Thursday, April 29, 2010

Archbishop Nienstedt Calls (Again) for a Marriage Amendment to Minnesota's Constitution

NOTE: The image of Archbishop John C. Nienstedt that originally accompanied this post has been removed at the Archbishop's request through Dennis McGrath, Communications Director of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

Mr. McGrath did not pass on any comments of the Archbishop on the content of this article.

Archbishop John Nienstedt had an op-ed in yesterday’s Star Tribune. Given the current global crisis that the Roman Catholic clerical leadership is facing around the clergy sex abuse scandal, one may well have hoped that the archbishop would have used his op-ed to demonstrate the repentance and truth-telling that Catholics are longing to hear from pretty much anyone in a position of clerical leadership.

Here’s what theologian
Rosemary Radford Ruether, in her book Catholic Does Not Equal the Vatican, says needs to be said and heard.

Bishops need to stand in front of their people and say, “we have failed to deal adequately with this matter of sexual abuse by priests. We have covered it up. We have refused to listen to the cries of the victims. We have protected abusers. We have sent priests to other church communities without informing them of the history of such priests. We are sorry; we have a ‘firm purpose of amendment.’ We are putting these specific policies in place to rectify these situations. We have consulted with lay people, including victims, about these policies, and we want your feed back on them.” Such repentance and truth-telling might approximate what it means to be the church.

Alas, no such “repentance and truth-telling” was modeled by Archbishop Nienstedt. Instead, readers of the Star Tribune were presented with a decidedly illogical rationale for an amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution that would define marriage as a union of one man and one woman.

Why illogical? Well, the bulk of the archbishop's op-ed focuses on how devastating divorce has been for marriage. Okay . . . so wouldn’t a proposed amendment outlawing divorce be the logical solution? Yes, but imagine the outcry that would cause. Better to focus on an issue that still has certain elements of society either feeling uneasy about or firmly opposed to. Yep, you guessed it: gay marriage.

Following are some of my initial thoughts on Archbishop Nienstedt’s op-ed.

Nienstedt clearly wants Minnesotans to agree with him that the basis of marriage is all about procreating. Yet before he convinces the wider population of Minnesota, he needs first to convince members of his own church. The vast majority of Catholics simply don’t buy it – and for good reason: it's a limited and thus impoverished way of understanding sexuality. (For more on this, see the previous Wild Reed post, Stop in the Name of Discriminatory Ideology.)

As a gay Catholic man reading Archbishop Nienstedt’s op-ed, I found it very disappointing and disturbing that gay people and their needs and concerns were never once acknowledged or discussed. Collectively, we’re seemingly just an abstraction. This really shouldn’t be surprising as so much of the sexual theology advanced by the Roman Catholic clerical leadership deals only in abstracts. Real people and the diversity and complexity of sexuality simply do not inform the way this leadership thinks and talks about sex, marriage, and what it means to be fully human.

I know Catholics who attended various sessions of the recent archdiocesan series, “Reclaiming the Culture of Marriage and Life” (see for instance Brian McNeill's Progressive Catholic Voice article, Defense! Defense!) Throughout this series, three threats to marriage were identified and railed against: divorce, gay marriage, and . . . contraception. This last “threat” was notably absent from Nienstedt’s op-ed in the Star Tribune. Hmm . . . I wonder why. Again, the archbishop’s priorities seem to be misplaced. I mean, given the number of married Catholic couples practicing birth control (96 percent according to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops), wouldn’t it make more sense to push for a marriage amendment that defines the purpose of sexual intercourse as making babies? That would be the logical thing. But, remember, this latest effort to ban same-sex civil marriage isn't concerned with logic - or the facts. It’s about appealing to a certain element within both the church and society that will – knowingly or unknowingly – help prop up the collapsing feudal system that is the Roman Catholic clerical caste and its dubious claims of moral authority on matters pertaining to sexuality. And it attempts to do this by scapegoating gay people. R. F. Hoffman has observed that this scapegoating of a vulnerable population is not only “pathetic, dishonest, and selfish,” but “unworthy of anyone who would make claims to honesty, charity or moral authority.”

A number of folks I’ve spoken to aren’t really that worried about Nienstedt’s latest efforts to push for a marriage amendment. They see such efforts as a lost cause. From their perspective the game’s over in Minnesota. Marriage equality will be achieved. It's just a matter of time. Four years ago, Nienstedt, as Bishop of New Ulm, was on the offense. He was, after all, a key player in pushing for an amendment to the State Constitution that would have banned same-sex marriage and all legal equivalents. It was quite the ambitious effort. And it failed. Fast forward to today and the reality that there are six marriage equality bills currently before the Minnesota Senate and the Minnesota House of Representative (see here and here). The authors and supporters of these bills are smart enough to know that they need to wait until after the November elections (and hopefully the election of a Democratic governor) before calling for a vote on any of these bills. (Even if they were to be voted on and passed today, the current Republican governor would veto them.) The point is that Nienstedt is now on the defense. Events have largely overtaken him. His op-ed and (from what I’ve heard) the poorly attended “Reclaiming the Culture of Marriage and Life” series are ultimately futile efforts to stave off the inevitable.

