Pastor rejects gay musicians from Minnesota church

Published 10:13 pm Monday, January 8, 2018

TAYLORS FALLS — Members of a rural Catholic parish in eastern Minnesota are at odds over the dismissal of three gay men from a church musical ensemble after the new pastor learned they are in same-sex marriages.

Bob Bernard, one of the dismissed men, said he has no plans to leave the church and that none of them wants the pastor’s decision to lead to protests against the Catholic Church.

The Rev. John Drees, who began working for the Church of St. Joseph in Taylors Falls and the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Shafer in July, dismissed Bernard, Travis Loeffler and Dominic Mitchell last month. Drees told the four church trustees that the musicians’ gay marriages are opposed to church teachings.

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Some church members voiced concerns that the dismissals would lead to more people leaving the parish, which has about 400 members. Others were concerned about the decreasing inclusiveness of a community that has a history of being tight-knit.

“I’ve been discouraging people from leaving. I don’t intend to leave,” Bernard said.

Bernard discouraged protests over the decision, warning they would devastate the parish and traumatize the community.

“We didn’t want this to turn out to be another ‘bash the Catholic Church’ story, and we’re emphatic about that,” he said.

Drees declined to comment about the dismissals to the newspaper.

“It is our practice not to comment publicly on parish personnel and employment issues out of respect for all involved and affected,” Drees said. “I have heard from few parishioners. They have expressed their concerns but also their support and understanding.”

Chris Hudspeth, a trustee and 40-year member of St. Joseph, said she disagreed with the decision.

“It was more of a justice thing, more of a ‘where is our church going, if we’re kicking people who are living their faith and sharing their music ministry with us?’” Hudspeth said.