, Father Burns.  It was on that retreat that I head for the first time in my life that God loved me “unconditionally.”  That Good News moved me so profoundly that I decided I wanted to devote my life to spreading the Good News of God’s love for us by being a priest.  When I got home from the retreat, I went to talk to Father Burns about how I could begin the application process to become a seminarian.

            He told me that I needed to attend a Catholic college so that I could take the theology and philosophy courses required for entry into a seminary.  When I asked about Catholic colleges, he recommended St. John’s University, in Collegeville, Minnesota, which was his own college alma mater.  That is all it took for me to send in an admissions application to St. John’s, and in September of 1974, I began my life at St. John’s as a freshman in college.

            Shortly after I arrived at St. John’s, I met another student named Mike, who was also a farm kid from Iowa.  Mike had been one of the speakers on my first SEARCH retreat, and as time went on, we became good friends.  We had a lot in common, and without my being aware of it at the time, I began to fall in love.  Mike was straight, and dated several of our female friends in college.  I never spoke about my feelings for Mike with him, but I think he must have suspected something.  I was very jealous and possessive of our friendship, which caused quite a bit of tension between us from time to time.  It was while I processed those feelings with my confessor, Father Rene, that I began to ask myself the question, “Am I gay?”

            My first reaction to the question was one of denial.  I thought my problem was that I had never dated any girls, and so I began to date a friend of mine at the College of St. Benedict.  I also dated another female friend at home that following summer.  Meanwhile, Mike graduated from college (he was a year ahead of me) and I decided to enter the seminary at St. John’s as a “pre-divinity” student for my senior year, sponsored by the Diocese of Sioux City, IA.  I told myself that it did not matter if I was gay or straight because I was going to be a priest.

            That year as a college seminarian at St. John’s Seminary was very important in my on-going vocational discernment.  I fell in love with community life and with prayer the Liturgy of the Hours.  My priest mentors, especially Father Alfred Deutsch, OSB, showed me a way of life that I had never considered before.  That fall I took a medieval history course, and read the Rule of St. Benedict for the first time.  I liked what I found in the Rule.  Was God calling me to be a monk as well as a priest?  Second semester, I took a class called “The Benedictine Tradition,” where I had the opportunity to read Worship and Work, the history of St. John’s Abbey, written by Father Colman Barry, OSB.  I could really identify with their story.  Was God calling me to be a monk at St. John’s?  Shortly before I graduated in May 1978, I made an appointment with the abbey vocation director, Father Julian.  I decided after that to continue to pray and discern my call by following the plan I had already in place to attend seminary as a first year theologian, as a diocesan seminarian, at St. Meinrad School of Theology, another Benedictine seminary in Indiana.

            The summer between college and seminary I lived and worked with a diocesan priest, Father Louis Greving, at the Grotto of the Redemption, in West Bend, IA.  I found out that Father Greving had considered being a monk at St. John’s after having been a student there in the 1940’s.  He had decided to stay with the diocese, but he understood the choice that I was facing, and was very supportive of my discernment.  I saw, first hand, how lonely it could be as a diocesan priest amid the cornfields of Iowa, and I knew that if I was going to live a healthy life as a celibate, it was going to be in community, not living by myself.  As soon as I arrived at St. Meinrad in the fall, I connected with a Benedictine spiritual director, Father Sebastian, asking him to help me discern if I should change my plans, and apply for entry at St. John’s Abbey.  By December 1978, I was set to return to St. John’s and begin their admissions process as a candidate for the abbey in February 1979.

            Upon arriving as a candidate, I met a young junior monk, a few years my senior, and we quickly connected.  I fell “head over heels” in love once again, and this time the feeling was mutual.  When I went to confession, I asked my confessor, Father Rene, “Should I continue as a monk, or should I leave the monastery?”  Rene suggested that I begin to see a priest counselor in our community, Father Roman, and after several months of visiting with Father Roman I decided that indeed I wanted to be a monk, and that I could live as a celibate.  With Father Roman’s help, I learned that I needed to set boundaries in my relationships with those to whom I felt attracted.  Ryan and I talked about all this, and decided that we wanted to continue as celibate friends and monks at St. John’s.  With a renewed sense of purpose and call, I made temporary vows as a monk of St. John’s Abbey on July 11, 1980, and I have lived those vows ever since.