Anyway, I could go on. But let’s hear what some of the readers of the Star Tribune are saying about Archbishop Nienstedt’s call for a marriage amendment.

Shadowman72 writes: Notice how this article lacks one good reason against gay marriage. . . . First off, having children is not a requirement of marriage. There are many straight couples that can’t or don’t have children that still are allowed to get married. . . . Next, [Nienstedt] bring[s] a lot of irrelevant variables into the equation. [He] speak[s] of all the problems with heterosexual marriages, like divorce. Good, now we know the real problem that’s harming the institution of marriage. This has nothing to do with gay marriage. . . . Allowing same-sex couples to marry would not affect . . . heterosexual marriage in any way. In fact, [Nienstedt] article proves that the key problems with marriage do not come from gay-marriage, but from within . . . heterosexual marriages.

Orpheus90 writes: The Rev. Nienstedt’s opinion piece suffers from the usual circular logic (or non-logic) and rhetorical vapidity that plagues so many anti-gay marriage political diatribes. Nothing new in that respect. Frankly, it’s pure schlock. The good Reverend’s intellectual and moral failure here, of course, is not hard to discern: that he is not only unable to address the fundamental animus towards gay people that motivates opinions such as his, but that he would also prefer to exploit such animus rather than address it. (And on that particular score the church has a long standing order of numerous – and undelivered – mea culpas on the historical question of its grotesque mistreatment of minorities). Let’s face it, Rev: on fact and logic, the conservatives have lost the debate on gay marriage. Currently all they have is hysteria and the characteristically petrified rhetoric that you deliver here in dull, desultory fashion. Spare us. Next time, answer this question: where, pray tell, is the voice of moral courage to addresses the needs and rights of gay people from within the shrieking nonsense that calls itself conservatism?

pjacbsma writes: If Rev. Nienstedt is really concerned with loving parents raising children he would support gay marriage. There are tens of thousands of children waiting to be adopted in this world, and allowing gay people to marry would help them in adopting. Nienstedt tries to claim that allowing gay marriage would somehow harm hetero marriage. I have yet to hear anyone explain how exactly that would happen. No, the real motive for Neinstedt is simply to oppose gay marriage because homosexuality frightens him. Fear and hatred should never be embraced by someone who calls himself a Christian. God’s greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. There is no “unless your neighbor is gay” clause attached to that commandment.

Conniek29 writes: Don’t Catholics have more important issues to deal with? Like a complete lack of moral relevance? Like being the world’s largest, most profitable, international child-sex criminal enterprise? If the Catholic Church cannot be trusted with our most vulnerable, why should anyone listen to what a “made man,” an archbishop, has to say about any moral topic? How many young lives would have been protected from rape if the Catholic Church had never existed?

tjkelner writes: For the Church and in particular the Catholic church, it is about money. Embracing marriage and admonishing birth control is the best way they can keep the faithful providing new revenue sources for the church. As a business model they need to continue to foster beliefs that are beneficial to their end result . . . MORE MONEY for the CHURCH. So, they continue to blast anything that is out of focus with their focus.

WhyShouldI writes: If marriage is about raising children then there should be a place on the marriage license to indicate you plan to have children. Also, if it is about raising children, why are senior citizens not banned from marriage. Are they going to start raising a family? Give gay couples the same rights that you give heterosexual senior citizen couples.

Pdxtran writes: No opponent of gay marriage has ever satisfactorily explained how allowing same-sex couples to marry harms the marriages of committed heterosexual couples. They just say it, and we’re supposed to accept it as if it makes sense. I belong to a church that is accepting and welcoming of gays and lesbians, and I know some same-sex couples whose religious faith and devotion to each other would put the average heterosexual couple to shame.

Paige7 writes: If the Archbishop insists on referring to same-sex marriage as “marriage” (because folks seem to think putting it in quotes indicates it’s fake) then I must start insisting that I refer to Catholics as “Christian.”

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
At UST, a Rousing and Very Catholic Show of Support for Marriage Equality
A Catholic Voice for Marriage Equality at the State Capitol
Minnesotans Rally for Equality and Love at the State Capitol
Sen. John Marty on Marriage Equality in MN: "We Can Make It Happen"
300+ People Vigil at the Cathedral in Solidarity with LGBT Catholics
Same-Sex Marriage: Still Very Much on the Archbishop's Mind
A Christian Case for Same-Sex Marriage
John Corvino on the “Always and Everywhere” Argument Against Marriage Equality
Patrick Ryan on the “Defense of Traditional Marriage” Argument Against Marriage Equality
Nathanial Frank on the “Natural Law” Argument Against Marriage Equality
Romell Weekly on the “Threat to the Family” Argument Against Marriage Equality
America's New Civil Rights Battle
Two Attorneys Discuss Same-Sex Marriage
Dr. Erik Steele and the "Naked Truth on Same-Sex Marriage"
Stephanie Coontz on the Changing Face of "Traditional Marriage"
The Affirmation Declaration
An Ironic Truth
Competent Parenting Doesn't Require "Traditional Marriage"

1 comment:

Mareczku said...

Well that was kind of depressing. But I did think that some of the comments were interesting. I read quite a few of your links. It is so sad that some of these Church leaders are really sharpening the knives against gay people. It must be really awful to be a gay priest with this man as Archbishop.