Wednesday, September 22, 2010

It's a Scandal

Minnesota bishops spend big on a misguided campaign
that encourages Catholics to support enshrining discrimination
into the State Constitution against gay couples and families

As executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) I’m quoted in an article in today’s Star Tribune about the Minnesota Conference of (Roman) Catholic Bishops’ campaign against same-sex civil marriage – a campaign that involves the mailing to over 400,000 Catholics of an 18-minute DVD with a strong anti-marriage equality message. As far as I know, the bishops have not disclosed the cost of their campaign, though some have estimated that it could be over one million dollars.

Perhaps, like me, you’re curious as to whether or not the DVD at the center of this expensive campaign explains just how preventing gay civil marriage reflects the Gospel mandate to minister to the least among us. And what was it again Jesus said about homosexuality and gay marriage? Oh, that’s right, absolutely nothing! (He did, of course, mention marriage and his words have been used by some to denounce same-sex marriage. For my take on this, see my 2009 Solidarity Sunday homily, Liberated to Be Together.)

And yet at this time when thousands of Minnesotans are suffering as the result of the economic down turn, and Catholic schools and parishes are threatened with closure, the local clerical leadership sees fit to spend a considerable amount of money on urging Catholics to support discrimination against a minority group in civil society. Yes, it’s a scandal.

And as for the argument that the bishops’ are simply doing their job and educating Catholics on what “the church” teaches about homosexuality and same-sex relationships, I can only say that I’m tired of the clerical leadership’s impoverished understanding of human sexuality being passed off as “Catholic belief” when clearly many of the teachings that comprise this closed-circuit belief system (be they concerned with contraception, masturbation, homosexuality, or the meaning and purpose of sex) have simply not been received and thus accepted by the faithful. We don’t believe what these teachings say. They need to be revisited, revised and updated in the light of science and human experience. Catholic thinking and teaching have changed around moral issues such as usury, slavery, nuclear arms, and labor standards. Our tradition is open, in other words, to its teachings being shaped by historical and scientific knowledge. Why should our understanding of sexuality be immune from such an openness, from such ongoing development? Why is the church's clerical leadership so adamantly opposed to teachings on sexuality and sexual morality being shaped by new insights? Why is a historically conscious approach to some moral issues permitted but an absolutist approach to others strictly enforced? Such inconsistencies comprise yet another scandal, especially given their implications for the intellectual standing of the church and for ordinary Catholics trying to live lives of integrity.

Good teachers are good listeners, and it’s time for the bishops to start listening. And what exactly do they need to start listening to? Well, they could start with gay people’s experiences of the loving and transforming presence of God in their lives and relationships. Hey, if nothing else, it would save them wasting big bucks on
last ditch efforts to stave off the inevitable, and allow them to use that money to help those whom Jesus actually calls us to help.

Below is the Star Tribune article on this controversy, followed by a sampling of comments left by readers on the newspaper’s website.


Catholics to Get DVDs Opposing Gay Marriage

By Mary Jane Smetank

Star Tribune

September 21, 2010

Critics say the mailing, from state bishops,
is aimed at November voters.

More than 400,000 DVDs are being mailed to the homes of Minnesota Catholics on Wednesday, courtesy of Catholic bishops in the state who want to stop the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage in its tracks.

The 18-minute DVD includes an appearance from St. Paul and Minneapolis Archbishop John Nienstedt in which he says it is time for Minnesotans – not the “ruling elite” of legislators and judges – to vote on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Thirty-one states have passed such an amendment.

“It is the people themselves and not politicians or judges who should make this decision,” Nienstedt says on the DVD. “This is the only way to put the one man, one woman definition of marriage beyond the reach of the courts and politicians.” [The Archbishop comes across as a Tea Partier, what with his clear disdain for the role of government to protect the rights of minorities and his maligning of democratically-elected representatives as part of a “ruling elite.”]

Gay advocates who have worked to change the Catholic Church’s stand on same-sex marriage said that coming six weeks before the November general election, the DVD distribution is aimed squarely at voters.

“It’s an effort to have Catholics vote the way the bishops want them to vote, but by and large Catholic voters are well-educated and they are independent-minded,” said Brian McNeill, president of Dignity Twin Cities. The group for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people works to change what it calls the “antiquated sexual theology” of the church. “We would like to talk to the archbishop about it, but he won’t talk to us,” McNeill said.

Michael Bayly, executive coordinator of the Twin Cities-based Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities, said that because gubernatorial candidates Mark Dayton of the DFL and Tom Horner of the Independence Party support same-sex marriage, the chances are great that Minnesota could have a governor who supports what Bayly calls “marriage equality.” He called the DVD “almost a last-ditch effort to try and influence Catholics to turn the election to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

“It would be really tragic if they succeeded, but I don’t think they will,” Bayly said.

