Monday, October 20, 2008

Same-Sex Marriage: Still Very Much on the Archbishop’s Mind

The October issue of The Progressive Catholic Voice was published last week and contains a number of interesting features, including:

• Part One of the video documentary we’re making about the history and future of the Spirit of St. Stephen’s Catholic Community.

• A review by Connie Aligada of Ida Raming’s A History of Women and Ordination – Volume 2: The Priestly Office of Women: God’s Gift to a Renewed Church.

• And, just in time for November 4’s presidential election, a Resource Guide and Reading List for Catholic Voters.

In addition, Paula Ruddy reports on Archbishop Nienstedt’s August 28 meeting with 200 priests and deacons of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese to discuss the subject of . . . same-sex marriage!

You know, I can’t tell you how many local Catholics - gay and straight - have shared with me how relieved they are that Nienstedt is “laying off” the gay issue - especially after his active support (when Bishop of New Ulm) of a 2005-06 proposed amendment to the Minnesota State Constitution (that would have barred any form of legal recognition for same-sex couples and their families), and his controversial statements (as Archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis) last November.

Well, there may have been no recent public outbursts, but as Paula’s article clearly shows, the gay issue (and same-sex marriage in particular) is still very much on the archbishop’s mind. And in a renewed campaign to influence civil law and deny gay couples the right to civil marriage, Archbishop Nienstedt wants to make the issue of same-sex marriage a primary one for the priests and deacons of the archdiocese as well.

Paula’s article is reprinted in its entirety below.


The Fight of Their Lives
Archbishop Nienstedt rallies the priests and deacons
of the archdiocese
to “fight” against same-sex marriage
at the state and national level.

By Paula Ruddy

The Progressive Catholic Voice
October 2008

Would you have pictured a meeting of the archdiocesan priests and deacons with their new archbishop as a genial get-together of the brotherhood? There would be lots of affable greeting, talking and laughing before they settled down to a serious exchange of views about the announced topic, the sacrament of marriage. They would be serious because some research shows that as many as one in five Catholic marriages end in divorce.

According to our sources, the meeting on marriage scheduled by Archbishop John C. Nienstedt for August 28, 2008, at St John the Baptist Parish in New Brighton had been announced as just such an opportunity for priests and deacons to get together for discussion in between the every two-year presbyterate meetings that are customary in the Archdiocese. About 200 priests and deacons attended.

Instead of being about sacramental marriage, however, the meeting was almost entirely about homosexuality and same-sex civil marriage. There were four speakers to present the well-known moral position of the Roman Catholic Church on same-gender sex and partnering.

Instead of discussion, there was a Q&A period during which priests were asked to write their questions and submit them to the speakers. The opportunity to talk to one another was limited, as one priest put it, to asking: “How’s your chicken sandwich?” At the end, according to our sources, the Archbishop told the priests to ready themselves for the fight of their lives against legal recognition of same-sex partnerships.

Several of the priests and deacons we spoke to expressed dismay at having been misled about the subject matter of the meeting and the lack of opportunity for discussion. Two were reported to have left in disappointment. One said he felt like he had been “duped.” One priest said, “I was embarrassed to hear what we were hearing and to sit together with my priest friends and do nothing. But it just didn’t feel like anything we could say or do would make a difference.”

To obtain information on the meeting agenda, we called Dennis McGrath, Archdiocesan Communications Director. He said no information was available through his office. We got the following information from printed materials the speakers at the meeting provided to clergy in attendance and from the internet.

The first speaker was Dr. Janet E. Smith, guest lecturer at the St Paul Seminary during the current term, and a professor of moral theology at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. She is a member of the Pontifical Council for the Family. A search of the internet does not reveal where Dr. Smith went to school or received her training.

Our sources said Dr. Smith’s presentation had been announced as “Marriage from the Perspective of Canon Law.” Her handout, however, was entitled, “The Natural Law Argument Against Homosexual ‘Unions’.” In an attempt to define what is “human,” Dr. Smith wrote that humanity is characterized by “living in community, seeking knowledge (art, music, sports), and worshipping God.” Humans live “in a rational way.” Examples were “eating in a rational way (plates, utensils); having sex in a rational way (married).” Inexplicably, she also noted that “Everyone is disordered sexually; chastity is a challenge for everyone.”

