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Michigan Catholic priest resigns following protests over his criticism of a gay author

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A Catholic priest has resigned as pastor of a church in a small mid-Michigan community, the result of weeks of controversy following his publicly expressed regret that a gay author had read a book to preschool children.

Gay rights activists and others have held regular protests outside St. Joseph the Worker Church in Beal City. 

The Rev. Thomas Held's departure as pastor was announced this week by Bishop Robert Gruss of the Saginaw Catholic Diocese.

"Because of the unfortunate situation at St. Joseph the Worker Parish in Beal City, Fr. Thomas Held has come to the decision that it would be impossible for him to bring unity to the parish, and therefore, he has tendered his resignation as the pastor, effective immediately. Until a new pastor is assigned, the weekend Masses will be covered by a visiting priest.

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.  Jesus weeps when he sees division and disunity in the Body of Christ, his Church. It is not his desire nor his will. The Gospel of Jesus calls all of us to be a healing presence in the community in which we live and worship. "So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart." Matthew 18:35

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."

There has been tension since Held went on Facebook on March 13 to respond to a parish preschool visit days earlier by mid-Michigan author Dominic Thrasher, who read from his book, "The Adventures of Cece and the Sheriff." The main characters are puppies.

Held did not mention Thrasher by name, but he said a "guest who does not represent the values of our Catholic faith" had read a book to children.

He said a teacher was in the room at all times and that a "new vetting system" would be put in place.

The Diocese says the priest got involved because some St. Joseph parish members were upset over Thrasher's "civil union" with another man, "which is contrary to the Catholic Church's teaching on human sexuality and marriage."

The Diocese supported Held despite hundreds of people holding Sunday protests against the priest's remarks and leadership style. They made signs that said, "There's nothing righteous about bigotry disguised as religion," and "Love thy neighbor NO exceptions."

The priest's critics welcomed his resignation.

"We can finally begin the process of healing and restoring the sense of unity that defines our community," said Kate Beltinck, who has children in the parish school.

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