The “educational packet” produced by the Minnesota Catholic Conference, which represents bishops covering the state, includes the DVD and an introductory letter from each local bishop. The video includes Nienstedt’s six-minute appearance and a 12-minute video produced by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, warning of the damage that same-sex marriage will do to families, especially children. [Mmm . . . that should be an incredibly short segment of the video! I mean, what and where is the evidence of this “damage”? Will the video include evidence to the contrary – such as, for example, these findings from Iowa, a state that has legalized same-sex civil marriage?]

The Knights of Columbus video includes appearances by a civil rights advocate who quotes the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and a Princeton University professor who says that the well-being of kids is threatened when they don’t grow up in a traditional family. [Patrick J. Ryan, an associate professor of childhood and social institutions at the University of Western Ontario, has penned an excellent response to the so-called “Defense of Traditional Marriage” argument against marriage equality. This response can be read here.] The video warns that if same-sex marriage becomes the law, public schools would teach that same-sex marriage is OK regardless of what parents think and that the religious liberty of Catholics and others would be threatened. [Another canard that is refuted in this Progressive Catholic Voice article.] It says that people who oppose same-sex marriage would be seen as bigots [!] who could be prosecuted and that the accreditation of parochial schools and tax-exempt status of those schools and churches would be threatened. [No, there is a separation of church and state in the U.S. Despite what you may have heard has happened in some other countries, schools and churches in the U.S. would not be threatened in this way. Surely the producers of this DVD know this. Are they therefore purposely lying? ]

Similar DVDs have been sent out in other states, including California and Maine, said Dennis McGrath, spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. He said it was his understanding that the bishops jointly decided to send out the packets here.

“I think they felt the situation had gotten to the point that they had to do something,” McGrath said. “They couldn’t stand by and let this thing go any further. The same-sex marriage train was chugging ahead.”

State Sen. John Marty, a Roseville DFLer who has authored proposals to make Minnesota’s marriage laws gender-neutral, said Tuesday that he will renew those efforts if he wins reelection this fall. He said the bishops are free to express their opinions but that he believes that shifting public attitudes about same-sex marriage and gay rights have moved Minnesotans past the debate the bishops seem to want to create.

“I think the constitutional amendment push died about four or five years ago,” Marty said. “Even the strongest proponents realize that it’s time has passed, and it’s not going to happen. Times are changing.” [And thank God! Sen. Marty, incidentally, was the keynote speaker at last year’s CPCSM Annual Community Meeting. To read what he had to say about his efforts to ensure marriage equality in Minnesota, see the previous Wild Reed post: “We Can Make It Happen.”]

The church mailings were paid for with a private donation, McGrath said. [Oh, and this is suppose to make it okay? The real issue isn’t where the money comes from but the bishops’ decision to spend it in the way that they have and the lack of input from the laity regarding such a significant expenditure.]


Following are some of the comments that have been shared on the website of the Star Tribune in response to the above article.

Bellamn16 writes: This is an excellent example of why the Catholic church loses 75+% of its young adult (and typically more tolerant) population. And it’s one of the reasons why I stopped regularly attending church. I just don’t understand how a religion that was built on ‘love thy neighbor’ can act this way about a portion of our human population.

Cheiron55401 writes: The Catholics should clean up their own tarnished image before telling the world to clean theirs up.

Europea writes: I’ve had the pleasure of living next door to a lesbian couple raising two sons. One is Mommy and the other is Momma. These two young men are happy, well adjusted kids with really incredible talents. They play football and hockey, and they like girls, though most of their buddies are boys. They don’t seem to have any trouble modeling typical boy behavior. They have uncles and neighbors and other adult males around all the time. My personal experience has put the lie to these silly claims about the required membership of a nuclear family. Good parents can be of the same gender, and bad parents can be of opposite genders. If the Catholic bishops don’t want to perform gay marriage ceremonies, nobody in America will ever force them too, no matter what these foolish DVDs might be telling you. That’s written in the First Amendment. It seems that all the bishops really want to protect is their supposed right to demonize categories of non-Catholics. In that specific regard, I don’t see much difference between their claims and the religious position of the Taliban. It is one of degree rather than kind. I have to question why these bishops are so intent on lying to their own flock, and why so many Catholics are content to ignore their bishops in obvious acts of passive aggression. It really doesn’t seem like a healthy relationship to me.

