Monday, September 27, 2010

The Minnesota Bishops' Unholy War

Following is an editorial that appeared in the Winona Daily News concerning the Minnesota Catholic bishops’ recently launched anti-gay marriage campaign, about which more can be read here, here and here.


Church is Picking Unnecessary Fight

Winona Daily News
September 22, 2010

Let’s face it, it’s a lot easier to pick on gay people than it is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and give shelter to the homeless. It’s probably cheaper, too.

For just the cost of a stamp, some letterhead and a DVD, the Rev. John Quinn, the Bishop of the Diocese of Winona, has joined his other unmarried brother bishops in sending out kits to parishioners in the diocese, warning them of the impending danger of same-sex marriages.

Quinn, if you’ll excuse the phrase, pontificated about the dangers of same-sex marriage in the diocesan newspaper, The Courier.

Yet, when pressed on the issue by the Daily News, a diocesan spokesperson referred questions to the archdiocese of Minneapolis/St.Paul, saying this was really its bailiwick.

This most recent example should be doubly disappointing to area faithful.

First, if Quinn has the conviction of principles enough to espouse it in print, under his own name, then he should be courageous enough to defend such a position, rather than deferring to some distant authority.

But even more troubling than Quinn’s silence is the position the church has taken. It’s urging Catholics to take legislative action.

If the church wants to preach and practice a policy of discrimination and second-class citizenry from its pulpits, that is an established constitutional right, even if irksome and disconcerting.

If the church — Catholic or otherwise — wants to preach a message of homosexuality’s sinfulness, then it can only be considered free, religious speech, even if we believe it grossly uninformed and patently hurtful.

But when the church starts urging political activity, especially using a vehicle as overt as the diocese’s own printed propaganda, then it crosses an equally hallowed line between church and state.

Any church’s authority is one of spirituality. Yet, politics, especially in our American democracy, is decidedly secular. When Quinn and other bishops urge political action, they go too far.

Nowhere do the bishops acknowledge that even if a marriage rights bill passed, it would never compel any church or denomination to perform weddings it didn’t approve of.

That makes us wonder if the bishops aren’t just taking an opportunity to engage in gay bashing, because the threat gay marriage presents to Catholic clergy is almost less than minimal.

Even area lawmakers — for example, Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, who introduced a marriage bill aimed at defining it as between a man and a woman — said the church’s interference seems ill timed, considering the massive budget problems looming.

It’s a scary thing when we urge the Catholic Church to follow the politicians’ lead.

If the church was really so concerned with families and the sanctity of marriage, it might realize that so many of the families are hurting because of lost jobs. Lost jobs mean lost food, lost homes, lost opportunities.

In a time of such hurt, such need and such brokenness, it’s hard to believe bishops would even spend the money and the political capital to fight a war that denies rights to some individuals, while granting them to others.

The bishops, including Quinn, would do well to remember: Just because God’s name is invoked, doesn’t mean the war is holy.

By Darrell Ehrlick, editor, on behalf of the Winona Daily News editorial board, which also includes publisher Rusty Cunningham and deputy editor Jerome Christenson. To comment, call 453-3507 or send e-mail to

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Quote of the Day – August 6, 2010
The Minnesota Bishops’ Last Ditch Effort
It’s a Scandal
Misplaced Priorities
Local Catholics Seek to "Create Some Good Out of an Unfortunate Situation"
A Message for NOM (and the Catholic Hierarchy)
At UST, a Rousing and Very Catholic Show of Support for Same-Sex Marriage
The Misplaced Priorities of the Catholic Church in Maine
A Call to Emphasize Catholicism's "Sweet Spot"


Frank D. Myers said...

Having grown up down south (OK, so it was only southern Iowa), I remember well the days when it generally was accepted in the larger protestant community that all Roman Catholics -- a distinct minority -- were going to hell because they hadn't been born again. The Pope, of course, was the Antichrist. A favorite story involved weapons and explosives stored in the basement of St. Patrick's at Georgetown for use when the takeover began. It was kind of OK to associate with Catholic youngsters, but no one wanted his or her son or daughter to marry one (and there was a good deal of scandal when one of my mother's first-cousins did just that). Although before my time, there was substantial Ku Klux Klan activity here in the teens and 1920s. Catholics were among the Klan targets. And so it went not too long ago, but mercifully most of that has passed. It's interesting to see Minnesota bishops, whose predecessors were among the despised, now facilitating hate for another minority.

Anonymous said...

And this is why I am Old Catholic.

Michael J. Bayly said...

And for folks who are interested, you can read all about Old Catholicism here!

Dan said...

There's also a good response to this editorial posted on the Winona Daily News by Thomas Szyszkiewicz.

