Friday, November 16, 2007

Interesting Times Ahead

As executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), I was interviewed late this afternoon by Jamie Reese of Twin Cities Fox 9 News in relation to this article on homosexuality by Coadjutor Archbishop John Nienstedt. (Fox 9’s news story was the lead story of their 10:00 p.m. news broadcast, and can be viewed here.)

Archbishop Nienstedt’s article appeared in the November 14 issue of The Catholic Spirit, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis. Among other things, the Archbishop stated 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.

The implications of Archbishop Nienstedt’s comments are incredibly far-reaching - for Catholic universities and colleges, for parishes, and, of course, for families and individuals.

I mean, think about it: in light of Archbishop Nienstedt’s comments, could it not be reasonably argued that the employment by a Catholic parish of a gay person in a committed relationship is actually “encouraging” and “promoting” the “gay lifestyle”? Are these parishes in a state of “mortal sin”? Does it now mean that a purging of all gay people from the work environments of our Catholic parishes and institutions is in order? Is this on the Archbishop’s agenda for the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis?

And here’s something else to think about: Archbishop Nienstedt’s comments are effectively saying that parents and family members who affirm and support their LGBT children in forming loving and committed relationships, in living relational lives of honesty and integrity are “cooperating in a grave evil” and “guilty of mortal sin.” Furthermore, these same parents, family members, and friends have separated themselves from the church and are therefore not to receive Communion!

You know, it’s one thing to attack and condemn me as a gay man, but to start judging and condemning
my parents, well, that’s something else. As one friend remarked on reading Archbishop Nienstedt’s article: “It looks like the gloves are off.” It does indeed.

And I’m left to wonder: does Archbishop Nienstedt have any idea of the struggle, the often painful journeys of faith that many Catholic parents have undertaken so as to recognize, embrace, and support their gay children as God made them to be?

And who are we? As gay people we’re neither “intrinsically disordered” martyrs to celibacy or promiscuous hedonists. Rather, we are relational human beings capable and worthy of loving relationships - some of which we’re called to experience and express sexually.

I genuinely believe that the vast majority of people - Catholic or otherwise - find this understanding of what it means to be gay to be one grounded in both reasonableness and compassion. Kinda like good parental love!

Which is interesting when one remembers how Jesus chose the figure of a loving parent to exemplify the love of God. Notice he didn’t chose the figure of a religious leader of his day. I think there’s something significant we can and should learn from that, don’t you?

When, then, are the
experiences and insights of parents of gay people (not to mention of science and of gay people themselves!) going to be respected and utilized as necessary resources in the ongoing development of the church’s teaching on human sexuality? Sadly, it would seem, not under Archbishop’s Nienstedt watch.

I think for a lot of gay Catholics, their parents, and their friends, reading Archbishop Nienstedt’s most recent statement on homosexuals and those who love and support them, will serve as a galvanizing moment. Pardon my language, but we’re not going to take this crap - regardless of whether it’s trumpeted as “church teaching” or not.

For example, the following is an excerpt from a letter sent to the Archbishop by a supporter of CPCSM:

For over 50 years I have endured every conceivable slander, ridicule, condemnation, and insult because, among other things, I happen to be gay. . . .

I am a 56-year-old man with a professional career in social services and am active in my contribution to the betterment of society and the dignity of human life. I have been baptized and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church. I have served God as a member of a religious community and now as an active member in my parish ministries. I also happen to be gay and happily partnered with the most wonderful man in the world for over 21 years. I’ll save you the effort at guessing; yes we have a very happy and “full sexual relationship”. I am a card carrying Roman Catholic and I’m NOT going anywhere. I am also The Church.

Go ahead, condemn me to hell but I will still have my Catholic faith in God and will embrace you when we meet in the Heavenly Kingdom.

Refuse to give me the Eucharist and I will go to another Catholic Church to receive.

Excommunicate me and I will keep coming back to church to receive the Eucharist and celebrate God’s love for me.

For as St. Paul says in the letter to the Romans, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

And that includes the hierarchy of my church. I’m not going anywhere and I will not leave.