            As a junior monk, I re-entered seminary studies, and had occasion to fall in love several times over the next few years with seminary classmates and other young monks.  Each time I recognized what was happening.  I asked God to help me to love in a celibate way, and I found myself developing several warm and supportive friendships.  By the time I was faced with making solemn vows, my permanent commitment as a monk, I had experienced living as a gay celibate for four years, and even though it could be challenging at times, I knew that I could do it.  I made solemn vows on July 11, 1983, was ordained a deacon on August 6, and was ordained a Benedictine priest on June 2, 1984.

            After my ordination, I was assigned to be the assistant pastor at Holy Rosary Church in Detroit Lakes, MN, which was about two and one half hours northwest of the abbey, near Fargo, ND.  While I enjoyed my time in “DL” as assistant pastor, and later as pastor, for six years, I discovered that I had been right about my need to live in community.  I lived with one other monk for part of the time, and I also lived alone in the rectory for a year and a half.  That experience convinced me that I needed to return home to St. John’s, and so I applied to work on the staff of St. John’s Seminary as Director of Field Education and Vice Rector.  I began my new position in July 1990.

            As a member of the seminary staff, I was asked to serve as a formation director (in the external forum) and as a spiritual director (in the internal forum) for several seminarians.  The operating assumption of the seminary staff seemed to be that all the students were heterosexual, since all the formation activities in the area of celibacy talked about their relationships with women.  I knew that several of the men I was working with were gay, but that fact was never acknowledged publicly.  As a result, we never publicly addressed their issues around living a healthy celibate life. 

            When one of our students DID acknowledge his homosexuality, he was drummed out of the seminary by our very homophobic rector.  At a time when the church was just beginning to deal with the reality of clerical sexual abuse (the early 1990’s) we were encouraging our gay candidates to avoid dealing with their sexuality openly, thereby enabling anyone with a less than healthy approach to sexuality and celibacy to hide in secret.

            After a change in rector, I decided it was time to change our approach to celibacy formation.  I came out to our abbot, Timothy Kelly, and to our new rector and seminary staff.  I asked for their support to allow me to begin addressing the concerns of gay seminarians as well as those of our straight seminarians.  We began a more open discussion about the need to set boundaries in all our relationships, with women and with men, depending on our own sexual orientation and what we knew about ourselves as sexual persons preparing to live as celibates.

            It was also at this time that the monastic community at St. John’s Abbey began to discover that several of our own men were being accused of sexually abusing students in our Preparatory School and our University, as well as in the parishes we served.  The media frenzy that took place as the result of those accusations was very difficult for the monks of St. John’s to deal with.  All of a sudden, it was difficult to be a monk of St. John’s, especially a gay monk.  Since many, if not all of those accused of abuse were believed to be gay, I found myself equating being gay with being an abuser.  Intellectually I knew that there was no inherent connection between the two issues, but the official church reaction to the abuse accusations said otherwise.  A long buried sense of shame over my own sexual orientation began to grow as I listened to some around me wonder if we had been wrong to admit gay men as priests. 

            It no longer felt OK to be honest about my sexual orientation.  I still believed that openness and honesty was necessary for healthy celibate formation, but it did not feel safe to be honest.  I had a deep conviction that we were about to recreate the very conditions in the seminary that caused our problems in the first place.  My frustration only increased when I was asked to take over as rector of the seminary in 1997.  Now I was responsible to approach the bishops we served to recruit new students for our program.  My shame and my frustration continued to grow as my need to “support the party line” meant I had to give up trying to encourage students to be honest.  If I could not be honest, how could I ask others to do so?  My shame turned into depression, as after two years as rector, I knew I had to resign.  Admitting to Abbot Timothy that I had begun to experience suicidal thoughts, I asked to be relieved of my duties as rector of St. John’s Seminary.

