Two Archbishops’ Gay-Related Stories Show How Our Church Needs to Grow

July 3, 2014

Two archbishops from the United States made headlines this week related to gay issues.  Each story leaves me with a different feeling, though neither one is a good feeling.

Archbishop John Nienstedt

Archbishop John Nienstedt

The bigger of the two stories centered on Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul, Minnesota.  A news report from Commonweal informed the world that multiple allegations have emerged that Nienstedt made sexual advances toward priests, seminarians, and other men.  The archbishop strongly denied the veracity of these claims.

Nienstedt ordered an investigation of allegations against him, and the archdiocese hired a Twin Cities law firm to conduct the investigation.  In his statement, the archbishop said that he did so because that is what he would do with allegations made against any other priest, too.

This story is complicated by a number of factors.  First, there is Nienstedt’s record of very strong anti-gay comments, many of which were made during Minnesota’s debate about a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-gender marriage in 2012.  Second, Nienstedt has already been under fire because of mishandling of sex abuse claims against some of his priests.

Naturally, one of this story’s most popular responses has been to note the irony of witnessing someone who has been strongly homophobic in his speech possibly turning out to be homosexual himself.   When this accusation is made, it is sometimes made with glee, probably because to many people’s eyes and ears it is so obviously a personal problem when someone becomes so obsessed with homosexuality.   We have seen this behavior so often in our public and private lives:  people hate most in others what they really hate about themselves, and usually cannot admit about themselves.

These allegations have to be further investigated, but should it turn out that they are true, I think I will be sadder, rather than happier, to learn this reality.  To me, what it would mean is that the homophobia in our church and in our world had so affected this particular man that his ability to respond with love towards himself and others was extremely stunted.  I am angry at the harm he has caused others, but I find myself strangely sympathetic towards him if it turns out that he caused even greater harm to himself.

Archbishop Rembert Weakland

The second story, reported briefly in only the Catholic press, focused on the fact that, for the second time, Archbishop Rembert Weakland, the former archbishop of Milwaukee, was refused retirement residency at a Benedictine abbey.

Weakland, a Benedictine monk and former head of the worldwide Benedictine community of men, resigned as archbishop after it became public that he had had a sexual relationship with another man and that he had paid the man to be quiet about their involvement.   The relationship was not pedophilia and it was consensual.

Days after Weakland announced these facts, he expressed repentance publicly, celebrating a Mass where he asked for forgiveness.

The National Catholic Reporter noted that the rejection for residency came from St. Vincent Archabbey, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, the same abbey where Weakland entered the community when he was 18 and lived for 20 years.  Although though the abbot of the community did not speak to the paper, Weakland offered his own thoughts about why he was refused:

“The Vatican recently laicized a Latrobe monk accused of misconduct, Mark Gruber, whose presence was creating some turmoil in the community. ‘The atmosphere was not a good one for me to return to,’ Weakland wrote. ‘Thus I will not be returning to Latrobe right now and at age 87 one never know what can happen in the future.’ “

The news story went on to explain the archbishop’s life since retirement:

“In Milwaukee, Weakland leads a low-profile life. He lives alone in an apartment and is said to attend daily Mass. He has no public role in the church, and when the current archbishop celebrates Mass and prays for the pope and bishops living in the diocese by name, Weakland is not mentioned. He was not allowed to deliver a homily at an annual priest retreat some years ago.”

This story leaves me feeling very sad–for Weakland, for the Benedictines, for our Church.  As in the Nienstedt case, we see how it is possible that fear of same-sex feelings and relationships can lead to behavior which harms one’s self and others.

The lesson that I take from both of these news stories is that we still have  a lot to learn in our church not only about sexuality, but also about forgiveness.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related articles:

Minnesota Public Radio: Archbishop authorized secret investigation of himself”

Star Tribune: Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt faces new sex claims”

National Catholic Reporter: Report: Minnesota Archbishop Nienstedt under scrutiny for same-sex relationships”

TwinCities.com: “Nienstedt under scrutiny for same-sex relationships, ex-official says”

The Wild Reed: “Has Archbishop Nienstedt’s “Shadow” Finally Caught Up With Him?”

 

 


‘Marriage Equality is the Work of Satan,’ Says Minnesota Bishop

September 6, 2013

Archbishop John Neinstedt of St. Paul/Minneapolis

Referring to marriage equality as the work of Satan, Archbishop John Neinstedt’s latest diatribe against LGBT equality reveals an incomprehensible blindness to the shifting tone among Catholic leadership in light of Pope Francis’ more welcoming acts. Signs of hope are more abundant internationally with positive comments now emerging from Ireland’s leading prelate, and an archbishop in Poland.

