Gay parishioner asked to step down from church positions

MARQUETTE – Bishop John Doerfler of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Marquette offered his full support of the decision to ask a parishioner to step down from his positions within the church because of a commitment ceremony between the parishioner and his same-sex partner.

St. Michael Parish priest the Rev. Larry Van Damme made the decision following Saturday’s commitment ceremony involving parishioner Bobby Glenn Brown and his partner of 30 years.

Brown said he was asked Sunday to stop being a lector and a cantor in the church – where he has been an active member for the last three years and has attended for the last decade – because of the ceremony.

Doerfler supported the decision, saying the church was aware Brown was gay but was not aware he was “acting on those same-sex attractions.”

“In the Catholic Church, we love and embrace and want to include among our members persons with same-sex attraction, so having same-sex attraction in no way disqualifies someone from being a member of the church,” Doerfler said. “And we also give people the benefit of the doubt that people intend to live chastely and so forth, so we always give people the benefit of the doubt.”

Doerfler said it wasn’t Brown’s sexual orientation that precluded him from being in a public ministry, like being a lector or a cantor, but promoting the acceptability of his orientation does.

“If someone were to give some type of public affirmation that it’s morally OK to act on those attractions, that’s where the departure would be,” Doerfler said. “So the commitment ceremony would indicate that it would be permissible to act on those attractions and that’s where the disconnect is with the church’s teachings.”

Brown has also said Van Damme asked him to sit in the vestibule during Sunday’s mass, a claim Doerfler said he could not comment on.

“Because there’s lots of emotions that come up with these kinds of things, it’s real easy for misunderstandings to take place, and so I have talked with Father Larry Van Damme, the pastor of the parish, and I have every belief that he handled the matter with utmost charity and with integrity, and I offer him my full support,” Doerfler said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

However, Doerfler did say Brown is more than welcome to continue being a member of the church, despite the ceremony.

In an interview Tuesday, Brown said he has decided to resign from his position on the church’s pastoral council and said he will no longer attend St. Michael.

He said he has been invited to attend several other churches in the area.