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Priest takes quiet stand against marriage amendment

Char Kerelko of Floodwood, Minn., who attends St. Louis Catholic Church, reacts to the news that the Rev. Peter Lambert, the church’s pastor, gave money to Minnesotans United, a group that is trying to defeat the state marriage amendment. Kerelko supports the pastor’s position. Bob King | Forum Communications1 / 2
St. Louis Catholic Church in Floodwood is shown. Bob King | Forum Communications2 / 2

by brandon stahl

Forum Communications

FLOODWOOD – Minnesota’s Catholic dioceses have contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of the Marriage Amendment, which, if passed, would place a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. The Duluth Diocese alone has donated $50,000 to the cause.

But 45 miles west of Duluth, in tiny Floodwood, a priest in the diocese has taken a quiet stand against the amendment.

In March, the Rev. Peter Lambert of St. Louis Catholic Church donated $1,000 to Minnesotans United for Families, the primary group that’s fighting against the amendment, records show.

A search of campaign finance records found no other Minnesota priest in a recognized diocese who has contributed to Minnesotans United, or any other group battling the amendment.

Though Lambert’s contribution is public — as are any political donations of more than $100 in the state — he declined to speak to the Duluth News Tribune about it.

“It was my understanding that Father Lambert wasn’t aware that the contribution would be made public, and it wasn’t intended to be a public statement,” said Duluth Diocese spokesman Kyle Eller.

Beyond that, the diocese declined comment on Lambert’s contribution.

The state’s dioceses have been perhaps the largest group of financial contributors in support of the marriage amendment.

The Minnesota Catholic Conference, which describes itself as “the public policy voice of the Catholic Church in Minnesota” has given $400,000 to Minnesota for Marriage, one of the primary groups that supports the Marriage Amendment. The Catholic Conference’s contribution appears to be the single largest of any group in the state.

Eller said the Duluth Diocese, along with others in the state, support the amendment for societal and biblical reasons.

“The amendment is needed to protect the civil institution of marriage, currently codified in Minnesota statutes, from active attempts in the state courts and Legislature to redefine it. … Redefining marriage to accommodate same-sex couples is inconsistent with the teaching of Jesus and the Gospel and with the demands of justice,” Eller said in a statement from the diocese.

Lambert’s contribution, and the reaction by members of his own parish, suggest that some Minnesota Catholics don’t line up behind the church’s position.

Several of Lambert’s parishioners in the city of 528 people told the News Tribune they weren’t aware of the priest’s contribution. When told, they said they weren’t concerned about it.

“I support him doing whatever his conscience says,” said Char Kerelko, who has been a member of the St. Louis Catholic Church for about 30 years. “He’s a priest, but he’s also a private citizen.”

Kerelko said she was also opposed to the amendment.

“I think we shouldn’t amend the state constitution,” she said. “The whole idea is divisive and insulting to gay people, and it’s mean-spirited.”

Kate Brickman, the press secretary for Minnesotans United, said her group has worked quietly with about two dozen priests who oppose the marriage amendment.

“I think the other side tries to put out a narrative that all Catholics are voting yes, and we know that’s not true,” Brickman said.

A national survey conducted in March by the Public Religion Research Institute found that about 55 percent of Catholics support gay marriage.

Historically, many priests have faced discipline for taking stances contrary to the church’s positions, said Jon Butler, who recently retired from Yale University as a professor of history and religious studies and is now an adjunct professor with the University of Minnesota.

“There is a history within the Roman Catholic Church: It’s famous for discipline,” Butler said. “But it’s also famous for being a big tent on many matters.”

He used the example of the church’s stance on birth control, saying while the church’s doctrine opposes it, many parishioners don’t accept that.

“In this particular case, the outcome depends on two things,” Butler said, “One, what has the priest done? And, secondly, what does the archbishop intend to do about it? Within that, there are many possibilities. It could be that it’s treated as an individual matter, it could be its’ treated as a matter that contradicts Catholic teaching. It could be that the priest would be subject to a variety of disciplines.”

Eller declined to say what action, if any, the diocese would take against Lambert.

Kerelko said her pastor has been a good leader of the church and she would be upset if he were disciplined. She also said he’s never made his position on political issues public to the church.

“He has said several times that he thinks we should stay out of politics as a church, and politics should be private,” she said.