            I was so grateful when Abbot Timothy said “yes” that I allowed myself to think that a change of job would solve everything for me.  When Abbot Timothy asked me to move to our monastery in the Bahamas to work in our high school down there, I agreed to go, thinking that I would benefit from a “geographical cure.”  Little did I know that I was going from “the frying pan into the fire.”  The culture of the Bahamas is very homophobic.  On top of that, I found out about a month after I arrived that the one monk I felt connected to in the community down there was dying from a liver disease.  When he died in January 2000, I fell apart.  After enduring panic attacks and sleepless nights for several weeks, I broke down and begged Abbot Timothy for help. 

            Abbot Timothy suggested that I go for an evaluation to a treatment center near Toronto, Ontario, called the Southdown Institute.  Their diagnosis was major clinical depression and their recommendation was at least four months of residential treatment.  With Abbot Timothy’s permission, I agreed to go to Southdown, eager to find the healing I knew I needed.

            The six months that I spent at Southdown were the best six months of my life.  There were very difficult days, but most of the time I could tell I was getting at the source of my pain and I was getting better.  I became reacquainted with the God who loves me unconditionally, and I learned that I did not have to try so hard to be good.  My spiritual director at Southdown counseled me to “row the boat gently down the stream.”  I could trust that God would take me where I needed to go as long as I did not resist the process.

            My sexuality was an important factor in my own depression.  I discovered that many of the priests and brothers in treatment at Southdown were gay and most, if not all of us, were trying to overcome the sense of shame we developed growing up in the Catholic Church.  We were told at Southdown that sexuality, whether gay or straight, is a gift from God that is meant to be “celebrated” even as celibates.  “Celebrate my sexuality?  How do I do that?” I asked one of my therapists.  His answer was, “You’ll find out.”  It was not a very helpful answer at the time, but he was right.  I have come to celebrate my sexuality by getting to know other gay Catholics, priests and lay people, single and celibate, and those faithfully committed to a partner.  Those relationships continue to affirm me in my belief that my sexuality is good.  It IS a gift from God.

            One experience while I was at Southdown continues to remain a vivid memory for me, inspiring my ministry still.  On a Sunday in July, one of my friends asked me to go with him to visit St. Mary’s Anglican Church in Toronto.  St. Mary’s had a reputation for very “high” liturgy and my friend wanted to experience their worship.  I agreed to go because he needed a companion, as we all did, to leave the grounds at Southdown.  St. Mary’s reputation was well-deserved.  There was more Latin and incense than I had experienced for years in a Catholic Church.  As we sat in the pew while the others went to communion, I picked up the hymnal to sing along.  The text of the communion hymn was very familiar to me: 

“There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea. 

There’s a kindness in his justice which is more than liberty. 

There is welcome for the sinner and more graces for the good. 

There is mercy with the Savior; there is healing in his blood.”

            As we continued to sing this very familiar text, I was surprised to discover a verse that I had never encountered before:

            But we make God’s love too narrow by false limits of our own,

            And we magnify God’s strictness with a zeal God will not own.

In that moment, it was as if the clouds were opened and I could feel God’s loving gaze upon me.  Again, I knew that God loved me and that nothing anyone else could say could change that fact.

            A few months after I returned to St. John’s from Southdown, I was appointed Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry at St. John’s University.  It had been my dream job for years, and I never believed I would actually get to do it.  I loved working with the students, especially preaching and presiding at student liturgies.  The only thing I did not like about the job was the extent to which I ended up getting involved in the politics of promoting the Catholic character of our university.

            Along with Campus Ministry, I was asked to serve as a Faculty Resident in Benet Hall.  One day a pair of roommates came to talk to me about the grief they were getting from others on the floor.  They were both “out” as gay men, and had decided to live together as friends for support.  Every now and then, someone would write an anti-gay slur on the message board outside their room.  When I asked them what they wanted to do about it, they asked me not to make an issue of it, because they feared further problems if we tried to address it on the floor.

