Trust Not Trustees

https://www.ncronline.org/news/parish/minnesota-parish-rallies-around-gay-musicians-ousted-new-priest

Before I get started, can you please drop this priest a line of support?  I’m reasonably sure that he’s not getting all the encouragement he should right now.  In fact, drop his bishop a line too.

The music during the second weekend of Advent at the Churches of St. Joseph and St. Francis Xavier north of Minnesota’s Twin Cities had a different ring to it than it did the week before.

Rather than leading the small parish communities in song from their usual posts in the choral section of the church, two of its longtime musicians, Bob Bernard and Travis Loeffler, instead sang loudly from the front pew as part of the flock. Earlier in the week, parochial administrator Fr. John Drees fired them, along with fellow accompanist Dominic Mitchell, after the priest learned of their same-sex marriages.

“Same-sex marriages” are not compatible with the teachings of the Church, in case Brian Roewe didn’t know, what with being involved with the National catholic Reporter and all.  Might have been a good place to start off the article. 

Their termination led to their relocation in the pews, from where they worshipped at each of the parish’s four Masses surrounded by supportive family, friends and fellow parishioners.

“We wanted to make sure that we were present,” said Bernard, 59, an accompanist at the small parish for 15 years. “We didn’t want people to think that we were afraid, and we didn’t want people in any way to be upset or despairing that they weren’t going to see us again.”

It’s really sad when going to Mass becomes a protest.  Got it, boys.  You believe sodomy is the bomb and you’re sitting in the front row to make sure everyone notices you.  Let’s just forget the pesky thing going on before us on the altar.  Seriously.  They’ve got some diva issues.  I’ve had plenty of reasons in my time to protest the actions of priest in my area but I would NEVER choose Mass to make my point because, well, IT”S MASS!  Geez.  It’s not like it’s an easy thing to overlook unless you’re these guys.

After each of the four Masses celebrated at St. Joseph Church, in Taylors Falls, Minnesota, and St. Francis Xavier Church, in Shafer, Minnesota — part of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese —​ many parishioners approached the men expressing concern and compassion, but also confusion and in some cases, shedding tears. The only announcement of their removal from the clustered parish’s music program was a vague notice in the day’s bulletin being handed out around them, in which the priest, who arrived in July, stated simply the three would “no longer be playing music at our Masses.”

Well, there was a little more to it.  The priest was also looking for some new people to take over.  I will say, in this instance, it might not have been prudent to advertise in the bulletin but, with Christmas coming, one might have to explain the absence of musicians.

Loeffler, a 30-year-old volunteer cantor at the parish for six years, said, “We wanted to be sure that if people had questions, that they knew it’s not because we wanted to leave.”

  Yes, yes.  You’re martyrs and you want to make sure everyone knows it.

The three musicians were dismissed from the parish’s music ministry Dec. 5. Bernard was informed of his termination after morning Mass that day.

“I was scheduled to have a meeting with Fr. Drees about plans for Advent and Christmas music. And then when I sat down, he said that’s not what I really wanted to talk to you about,” Bernard told NCR.

According to Bernard, the priest said the longtime accompanist could not continue in that role because his marriage to his husband, Dave, presented a situation that “was confusing to the parishioners.”

Well, yeah.  Three unrepentant “married” dudes having an integral part in the Mass is kind of confusing. 

Drees, 31, told NCR in an email he would not comment publicly on parish personnel and employment issues out of respect for all involved and affected, nor comment on private conversations between him and parishioners.

Wait! A priest who doesn’t comment publicly on his employees, much less reveal the sinful acts of other people?  Absolutely astonishing.

Bernard, who married in September, said he had informed the priest of his marriage recently, after receiving a payroll form that included a question about his marital status. Bernard’s final paycheck included a note stating, “Dear Bob, a follow-up on our previous discussion. You resigned as an employee on Dec, 5, 2017. I thank you for sharing your musical gifts with us and for your dedication and service to the parish. Your music was an inspiration, I wish you the very best in your journey.”

Well, that certainly doesn’t make Fr. Drees look like the evil toad NcR is going for.

Later on Dec. 5, Drees told Loeffler and Mitchell — who married one another in January — of their terminations by phone, but did not offer an explanation as to why, both told NCR. When either asked the priest what was the reason, he replied, “I’m not prepared to say.”

What also remained unclear was how Drees knew of their marriage. Unlike Bernard, the two never disclosed their marriage to the parish. And while they regularly played together, with Mitchell on the piano and Loeffler providing vocals, they were intentional in avoiding any outward signs of their relationship.

