Priest resigns amid backlash over gay author reading to kids at Catholic school

Getty Images/Jonathan Kirn
Getty Images/Jonathan Kirn

The pastor of a Catholic church in Michigan has resigned after receiving criticism over his response to learning that an author in a same-sex relationship had read a book to young children at the parish school. 

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Saginaw in Michigan released a statement Tuesday announcing, “Because of the unfortunate situation at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Beal City, Fr. Thomas Held has come to the decision that it would be impossible for him to bring unity to the parish and, therefore, he has tendered his resignation as pastor, effective immediately.” Bishop Robert Gruss indicated that “until a new pastor is assigned, the weekend Masses will be covered by a visiting priest.”

“The division, lack of charity and the wounds caused by the division in the St. Joseph the Worker Parish community has brought deep sadness to the Lord Jesus, especially when we are living in the Light of the Resurrection we celebrated on Easter Sunday,” Gruss added. “Jesus weeps when he sees division and disunity in the Body of Christ, his Church. It is not his desire nor his will. The Gospel of Jesus calls all of us to be a healing presence in the community in which we live and worship.”

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The “division” in the St. Joseph the Worker Parish community Gruss was referring to stems from a Facebook post published on the church’s now-deleted Facebook page last month. The post, authored by Held and captured in a screenshot shared in a Facebook group titled Rebuild BC, featured a message to parents who attend the St. Joseph the Worker Catholic School as well as parishioners at the church.

“Recently a guest who does not represent the values of our Catholic faith read to our pre-k children as part of our March is Reading Month activities,” he explained. “To my knowledge, the book and any related conversation was appropriate for our students. A St. Joseph teacher was present in the room at all times.”

Insisting that he was “unaware that the guest had been invited,” Held vowed to ensure that “a new vetting policy is put in place in order to minimize anything of the sort from happening again in the future.” While the statement did not elaborate on how the guest who read to the children did not align with Catholic values, the Office of the Bishop elaborated on the situation in a statement shared on the Rebuild BC Facebook page. 

While asserting that “the guest was warmly welcomed and treated with respect,” the Office of the Bishop noted, “Several days after the visit, the pastor of St. Joseph the Worker Parish was contacted by school parents and parishioners who expressed concerns about the guest’s civil union, which is contrary to the Catholic Church’s teaching on human sexuality and marriage.”

The Bishop maintained that Held “appropriately responded to those concerns within the parish community in a way that recognized the guest’s privacy.” 

“Our Catholic Faith respects the dignity of every person,” the statement added. “The Church teaches we are all created in the image and likeness of God and called to love one another. With that love comes our obligation to uphold and live the teachings of the Catholic Faith, individually and within our institutions.”

The group Rebuild BC emerged to express steadfast opposition to Held’s actions and held multiple public protests calling for his removal. On the other hand, a website was created to defend Held instructing visitors to not “believe the Facebook mob” and published several letters in support of the former pastor. 

While the Diocese and Held never explicitly identified the name of the author who came to speak to young children at the Catholic school last month, the LGBT advocacy group Great Lakes Bay Pride took to Facebook on March 14, shortly after the controversy first erupted, to condemn “the public discrimination, homophobia, and hatred directed toward author Dominic Thrasher by a local religious leader.”

For his part, Thrasher weighed in on the situation in a Facebook post of his own published that same day.

“After I read what was written about me, I cried,” he wrote. “Why? Because what he said made me out to be a predator or an escaped convict. It hurt and still hurts. It also made me realize that I still haven’t healed since the last time this happened 12 years ago. Why am I dragged through the mud both times I have been invited to these institutions to celebrate my successes?”

Thrasher added, “I want everyone out there to know that I know both times it was because of one or two men, ‘Fathers,’ ‘Bishops,’ The ‘so-called leaders and teachers of God’s words.’ I am going to use this next word only once: I HATE that my sexuality seems to be the only thing about me people care about. Yes, I’m Gay. But that is one of many things about me. I’m an actor, a musician, a writer, a friend, a brother, a cousin, a son, a teacher, and a member of this incredible community.”

He also issued a call to action for St. Joseph’s parishioners: “As many from St. Joseph’s have said, his views are not most of our views. Do not punish them. I do agree, though, that you, as parishioners, have the power to make a change. Truly stand up and remove him from your congregation. I know it’s not that simple. It takes work. Don’t let something like this happen to anyone else.”

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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