In a lengthy article in Legatus Magazine, Archbishop Neinstedt of St. Paul and Minneapolis explains his opposition to marriage equality in a flurry of tangential arguments. His view is one which Minnesota voters rejected last November; and the state’s legislature approved equal marriage rights this spring. Additionally, Nienstedt used the Church’s financial resources heavily in 2012 campaigning against marriage equality. The new legal reality of marriage equality has not stopped him from harsh rhetoric against LGBT equality, as he writes in the magazine:

“Today, many evil forces have set their sights on the dissolution of marriage and the debasing of family life. Sodomy, abortion, contraception, pornography, the redefinition of marriage, and the denial of objective truth are just some of the forces threatening the stability of our civilization.  The source of these machinations is none other than the Father of Lies.  Satan knows all too well the value that the family contributes to the fabric of a good solid society, as well as the future of God’s work on earth.”

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin

A different sort of message on marriage equality came from Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland.  In a refreshing change of tone, the Irish leader said that church leaders need to be more respectful when they present their opposition to marriage equality. The Irish Examiner quoted Martin:

“The church has taken a very strong line, and I don’t think people would expect the church to not to do that. “But it would be done – and this is important – the church has to learn how to fight its battles in a respectful and in a noble way.”

Perhaps no one more than the U.S. Catholic bishops, and Archbishop Neinstedt among them, need to learn that lesson. Their shrill rhetoric on marriage has not only been largely ineffective in preventing marriage equality laws, but it is also seen to be pastorally harmful.  What bishops don’t seem to realize is that many of their church members sincerely and conscientiously support marriage equality.  They also know, love, and respect gay and lesbian couples in committed relationships, so the bishops’ message of how marriage equality will ruin society rings hollow at best, and is heard as hateful at worst.

Earlier this week, we reported on the letter opposing marriage equality written by Bishop Larry Silva of Honolulu, Hawaii, and how his comparisons of lesbian and gay committed relationships to polygamy  and incest were not only offensive, but illogical. Attributing marriage equality, and those who support it, to the work of Satan is equally illogical, disrespectful, and far from noble. It is far past time for America’s bishops to follow Pope Francis and other leaders internationally in adopting a more pastoral tone amid changing societies that expand the right to marry for every family.

–Bob Shine and Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


The Worst of 2012 in Catholic LGBT News

December 30, 2012

thumbs downAs the year 2012 winds to a close, it’s time to review the news of the Catholic LGBT world of the past 12 months. In today’s post, we will look at the  stories of the worst happenings of the past year, and in tomorrow’s post, we will look at the best stories.  Bondings 2.0 asked you for your feedback on what the worst and best news stories of the past year were, so the ranking of these stories is based on your responses.  The percentage following each story is the percentage of people who chose this item as one of their top five. Thank you to all 311 of you who participated.

The Top Ten

1. The Parliament in Uganda, a pre-dominantly Catholic nation, re-introduces a bill to make the death penalty a possible sentence for lesbian and gay people.  16.34%

2. The Vatican censures the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for, among other things, their support of LGBT issues and New Ways Ministry. 15.69%

3. Pope Benedict opens the year by stating that new models of family are a threat to “human dignity and the future of humanity.” 14.05%

4. The Knights of Columbus have contributed $6.5 million to oppose marriage equality over the past seven years, according to an Equally Blessed report. 12.09%

5. A Catholic lesbian woman in Maryland is denied communion at her mother’s funeral Mass. 10.13% 

6. The Vatican censures Sister Margaret Farley, a theologian who has supported the moral goodness of gay and lesbian relationships. 6.86%  

7. U.S. bishops attempt to make religious liberty an issue as a way to defeat marriage equality initiatives. 6.54%

8. Minnesota teen is denied confirmation for supporting marriage equality. 4.9%

9 & 10. TIE:                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The Catholic University of America again denies a request for recognition of a gay-straight alliance on campus. 2.29%                               Several Catholic church employees are fired because of their support of marriage equality. 2.29%

Other items:

In several cases, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development withdraws funding from organizations which support LGBT equality. 1.96% 

Catholic theologian Tina Beattie is disinvited from a fellowship appointment at the University of San Diego because of her support of marriage equality. 1.63%  

The U.S. Catholic bishops investigate the Girl Scouts of America for connections to liberal causes, including LGBT equality. 1.63%  

Minnesota’s Archbishop John Nienstedt instructs his priests not to speak publicly in support of marriage equality. 1.63%

A Catholic high school in Indianapolis refuses to call a female-to-male transgender student by his male name. 0.98%

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Bishops and Vatican React to This Week’s Marriage Equality Electoral Victories

November 10, 2012

It is understandable that certain Catholic bishops would be disappointed in Tuesday’s ballot victories for marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington State.  All the bishops in those particular states were vocal in trying to defeat marriage equality initiatives.

