A tight-knit Roman Catholic Church parish north of Minneapolis–Saint Paul, Minnesota, is dealing with the fallout of its new priest's decision to dismiss three men from the church's musical ensemble because they are in same-sex marriages.
The Rev. John Drees, who replaced his retiring predecessor at the Church of St. Joseph in Taylors Falls and the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Shafer in July, has explained that he had no choice but to dismiss the trio, as same-sex marriage goes against the teachings of the Church.
According to a report in The Pioneer Press last week, the men have the support of a significant part of the 400 or so members of the congregation, and none of the parties involved want to turn the story into a divisive debate that drives parishioners away.
The gay men reportedly continue to attend the church and sing from the pews, but not as part of the church musical ensemble, which they were let go from in December.
Bob Bernard, who was dismissed as the parish's only on-staff musician, insisted that he doesn't want the issue to "turn out to be another 'bash the Catholic Church' story, and we're emphatic about that."
He said that protests and controversy would be harmful to the parish he has always loved, and cause "trauma" to many that he loves.
"The resistance will equal any pressure. The needle's not going to move in either direction. There is a stasis in effect, more or less," Bernard said.
Some of the parish trustees, such as Larry Julik-Heine, have chosen to resign over the priest's decision, however.
"Bob is a remarkable guy, and he's going to church every Sunday. He's keeping the faith, and his faith is deep. And it's remarkable," Larry Julik-Heine said.
Drees has refused to publicly comment on the issue, and has not talked about the dismissals in sermons, but he has reportedly questioned why he didn't find out about the gay marriages until months into his job.
Chris Hudspeth, a trustee, said that he explained to the priest that such is the makeup of the community.
"That's why a lot of people come to Taylors Falls and St. Croix Falls, (Wis.) — it's an inclusive community, and that's why he didn't hear anything," Hudspeth argued.
Drees told The Pioneer Press that he will not comment on the situation, but notes that parishioners have been sharing "concerns but also their support and understanding."
The Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis also said that personnel decisions rest with individual parishes.
The Vatican, including Pope Francis, maintain that marriage is solely a union between one man and one woman, though the latter has struck a welcoming tone throughout his papacy.
Despite the Church's teachings on the matter, several polls over the past few years have found that the majority of American Catholics side largely with secular society's approval of same-sex marriage.
Data compiled by the Public Religion Research Institute in February 2017 found that only 28 percent of white Catholics, and 25 percent of Hispanic Catholics, oppose gays and lesbians from legally marrying.