Am I being too harsh? Well, judge for yourself by reading the following Star Tribune column by Nick Coleman on what he maintains is yet another example of how the archdiocese is “clumsily tightening the chancery’s control on parishes and demanding orthodoxy from pulpit and pew.” (For an earlier example, click here).
I’m reminded of America magazine writer William Droel’s observation on the works of Robert McClory and, specifically, how such works have documented how authoritarianism leads to scandal and declining church membership.
Incidentally, today was John Nienstedt’s first day as archbishop. My sense is that the vast majority of Catholics are deeply embarrassed by the treatment of Dr. Miles. That the chancery and, I presume, Archbishop Nienstedt himself are not, does not bode well for the archdiocese. As I’ve said before, we have some interesting times ahead.
Anti-torture but Pro-choice?
Can’t Have that in Church, Please
By Nick Coleman
May 2, 2008
Can’t Have that in Church, Please
By Nick Coleman
May 2, 2008
Dr. Steven Miles, a world-renowned scholar, author and anti-torture activist, has won many awards in his career on the faculty of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Bioethics. But the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis has bestowed an especially rare distinction on Miles, one that puts him in excellent company:
He just got Tutu’d.
As you recall, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu recently was barred from speaking at the University of St. Thomas. Now Miles, who has written extensively about torture practices authorized by the Bush administration and who has warned that America is becoming “a torturing society,” has received the Tutu treatment.
Miles was invited months ago to talk about torture and its effects on society before masses at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in Minneapolis on Sunday. The invitation was issued by the peace and justice ministry at St. Joan’s, which has a tradition of social justice work in the Twin Cities. In addition, Miles was scheduled to speak Tuesday to an adult education class at the church.
But last Wednesday, four days before Miles was scheduled to speak, the archdiocese intervened: St. Joan’s was ordered not to let Miles talk before mass. Or Tuesday, either.
He was persona non grata.
According to a spokesman for the archdiocese, Miles was barred from St. Joan’s because he supports abortion rights, a position “contrary to the teachings” of the church. Miles acknowledges that, but says he had no intention of speaking about abortion and that he sent the text of his talk on torture to the archdiocese.
“I wasn’t asked about my position on abortion, euthanasia (he opposes it), divorce, papal infallibility or the Nicene Creed,” he says. “The issue is whether I have something relevant to say to Catholics on torture.”
On that, there is no doubt. Miles believes passionately that torture violates fundamental rights of life and dignity. And causes abortions.
“Torture causes women to abort at a horrendous rate,” Miles says, “and people who have been tortured are much more likely to commit suicide. The point is that an anti-torture campaign is a pro-life campaign.”
But at a time when the archdiocese is clumsily tightening the chancery’s control on parishes and demanding orthodoxy from pulpit and pew, a whispering campaign developed against Miles after word of his St. Joan’s appearance appeared in a recent church bulletin.
According to the archdiocese, anti-abortion activists called to complain about Miles’ appearance at St. Joan’s. Miles has been seen as a highly visible antagonist by some since he helped reverse an anti-abortion scare tactic by the Minnesota Department of Health.
The department was telling women that abortion increases the risk of breast cancer. There is no established connection between abortion and breast cancer, and that spurious assertion was removed after scientists, including Miles, testified at the Legislature that it had demoralized the health department and “besmirched” (Miles’ word) its reputation.
Miles, a geriatrician, has performed no abortions. But when the Catholic Bulletin threatened to publish the names of doctors who provided abortions to indigent women, Miles wrote a letter to the editor asking that he be named, too, since he supported safe, legal and affordable abortion for those who needed them.
“As a Christian,” he wrote, “I will continue to try to respond with compassion to the complex and sometimes tragic situations [in] which my patients find themselves in a way which is sensitive to the hard facts, difficult choices and individual differences which are present.”
His letter was published in 1978.
Last week, 30 years later, it was circulated by those who wanted the archdiocese to ban Miles from speaking at St. Joan’s. Many in the church are perplexed by the ban.
5/7/08 Update: Hundreds of people packed the large dining room of the Carondelet Center in St. Paul last night to hear Dr. Steve Miles speak on state-sanctioned torture and how as U.S. citizens we can best work to end it.
As was noted above, Miles was to give his talk at St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in South Minneapolis. However, a directive from the chancery effectively banned the church from hosting the event. Miles’ pro-choice stance with regards to abortion was the reason for the chancery’s banning of his talk on anti-torture advocacy.
After being approached by representatives from St. Joan of Arc Church, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet agreed to host Dr. Miles. The Sisters are well-respected and renowned throughout the archdiocese for embodying, through a range of ministries, their special charism of “love of God and the dear neighbor without distinction.”
Following are images from last night’s event at the Carondelet Center.
Images: Michael J. Bayly.
Recommended Off-site Links:
Torture Expert Banned from Speaking at Catholic Church - Because He’s Pro-choice - Paul Schmelzer (Minnesota Monitor, May 2, 2008).
An Interview with Steve Miles (first published in the January 13, 2006 issue of the National Catholic Reporter).
See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Catholic Father and Lesbian Daughter Banned from Speaking on Church Property
Choosing to Stay
No Place for Dialogue in Archdiocese Newspaper
When Quackery Goes Mainstream
300+ People Vigil at the Cathedral in Solidarity with LGBT Catholics
No Really . . .
The Shrinking Catholic Tent