And here’s how one Catholic couple has responded to the Archbishop’s statement about the acceptance and support they give to their gay son: it’s a letter they’ve written and sent to The Catholic Spirit, though having
experienced firsthand the “no dialogue on church teaching” policy of this mouthpiece publication of the archdiocese, I don’t expect to see it printed.

Dear Archbishop Nienstedt,

You say in a recent issue of “The Catholic Spirit”:

“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.”

So, obviously, it would also be true to say (about another of the Church’s teachings): “Those who actively use, encourage, or promote the use of CONTRACEPTION . . .”

Logically and consistently, then, your ruling can only be that anyone who uses or supports the use of CONTRACEPTION is also, in fact, guilty of mortal sin and may not receive Holy Communion.

Average parishioners may not know or remember this. Thus, we think a good way to continue to rid the Church of grave evil would be to continuously remind people from all the pulpits in the Archdiocese about the use of contraception being strictly against the teachings of the Church. You should also make it clear that those sitting in the pews who use, encourage, or promote contraception should not come up at communion time as they are in the state of mortal sin.

For one thing, it would show your consistency in defending the Church’s teachings. People who just think that you’re homophobic would have another think coming! The great majority of contraceptive use is among heterosexual couples. Furthermore, these couples certainly use contraceptives “knowingly and willingly” as you say. No one accidentally takes a birth control pill or unknowingly slips on a condom.

Of course it probably would have an economic impact since there are so many people who continue to use contraception that they would likely stop coming to Church due to their state of mortal sin and their inability to receive communion. But that would be a small price to pay for your vigorous defense of the teachings (not of Jesus, mind you) but of “The Church.”

On the other hand, it could have a positive economic effect as well. Think of the money the Church would save on communion wafers!


Maria and Charlie Girsch

(The Girsches have a child who is gay and are part of the Catholic Rainbow Parents group. They have recently moved to Denver, Colorado, but spend significant time in St.Paul.)

The Girsch’s light-hearted tone belies their deep concern about Archbishop Nienstedt’s recent comments, concerns that raise some very serious issues and questions. Why are gay people disproportionately targeted by the hierarchy of the church - especially in light of the estimated 96 percent of Catholic married couples who practice birth control? Is the relentless fixation on demonizing gay people a form of internalized homophobia on the part of many of our bishops and priests? Will Archbishop Nienstedt be consistent and denounce and condemn, along with gay people in relationships, straight couples and families who use birth control?

Without doubt, my friends, we’re in for some interesting times ahead. And I say this not because I look forward to any more extreme statements by Archbishop Nienstedt, but because I really believe that in response to such extremism we’re witnessing an inspired and energized re-emergence of the Sensus Fidelium, i.e., what the Christian people believe, accept, and reject.

I appreciate how the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church discuss and clarify this core component of our Catholic Christian faith:

Church hierarchy (the rulers) have taught what to believe, accept, and reject, but always with acceptance or a corrective response by theologians (experts) and the faithful even from the very beginning. (Acts 15)

This corrective response especially among the Church faithful, wherein the Spirit of truth resides, is a re-emerging tradition. Except in the early Church, never have so many faithful Christians been so educated in our faith and Church history and so aware of its meaning in our lives. We mark self awareness as a corner stone in the development of the human species. It just might well be that our collective reawakening of a spiritual self awareness regarding truths of faith marks a corner stone in the concept of “Ecclesia semper Reformanda” (The church must always be reformed).

Herein lies present day conflict; the resistance of the hierarchy of the Church to recognize and honor the fact that the Spirit of truth speaks through the faithful who accept or reject their teachings. Theologians are suppressed and persecuted when attempting to express a better understanding of faith and morals that perhaps better reflects the sense of the faithful. This is not surprising since bishops are chosen because they echo mandates from Rome, and not because they reflect or listen to their people.

It has not always been thus in the Church and a re-awakening of the faithful people to their role in “Ecclesia semper Reformanda” is happening. It is long overdue.

And to think we have folks like Archbishop Niensedt to thank for helping facilitate such a re-awakening of the faithful!

How ironic is that?