Other speakers were Dr. John C. Cavadini, Reverend Michael Prieur, and Professor Teresa S. Collett.

John C. Cavadini is Associate Professor of Theology, and Chair of the Theology Department at the Unversity of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana. He received his B.A. in 1975 from Wesleyan University; an M.A. in 1979 from Marquette University; and his 1988 from Yale University. Dr. Cavadini’s lecture was entitled “Marriage from the Perspective of Church.” Contacted by phone, Dr. Cavadini said he did not have a written copy of the lecture.

Fr. Michael Prieur, who graduated from St. Peter’s Seminary, London, Ontario, in 1965, obtained his Doctorate in Theology from the Pontificio Ateneo di S. Anselmo in Rome in 1969. As a professor of Moral and Sacramental Theology at St. Peter’s Seminary for over thirty-five years, he has specialized in Bioethics, the Sacrament of Marriage, and the Art of the Confessor. He is Coordinator of the Permanent Deacon Program for the Diocese of London.

Fr. Prieur’s subject was “The Same-Sex ‘Marriage’ Issue in Canada: What Happened?” Fr. Prieur warned against allowing the issue of legalizing homosexual unions as civil marriages to be framed in “rights” language. That is what happened in Canada, he said, and it led to some lower courts holding that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms required recognition of same sex civil marriage.

The relevant passage in the Charter reads: “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability. (Section 15 (1)) The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was embedded in the Canadian Constitution in 1982, replacing a Bill of Rights which had been a federal statute since 1960.

After the lower court decisions, instead of appealing, the Canadian government drafted a bill, which the Supreme Court ruled was constitutional, and the Parliament passed. On July 20, 2005, Royal Assent was given to the Civil Marriage Act and it became the law of Canada. It reads: “Marriage, for civil purposes, is the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others.” The Act also “recognizes that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.”

The problem with framing the question in “rights” language, according to Fr. Prieur, is that it “totally bypasses looking at the institution of marriage in any ontological sense, rooted in the ‘givens’ of creation and objective reality.” He did not specify why the government of Canada should view civil marriage in sacramental terms.

In addition to bypassing the sacramental aspects, Fr. Prieur wrote that “rights” based civil marriage bypasses the question of the “common good.” In separating “love” from “procreation,” the primary purpose of marriage, the best interests of children, is overlooked. Fr. Prieur sees the equal protection of same sex civil marriage as possibly resulting in many evils – discrimination against heterosexual marriage, the blurring of all objective differences in relationships, the increase of illness due to anal intercourse and consequent law suits against the government, and the state’s inability to determine criteria for consummation. All of these arguments weigh in on the side of prohibiting same sex civil marriage for the common good in Fr. Prieur’s view.

To avoid the negative consequences to the common good in the US, Fr. Prieur advised the priests to use the media, and to stand up strongly against legalizing same-gender civil marriage. “We may need simply to say: ‘Our teaching about marriage as being between a man and a woman is inherent in creation itself. This is the way God made marriage. It is unchangeable by human beings. And this teaching is on the level of the Creed. This is a teaching for which I am willing to die’.” Emphasis his.

Teresa S. Collett, Professor of Law at the University of St Thomas Law School, gave a presentation, entitled “Marriage & Government, An Uneasy Union.” Professor Collett earned her B.A. at the University of Oklahoma and her J.D. at the University of Oklahoma College of Law.

In her power-point talk, Professor Collett showed the gradual decline of sexual morality from the Middle Ages, when marriage was a matter for ecclesiastical courts, to the present, when civil governments set the criteria for civil marriage. She cited statistics on the “cultural erosion of civil marriage,” including no-fault divorce, creation of legal rights for cohabitants, acceptance of out of wedlock births, and legal recognition of same-sex unions.” The rest of her presentation was on the history of the legal struggle for GLBT rights in the US and particularly in Minnesota. She warned that in 2008 “nineteen state legislators sponsored a bill to include marriage within the Minnesota Human rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and to delete the prohibition of state recognition of marriages between persons of the same sex.”