Interestingly enough, Bernard doesn’t say that he notified the parish of his “same-sex marriage,” just that he was married.  When people are intentionally hiding relationships, doesn’t that tell you something, Bob?  You had to know this was probably going to be the outcome of all this.

“I was very careful about it. We barely even shook hands,” Mitchell said.” 

Again, why? 

Leading up to the personnel decision

The unanswered questions added to the pain of their dismissal; they saw their participation at Mass not as a gig but an expression of the gifts God had given them.”

Really?  Are there really unanswered questions?  It was found out that you were all in “same-sex marriages.”  It’s a Catholic Church.  When one enters into a “same-sex marriage,” one can no longer simply say, “It’s not a sin to be gay!” because you’ve gone one step further and let everyone know that you did something against Church teaching, and why would anyone think that someone who entered into a “same-sex” marriage is not engaging in sodomy, masturbation, etc.?

“”It took me a while to realize that God made me the way I am on purpose. To be out of the closet, to be homosexual, to also have these gifts of music to share,” said Mitchell, 35, who has sung in churches since he was a kid.

Wait a sec.  “God made me this way” doesn’t even show a modicum of knowledge in the Faith.  Who was the pastor there before Fr. Drees?  My gosh, priestly people, you need to start including Truth in your homilies.

And, as Mitchell’s comments show, he’s using those liberal labels to defend his indefensible position.  Instead of “struggling Catholic,” it’s “out of the closet Catholic.”  Let me restate, as I have so many times before, I don’t care if one is “gay” or straight.  I care if they are struggling like the rest of us to follow the teachings of the God and His Church.  I care about our immortal souls, not our earthly proclivities.  This whole “Yay, I’m a sinner!” idea is an epic fail.  It should be “Please have mercy on me Lord, a sinner.”  Not the ridiculous “God made me a sinner!  Woot!”  Do some of us have bigger crosses to carry than others?  Yup.  However, most of the time they are self-made by a lack of self-mastery.

“He added he could see why the archdiocese might not want to compensate them, but had a hard time understanding why they still couldn’t voluntarily share their musical talents. “That’s really where I think it seems particularly unnecessary and kind of hateful,” Mitchell said.”

Um, what’s unnecessary and kind of hateful is expecting any of your fellow Catholics to accept you particular sin.  This isn’t about you being homosexual, it’s about you trying to enshrine homosexual “marriage” in the hearts and minds of the faithful around you.  If it’s not and you’re simply struggling with sin, why not say it?

The musicians’ status was a point of tense discussion in the weeks before Thanksgiving among Drees and the parish’s four trustees.

The priest held separate meetings in mid-November with each church’s pair of trustees. At each meeting, Drees asked the trustees — advisors to both the priest and the churches’ pastoral and financial councils — if they knew the musicians were gay and married. Three of the four responded that they knew, to which Drees expressed surprise that no one had alerted him.

Yeah, I’d probably fire the trustees, too.  They knew there were public, obstinate sinners (when 3 out of 4 know, it’s public) being entrusted with jobs in the liturgy.

“He seemed disappointed with the parishioners that nobody thought this was a bad thing and brought it up to him,” said Chris Hudspeth, a trustee at St. Joseph where she has been a parishioner for four decades.

She and others described the St. Croix Valley, which encompasses the two churches, as a small, inclusive and close-knit community (Taylors Falls has a population of approximately 1,000 people), and one that wouldn’t view a person’s sexual orientation as a big deal.

Well, duh!  Disappointed?!? I’d be epically distraught if I were a priest whose parishioners thought having the choir guys entering into “same-sex marriages” was peachy or that peoples’ disordered orientations were no big deal.

Hudspeth said she was “taken aback” when Drees then told her and Larry Julik-Heine he would have to dismiss the three musicians because their marriages represented a public demonstration of beliefs contrary to church teaching. She said the priest indicated that Bernard’s contract included a code of conduct agreement, but she did not review the document.

How sad is it that these two people so involved with their church don’t get this?

Both trustees said they opposed the musicians’ dismissal, with Hudspeth pointing to gay-and-married members of her own family and saying, “I would not turn my back on them.”

Uh, yes, trustees.  You have turned your back on them by green-lighting their sin and allowing them to be perfectly comfortable with it. Heaven and Hell are real places, people. Christ didn’t tell the lost sheep to have fun.  He went after them.  These two knuckle-heads are going to give the thumbs up to their loved ones because they don’t want the discomfort of calling a spade a spade.  Apparently, they believe embracing sin is an acceptable method to get to Heaven, since, heck, Christ dined with sinners and all.  Trustees, Christ told people to “go and sin” no more.  He didn’t say “Hey!  Your sin, it’s just fine.”

