About two months ago I was interviewed by City Pages writer Casey Michel for a feature article he was writing about Archbishop John Nienstedt's anti-gay and pro-'marriage amendment' activism. Michel's article came out today, and it's quite an extensive piece. Others interviewed for it include Catholic theologian Leonard Swidler, my friends Paula Ruddy and Bob Beutel of the Twin Cities-based Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, Bob Pierson, "an openly gay priest in the St. Cloud diocese," and Mike Tegeder, who, along with Pierson, is "one of the few Minnesota priests to publicly oppose Nienstedt's stance on gay marriage."
Michel's article does, however, have its shortcomings, and they stem from the tendency of many people – including, it seems, reporters – to peg credit for an entire organization or movement onto a single person. It's very uncomfortable being set up as that person when you, not to mention those you work with, are fully aware that a given group's achievements are the result of many people's efforts and dedication, not just one individual's. I find myself in that uncomfortable position when reading Casey's piece, as at one point he has me single-handedly founding Catholics for Marriage Equality MN (C4ME-MN) and producing the group's DVD Catholics for Marriage Equality! Believe me, many people were involved in the formation of C4ME-MN, and our DVD was the work of a creative and dedicated group of people. Casey also erroneously states that the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) folded two years ago. It's actually still in existence and is serving as C4ME-MN's fiscal agent.
These overstatements and errors aside, Michel's article is definitely worth looking into. It can be read in its entirety here, while following, with added links, are excerpts.
Archbishop John Nienstedt Crusades
Against Gay Marriage
Against Gay Marriage
But increasingly, his flock of Minnesota Catholics isn't following
By Casey Michel
June 20, 2012
. . . "The greatest threats to marriage are the economy, joblessness, alcoholism, drug abuse — there are a lot of threats to marriage, but it has very little to do with homosexuals having a committed relationship," says [Fr Mike] Tegeder . . . "I know committed same-sex people who are doing God's work."
Tegeder knows what the Bible dictates on homosexuality — along with what it dictates about shellfish, and mixed-cloth clothing, and all those other Bronze Age concerns. And he knows there's no single person responsible for the shame his church lifts from these passages.
But there is one person who could single-handedly end it all in the Twin Cities: His Excellency, the Most Reverend Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis John C. Nienstedt.
"Nienstedt is just so rigid about these things," Tegeder continues, growing animated. "But, you know — just let go of it. What are we trying to defend? Marriage? Has the Catholic Church protected marriage? I mean, [Nienstedt] has a priest who impregnated one of his staff members, broke up their marriage, and the guy's still functioning! ... Why don't we take care of our own issues before we start imposing views onto other people who don't have the same religious beliefs?"
It wasn't always this way. Archbishop John Roach and his successor, Harry Flynn, led a notably progressive, inclusive, post-Vatican II archdiocese, one balanced on even-handed discussion. They understood the church's line on certain social issues — reproductive rights, welfare reform — but always kept their doors, and their minds, open.
But in the mid-'80s, with AIDS and "moral relativism" coming to the fore, the church began sidelining priests who'd championed gay parishioners. Pope John Paul II closed rank, and his successor followed suit.
"I'm afraid these men have sex on the brain, and between you and me that's not the best place to have sex," says Leonard Swidler, a prominent Catholic theologian and professor of Catholic Thought and Interreligious Dialogue at Temple University. "Issues of birth control, marriage, divorce, married priests, female priests, same-sex marriage — it's all sex, sex, sex. They're sex maniacs."
Few fit Swidler's caricature of the current episcopacy more naturally than Nienstedt. Born in Detroit in 1947, Nienstedt took to the church early. His parents were devout Catholics, and it took little time for Nienstedt to find his calling, claiming from an early age that he'd someday become a priest.
Patrick Halfpenny, now a monseigneur in the Detroit archdiocese, first met Nienstedt when they were freshmen at seminary school in Detroit. Bonded by a common affinity for hockey, the two formed a fast friendship, one that has continued 47 years to this day.
"From the start, he was a very bright man, with a very good sense of himself," Halfpenny recalls. "We both come from families that were very devout and serious in the practice of their faith — the church is the place we were first nourished."
After finishing seminary school, Nienstedt headed to Rome to complete his theological studies. He skipped pastoral experience and instead spent most of his days buried in books in Pontifical Gregorian University's extensive library, studying in vitro fertilization and embryonic morality.