            When I turned to other student development colleagues for advice, they said, “There’s not much we can do.  After all, we are a Catholic school, and you know what the church says about homosexuality.”  Yes, I did know what the church says about homosexuality:

The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible.  They do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is 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.  (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2358)

Obviously, my colleagues were not as informed as they might be, and I decided to start a Safe Space training program on campus, with a particular focus on why, as Catholic campuses, we needed to be concerned about our gay and lesbian students at St. John’s and St. Benedict’s.

            In the fall of 2004, one of the women who worked as a student campus minister at St. John’s was kicked out of the music group for the student “prayer and praise” group on campus because she was a lesbian.  Another student in the group had tricked her to come out to him, and then used the information against her to get her out of her leadership position.  She had come out to me sometime before that, confiding in me that she was considering the possibility of religious life, and so I knew she was living according to church teaching.  When she decided to file a student human rights complaint against the prayer group, she asked me to be her advocate, and I readily agreed to help her.

            As the student human rights complaint process unfolded, the case got quite a bit of publicity on campus.  People knew where I stood on the issue, defending her right to be who she was without discrimination.  Eventually the faculty panel assigned to adjudicate the complaint found in her favor, reprimanding the leaders of the prayer group, and demanding that she be invited to rejoin the group.  The leaders agreed to invite her back, knowing that she would turn down their invitation.  The issue was “settled” though many on campus felt that the leaders of the prayer group got off too lightly. 

            After that, I was “out” as an ally on campus, and periodically I received some pretty nasty messages from a handful of angry students.  One student called me a “pseudo-Catholic priest” and another went so far as to call me “demonic.”  It was at the same time that I first heard the rumors about the Vatican document banning gay men from the priesthood.  When I read that article in the St. Cloud Visitor in September 2005, a tidal wave of grief and shame washed over me.  It felt like I was being attacked from above and from below.  I could feel myself slowly slipping back into depression again, but this time I recognized the symptoms and decided that I could not let that happen again.  I needed to fight for my own sense of dignity, and for my own mental health.

            I realized that if I came out as a gay priest in opposition to the document there could be some publicity generated by my actions.  Since I did not want my family or my community to discover that I was gay by reading it in a newspaper, I decided to first come out to them via a letter that I wrote to my confreres, my family, and my close friends to whom I had not yet come out.  After I sent the letter, I waited for the reaction that would surely come.  It was all positive and supportive.  Each one of my siblings called me to share their love and support.  I received similar reactions from friends and confreres.  If any confreres did not support me, they did not tell me.  The love and support I received from those I cared about showed me that I could move forward with my plan to “speak the truth in love.”

            As I reflected on experience as Director of Campus Ministry, I knew that there would be a conservative backlash against me and the university administration if I continued to serve in Campus Ministry after directly opposing a document issued by the Vatican.  Even though the document had not yet been published, the constant rumors from Rome indicated that it would be difficult for me NOT to oppose it.  I decided to resign my “dream job” as Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry because I did not think I could survive the political firestorm that I imagined would result, and I did not want to put the university administration into the position of having to choose between defending me and the need to defend the Catholic image of our schools against complaints from conservative bishops, alums, and donors.

            When I went to explain the decision to Abbot John and Brother Dietrich, the president of St. John’s University, both of them were very supportive but also very concerned about what might happen to me.  Brother Dietrich, having read my letter to family and confreres, wanted me to run any further statements I might make by our Director of Abbey Communications, Mr. Lee Hanley.  Brother Dietrich was concerned that I have some seasoned advice about how a wider readership might interpret my written statements.  At the time, I resented his suggestion, seeing it as only a way to protect the university, but I agreed to do it.  In the end, I was very grateful for Lee’s help in crafting the e-mail announcement that I would send to the campus community announcing my opposition to the document and my resignation from campus ministry.

