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

BEAL CITY, MI — A Catholic priest has resigned as pastor of a church in a small community in central Michigan, the culmination of weeks of controversy after he publicly expressed regret that a gay author had read a book to preschoolers.

Gay rights activists and others have regularly protested outside St. Joseph the Worker Church in Beal City, 85 miles (136.7 kilometers) north of Lansing, the state capital.

The Rev. Thomas Held’s departure as pastor was announced this week by the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Saginaw, The Morning Sun reported.

Held “has come to the decision that it would be impossible for him to bring unity to the parish,” said Bishop Robert Gruss, who called it an “unfortunate situation.”

There has been tension since Held responded on Facebook on March 13 to a visit to the parish preschool days earlier by local 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 there was always a teacher in the classroom and a “new monitoring system” would be introduced.

“I entered a classroom to share the love and joy I have for what I have created. Why my sexuality has anything to do with that – anything – it makes me angry,” Thrasher told WXMI-TV.

The Diocese of Saginaw said Held became involved because some members of St. Joseph parish were upset about Thrasher’s “civil union” with another man, “which conflicts with the Catholic Church’s teaching on human sexuality and marriage.” ‘

The diocese had supported Held even as hundreds of people held protests on Sunday against the priest’s comments and leadership style. They made signs that read: “There is nothing righteous about bigotry disguised as religion” and “Love your neighbor, NO exceptions.”

Held’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 at the parish school.