The bills she may be referring to are Senate File 3880, authored by Senator John Marty, and House File 4248, authored by Representative Phyllis Kahn, providing for gender-neutral marriage laws. The Senate bill is entitled “Marriage and Family Protection Act.” Under the “Legislative Findings” section, the bills declare that the state has an interest in encouraging stable relationships regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of the partners and the entire community benefits when couples undertake the mutual obligations of marriage. The bills also specify that religious institutions are not required to solemnize such marriages.

If anyone has more or more accurate information on this initiative of the Archbishop to influence civil law and would be willing to share with the laity, we would appreciate hearing from you.

Paula Ruddy is a founding member of The Progressive Catholic Voice.


Postscript: Archbishop Nienstedt isn’t the only one on the defensive in response to proactive efforts within the civil arena to secure and protect civil marriage rights for same-sex couples. Just today Star Tribune columnist Katherine Kersten has a piece about the new “Rights of Unmarried Couples Task Force” of the Minnesota State Bar Association – a task force that is reviewing the current state of Minnesota law “in light of the disparity between legal rights and protections available to same-sex couples as compared to different-sex couples.”

Not surprisingly, Kersten opposes any potential recommendations such a review may offer, insisting that existing “legislative attempts at fairness” in states like California and Connecticut have “backfired.” Her solution? All such laws should be repealed.

As is the case with all of Kersten’s writings, their chief benefit can be found in the informed and articulate rebuttals that they generate from readers. Following are examples of such rebuttals from the Star Tribune website.

• Here’s what I took from [Kersten’s] column: There are currently laws in effect that provide some semblance of fairness and equal treatment for all people - even, gasp!, gays. Even more alarming, there are currently government groups working to examine existing laws to determine 1) if they are fair, and 2) if they could be changed to provide more equal treatment than the existing laws. And all this "striving for equality" nonsense is happening unbeknownst to the common man. Can you even believe it? Thank goodness for Katherine Kersten, who has singlehandedly uncovered their actions and exposed their evil plot to promote fairness, a plot that even goes so far as to suggest the use of current laws to possibly pave the way for future laws that would further the cause of fair and equal treatment for all, regardless of sexual orientation. Kersten’s solution? Since current law could “pave the way” for future equal treatment laws, it is better to repeal ALL such laws. Seems as if Kersten shares her beloved fellow Republican John McCain’s views on using a hatchet when a scalpel will do. God (literally) forbid we take a stab at true equality in the 21st century. So much for the separation of church and state (not to mention the American tradition of thoughtful public discourse).

• The 14th Amendment of our Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law for all people. If marriage carries with it legal rights and protections, which it currently does, then it cannot be denied to homosexuals. The solution is that straight people and gay people all have “civil unions” under the LAW and can be "married" or not by their CHURCHES. Just take the word "marriage" out of the laws and replace it with “civil union.” For the record: I’m heterosexual, I’m married, we have kids, and I’m not in the least bit afraid of homosexuals having the same rights that I have.

• We should follow the lead of most other industrialized countries (most of Europe and East Asia), in which only the civil ceremony confers legal status on a marriage and the religious ceremony is optional. Even nowadays, clergy may refuse to perform religious ceremonies for couples who can legally marry according to civil law, such as couples of different faiths or people who have been divorced, if their particular religion forbids it. I’m a Christian myself, and I have gay and lesbian friends who are. I cannot imagine any way in which legalizing their unions actually harms heterosexual marriage. Nobody has ever been able to explain what is "harmed" except their ability to impose the their hang-ups on the whole society.

• The economy is in shambles, people are losing their jobs and houses, the election is just weeks away and Katherine Kersten is still preaching that gay people don’t deserve EQUAL rights. These marriages or civil unions wouldn't even be a blip on the radar if it wasn’t for ignorant, discriminating people like yourself making a big deal about it as often as you do. Just another minority group you wish to stomp on as long as you can. What shameful disregard for human life and God’s children.