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Choosing to Stay
Local Archdiocese’s Misstep Makes National News
Voices of Parental Authority and Wisdom
The Many Manifestations of God’s Loving Embrace
No Place for Dialogue in Archdiocesan Newspaper
When Quackery Goes Mainstream
Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Learning Curve”: A Suggested Trajectory
Truth Telling: The Greatest of Sins in a Dysfunctional Church
The Triumph of Love: An Easter Reflection
Trusting God’s Generous Invitation
Listen Up, Papa!
Grandma Knows Best
Thoughts on Authority and Fidelity
Keeping the Spark Alive


Tim White said...

I am appalled by Archbishop Nienstedt's chilling contention that those who support gays and lesbians "formally cooperate in a grave evil." He advises Catholics to "not give awards, honors or platforms" to such persons; in other words, they should be penalized, dishonored and silenced. This hateful rhetoric, and thinly-veiled self loathing do not sustain the delusion that this man is a minister of God. Such a violent, intolerant individual should not remain the purported conscience of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis.

OneYearLeasae said...

I met you at the Reclaiming the Role of the Catholic Laity conference and I was so pleased to see you get a spot on the Fox 9 news story. I also responded to the article in The Catholic Spirit (although it's outside my own diocese) and it's so heartening to see that others are also fighting this fight. Thank you for the good work you do, on behalf of all of us.

Anonymous said...

Tom van Dyke, a scholarly advocate of catholicism, argues that the "church proposes, not imposes." Oaths of Allegiance do not appear "propositional," but "impositional."

Since faith is a gift of god, an assurance of things hope for the conviction of things unseen, it seems mistaken to assert infallible positions on those teachings which rarely have had consensus, much less been established in any formal sense as dogma.

It's one thing to propose the Doctrine of the Trinity as essential and necessary to the precept of God is Love, but whether one uses contraception or loves his same sex does not affect an individual's relationship with god. How could it?

We all know that most of the church's immoral moral teachings are a confusion of Aristotlean physics and ethical instrumental reasoning. While the instrumental (practical) reasoning still has validity, the four be-causes of Aristotle's physics certainly does not have, nor has had, validity for many centuries.

Besides, Aristotle predated Jesus by 400 years. And of one thing we can be absolutely certain, Aristotle did not hold homophiles guilty of any defect or sin. The Doctrine of the Mean, which Aquinas imports into Christianity in the 13th C, dates back to the Tao as does the Golden Rule -- neither of which repudiates birth control nor same-sex eroticism.

A grave evil (mortal sin) must sever one's relationship with god and humanity. Loving one's family or neighbor through family planning and/or homoeroticism constitutes NO severence. But if the church were to be consistent, it's misuse of Aristotlean ethics would at least accept its ethical foundations, which are always subjective, experiential, prescriptive (not proscriptive), achieves excellence (not follows laws), maximizes human flourishing (not obeys deities), builds human character (habit), gives life meaning, and is always a posteriori, and never a priori.

But everything Aristotle's ethical system advocates Aquinas and the church confuses. Aquinas tried to blend the deontological and teleological systems and derived a complete mess called Natural Law Theory.

Well, Aristotle did not espouse NLT! The Stoics, of which Augustine was one, did. The scriptures never mention the words "ethics," "virtue," and "vice," as these are Hellenistic terms of Greco-Roman ethics versus Hebraism's morality. The notions of "sin" and "goodness" and "blessedness" are rooted in Hebraism's tribal beliefs, not in the ancient world's civilized beliefs.

The Church is not the pillar and bulwark of the truth if its gets such basics wrong.

Anonymous said...

John Henry Newman, whose spirit supposedly infused VATICAN II, held the sensus fidelium must take account of the faithful, not simply the Church's episcopal hierarchy. His glorious "On Consulting the Faithful" seems to have gotten lost in the ultramontane winds blowing from Eastern Europe. But how does one reconcile the Vincentian Canon with papal infallibility and the immaculate conception? One cannot.

THAT WHICH HAS ALWAYS AND EVERYWHERE BEEN TAUGHT AND HELD BY EVERYONE makes these pronouncements utterly silly and the Church's own oracles cloudy and murky.