Luciani writes: Catholics have nothing better to do with their money than this? What a waste. How many people are seriously going to watch it? Four hundred thousand more pieces of junk mail for the landfills.

Lawmusicguy writes: I guess I should stop being surprised when the Catholic Church sinks to yet another level of intolerance, hypocrisy, and absurdity. Yet each time I find myself wondering how this organization can be so out of touch with reality. There is no rational argument that suggests gay people and gay marriage will harm the Catholic Church. No one will force the Church to perform same sex marriages. What gay people want is to be with the partner of their choice, not to attack or be attacked by the Church. Funny that there’s another Strib article about many [Catholic] churches being forced to combine congregations and sell off church buildings due to dwindling numbers. Perhaps some day the Catholic Church will see the correlation between its intolerance and the shrinking parishioners. People are growing tired of the Church’s ignorant interference.

Datelessnerd writes: Sheesh! You really get your money’s worth when you put it in a Catholic collection plate. If it doesn’t go to pay child sex abuse settlements against priests, it’s used to produce homophobic DVDs during the election campaign.

See also the related Wild Reed posts:
Misplaced Priorities
Return to Sender
The Minnesota Bishops’ Last Ditch Effort
A Message for NOM
Archbishop Nienstedt Calls (Again) for a Marriage Amendment to the MN Constitution
Archbishop Nienstedt’s Unconvincing Argument
Archbishop Nienstedt Has It Wrong
Distinguishing Between Roman Catholic Theology and Civil Law in the Struggle for Marriage Equality
Dale Carpenter on the “Win-Win” Reality of Gay Marriage
At UST, a Rousing and Very Catholic Show of Support for Same-Sex Marriage
Minnesotans Rally for Equality and Love at the State Capitol
A Catholic Voice for Marriage Equality at the State Capitol

Recommended Off-site Links:
The Archbishop and the Gay Bogeyman – Tommi Avicolli-Mecca (, September 22, 2010).
Gay Marriage Causes No Harm to Traditional Marriage , Study Finds – Scott Raynor (The Iowa Independent, September 8, 2010).
NOM's Anti-Gay Marriage Ad Muddles Martin Luther King's Pro-Gay Message – Paul Schmelzer (Minnesota Independent, September 23, 2010).
A Defense of Same-Sex Marriage – Daniel Maguire (Catholics for Marriage Equality, February 3, 2010).
Do Religions Reject Gay Marriage? – Daniel Maguire (, August 18, 2010).
Young Catholics Will Change the Church on Gay Rights – Michael A. Jones (, September 15, 2010).


Anonymous said...

HERE ARE THE COMMENTS I ADDED TO THE STARTRIB--5 years ago I returned to the Roman Catholic Church after 35 years away. Just this week, after struggling deeply for many months on issues such as the in-depth political pressure of the hierarc...hy on the faithful, the many seeming contradictions within the doctrinal history of a Church who claims to have "never erred on faith or morals" and knowing that, even as a celibate same sex attracted individual, I have a limited shelf life due to the prejudices that seem to be endorsed from Pope Benedict on to our own Archbishop, I finally realized I belonged in the Anglican Communion. Ironically I sent a letter to that effect and stating my reasons which should have arrived just today to the Archdiocese. I take no joy in this as I love the Church--but I love her too much to watch in horror and ever increasing anger as she pulls out all the stops to destroy the human rights of others, not just on this but many issues. Apparently "unjust dicrimination" does not include denying LGBT people the right to protection or freedom under the law. Sadly, I must go elsewhere to truly be welcomed as the child of God I am. So I go.

Lonne said...

As I rewatched the DVD just a moment ago, I was struck by the irony that John, our brother in faith, and the Archbishop of St. Paul/Minneapolis, is calling for the people of Minnesota to not let "elites" make decisions for them, yet in his own sphere of authority, there does not even exist a true representation of the people and what we think.

I say, let's invite the people of Minnesota and around the world to call for an "amendment" of canon law and some of the out-dated practices and beliefs of the church. I'll bet the Archbishop would not like any politicians interfering within his realm of dictatorship!

Anonymous said...

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. – Acts 2:42

Damn, and all this time I thought the purpose of the Church was to produce hate DVDs wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars, while pretending to be "non-partisan." Thanks God for clearing that one up.

Unknown said...

I suspect in the passion of the moment it is understandable that you missed the information in the Strib's article that the DVDs and mailing were not paid for by the Church.

Did you miss this in the Bible? Matthew 19:3-6:

3Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?" 4He answered, "Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female,' 5 and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate."