• Kersten, like Bachmann, like Palin, like Musgrave, like Harris, embodies the ugliness of the Republican noise machine. They trot out their blather of fear and hatred to try to enrage their donors and scare the voters. It’s bad enough they do this at all, but they do it while pretending it’s what Jesus would do. This year we have seen a complete repudiation of these tactics. Barack Obama has risen above the Kerstens and Palins and Bachmanns and is beginning to move the country beyond this type of politics. These people are about to be completely on the margins as the rest of us enjoy the civil discourse and civic pride in a country led by an Obama-Biden administration.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Learning Curve”: A Suggested Trajectory
Interesting Times Ahead
An Open Letter to Archbishop Nienstedt
300+ People Vigil at Cathedral in Support of LGBT Catholics
Why We Gathered
No, Really . . .
Thoughts on Archbishop Nienstedt
A Priest’s Courageous Act
Update on Fr. Geoff Farrow
Father Geoff Farrow on Proposition 8
Another Victory in Connecticut
The Same People
What Straights Can Learn from Gay Marriage
Good News from the Golden State
Love is Love
The Changing Face of “Traditional Marriage”
Naming and Confronting Bigotry
The Real Gay Agenda
Civil Unions and Christian Tradition
Separate is Not Equal
Mainstream Voice of “Dear Abby” Supports Gay Marriage
New Studies: Gay Couples as Committed as Straight Couples
Just Love
This “Militant Secularist” Wants to Marry a Man
Good News from Minnesota


Anonymous said...

"A search of the internet does not reveal where Dr. Smith went to school or received her training." I'm surprised to say this is the truth. I conducted an extensive search about Dr. Smith and I can't find where she obtained her doctorate. I'm going to try to search ProQuest's Dissertation Abstracts International (that's how I know the database, but it might have changed names) and see what comes up.

Anonymous said...

The ultimate question is not the Church of Rome's attitudes toward marriage, family, children, and divorce, which those of faith are free to embrace, assuming one finds the Church's attitudes complementary to one's faith and witness.

But the Church of Rome, as with all churches, have a circumscribed sphere in which to share their attitudes, and parishioners should know if their bishop is taking collections and using them for political endeavors, rather than ecclesiastical matters. Since so many dioceses are under judgments which require the sheriff to execute writs against collections to pay judgments of pedophile priests many hierarchs protected, I don't think an institution beholden to pedophile concealment is in a position to tell others how their lives as couples should be fulfilled.

Since churches are exempt from taxation, they must also be exempt from political advocacy. It's one thing to advocate "care of the poor," but it is entirely illegal for a bishop to inform laity they'll be denied communion if they vote for a candidate X, or advocate a woman's autonomy of her body, or whether two men should be intruded and arrested for loving in ways the Church likens "to images of birds, four-footed animals, or reptiles," and those "who practice such things deserve to die."

Some might argue these claims are the antithesis of the Gospel, however scriptural, and so bizarre, that if hierarchs form the moral conscience by consulting such oracles, perhaps it is THEY who have a deformed conscience.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the notion that churches must exempt themselves from political advocacy to "earn" their tax exemption is relatively recent in terms of regulatory developments. The Constitution has not been interpreted to require it. It's merely a matter of tax regulation, and it can be changed.

As for denial of communion: that is perfectly legal from the perspective of civil law for any reason a church deems fit - indeed, the Constitution forbids the government from reviewing the merit (or lack thereof) of sacramental decisions by churches, et cet. (Think of Southern states had tried to regulate the denial of communion to segregationists by the Catholic Church in civil rights era, just for one example.)

If churches were required to refrain from political advocacy, there would have been a lot of social movements (not just for ill but for good) that would have been much weaker for it.

All that said, I admire the Catholic Worker Movement's rejection of tax exemption so that it might not cooperate in the governmental silencing of itself, and there are many in the Catholic Church who think that might might be a less compromised way to go.

Anonymous said...


We may not be in disagreement. To advocate, for example, for minimum wage is perfectly acceptable, to decry abortion, to pronounce homophilia a mortal sin, and the rest, are perfectly acceptable for hierachs and clergy to advocate, and retain their tax-exempt status.

When they cross a threshold that states, "vote for McCain," "support the one candidate whose position on abortion the church supports," then the trespass is certainly the church's right to do, and the state's right to revoke tax-exemption.

Frankly, I've never understood the tax-exempt status, but then I don't remember when the Sisters of Mercy operated a hospital and orphanage, so such charitable work from a religious order was associated with where they attended religious services. But since those charitable practices have long ago ended, we cannot claim churches "serve a public interest," the essential criterion for tax exemption. Indeed, churches do not serve a public interest, but a parochial interest.