            The long awaited document was finally promulgated at the end of November.  It said:

Deep-seated homosexual tendencies, which are found in a number of men and women, are also objectively disordered and, for those same people, often constitute a trial. Such persons must be accepted with respect and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. They are called to fulfill God's will in their lives and to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord's Cross the difficulties they may encounter.

In the light of such teaching, this Dicastery, in accord with the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, believes it necessary to state clearly that the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called "gay culture".

Such persons, in fact, find themselves in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women. One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.

I decided to send my campus e-mail message on December 15, after classes were over for the semester and students were getting ready to head home for Christmas break.  Here’s the message that I sent to the CSB/SJU campus community:

After weeks of waiting and rumors, the Vatican’s document on homosexuals and the priesthood has been released.  Although the document does not bar all homosexual men from aspiring to the priesthood, it comes close.  The only men with “homosexual tendencies” that might be admitted to seminary and priesthood are those for whom it is a “transitory problem.”  Men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” should not be admitted to the seminary or the priesthood.  The directive seems to apply even to those who have been celibate for years.  I say “seems to” because the language of the document is so vague and unspecific.  The discussion and conflicting interpretations of the document, even among U.S. bishops, underscore the instruction’s lack of clarity.

Speaking as a celibate gay priest, there are several assertions in the document that I do not accept as true.  I do not believe my own sexuality is “objectively disordered” or that it puts me “in a situation that seriously obstructs [me] from properly relating to men and women.”  I am not an infallible person, but I cannot remain silent about my disagreement in conscience with this document, or the church’s teaching on homosexuality.  My sense of honor and integrity demand that I speak out on my own behalf and to support other gay and lesbian Catholics as we try to stay faithful in a church that judges us incorrectly and harshly.

The last two months have been very difficult for me personally, triggered in large part by the negativity around the issue of homosexuality that I hear from the church at large, but also from this campus community.  When I have answered such attacks on gay people in a compassionate and caring way, I was sometimes criticized for not upholding the church’s teaching.  It has been a painful experience, and while I wish I could just let it “roll off my back,” I cannot.  Neither can I compromise my integrity anymore by trying to conceal my thoughts and feelings to escape criticism.

This puts me in a very difficult position as Chaplain and Director of Campus Ministry for St. John’s University.  Because I can no longer honestly represent, explain and defend the church’s teaching on homosexuality, I feel I must resign.  I have submitted my resignation to Br. Dietrich, effective January 15, 2006.

I look forward to some time off to visit family and friends before returning to the abbey to begin a new assignment in the monastery.  Please keep me in your prayers.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Fr. Bob Pierson, OSB

            When I clicked the “send” button around 8:00 pm, I had no idea what would happen to me, but I felt a sense of peace come over me that’s hard to describe.  I had done what I felt called to do by God, and I knew I could live with the consequences whatever they might be.  Within an hour of my sending the message to our campus e-mail system, there was a phone message on my voicemail from a reporter from the St. Cloud Times.  I was not in my room, and so I did not get the message until around 11 pm.  I decided not to return the call that night because I wanted to get a good night’s sleep and I knew once I started answering questions, that would not be possible.

            The next morning a story appeared in the Times summarizing my e-mail announcement to the campus, saying that I could not be reached for comment.  By the time I got to my office around 9 am, there was a message from the university director of media relations asking me to call him.  The story in the Times had been picked up by the Associated Press, and media outlets from the Twin Cities (newspaper and television) had contacted him about my story.  He asked me how I wished to respond, and I told him I would talk to the reporters from the St. Cloud Times and the Minneapolis Star Tribune.  I knew that lots of people in Minnesota read those newspapers, and so it was a way for me to explain why I had done what I had done to all those people in St. Cloud, Detroit Lakes, and the Twin Cities who knew me from my ministry with them.  I decided not to give any TV interviews, probably because at that point, I did not trust myself enough to say the right things on camera.

