The Rev. Bob Pierson sent an e-mail message to students and faculty members at Saint John's University in Minnesota on Wednesday, telling them that he is quitting his position as chaplain and director of campus ministry next month because of the Vatican's new policies about gay priests. Father Pierson -- who described himself as gay and celibate -- has held his positions at Saint John's since 2001.
Father Pierson wrote that "because I can no longer honestly represent, explain and defend the church's teaching on homosexuality, I feel I must resign."
New Vatican rules go beyond previous Roman Catholic requirements in seeking to prevent even celibate gay men from becoming priests. Father Pierson noted that the new rules are unclear on some points, but he said that there are "several assertions" in the new rules "that I do not accept as true." He cited statements from the Vatican that gay people are "objectively disordered" in a way that prevents them from "properly relating to men and women."
Father Pierson, who did not respond to a message requesting an interview, wrote: "I am not an infallible person, but I cannot remain silent about my disagreement in conscience with this document.... My sense of honor and integrity demand that I speak out on my own behalf and to support other gay and lesbian Catholics."
Recent public debates over Catholic teachings about gay people have been "very difficult for me personally," Father Pierson wrote, noting the "negativity around the issue of homosexuality that I hear from the church at large, but also from the campus community." He added, "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 any more by trying to conceal my thoughts and feelings to escape criticism."
Saint John's is a Catholic college affiliated with the Benedictine order.
Brother Dietrich Reinhart, president of the university, sent an e-mail message to students and professors saying that the university "deeply regrets" Father Person's resignation, and praising his work as "a man of prayer" and as one who worked closely with students to promote their spiritual development.
"It takes great courage to make hard decisions that are based on conscience and it requires abundant wisdom to chart one's life in the aftermath," Brother Reinhart wrote. Noting that Father Pierson has "thought and prayed long and hard about issues of sexuality and the church," Brother Reinhart called the departing chaplain "a person of integrity, courage and wisdom."