As we’ve documented extensively here at TWO, the American Catholic bishops have made the preservation of marriage discrimination and the spiritual bullying of LGBT people and their allies a top priority. Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in Minnesota, where in 2010 the bishops teamed up with the Knights of Columbus to mail an anti-gay DVD to every Catholic household in the state. Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt took the lead in the homophobic crusade, penning a prayer for marriage discrimination that he encouraged his priests to inject into the Mass, subjecting students at Catholic high schools to mandatory anti-gay lectures, and silencing any of his priests who would dare to dissent from the official Church position on marriage equality. (Nienstedt’s efforts were essentially endorsed by Pope Benedict XVI in March.)

But many current and former Catholics in Minnesota want their fellow citizens to know that the bigots in the hierarchy do not speak for them. Just yesterday, according to Minnesota Public Radio, a group representing about 80 former Catholic priests spoke out in a press conference against a proposed marriage discrimination amendment to the state’s constitution that will be decided by voters in November. (The Catholic hierarchy enthusiastically endorses the amendment and has diverted significant church resources to lobby for its passage.) Many of those priests left the Catholic Church themselves over marriage, since under current Church law priests cannot marry, meaning that one has to choose between marrying the person they love and serving the Church they love. The group said that the amendment goes against core Christian principles of love and justice.

In addition, three retired Catholic priests — Fr. John Brandes, Fr. Tom Garvey, and Fr. Tim Power, all of whom retain their priestly faculties — spoke at the press conference, saying that while they agreed with the Catholic Church’s right to choose who to marry in Catholic parishes within a sacramental context, the proposed amendment would eliminate the possibility of any civil recognition of LGBT relationships and stifle the important dialogue they believe needs to happen on these issues. Garvey, a priest since 1957, told MPR that it was seeing the human cost of homophobic bigotry that caused him to change his views:

He said his views on homosexuality changed decades ago after he watched an interview with a lesbian woman who described how she was different. “She began to cry convulsively and I said, ‘We’ve got the wrong position on this,’ ” Garvey recalled.

They also said that they know of many other Catholic priests, both active and retired, who oppose the marriage discrimination amendment but have thus far been too afraid to speak out, especially in the wake of Abp. Nienstedt’s stern letter ordering them to remain silent. Garvey remarked that in his 55 years of priesthood, he could not remember even one similar admonition:

“That was a terrible thing, such an injustice to us to say you cannot disagree with me on this matter,” he said. “And it’s just not true.”

The three retired priests submitted a letter to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, entitled “Catholics of Minnesota, You Have a Choice!”, in which they called gays and lesbians an important part of the Catholic Church, their parish communities, and their families, and said that the LGBT community needs allies. The letter also reminds Catholics that “there is not just one way for [them] to vote in November.” The editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune declined to print the priests’ letter, implying that it wasn’t newsworthy enough for publication.

Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference (the public policy arm of the state’s Catholic bishops), characterized the priests’ actions as divisive and told MPR, “The vast majority of Catholics stand with their bishops and the teaching of the church regarding marriage and protecting marriage as the union of one man and one woman.” Actually, on that point he couldn’t be more wrong: Catholics as a group are more supportive of relationship recognition for same-sex couples than members of any other Christian denomination, as well as the American public at large. A whopping 71% of Catholics support full civil marriage equality, and this margin is sure to grow even greater with the passage of time. On the issue of marriage equality, as on so many other issues, the bishops quite simply do not speak for the people they claim to represent.