A rural Catholic parish in eastern Minnesota came under fire from parishioners after it dismissed three choral musicians after it was found that they were involved in same-sex marriages.
Bob Bernard, Travis Loeffler and Dominic Mitchell were dismissed from the musical ensemble of the Church of St. Joseph in Taylors Falls and the Church of St. Francis Xavier in Shafer last month by the parish's new pastor, Fr. John Drees.
According to Church Militant, Loeffler and Mitchell civilly married each other at an undisclosed date, while Bernard civilly married another man in September.
In a statement, Drees assured that the parish does not "change employees', vendors' or volunteers' statuses because they are gay."
Drees, who began working for the parish in July, had told the four church trustees that the gay marriages of the three choir members are opposed to Church teachings. He expressed disappointment that the trustees disagreed with his decision to remove the men from ministry.
Some parishioners expressed concern that the dismissal of the three men would lead to the departure of more people from the parish, which has about 400 members. Others feared that they would also be removed from their roles in the liturgy and parish for their support for the dismissed musicians.
Bernard said that he does not intend to leave the church and noted that none of them want the priest's decision to lead to protests against the Catholic Church.
"I've been discouraging people from leaving. I don't intend to leave," he said, warning that protests over the decision could 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 added.
Both Loeffler and Bernard attended the Mass that was held the weekend after their firing. Parishioners reportedly sat next to the dismissed choir members in the front pew to show their solidarity with them.
Fr. Michael Tix, a church leader at the Archdiocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul, issued a statement urging pastors to be consistent in applying Church rules.
"It's the pastor or administrator and his lay leaders who are best able to assess what is necessary for building a team that can give a credible witness to the Gospel in that community," he said, as reported by CBS Local.
"It's the pastor or administrator and his lay leaders who are best able to assess what is necessary for building a team that can give a credible witness to the Gospel in that community," he added.