“I thought it was wrong, discriminatory, and I just could not agree,” Julik-Heine told NCR.”

Discriminatory?  Try loving.  It’s sad that these poor priests are labeled malicious for not wanting people to stew in their sins and lead others to believe the sinner’s way of life is a good thing.

According to the trustees, Drees responded to a question about how he found out about the musicians’ marriages by saying someone had informed him, which led him to conduct his own online inquiry. The priest also indicated he noticed Loeffler and Mitchell arrived at Mass together in the same car and departed at the same time. At the St. Francis trustee meeting, Carol Schwinghammer said she noticed a photo of Bernard and his husband in the stack of papers in front of Drees.

In short, people knew, and the trustees confirmed that. 

When asked if he conducted online research into the marital status of any of the three men, Drees told NCR in an email, “Social media and other online outlets are public. We teach our schoolchildren and our employees to be careful what they post online, and, as employees, we all must adhere to Catholic teaching in our postings.”

Yep!  I tell my children the same thing. You want to post your sins on-line, be prepared for consequences somewhere along the way.  And, regardless, there are always consequences to sin which should be the bigger picture here.  I repeat, Heaven and Hell.

Schwinghammer, who also opposed the musicians’ firing, requested a second meeting for all four trustees and Drees to continue the discussion and perhaps find an alternative solution. “But to me, it became apparent that that wasn’t going to happen,” she said.

By “alternative solution”, do you mean a solution consistent with that pesky little thing called Church teaching?  Didn’t think so. These men were all thrilled to jump into an objectively sinful situation.  There is no solution that can fix that other than confession and resolving to sin no more.  When you’re proud of your same-sex “marriage” you’ve now enshrined yourself in the public obstinate sinner category.

The trustees told NCR that Drees said no one had approached him with concerns about the musicians. At one point, Schwinghammer referenced Pope Francis’ calls for a more inclusive church, to which she said Drees replied that a lot of people find the pope’s message confusing, and went on to reference three passages from St. Paul that he said condemn same-sex marriage.

Father Drees, if it doesn’t work out in Minnesota, we’ve got a few dioceses around here that could use your help.  Schwinghammer doesn’t understand the difference between a Church made up of sinners (all of us) and one that tells people to embrace their sins.

And one other little thing…Of course nobody approached you people.  They knew you were already in on the whole thing and it was all copacetic with you!  Duh!

“The firing of the musicians led Julik-Heine to resign as trustee, a position he had held almost the entirety of his two decades at St. Joseph. After making that decision, Julik-Heine told NCR that Drees informed him he could also no longer serve as a lector or eucharistic minister in the parish, and that he would likely refuse him the sacraments; days later, the priest said he would still offer him the Eucharist, but the bar on liturgical roles stood.

It wasn’t “after making that decision.” It was after you spewed a warped vision of Church teaching. 

“”I felt like I was basically kicked out of the church,” Julik-Heine said. “… That put a big hole in my heart, to be honest. Because I’ve done so much at St. Joe’s over the years and it’s a big part of my life.”

Here comes more of the martyr complex.  I’d be more worried about Heaven and Hell than your roles in the Church.  The Church is not a social club. 

Outpouring of support

The three trustees were among those who joined in sitting near the musicians at Masses during the second weekend of Advent. Of the roughly 50 to 100 people in attendance at each, it was estimated close to half were present in support for their former musicians. By all accounts, the circumstances at the Saturday night Mass at St. Joseph that landed Loeffler and Bernard in a pew rather than the regular choral spot — two female cantors filled in — resulted in a beautiful harmony filling the church.

There’s a shocker.  It’s all really about them, isn’t it?  Go to Mass, people, and take the protest elsewhere. 

In a side note, I have to think that the attendance in that parish is about to go up, since I’m sure that many people who embrace Catholic teaching went elsewhere a long time ago.  Some of us are looking for faithful priests to minister to us.  Now you know where he is, Minnesota Catholics!  The “trustees” might have given a thought to why there was such awful attendance there but it seems it was all lost on them!

Even more moving to the two men was the overwhelming support they felt from their parish community, including people they didn’t know well or from whom they had expected a different reaction to their dismissal.

“There were a lot of tears, a lot of hugging,” Loeffler said.

“Everybody loved them,” Hudspeth said. “… They brought a music ministry to this church, to these parishes, that we have not had in years.

Uh, sounded like they had all been there a while. 

Asked about the show of support, Drees said, “As a priest, I am always happy to see people attending and participating in the Mass.” He said he has heard from “few parishioners” since the musicians’ firing, and “they have expressed their concerns but also their support and understanding.”