            I did give one other interview to Joe Young, the editor of the St. Cloud Visitor.  I trusted Joe to “get it right,” and I appreciated his questions which allowed me to elaborate a bit on my reasons for opposing the Vatican document.  Joe’s story made it to the Catholic News Service, and from there it was picked up by the National Catholic Reporter, appearing in their January 27, 2006, issue.  Thus ended my “fifteen minutes of fame.”  All in all, I received approximately 400 messages (e-mail, snail mail, Christmas cards, and phone calls) from people around the country.  Of those almost 400 messages, only one was negative.  I was overwhelmed by the support I received from Catholics and others who heard about what I had done.  One of the letters that meant a great deal to me was from a seminary rector that I had gotten to know at seminary rectors’ meetings when I was rector.  Here’s a quote from his letter:

Even though I am sure that your resignation is a loss for the University and for the students, I want to support your decision.  I wrestled with the same dilemma as we awaited the publication of the Vatican’s letter.  If it had been a shade stronger than it was, I would have done the same thing you did….

I find the letter offensive and gratuitous.  It is hard for me to believe that the bishops and the Vatican are so out of touch, so hypocritical, so willfully ignorant of science, or God forbid, so vindictive that they would further jeopardize the sacramental life of the Church.

After I was finished in Campus Ministry, I decided to take a three week vacation, driving out and back to California, visiting family and friends along the way, and spending a week on retreat with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Orange, CA.  It was a very holy time for me.  I had no idea what kind of ministry I would do, but I was not worried.  I knew that God was with me, and that God would provide.

            Shortly after I arrived home, Abbot John asked me to take over as director of our Abbey Spiritual Life Program, giving retreats, parish missions, and providing spiritual direction for regular directees as well as those on private retreats.  I have continued to stay active with our campus LGBTA Faculty/Staff group, and I have joined our local St. Cloud/Central MN PFLAG group.  In December 2009 I was elected to serve on the Board of Directors for the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministries (CALGM).  As Vice President for Conferences for CALGM, I am the conference chair for our 2011 Conference in Albany, NY, on the theme, “Setting the Table for LGBT People in a Diverse Church.”


God is so good.  I continue to “speak the truth in love” and the truth has set me free!

Fr. Bob Pierson OSB Guestmaster
              St. John’s Abbey Guesthouse

Friday, July 29, 2011

Daniel…….Gifted and Homeless

I told my Facebook friends that Paul and I wanted to share our story about a remarkable man (Daniel) that we met at Sheridan Square Park by Stonewall Inn in New York City. We were admiring Segal’s Gay Pride sculptures and reading the plaques when Paul started a conversation with a man who was sitting on the bench in the park. In a short period of time, he disclosed that he was Judy Garland’s most loyal fan. He said he could chronicle every part of Judy’s life. After listening to several pieces of information, we had little doubt that he was indeed a Judy Garland historian. In fact, theater and movie trivia came easily for him. The day before we met Daniel another man had observed his incredible ability to recall information about a variety of topics and draw conclusions from those facts. He wanted Daniel to work with him on recording the knowledge he had stored in his head.

Paul and I had plans to have lunch at a Greenwich restaurant because they had a special menu for Restaurant Week. As I watched Paul and Daniel talk, I knew we needed to invite him to lunch so the conversation could continue. Daniel was willing to join us and we proceeded to the restaurant. We were early so we sat in the lobby and continued to talk. He pointed to a painting on the wall and told us he had just read a book about that painting. It was a late 1800 painting. The woman was beautiful. One of her dress straps was gently placed on her arm. Once this painting was previewed at the artist’s show, the family was shunned – too risqué. The woman died single and alone. The story was interesting but Daniel was even more interesting. He was well read and knowledgeable about a variety of topics.

Daniel shared that he had come from a good family. I asked him how his parents reacted to his news about being gay. He said his father said he wanted to put him in a “cattle car” and send him to Idaho with the hope they would dispose of him and the other gays. Later in his life he asked his dad about that comment and he responded that he regretted that statement then and ever since. Unfortunately that confession hadn’t stopped Daniel’s response to his father’s words. At the tender age of 13 he attempted suicide. He drew strength from Judy's music. He said he felt like Judy was singing to him. His theory is that her life had a lot of pain as well and she sang from a very emotional level. He had other observations about why gay men are so attracked to her and why she sustains her popularity over other stars.