Was Jesus wrong?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Ray,

According to Dennis McGrath, "the church mailings were paid for with a private donation" - a donation, presumably, made to either the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis or the MN Catholic Conference. Either way, the decision to accept and spend this money in the way that it was, was ultimately the decision of, in your words, "the Church." That is unless you're suggesting that MN Catholic Conference and/or the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis are in the habit of allowing themselves to be dictated to by funders?

Actually, the whole issue of funding and cost of this misguided campaign seems very murky - and thus troubling for many local Catholics. Fr instance, when asked on MPR today about the cost of producing and distributing the DVDs, Archbishop Nienstedt was unable (or unwilling) to provide an answer! For someone in his position, overseeing as he does the finances of the Archdiocese, this is both unacceptable and embarrassing.

As for Jesus' words in both Matthew 19:3-6 and Mark 10: 2-16, I address the concerns and questions you raise here.



Anonymous said...

Thank you Ray for trying to "excuse" what you assume to be my ignorance, but I didn't miss anything here. The issue in Matt 19deals with easy divorce, not same gender marriage. Those are totally separate topics. We always need to read the Sacred Scriptures in context and not insert our own meanings into them. Possibly in the "passion of the moment" that is what you actually did when you misinterpreted the primary meaning of that particular passage.

As to who paid for the DVDs, why did the Archdiocese not suggest to this no doubt sincere but misguided private donor to redirect his or her mulitple excess dollars to the literally thousands within the Catholic community who are unemployed or underemployed in this fragile ecomony, or otherwise ask this person or persons to use their money more constructively for the good of the Church in some other way instead?

Accepting the money for making these DVDs is criminal on their part in my view. No, Jesus wasn't wrong. But the Church was.

Linda54 said...

Mm, an "unnamed donor" paid for the bishop's DVD campaign. How convenient. The church hierarchy has never been big on transparency and accountability, so we'll probably never know exactly how this deplorable crusade was funded. We just are left with why it was funded: because Catholics are yet to rid themselves of a feudal system of governance that is fixated on controlling people through its medieval teachings on sex. The straights have quietly unshackled themselves and as a result bishops and priests know full well that enforcing the teaching on contraception is a lost cause, but they're still trying to give themselves a sense of power by targeting the gays and preventing their civil marriage rights. I for one will be working to oppose such discrimination.

Mary Hess said...

I tried to leave this at the CCCR site, but the captcha for the email is broken! Anyway, I don't know if you could get this out to people, but I really like this suggestion for a response to the dvds:

That is, let's have each of us in our own parishes put them back int he collection plate without any money that day. That way each parish can begin to see how much support there is, and we're sending a message. Plus, it's a pretty anonymous thing, so individual people who support us but might not want to be public about it, can still make a difference in their own parish.

Mareczku said...

Why didn't the archdioces use this money to help Catholic schools or struggling parishes? What do you think of that, Ray? Wouldn't the money be better spent that way? It just seems to be part of Archbishop Neinstedt's crusade against gay people. It seems that Archbishop Neinstedt wants a smaller and purer Church and getting rid of the "faggots" and their supporters will help him to accomplish this.

colkoch said...

The better question is why didn't the archdiocese and the KofC use this money for charitable causes that actually support existing families through tough economic times--one of the leading causes of the break up of families.

How much hypocrisy are Catholics supposed to put up with?

Unknown said...

It's my understand that the project started in New Jersey with the Knights of Columbus and I assumed that that's where the fund raising began.

Since the Archbishop said he doesn't know anything about it I would imagine that he just provided them with the size of the archdiocesan mailing list and recorded his personal message digitally so that the local mailing could be personalized.

Unknown said...

Linda: Please go over Matthew 19:3-6

Check out the parts about "male and female." That's why it was funded.

Unknown said...


What don't you understand about "'made them male and female,' 5 and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'?"

The Gospels were not intended to be a Wikipedia on homosexual activities.

Terry Nelson said...

Richard, with all due respect your faith journey hasn't been all that stable - no surprise you are trying Anglicanism now.

Michael - the DVD expense was paid for by a donor - so what? The expense is nothing in comparison with what certain wealthy gay activists pour into pro-gay marriage and gay rights political campaigns across the country. Why are gays protesting Obama these days? Could it be they feel betrayed and that their political contributions were misused? Don't ask - just tell.

Unknown said...

You guys just don't understand, do you?

Somebody unknown paid for the project and did not give the money to the archdiocese. Capisce?

Catholic donors learned from the experience of donors supporting the Proposition 8 referendum in California that if they make their names public that the homosexual collective will be mobilized to make all kinds of efforts to destroy their jobs, businesses, etc.

You surely know that story, don't you.