Bernard described many “raw feelings” at the Masses, and several people approached Drees afterward to discuss the priest’s decision. One of them was Jamie Manzi-Moore, the former music director at St. Victoria Catholic Church, in Victoria, Minnesota, who was fired in 2014 after 17 years in the position after his own same-sex marriage was reported to then-Archbishop John Nienstedt.

Now they’re bringing people in to protest?!?  I would expect no less.

According to Schwinghammer, during the first meeting Drees said that while at a prior parish he had addressed at a similar situation at a nearby church. When Bernard confronted Drees about whether he had informed Nienstedt of Moore’s marriage, he told NCR that the priest “was shocked to hear me ask that question, and he said, ‘Yes.’ “

Drees, in response to a question from NCR, denied that he had informed Nienstedt about Manzi-Moore’s marriage. He did not respond to a follow-up question whether he had any involvement in the archbishop or archdiocese learning about Manzi-Moore’s marital status.

Well, sounds like a he said/he said thing, so it’s really not possible to comment on whether or not the exchange happened, although NcR is all too happy to report on it.  That said, if Fr. Drees informed his bishop of something he found problematic, the problem is?  Oh, yeah, there isn’t one.

Manzi-Moore, after a brief exchange with Drees following Mass on Dec. 9, emailed the priest and Archbishop Bernard Hebda stating in part he believed his and the other musicians’ firings were “completely wrong, unjust, and it is not Christian in any way shape or form.”

“It isn’t simply ‘remove them from their ministries and all will be well.’ There is so much pain, so much sorrow, and so much unnecessary harm inflicted upon not only those who are ‘let go’ but also upon their families, loved ones, and their parish families,” he wrote.

What about the harm to the faithful when a pastor allows people to be perfectly complacent with their sins?  Give me a break.  Eternal salvation is a big deal.

Drees responded to Manzi-Moore on Thursday in an email, a copy of which NCR obtained, where he again said he did not contact Nienstedt about him. The priest, who at the time of the former music director’s dismissal was associate pastor of nearby St. Hubert Catholic Community, explained he received a phone call from an anonymous St. Victoria parishioner “who had some concerns about the music ministry at the parish.”

“I asked my pastor him [sic] for direction on what to do with the information, and he suggested relaying it to our dean,” Drees wrote, referring to the head of the regional deanery. “I did, and that was the last and only thing I did. I cannot speak to what the Archbishop knew or didn’t know, or how he knew.”

Let’s be honest, there was probably more than one person who was concerned.  Apparently, it was public knowledge, and I’m sure more than one person expressed their concern to more than just Fr. Drees.

Moving forward

There’s worry within the St. Francis Xavier and St. Joseph Churches, the trustees said, that the situation with their ousted musicians will become a wedge that divides the parish. Some parishioners have begun talking about withholding financial support of the parish, or withdrawing from it entirely. Others fear that showing support for the musicians could lead to their own removal from roles in the liturgy and parish, as well.

That’s really up to the parishioners, isn’t it, trustees?  I would expect that showing support for peoples’ objective sins might be more of a problem than some withholding financial support.

”I really am concerned that it is going to negatively impact the community. And I see it personally, I see it as discriminatory,” Schwinghammer said. The situation with the musicians reminded her of her own experience as a child, with her parents divorced, of feeling not welcomed in the church.”

Doesn’t it occur to anyone that people publicly embracing sodomy might be the ones negatively impacting the community?!?  And, really, the homosexual choir dudes are the center of parish devotion?  It’s about the Eucharist, folks!  It’s not about you, the choir, etc., etc., etc.  I don’t know a parish in the world that doesn’t have very human people, but in my parish, the focus is not us, it’s God.  It’s not about embracing sin, it’s about supporting people in their rejection of sin (which is hard).  It’s about helping us gain everlasting life with God, not about making our lives on this earth comfy.  It’s about supporting people in their daily struggles, not about helping them to avoid them in a misplaced sense of love.

Julik-Heine and Schwinghammer have written to the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese expressing their concerns. Schwinghammer said she spoke Dec. 9 with Fr. Michael Tix, vicar for clergy and parish services, who advised her to keep talking.

Maybe “keep listening” would be a better idea.  I have NO DOUBT Fr. Drees has the salvation of his parishioners in the forefront of his mind.  Too bad these whiners don’t.

The archdiocese did not respond to specific questions from NCR, saying it does not comment on individual parish personnel decisions.