We don’t know Daniel’s entire story but we could read behind the lines. He was a gifted man who grew up in a difficult time for gay men. At this point in his life he is homeless and has an alcohol addiction. Paul and I were very sad for Daniel but happy we met him. At the end of a wonderful meal and a two-hour conversation, he took both of our hands and said, “I woke up this morning and wondered how I was going to get through another day and then I met you. No one has ever done something like this for me. Thank you.”

Now we want Daniel to get together with our other Judy historians – Michael Siewert and John Fricke. He just might have a few tidbits that may be of interest to them for their next book. We will always wonder how Daniel is doing. He seems to be a survivor but it is hard to know what this does to your head. We told him he needed to stay in touch with the man he met who wants to record his stories. He has so much to offer.

There are people you come across in your life for one reason or another. I have to believe that meeting Daniel on July 21st was more than a coincidence. I also believe there will be another chapter to this story in the future. We thank Daniel for entrusting us with his stories.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Why you should be an ally

We believe in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Ally support of injustices ensures everyone’s ability to have justice. If you were being discriminated against, wouldn’t you want others to stand up for you? Our LGBTs need your help now more than ever.

Silent supporters don’t help lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBTs). In fact, silence hurts them. We were once a silent supporter. We have evolved over the years starting with little things. For example, now when we hear something that doesn't ring true, we simply said, "What did you mean by that?" Have your strategy ready when you hear inappropriate remarks or statements made as facts that are stereotypical or false. Speak up and of course, do it nicely. If you let those remarks stand, others will assume you agree or that the information is true. Don’t be proud of yourself for supporting LGBTs until you do something, anything, to show that support.

Here is another compelling reason we discovered for allies to speak up on behalf of our LGBTs. We were asked to present to a group of educators in southeastern Minnesota. After we completed our discussion one of the participants said she had heard many presentations on this topic but ours was the best so far. Of course we asked what distinguished our talk and her response was, “You are not a threat to us. You are not an angry gay or lesbian yelling at us because of all the inequalities. You did not preach.” While we understand there is anger(and we are as well), it gave us a clue how important it is to have allies speaking up about today's issues. Sometimes it is received much better by an “outsider” rather than an “insider.” Whether it is marriage equality, employment discrimination or Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, the ally voice remains the important voice. Harvey Milk energized the gay community to tell their family and friends the truth about themselves. Now more than ever we need to go to the next step and hear the voice of allies to support, correct misinformation, share stories, and educate. Allies will be the people who make the difference in our future to correct misinformation, stereotypes, and injustices.

Please give sound to your voice today. For more information on how to be an ally, go to Straight for Equality Pride month is a good time to start and please, let us know what you are doing.

Dan Savage Blocks Target’s Video “It Gets Better”

We attended two events where Target previewed their new “It Gets Better” video to employees. The team members represented in the video were sincere and their stories heartfelt. You could tell the viewers liked it by their verbal response and by their happy faces. They saw themselves and others they loved in that video. It was a success.

This morning I read Dan Savage’s Slog on Target’s video, “It Gets Better.” His response and others who commented were so consumed by their “Target grudge” that they have forgotten the reason "It Gets Better" was started. In their own words, "The It Gets Better Project was created to show young LGBT people the levels of happiness, potential, and positivity their lives will reach -- if they can just get through their teen years. The It Gets Better Project wants to remind teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone — and it WILL get better." I am an ally. I watched the video. The Target LGBTA Business Council accomplished the mission of this project. Secondly, the video was created by the LGBTA Business Council; it wasn't a cooperative scheme to win customers as was insinuated by Mr. Savage. The naysayers disappoint me. I have to say that these comments reflect to me that they really don't care if a video is produced to help young people. They just want to kick the can one more time. Oh, and one more thing. Target stepped up in a very public manner. Where are the other companies in the Twin Cities area? Hmmmmm

Sunday, April 24, 2011

What do Joel Osteen and Crystal Cathedral have in Common

As Paul and I listened to two television broadcasts today, Easter Sunday, we couldn't help but feel torn. Rev. Robert Schuller Sr and Joel Osteen give a lot of people hope and spiritual guidance. Their messages are important to many people. In the past we listened with an open heart and used their words to help us to become better Christians - better people.