Unknown said...

Mary Hess:

That's a great idea. It will be interesting to see just how many homosexuals are regular Mass attendees.

Unknown said...


Please read. The archdiocese didn't get the money. The Knights of Columbus didn't get the money. They came up with the idea and an anonymous donor provided the funding.

Why didn't the president that you voted for "support existing families through tough economic times" rather than banks and General Motors?

It is not fun or informative arguing with you people. You really don't know what you are talking about. You have made up your minds and keep repeating the same arguments over and over, based on your beliefs, not on any facts.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Terry, what do you mean by "stable"? From some of the things I've read on your blog, I'm not sure if you're in a position to dismiss someone else's faith journey in this way. It seems you've had your share of ups and downs - and aren't you the better for it? Isn't that often how we grow and change for the better?

Also, when gay people and their allies make donations they're doing so to reduce discrimination and expand the circle of inclusion. That sounds very much aligned with Gospel values to me. The MN bishops' misguided campaign against marriage equality does the opposite. It seeks to enshrine discrimination into the MN Constitution and exclude a certain group of people. That to me is a betrayal of the Catholic way of being in the world, a way that should always be open and responsive to the presence of God in and through human life - in all its wondrous diversity.



Michael J. Bayly said...


You have no idea how exactly this campaign of the bishops was funded. None of us do. That's the problem.

Regardless, it was a waste of money and a scandalous example of misplaced priorities.

And as for you fixation on Matt. 19: 3-6, I'd take your reference to this verse seriously when the clerical leadership of the Church produces and distributes a DVD calling for a constitutional amendment that outlaws divorce.



Michael J. Bayly said...

Ray said: "You have made up your minds and keep repeating the same arguments over and over, based on your beliefs, not on any facts."

Mmm . . . sounds like you're finally coming around to seeing the problem with the clerical leadership's sexual theology!



Anonymous said...

Terry--I do not wish to turn this into a personal argument with you--it isn't. You do not know me at all, so for you to assume you know whether my faith walk has been "stable" or not would be up to my spiritual director, not you. For 5 years I have been pretty much a daily Mass attendee, gone to Reconciliation at least every 2 weeks, sponsored 2 RCIA candidates, was an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion in two parishes, and completed Harry J Flynn Catechetical Institute (I believe you were in that class too, not sure), all in my 50s with several major health issues and while working 2 jobs. I have been celibate for 10 years and am still not looking for a partner. My prayer life remains very strong, far from perfect by any means, but is consistent daily. My very honest disagreements with the Archdiocese are breaking my heart, very honestly. I WANT the Church to be right, but my personal convictions tell me otherwise, and that they are missing it on this and a number of other issues. I am not "trying Anglicanism" either. I have studied, just as you have, and in my digging have found huge contradictions between the teachings of the Church today and throughout Church history. Something is wrong here when she claims to have "never erred in faith and morals." It is simply not correct. I am one of the most stable people I know, very honestly. That is not meant haughtily, just the opposite in fact. But you know absolutely nothing about me or my journey and your assumptions about my stablity are not correct, friend.

Anonymous said...

As to my other comment on taking Sacred Scripture out of context, I stand with it. The passages on marriage in the Gospels are often taken as a "proof text" that Jesus supported only opposite gender relationships. The argument is based on silence, which is generally a poor hermeneutic to base a doctrine on.

There is plenty of room to debate this issue--what there is not room for, in my very humble opinion, is to shut down such dialogue and Archbishop N has done so, even before this whole situation arose. In fairness to him he has been personally supportive to me during the time I was Roman rite and was not rocking the boat. But this boat needs rocking, sisters and bros. I have already paid a fairly big cost in making some painful stands just this week. But my integrity level has grown rather than otherwise. I would do it again.

Michael J. Bayly said...

Thank you, Richard, for sharing so honestly the insights you've gained from your journey.



colkoch said...

Ray, I've learned quite a bit from watching the Obama administration. We have a corporate oligarchy not a democracy, so of course, Obamba followed Bush's lead and bailed out Wall Street. The Repubs did their part superbly and the crumbs the Dems managed to throw from the corporate table,--a bit of health care reform, the Repubs will attempt to take back right along with the little bit of banking reform the Dems managed to enact.

In the meantime someone or someone's are colluding with the Church to keep us all focused on the 'intrinsically disordered' and there for 'demonic gays'. We're all being used Ray, even you.

David Klecker said...

I agree that same-sex marriage should be frowned upon, but I don't see why the Church should mandate secular law when it comes to it. The church is an entity onto its own and its moral values are for people to come into, not to be forced upon them.