When the City and County of San Francisco required all who do business with San Francisco's government offer benefits to their domestic partners, Archbishop Levada balked, and claimed exemption because of its status as a "church." Well, the hierarch did not have his laity behind or clergy behind him, and the requirement stood. Levada, rather than give the appearance of sanctioning same-sex couples, used the relaxed language of the ordinance to "mean" for Roman Catholics domestic family live-ins, such as daughters caring for live-in parents, which might also include two males not related as an "unintended consequence" and mortal sin. The monies that the Archdiocese knew was too important to fight over, such as United Way, social welfare, legal aid, Catholic Charities, could still operate without government contributions, but if the Archdiocese wanted contributions and tax dollars of its citizens, it had to provide same-sex domestic benefits.

MONEY prevailed. It always does. Levada's half-assed effort to keep Catholics from all occasion of sin (such as domestically loving each other and sharing each other's lives) was still condemned as "intrinsically disordered," which Catholics should regard with compassion for the Cross they must bear in order to be saved, and that meant celibacy. How terribly compassionate! The Church now establishes homophilia -- the disposition -- is an "intrinsic disorder," which is so theologically suspect to cause laughter among theologians, but to "touch each other" is a mortal sin, which other Catholics are not justified in gay-bashing (which had been a problem).

For such bravery, Levada is now Prefect of SCDF, and the current archbishop was elevated to CARDINAL, in a city that heretofore has never had a cardinal, and the population of which usually opposes it. But the new guy is in the Ratzinger, Levada, and Fessio mold. It appeals to immigrants, and even gays find it hard to take their faith seriously, as apparently MHR would offend most as being a tad bit irreverent.

By that point, they've (1) left the Church altogether, (2) looked into Episcopal or Lutherans, or (2) done Two, and then leave religion altogether. After all, we worship the same sex like birds, reptiles, and four-footed animals, according to Paul, and are deserving of death. I can remember when Archbishop Quinn put those observations in a pastoral letter widely distributed in the U.S. But JPII did not like his "tolerance." Forced early retirement.

And people still insist the Church proposes, the believer a free to accept. Nonsense. The Church IMPOSES, or castigates as in Inquisitions, Loyalty Oaths, Purges, that would make Stalin, Hitler, Franco, feel like disciples of the Church -- which ain't the same as a disciple of Christ.

Anonymous said...

When did Niederauer get a red hat? He's not gotten one, and the chance that he will get one in SF is zero because the Americans already have a disproportionately large share of red hats.

In the 1980s, when Cardinal O'Connor was forced with digesting something like this he opposed, he firmly threatened to shut down Catholic hospitals. He was no bluffer, and NYC backed down.

In Boston, Cardinal Sean forced Catholic Charities to stop handling adoptions due to a similar issue.

I think the current temper of many bishops now will be quite different from Levada's that you describe. They will call the government's bluff. Money is not always the final solvent.

And I think for progressives to try to use government money as a solvent for our desiderata will be corrosive of our own goals in the longer term. Trying to force our church to reform with materialist methods will very likely harm us much more than it.

Anonymous said...

Liam, you are absolutely correct, Niederauer is the metropolitan archbishop of San Francisco. Apparently, one of the websites thought that made him a cardinal, and I followed it line. He is not a cardinal, and his See rarely justifies it.

Anonymous said...

It took some digging to find Janet Smith refer to her own dissertation in this essay (see Her dissertation is "Plato's use of myth as a pedagogical device" (Unpublished, University of Toronto, 1982). It is not clear from the title whether this is a dissertation on philosophy, literature or rhetoric.

Anonymous said...

Found it. Dr. Smith is a trained classicist:

B.A. in Classics, 1972, Grinnell College

M.A. in Classical Languages, 1975, University of North Carolina

Ph.D. in Classical Languages, 1982, University of Toronto

Its likely she translates Vatican documents from Latin herself.

Michael J. Bayly said...


I greatly appreciate your "digging" around to find the information you did on Ms. Smith.

Some friends and I heard her speak last Monday at the University of St. Thomas. I'll soon be posting a piece on her presentation and your research findings will be included and duly acknowledged!

Thanks again.