Bishops are often right to "go too far"

Two excellent points:
1) Through Catholic Charities alone, just three dioceses in Minnesota gave over $60 million in 2009 to those in need. The idea that the bishops in Minnesota are somehow neglecting the poor by producing this DVD is absurd. You keep hammering this point, Michael, but of course organizations which you direct spend money on things besides direct aid to the poor. How could you spend money on the 2010 Synod of the Baptised when people are homeless on our streets? Just because you think this DVD is an unworthy expenditure doesn't make the bishops of MN some kind of insensitive ogres, just like you aren't an ogre for spending money on a cause you think is important.

2) Bishops in the United States have often rallied Catholics to stand up for what they believe is right, including taking political action. For a local example, see Archbishop Flynn's 2003 pastoral letter on racism where he exhorts individuals "to elect public officials who work for racial justice and who strive to undo the racial disparities and the patterns of privilege that characterize too many of our social and economic structures." Does this, too, cross a "hallowed line between church and state"? Or do you just object when the bishops stand against principles you support?

Michael J. Bayly said...


Thanks for stopping by and sharing your perspective on this important issue.

The first thing I'd like to say in response to your comment is that I think it's important to remember that Catholic Charities receives something like 65% of its budget from government sources. Clearly, we need to be careful when assigning credit for the good works of this organization to the bishops and/or dioceses. Also, from my understanding, Catholic Charities has a certain independence from the diocesan structure. For instance, I've heard stories of when announcements have been made of a conservative bishop being appointed to a particular diocese, certain ministries that a he may find objectionable and/or may seek to change or shut down, have been quietly moved from being under the auspices of the diocese and placed under those of Catholic Charities.

Second, I don't think it's absurd to critique the decision of the MN bishops to accept and spend what could well be over 1 million dollars on attempting to outlaw gay civil marriage.

The organizations I'm involved with are not about providing direct aid to the poor. They're about education, reform, and facilitating much needed dialogue around important issues in the life of the Church. I have no doubt that individuals within these organizations, however, do contribute financially to groups and charities that are set up to effectively offer help and services to those in need of the basics necessities of life. (I for one support the work of Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders.) Like a Catholic high school or college, CPCSM and CCCR are not set up to provide such direct services to the poor. I'm sure you'd agree that there's a place for educational organizations within the church, wouldn't you? Or are only those officially sanctioned by the clerical leadership free to focus on issues other than poverty and homelessness?

Of course, an archdiocese such as St. Paul-Minneapolis does have the infrastructure to effective provide help and services to the poor. To my mind, and to those I've spoken to about this issue, if an organization has the stated goal, capability, and structures in place to help in this way, then it should be a major priority, if not the priority, of the organization to do so.

Finally (and I made this comment when interviewed last week by KARE 11 News), in the past when the clerical leadership of the church has shared its insights on important social issues such as racism and immigrant rights, it has done so in order to reduce discrimination and expand the circle of acceptance and inclusion. That's not happening in this case, and for me that's a betrayal of the Catholic way of being in the world - a way that should always be seeking to discern and celebrate God in, as I like to say, unexpected places and faces.

Like all Christians, the bishops should be standing for the principles of justice, compassion, equality, and inclusion. When it comes to gay people, gay lives, and gay relationships they've chosen not to. I object to that and will continue calling them to embody in their words and actions these Gospel principles.



kevin57 said...

I have to concur that the main criticism of the Winona's Daily News was poorly chosen. The Church, like any other entity in society, has a right to weigh in on important social issues of the day. I would have much preferred that they focus on the MN bishops' unholy alliance with NOM, a despicable and hateful group. Imagine if the NCCB had made nice with the KKK. No matter what the merits of the cause--and grant me the improbablity for the sake of argument--it would rightfully have been an unacceptable alliance.

Mareczku said...

Thank you for your excellent response to Dan, Michael. You said it very well. I think Archbishop Neinstedt and others like him who show a strong dislike for gay people need to look at themselves and see the harm that they are doing to our young people who just happen to be gay. What must it be like for a young person who is coming to terms with their sexually to be exposed to such prejudice and disdain? How many will be bullied into silence by such actions and attitudes? The uncaring and intolerant attitudes of Archbishop Neinstedt are hurtful to many.

colkoch said...

Michael you make a very important point about racism being about inclusion and the gay marriage action being about exclusion. It seems lately that the Church is about nothing other than exclusion, including excluding bishops from any accountability for the abuse scandal and women from any meaningful authority.

There is however a deeper problem with the gay marriage political campaign. It is designed to motivate voters to vote republican or tea party based on one issue. The fact that these political groups are hell bent on destroying our social safety net, rolling back health care reform, and keeping the current tax structure which benefits the wealthy at the expense of everyone else, is being overlooked in this debate.

Whether folks know it or not, when they go to the polls and elect an overtly anti gay marriage politician they are voting against their own economic interests. They are being had. Either the USCCB is too stupid to see this, or they've been bought off.

That's my real issue with this DVD and why it is important we know who funded it.