He didn't display any overwhelming conservatism while in theological studies, and he didn't take any strong public stance in opposition to homosexuality.
But then he returned to the States. And same-sex attraction, which he's lately described as a "disorder," suddenly struck him as the issue to preempt all others. . . . Nienstedt is, of course, parroting the Vatican's party line, and was recently burnished by Pope Benedict in a March visit to Rome. Still, few bishops have taken such public, vocal stands on the matter — and none have employed the panoply of methods the archbishop has utilized to get out the anti-gay message.
. . . Speaking to a collection of elderly Catholics last October, Jason Adkins, the executive coordinator for Minnesota Catholic Conference and vice chairman for [the pro-'marriage amendment' group] Minnesota for Marriage, spent 30 minutes discussing the [Catholic hierarchy's] stance.
"Marriage is under attack. It's under attack in the law, it's under attack in our courts, it's under attack in our culture," he says in the video. "We should recognize that it's not just marriage that's under attack, but civilization is really under attack."
Adkins claims that the church has made the "defense of marriage" a number-one priority.
"Love and commitment are necessary for a marriage, but love and commitment are not sufficient," Adkins says. "I'm in a loving and committed relationship with a lot of people, but I'm not married to all of them."
Specious logic aside, Adkins's main thrust rests on the well-being of children. He cites the government's favorable outlook on male-female marriage, and subsequent ability to have children, as a guarantor of its future. (He says nothing about barring the elderly, the infirm, or the infertile from marriage.)
But it's more than that, he explains. It's not simply that the Bible bars homosexual activity. Instead, the church's stance, and his own group's obduracy, is based in one eternal, intractable goal.
"This is why the Catholic Church is so hated in our society: because it dares to say 'No' to so many things," Adkins says. "We don't say 'No' for the sake of saying 'No.' We say 'No' so that people in the world can say 'Yes.' 'Yes' to Christ."
. . . Minnesotans United's [anti-'marriage amendment'] coalition has representatives from dozens of Christian denominations across the state. But even though Catholicism is the largest single Christian contingency in the United States, only two Catholic organizations have attached their names to the push for marriage equality.
Michael Bayly, a sandy-haired Australian, [co-]founded Catholics for Marriage Equality-Minnesota (C4ME-MN) two years ago in response to Nienstedt's DVD campaign, in the hopes of providing a platform within the church for voices opposing Nienstedt's anti-gay ideology.
"[Nienstedt has] this idea that the truth is already complete, that he's got it, that he's the keeper of it, and that you have to make sure that your experiences match this truth," says Bayly. "Such hubris. It makes him and the system they've built into what I consider to be a clerical caste. And it's the antithesis of what Jesus was about."
Bayly's story is prototypically American: foreign national arriving in the U.S. to escape past privations. But Bayly's hardships in Australia weren't economic — they stemmed from a thicket of lies about his sexuality.
Coming out in America was his only option. Fortunately, as he opened up as a gay man, he latched onto the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, a small group tasked with aiding and integrating same-sex Catholics into the church.
Not long after Bayly arrived, however, the St. Paul archdiocese began disowning CPCSM's work. Without its primary patron, CPCSM slowly lost steam, and eventually disbanded a few years ago. [Actually, CPCSM is still very much in operation! It serves, for instance, as the fiscal agent for Catholics for Marriage Equality MN. Also, the Archdiocese was never CPCSM's "primary patron." For a history of the relationship between CPCSM and the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, click here, here, here and here.]
"There's a fear that the bishops utilize: If gays get the right to civil marriage, then the church will be sued if we don't marry them," Bayly says. "That's a crock."
. . . C4ME-MN is still a small operation, and it has been repeatedly disavowed by the archdiocese, which said it was composed of people "masquerading as Catholics." But it's managed to gather hundreds in vigils across the city, with the most prominent happening outside the Cathedral of St. Paul over Lent. Signs citing tolerance, people offering hugs and grins and two-finger signs of peace — all Catholics, all coming out against an episcopacy that, as Bayly says, "is very much a feudal system, [an] absolute monarchy."
"The church isn't going back to the 1960s — it's going back to the 600s," says Tom Murr, a Catholic colleague of Bayly, who says he was banned from sharing his gay son's story in church. "They're moving almost militantly against our LGBT brothers and sisters. If you have problem with gays, blame God, not the people."
