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In this video (link opens in new tab) openly gay priest and monk Father Bob Pierson addresses a group of Catholics for Marriage Equality in Minnesota. This November, Minnesota voters are being asked to decide on a constitutional amendment which would limit marriage to heterosexual couples only. Last fall, Archbishop John Nienstedt addressed priests in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, writing, “on your ordination day, you made a promise to promote and defend all that the Church teaches. I call upon that promise in this effort to defend marriage. There ought not be open dissension on this issue. If any have personal reservations, I do not wish that they be shared publicly. If anyone believes in conscience that he cannot cooperate, I want him to contact me directly and I will plan to respond personally.” (From The Progressive Catholic Voice’s reprint of Nienstedt’s letter)

I.e., “let’s keep the fact that faithful Catholics might validly have dissenting opinions regarding civil marriage laws under wraps to pursue a political agenda.”

While Father Pierson does not name Nienstedt or refer directly to his letter, he does address the issue of freedom of conscience, which is enshrined in the Catechism (#1782): “[The human person] has the right to act in conscience and in freedom so as personally to make moral decisions. ‘He must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience, especially in religious matters.’ ” Dignitatis Humanae 3 § 2.

He goes on, “A young theologian by the name of Joseph Ratzinger, whom many of you know now as Pope Benedict XVI, put it this way in 1967: ‘Over the pope as expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there stands one’s own conscience which must be obeyed before all else, even if necessary against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.’ ”

Pierson’s address very wisely focuses mostly on this issue of freedom of conscience, and points out that, “until now the church has not concerned itself with civil marriage. The church does not recognize the civil marriage of its members. If a Catholic is married in a civil ceremony, they are said to be married ‘outside of the Church’ and the marriage is not recognized as a sacrament due to ‘lack of canonical form.’ Civil marriage for committed, same-sex couples is not the Sacrament of Matrimony, and the government cannot tell churches who they may or may not marry.”

Earlier in the address he says, “My conscience tells me to vote NO on the amendment because I have yet to hear a convincing reason why we need such an amendment to our state constitution. In fact, I believe that the church does not have the right to force its moral teaching on others outside our fold. When the religious beliefs of any particular religious group become the law of the land, we run the risk of violating everyone’s freedom to believe and their freedom of conscience.”

Amen.

(I highly recommend watching the video (linked to above), which is just short of 11 minutes.  There’s also a transcript at Sensus Fidelium, and some helpful stories at MinnPost: “Collegeville priest’s speech against marriage amendment goes viral” and the hilariously headlined “Archbishop Nienstedt urges support of gay marriage ban, says it’s not anti-gay.”)

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