In a statement, Tix said, “Decisions regarding personnel in a parish setting rest with the pastor or parochial administrator of the parish and the Archdiocese recommends that he work in tandem with parish leadership and consult legal counsel. 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. We urge our pastors to be both fair and consistent in the applications of rules and standards.”

For the three musicians, the outpouring at the Masses two weeks ago showed them the parish body still welcomed them, even if they were restricted from formal ministerial roles.

I’m just going to focus on the last paragraph here.  Just what are you supporting, fellow parishioners?  Did you ever once stop and think about that?  You are supporting sin.  Get it through your thick skulls.  You’re cheering them on while they skip down the road to perdition.  Welcome them to Mass?  Fine. Welcome them to Hell?  Not so much.

“If anything, I am reassured from this community that there were a number of people that said ‘I would love for you to sit and sing by me,’ ” Loeffler said.

To Bernard, the outreach meant one thing: “I’m going to stay there.”

Me, me, me, I, I, I. 

While Mitchell said he plans to attend Mass elsewhere for the foreseeable future, Bernard and Loeffler were back at St. Joseph on Sunday morning. “We sang our hearts out from the pews,” according to Bernard, and afterward, met friends they didn’t know they had. Drees even greeted Bernard after Mass.

I’m totally shocked that the last sentence got printed!  It further flipped the whole narrative of Fr. Drees being the guy who wants to drum all homosexuals out of his parish, didn’t it?  Seriously, we need to pray for our priests.  The stress of having to deal with Mass being used as a weekly protest must be overwhelming.

“People were delighted to see that we had not been driven away,” he said, adding they hope to remain a part of the parish community, however that might look.

I would hope they’d keep going to Mass, and I hope they will reject sin.  This is not about trying to drive people away, my friends at St. Joseph and St. Francis Xavier.  It’s about helping them gain everlasting life.

For Bernard, who attends daily Mass when able, the Eucharist kept him from ever considering abandoning the Catholic faith altogether. By staying in the parish, he hopes he can show strength to other gay people who might feel unwelcome.

Whoa, buddy!  You abandoned the faith a long time ago when you decided to rebel against Church teaching. You showed up weekly but you tried to make the faith conform around you.  This is not about “gay” people.  It’s about the public manifestation of sin and Eucharist.  These are two very different things, and I’m not letting Bernard get away with saying because he sat in a pew and openly and willfully rejected the teachings of the Church that he embraces the faith.  It’s simply not fair to those suffering with same-sex attraction who are trying (and succeeding!) to live a chaste life.  They are the real heroes and examples to us. 

“I feel like my gifts and talents are a calling, and I would like to be the change that we seek, as far as the Catholic Church goes. And I feel like if I leave it, I’m not fulfilling my calling,” Mitchell said.

Mr. Mitchell, your calling is to help the Body of Christ achieve everlasting life, just like the rest of us. We’re all in this together. Your calling is not to be an example of how to embrace sin.  You can choose the example you are going to be.  Are you going to help people reject sin, or are you going to play the martyr card some more?

Loeffler said leaving would feel “like the easy way out.” He hopes the support they’ve received can show other homosexual men and women who feel driven from their communities that there are Catholics who “knowingly and openly support gay men and women. That they’re not afraid of them, they welcome them.”

Mr. Loeffler, there is no easy way out.  There is a cross.  Are you going to embrace or reject it?  That’s what this comes down to for all of us.

“We don’t want this to be another story for people to dislike the Catholic Church. We are still parishioners of the Catholic faith after this. This didn’t drive us away,” Loeffler said.

It is good you didn’t leave.  I would hope you wouldn’t.  However, I hope Fr. Drees will get what real love is across to you.  Christ showed us this on the cross.  You won’t ever be happy in your protest. You will only be happy when your focus is on Christ and the teachings of His Church.

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7 thoughts on “Trust Not Trustees

  1. Whoa! Now this poor priest has to deal with giving the Body of Christ to sodomites who are not repentant, but out and proud. Yikes, I have always been confused about how a priest is to handle this.
    Thank you OMM for bringing this to our attention and asking us to support this priest (and bishop) with prayer and encouragement. Writing a note now!
    Please keep being a voice in the wilderness. Deo gratias!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Things are worse here on the east coast USA. Fordham and Fairfield univ. Alleged Jesuits colleges gave awards to two employees who are married to same sex deviants partners. Not a word from local bishops in NYC and diocese of Bpt. CT. .in protest let alone any action what so ever.. …. …..Glad to see pastors and bishops in North California grow a backbone. Unlike bishops from Boston to DC exception of Bishop Tobin of Rhode island. sincerely Ed Mulrenan of Ct..

    Like

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