Bishop Richard Malone

In Maine, Bishop Richard Malone attempted to be reconciliatory in his statement following the vote.  While noting that he was “disappointed” in the outcome, he also showed some awareness that Catholics who supported marriage equality did so out of a sense of justice, though he disagreed with their motivation:

“I trust that those who voted for such a radical change did so out of concern for our brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attraction. Respect and acceptance of all people regardless of sexual orientation is not a point of controversy. It is a teaching of the Church, but so is the authentic meaning and definition of marriage. That is why the Catholic Church will continue its commitment to work for the basic human rights to which all people are entitled, while remaining devoted to preserving and strengthening the precious gift of marriage.”

Although Bishop Malone needs to learn that not all gay and lesbian people “struggle” with their sexuality–indeed, many see it as a gift from God and celebrate it as such–it is commendable that in this statement he reaffirms his dedication to human rights.

Archbishop William Lori

In Maryland, Archbishop William Lori responded to the vote for marriage equality in his state by continuing to speak as if the campaign were still ongoing, instead of a settled affair.  In The Catholic Review, the archdiocesan newspaper, quotes from Archbishop Lori’s response:

“ ‘I think that vote will prove not to have been for the common good of our state,’ Archbishop Lori said. . . .

“The election results on same-sex marriage should serve as a ‘wake up call’ for Catholics, Archbishop Lori said, demonstrating ‘our need to redouble our efforts to defend marriage, to preach about what marriage is, and to help people understand it as a unique relationship that does not discriminate against anyone, but is for the good of children and for the good of our society.’ ”

Lori’s comments differed greatly from those of Ryan Sattler, a Catholic layman who was profiled by The National Catholic Reporter for his work on marriage equality in the state, and who was sought for his reaction to the election’s outcome.  Sattler stated simply:

“On Election Day, Maryland voters chose justice. They chose equality. They chose love.”

Similarly, Karin Quimby, deputy faith director of Marylanders for Marriage Equality, praised the work of Maryland Catholics like Sattler:

“I think the work of Catholics on Question 6 here in Maryland shows that the social justice teaching in the Catholic church is alive and well. Lay leaders did a great job at the grassroots level, making their voices heard, and their fellow Catholics responded. Catholics clearly believe, very strongly, that every person has dignity, every person should be treated fairly, and every person deserves the same rights.”

Archbishop John Nienstedt

In Minnesota, the Archdiocese of St. Paul, led by Archbishop John Nienstedt, also emphasized the idea that it is time to move forward from the rancor of debate:

“Although the defeat of the amendment is a very serious concern to us, it will not deter us from continuing to serve this community and the whole state in pursuit of the common good.”

Father Michael Tegeder, who publicly opposed Archbishop Nienstedt during the marriage debate, called for the Ordinary’s resignation in a letter to the Star Tribune:

“As a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, I would ask our archbishop, John Nienstedt, to prayerfully consider stepping down from his office. It would be healing for our state and our church and would show some magnanimity on his part. His misguided crusade to change our Constitution, spending more than a million dollars and, more importantly, much goodwill, has been rejected. Elections have consequences.”

Archbishop Peter Sartain

In Washington State, Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle also seemed prepared to continue the debate about marriage.  In a statement, he said:

“I am disappointed that so many voters failed to recognize marriage between a man and a woman as the natural institution for the permanent, faithful covenant of love for a couple, for bringing children into the world, and for nurturing and educating those children. This change in civil law is not in the best interest of children or society.”

More joyous in response was Washington State’s Catholic Govern Christine Gregoire, who had signed the marriage equality legislation into law.  The Seattle Post-Intelligencer quoted her reaction to the vote:

“ ‘Washington has made history and I couldn’t be prouder,’ said Gregoire.  ‘Voters stood up for what is right and what is just and said that all Washington families are equal under the law . . .

“ ‘This is a day history will look back on as a turning point for equality.  It is a day I will look back on as Washington state leading the nation.  And it is a day that I will carry with me forever.’ ”

Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone

Commenting on all four successful votes, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who is chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage, also seemed intent on putting a negative spin on the outcomes in his statement:

“Yesterday, November 6, was a disappointing day for marriage, as the effort to preserve the unique meaning of marriage in the law lost by only a narrow margin in four states, even though vastly outspent by those who promote the redefinition of marriage.

“The meaning of marriage, though, cannot be redefined because it lies within our very nature. No matter what policy, law or judicial decision is put into place, marriage is the only institution that unites a man and a woman to each other and to any children born of their union. It is either this, or it is nothing at all. In view of the fact that every child has a mother and a father, our society either respects the basic right of every child to be raised by his or her mother and father together and so supports the true and unique meaning of marriage for the good of children, or it does not. In a society marked by increasing poverty and family fragmentation, marriage needs to be strengthened, promoted, and defended, not redefined. I hope and pray that political leaders, judges, and all people will seek to honor this foundational and common sense truth of marriage.”

