Michigan priest resigns amid dispute over school appearance by ‘openly gay’ author  — By: Catholic News Agency

Credit: Unsplash. / null

CNA Staff, Apr 18, 2024 / 12:45 pm (CNA).

A priest at a Michigan parish has resigned his post following a controversy over an “openly gay” author’s appearance at the parish parochial school’s pre-kindergarten class.

Father Thomas Held has resigned from the pastorship at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Beal City “effective immediately,” Diocese of Saginaw Bishop Robert Gruss said in a statement on Tuesday.

The parish and Held himself have been at the center of controversy since last month after area author Dominic Thrasher made an appearance at the parish’s school to read one of his children’s books, which are based on his family’s dogs. 

Thrasher has identified himself as “openly gay.” About a week after he visited the school, the church’s Facebook page was updated with a message from Held in which he wrote that “a guest who does not represent the values of our Catholic faith read to our pre-k children” as part of a schoolwide reading program. 

“To my knowledge, the book and any related conversation [were] appropriate for our students. A St. Joseph teacher was present in the room at all times,” the priest wrote. 

In the post, Held said he was “unaware” that Thrasher had been invited. 

“As your pastor, I will see to it that a new vetting police is put in place in order to minimize anything of the sort from happening again in the future,” he wrote. 

Backlash erupted following the message, with protesters demonstrating against Held and local businesses calling for his removal. A Facebook group demanding his dismissal grew to hundreds of participants, while critics urged residents to write to the diocese with complaints about the priest. 

On Tuesday, Gruss said that the controversy led Held to “come to the decision that it would be impossible for him to bring unity to the parish.”

The bishop in his statement criticized what he said was uncharitable “disunity” on display amid the controversy.

“The division, lack of charity, and the wounds caused by the division in the St. Joseph the Worker Parish community has brought deep sadness to the Lord Jesus, especially when we are living in the light of the Resurrection we celebrated on Easter Sunday,” Gruss wrote in his statement. 

“Jesus weeps when he sees division and disunity in the body of Christ, his Church. It is not his desire nor his will,” the prelate said. “The Gospel of Jesus calls all of us to be a healing presence in the community in which we live and worship.”

“My prayers and concern go out to all the members of St. Joseph the Worker Catholic community, that Christ’s peace may be a uniting force for a greater good,” the bishop added. 

Visiting priests will oversee Mass at the Beal City parish until a permanent pastor can be appointed, the bishop said.

In the weeks since the controversy began, Thrasher himself has expressed anger over the priest’s decision to post the statement, telling local media that the priest’s remarks had “made me out like I’m some predator or convict coming in to read to these children.” 

Thrasher did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday morning. Following Held’s resignation, meanwhile, he told a local news station that “a battle has been won, but the war is not over.”

The Saginaw Diocese is located in the central part of the state. Beal City is about 60 miles northeast of Grand Rapids. 

St. Joseph Parish dates back to the 1880s and was originally called St. Philomena. The school serves preschool through sixth graders.

Read More