Now we have become more cynical about their spoken words. Behind their words of love we have an image of nonacceptance of a group of people. They seem to have a ranking of "sins" with being homosexual ranking higher than other sins. Crystal Cathedral choir members need to sign a covenant that they support the church's stand on homosexuals. I wonder if that covenant included not eating shell fish, killing a woman if she was not a virgin on her wedding day, killing a woman if caught in adultery, condemning men who shaved their beards, excluding people from the alter if they had a physical handicap, and the list goes on and on. Joel Osteen says they can't be God's best. Robert Schuller says homosexuals can't be excellent. In fact, we wrote Rev. Schuller a letter about that and he personally responded to us. It didn't change anything.

Our personal philosophy is in tune with Jesus and many great theologians who have said that it is not necessary to take the Bible literally in order to take it seriously. Jesus talked about things that worried him - divorce, remarriage, adultery, hypocrisy, oppression, greed, class structure, accumulation of wealth, etc. but never about homosexuality. If this was a critical issue, why didn't he mention it?

I know this is a broad statement, but one that we believe. The "church" stand against homosexuals is the single biggest roadblock for acceptance of homosexuals. Family members, without a personal study of this issue, will blindly accept their church stand. Lazy? Homophobic? Heterosexism at play? For us it appears to be an easy excuse to disregard gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders for other reasons.

Here is another thought. I just don't want to hang around people who are judgmental and sit in their ivory tower of self-righteousness. We are all imperfect. Being gay is not, however, an imperfection. It is God's plan for them. It is who they were designed to be. They are some of the most wonderful people you could possibly meet in your lives. We are blessed to be their friends and advocates. We will never believe God sits in judgment of their sexual orientation; God and God only sits in judgment of how you live your life as a Christian.

I wasn't expecting to write this blog today but it does seem fitting. Jesus died to forgive our sins. Our position - being gay is not one of those sins. If you believe otherwise, please take the time to study this issue and ask yourself the real reason you may be anti-gay. The Blue Book by the Presbyterian Church, Mt. Kisco, is a great guide and is available for a minimal charge or online at

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What do Las Vegas and Minneapolis have in common?

The Advocate has published the second annual list of cities where gay perople are living, voting, and creating communities. The top two cities represent the two areas we spend the most time - Minneapolis and Las Vegas.

According to The Advocate, "Over the past decade, Minneapolis has become the gay magnet city of the Midwest. It makes sense: People here are no-nonsense, practical, and don’t deal well with hypocrites. This is where the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America took a historic leap forward and voted to accept gay and lesbian pastors, including the Reverend Mary Albing, the denomination’s first openly lesbian pastor. And Minnesota senator Al Franken introduced the Student Non-Discrimination Act to protect LGBT youth from school bullies." I might personally add that this is the home of Lavender Magazine, the largest gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender publication in the Upper Midwest.

Second on the list is Las Vegas. According to The Advocate and Thomas Roth, President of Community Marketing, Inc, "Las Vegas is the No. 2 most-visited gay and lesbian destination in the U.S, and the No. 1 destination among Gen-X and boomer lesbians.” They go on to say that according to a study conducted by the Travel Industry Association (TIA), Las Vegas ranks as one of the top gay-friendly destinations in the United States second only to New York for the most popular gay vacation destination.

In my previous blog I talked about a local radio announcer who says she isn't against gays but continues to make less than complimentary comments about them. Here's something for the city of Las Vegas republicans to consider - Vegas is a top vacation destination for gays and lesbians. That means money to support the economy. Hmmmm. Do you like them now?