As a member of The Progressive Catholic Voice editorial team, I was honored to contribute to the writing of the following open letter to Archbishop Nienstedt of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis (pictured above).
An Open Letter to Archbishop Nienstedt
Concerning His Recent Comments on Homosexuality
Concerning His Recent Comments on Homosexuality
November 21, 2007
Dear Archbishop Nienstedt:
Your November 15 column in The Catholic Spirit on homosexuality leaves us grief-stricken and questioning.
We cannot accept your teaching on this matter.
Your first point is that the US bishops are concerned that Catholics might get “confused about what is right and wrong according to the teachings of the Church, prompting them to endorse or even to commit immoral behavior.” Because of this concern, homosexuals in partnered relationships may not get awards, honors or be allowed to speak in a Catholic church.
Our question is: Is it Church teaching that right and wrong are determined by the bishops? We believe that moral positions emerge by discernment from the experience of the faithful as a whole in dialogue with scientific and philosophical communities of inquiry. From our study, as well as our experience as homosexual people, as parents of homosexual people, and as staunch supporters of people who are seeking to live a life of goodness and love, we see homosexuality as one of many good ways to develop our human capacities to love as a preparation for receiving the gift of divine life. Please clarify this for us. Do bishops by their elevation have an infusion of knowledge of right and wrong in all areas?
Your second point is that “those who actively encourage or promote homosexual acts or such activity within a homosexual lifestyle formally cooperate in a grave evil and if they do so knowingly and willingly, are guilty of mortal sin. They have broken communion with the church and are prohibited from receiving holy Communion until they have had a conversion of heart, expressed sorrow for their action and received sacramental absolution from a priest.”
By the threat of sin, you have divided parents from children, family members and members of loving communities from each other. Many of us are not affected by your words because we firmly believe that homosexual love is, as all love is, of God. But upon others who are still struggling with Roman Catholic Church teaching on this subject, you have placed an intolerable burden.
For all of us the vagueness of the statement renders it absurd. We are sad to see our leadership in such a position. Is it a mortal sin if we support our homosexual family members and friends in loving, partnered relationships? May we have them to dinner? May we worship with them? May we take care of their children when they need us? May we tell them that we love them and are very happy that they are happy?
Are we not to allow lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons who accept and express their sexuality, or their supportive families and friends, to engage in any of the following activities: 1) work for us if we are employers, 2) rent from us as landowners, 3) secure loans from us if we are bankers, 4) take classes from us or attend our schools if we are educators, 5) engage in business with us if we own or operate a business, or 6) utilize public accommodations or public services if our jobs give us responsibilities over the usage of these public services?
To engage with LGBT persons in any of these above ways certainly could be construed as “encouraging” or “promoting” their “homosexual lifestyles”; yet, to refuse LGBT persons access to any of these activities or services would be in direct violation of Minnesota’s Human Rights Act, which has protected them from discrimination based upon sexual or affectional orientation since 1993. Such an interpretation of your recent statement would create much confusion and cause extreme stress for the faithful. Please explain to us what your statement says about these areas of possible conflict.
Your third point is that Always Our Children is not “normative” because it did not come from the whole body of US bishops after discussion and vote. However, your brother bishop, Thomas J. Gumbleton, who served with you in Detroit, disagrees with your opinion about the authority behind this document. He informed us that his recollection of the history regarding this document leads him to conclude that it is clearly normative. Gumbleton recalls that due to criticism from conservative bishops such as yourself, the original draft of Always Our Children (1997) was sent to the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, where it was ratified after some changes were made that did not “significantly alter the message of the document.” The document was then reissued by the US bishops’ Committee on Marriage and Family in its current form in the summer of 1998. Our understanding is that ratification of a document by the Vatican would supersede the authority of a country’s conference of bishops. Our search of documents revealed a news story in the July 17, 1998, issue of the National Catholic Reporter that verifies Bishop Gumbleton’s recollection of these events.
Also, in light of your concerns about the authority of episcopal statements, does this proclamation of yours on mortal sin for all supporters of homosexual people have the affirmative vote of the whole body of US bishops? It is curious that it could be mortal sin in the Archdiocese of St Paul and Minneapolis to support homosexual partners while in other states in the US and other countries it is not.
Your fourth point is about the pastoral care of homosexuals who accept that they have the “disorder” of same-sex attraction (SSA). Given current science on human sexuality, including the official pronouncements from pertinent professional mental health and educational organizations, we cannot accept your definition of homosexuality as disordered or pathological, nor accept that reparative therapy is ethical or effective. Can you show us reputable scientists of human sexuality that support your position and whose peer-reviewed academic publications agree with your assertions? Does not sound theology need to be informed by solid science?
Also, please note that we recently consulted with experts in the Program in Human Sexuality at the University of Minnesota who tell us that the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), which has been used as a reference for your positions on homosexuality in recent articles in the Catholic Spirit, have no credibility or respectability among legitimate professional associations pertinent to the study and treatment of homosexual persons. These associations include – among many others – the American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Psychiatric Association.
We believe that you genuinely want to create a well-ordered Catholic community in the Archdiocese. Yet must “orderliness” depend on rigid legalism and unquestioning obedience? Does not the life and example of Jesus demonstrate that such qualities are subordinate to that type of hospitality that invites and includes all: the different, the marginalized, the sinners, the exceptional, all classes, colors, genders, and orientations. Intrinsic to this “radical hospitality” is a trusting openness and response to the presence and action of God within the Church as People of God and thus the vast and diverse arena of human life and relationships.
Accordingly, instead of top-down teaching, we believe that all of us should be in continual dialogue from our own study and experience about the norms of right-relationship between and among us in all our differences. As Patrick A. Heelan, S.J., has pointed out in an analysis of John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio, “the process of learning truth is embodied, dialogical, evolutionary, emergent, metaphorical, imaginative, lifelong, and committed to the entanglement of goodness and truth.”
We need a strong and clear leader who will respect our faith experience and grow together with us to create a witnessing community in this complex society. We have hope that you will join us and that we can support you.
The Editorial Team of The Progressive Catholic Voice:
Mary Lynn Murphy
Theresa O'Brien, CSJ
UPDATE: This letter to Archbishop Nienstedt was delivered to the chancery during a Vigil for Solidarity with LGBT Catholics, held at the Cathedral of St. Paul on December 2, 2007. For more on this event, including photos, click here.
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Interesting Times Ahead
When Quackery Goes Mainstream
No Place for Dialogue in Archdiocesan Newspaper
Local Archdiocese’s Misstep Makes National News
Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Learning Curve”: A Suggested Trajectory
Choosing to Stay