C4ME-MN's high-water moment came last fall, when [the group] decided to respond to Nienstedt's DVD campaign with a film of [its] own.
Released at the Riverview Theater last September, C4ME-MN's 20-minute offering contained a series of five testimonials, ranging from same-sex couples to parents and family members of gay individuals. All were bound by their Catholic faith.
"I didn't want to speak out as Big Gay Senator. People know who I am," says Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis), who appears in the film along with his husband, Richard Leyva (the couple wed in California while gay marriage was legal there). "But that DVD, it just had really beautiful vignettes, putting language and context to values people already hold. [And] you contrast the archbishop's threats and edicts with the generosity and warmth and adherence to ideals of justice that are coming from the pews, and it's striking."
The video, as with most things put forth by C4ME-MN, was received with thundering silence by the church's hierarchy. But the premiere drew an audience of nearly 300, and allowed people to connect with like-minded Catholics.
"Look at some of the statements [the church] made at DeLaSalle, where they're comparing gay marriage to bestiality," Bayly says. "It's just so over the top. I think people are hungry for a grounded, reasonable, calm, compassionate Catholic voice. And that's our aim, to be that voice."
C4ME-MN isn't the lone Catholic organization working in the Twin Cities to combat the bishop's recalcitrance. Four years ago, in light of the ballooning sexual abuse scandal, a dozen parishioners formed Concerned Catholics for Church Reform. [Actually, it's the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, and those who founded it did so in response to a number of issues, not just the clergy sex abuse crisis.]
Paula Ruddy, a 77-year-old member of St. Boniface, noted that CCCR's impetus was to open a dialogue between parishioners and clergy. All they wanted was a chance to discuss the direction their church was taking.
"That our archbishop is leading a campaign to change the Constitution on the issue of equality is very hard to imagine," Ruddy says. "And we want to be able to talk with him, to reason it out. Because he's got to have some very good reasons for doing that, and we haven't heard them yet."
Nienstedt has maintained his distance, unwilling to attend any meeting or discussion. He has written letters to individual members, but has been loath to entertain dissent.
"We used to have consultative bodies under prior archbishops, but Nienstedt has not continued that," says Bob Beutel, a member of CCCR and a parishioner at St. Joan of Arc. "He's told us only that he thought we held positions that were a threat to our eternal salvation."
CCCR has approximately 2,500 members, with about 90 percent coming from the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese. They're mailing and organizing, preparing for the upcoming November vote, their entire focus in 2012.
Meanwhile, Bayly is planning more gatherings, more vigils. He's planning to write more op-eds, and will be trying, against the odds, to finally discuss with Nienstedt why the archbishop carries such a preoccupation, such an obsession, with the idea of same-sex attraction.
"I think this whole issue of homosexuality is the last one the bishops still have any sort of control over, and they see that going," Bayly says. "And that's why they're putting up such a huge fight. Because after that's gone, there's nothing left in the realm of sexuality that people will listen to them about."
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Catholic Rationale for Opposing the Marriage Amendment
In Minnesota, Catholics Sing Their Support for Marriage Equality
A Catholic Statement of Support for Marriage Equality
Palm Sunday at the Chancery
People of Faith Are on Both Sides of the "Marriage Amendment"
Tips on Speaking as a Catholic in Support of Marriage Equality
PCV Publishes Archbishop Nienstedt's Marriage Amendment Directives to Priests
Quote of the Day – January 3, 2012
A Head and Heart Response to the Catholic Hierarchy's Opposition to Marriage Equality
Progressive Perspectives on Archbishop Nienstedt's Anti-Gay Activism
Quote of the Day – October 22, 2010
Pastor Mike Tegeder Challenges Archbishop Nienstedt's "Bullying Behavior"
It's a Scandal
Archbishop Nienstedt Calls (Again) for a Marriage Amendment to Minnesota's Constitution
Dialoguing with Archbishop Nienstedt on Natural Law
Same-Sex Marriage: Still Very Much on the Archbishop's Mind
Thoughts on Archbishop Nienstedt
The Talk of the Archdiocese
300+ People Vigil at the Cathedral in Solidarity with LGBT Catholics
Nienstedt's "Trauma of His Own"
An Open Letter to Archbishop Nienstedt
Interesting Times Ahead
Coadjutor Archbishop Nienstedt's "Learning Curve": A Suggested Trajectory