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Bishop Robert Gruss of SaginawCatholic Diocese of Saginaw/YouTube

BEAL CITY, Michigan (LifeSiteNews) — Bishop Robert Gruss delivered a strong homily defending a priest in his diocese who was forced to resign after a vicious smear campaign launched by LGBT activists and dissident Catholics. He also called for unity and self-reflection.

“You may not have liked Father (Tom Held) for various reasons or agreed with the way he did things… but this does not give one the right to post on Facebook or anywhere else the things that have been said about him or done toward him or anyone else. This behavior is unacceptable from people who profess to be Christian,” Gruss said this past weekend. 

The bishop appeared at all three Masses at St. Joseph the Worker Church in Beal City, Michigan, on Saturday and Sunday. The church is part of the Diocese of Saginaw, which Gruss has overseen since 2019. He previously served as the bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota. 

READ: LGBT activists, dissident Catholics throw Michigan parish into chaos by ousting priest, shaming parishioners

As reported by LifeSiteNews last Friday, Father Tom Held stepped down from St. Joseph’s in mid-April after a coordinated effort by former parishioners, left-wing laity, pro-LGBT activists, and local businesses, promoted by local and national media. The pressure they placed on the church made it “impossible” for him to bring unity to the parish, he said via a diocesan statement. 

Gruss told Mass goers that he doesn’t know if another priest will even want to come to St. Joseph’s given their behavior, which he said amounted to “character assassination.” “This type of behavior is what happens in a pagan society, not a Christian one,” he charged.  

“At this point, I’m not sure any of my priests want to come here based upon how Father Tom was treated. He wasn’t perfect, but he did not deserve to receive the treatment that he got,” the bishop remarked.

“Merely sending another priest here, if I can find one who wants to come, is not going to solve anything. A solution must come from within,” he added. “A new priest will not bring about unity. Only forgiveness will.” 

Speaking about what he called the “spirit realities” of the situation, Gruss further said that “Father Tom is not the enemy; though he may have sinned. The group who has been protesting and sowing division in this community though their behavior is sinful, they are not the enemy. People may do the work of the enemy, but they’re not the enemy. The enemy is the enemy. Satan is the enemy. And he uses God’s children to do his work.” 

A current parishioner at St. Joseph’s told LifeSiteNews that Held is responsible for attracting more than 140 new families to the parish during his tenure. The person also said that an estimated four people walked out of the church during Gruss’ sermon at each liturgy.

Held first drew criticism from multiple biased local media outlets in March after issuing an apology on the church’s Facebook page after a “married” homosexual author and activist was invited without his knowledge to speak to children enrolled in a pre-kindergarten program at the school.

The priest announced that a “new vetting policy” would be put in place to ensure students are not exposed to persons who are not trained in being around children or who “do not represent the values of our Catholic faith.” 

READ: ‘Married’ homosexual arrested for child pornography allegedly planned to abuse surrogate baby

A Facebook page titled “Remove Father Tom Held” was launched in response. Random complaints about the Catholic Church as well as strongly worded rejections of Catholic teaching on LGBT issues were posted on the account. Many of the 1,400 members have rainbow flags for their profile pictures. Others disrespectfully refer to the priest as “Tom” or “Mr. Held.” 

Some users alleged unverified misconduct by the priest. Others shared rude comments and claimed Bishop Gruss did not adequately deal with their complaints in years past. Several persons have ridiculed the sermon he gave this weekend. 

The Saginaw bishop remarked that he has been following the group’s activity and that “nothing could hurt the Lord Jesus more” than what is being said on it. He pointed out that “even though Father Tom has resigned, the division and the disunity and the lack of charity is still being sown. And this must stop.” One person who is active on the Facebook group is Sandy Boge, the former director of religious education at St. Joseph’s. 

The current St. Joseph parishioner who has been speaking to LifeSiteNews maintains that Gruss as well as Held handled all complaints through proper channels and that Held, in particular, went to great energies to resolve matters with Boge and others. The person also believes that the priest’s critics minimize real abuse in the Church by equating his traditional-minded liturgical preferences with serious wrongdoing. 

Upward of 50 persons protested outside St. Joseph’s as Held would say Mass during the month of April. LifeSiteNews has learned that while the persons who participated were peaceful and standing on public property at the time, elderly and young children were frightened by their presence.  

READ: EXCLUSIVE: 16-year-old Catholic student suspended for wearing ‘There are only two genders’ shirt

Gruss informed those who were in attendance that the diocese has received “a gazillion emails and letters and phone calls… from both sides.” He insisted, however, that the important thing to do now is to remain “in the vine” and to not separate off Jesus Christ by continuing to cause more division. He said that to do so would lead them to receive Holy Communion unworthily.

As Catholics, we must forgive others, he said, including Held, for any past offenses, just as Christ forgives us. “Unforgiveness is one of the deadliest poisons a person can take spiritually,” he said. 

In an attempt to push back against criticisms of Held, a website defending him was launched on April 16. It is unclear who set it up or if Held or Gruss are even aware of it.

On the website, there are more than 50 posts from anonymous laity declaring that Held is an exemplary priest who is devoted to the Eucharist and Church teaching. One section of the website addresses specific liturgical practices adopted by Held that became a point of contention between him and left-wing laity.  

For respectful comments only, the Diocese of Saginaw can be contacted here via their website or phone at (989) 799-7910.