In L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s newspaper, tried to place the Catholic hierarchy’s position in a positive cast, even in the face of such resounding defeats.  A Religion News Service story offers the following summary:

” ‘You could say that the church, on this level, is bound to lose,’ writes [Lucetta] Scaraffia. ‘But this is not the case.’

“According to the historian, the church’s fight on moral issues such as gay marriage and abortion has drawn support and admiration’ from many non-Catholics.

“By opposing legislation allowing gay couples to adopt in the United Kingdom or fighting the birth control mandate in the U.S., the church ‘made it clear for everyone that this is not about progress’ but about ‘the loss of one of the founding freedoms of the modern State, religious liberty.’ “

In all these cases, where Catholics have been working on both sides of the marriage question, it will be incumbent on the local bishops to work toward reconciling these factions in the church so that there are no lingering senses of animosity or alienation.  This will be particularly important where the bishops have been particularly politically involved on the marriage question, and thus have risked alienating marriage equality supporters.  Now that the electorates have spoken for justice and equality, the work of reconciliation must begin in earnest.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Two Stories Beg the Question: What Would Jesus Do?

October 11, 2012

Two stories out of Minnesota this week, where the struggle over a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage is in full heat,  beg the proverbial question:  What Would Jesus Do?

Archbishop John Nienstedt

In the first case, it was revealed this week that Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul had earlier this year sent a letter to the mother of a gay son in which he stated his position that marriage be defined as only between a man and a woman.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports the story as saying that Nienstedt’s warning was in response to the mother’s support of her gay son:

“To a mother who pleaded for acceptance for her gay child, he wrote: ‘I urge you to reconsider the position that you expressed. … Your eternal salvation may well depend upon a conversation of heart on this topic.’ “

In all fairness, without a text of her original letter, it is difficult to say what it was Nienstedt was responding to.  Regardless of what she said, however, it makes one wonder if this is how Jesus would have responded to the woman.

Nienstedt makes it clear that he believes he is following Jesus’ example:

“Indeed some might find this a hard saying but many of Jesus’ teachings were likewise received as such.”

Fr. Michael Tegeder

The second story is about a St. Paul priest, Fr. Michael Tegeder, who has been an outspoken defender of marriage equality, even in the face of reprimands from Nienstedt.  In a Star Tribune column by Jon Tevlin, Tegeder described being ostracized at a seminar on marriage because of his known view on marriage equality:

“Like other priests, Tegeder had been invited to the [marriage seminar] event. Unlike other priests, he was given a warning: Sit where we tell you to. Don’t ask questions. Don’t disturb.

“The Catholic Conference ended the warning letter with the words ‘Best wishes,’ to which Tegeder responded: ‘You obviously do not mean to send me your best wishes. In fact, you want me to go quietly away with your demeaning E-mail.’

“Tegeder was not allowed to sit in the main part of the hall, but was relegated to a ‘detention pen’ where he could be seen but not heard.”

Tegeder describes how his experiences shaped his current position:

“Tegeder began to talk about how his views on homosexuality had evolved, but when he got to a story about seeing two ‘sweet, sweet’ men being taunted, and how he’d heard about ‘fag bashing’ when he was a teen, he began to cry.

“Then Tegeder’s voice sharpened. ‘If you can’t stand up for what you believe, you are not a minister, you are not a priest,’ he said. ‘I don’t do it in the pulpit, but I continue to speak out, continue to have a conscience.’ “

Reading both stories side-by-side, one can’t help but think “What Would Jesus Do?”   The Jesus that Nienstedt’s letter describes is a man of law and authority who is quick to pass judgement.  Tegeder’s example, however, reminds me more of the Jesus that I’ve heard of in the gospels: a man whose experiences have shaped his compassion, who stood up for his beliefs in spite of persecution, and who was marginalized because he was thought to radical by the religious institution.

Which Jesus do you believe in and follow?

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 

 


Marriage Equality Debate Heats Up with 45 Days until Elections

September 22, 2012

With under 50 days left in the 2012 election season, campaigns on both sides of the marriage equality debate are bolstering their media outreach in four states, and Catholic voters are taking center stage.

In Minnesota, marriage equality advocates made their case for voting no on the constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman by releasing an advertisement earlier this week:

The spot features John and Kim Canny, a Minnesotan Catholic couple married for 13 years with three children and identified as Republican voters. The couple admits the issue of same-sex marriage did not arise for them until a lesbian couple and their son moved into the neighborhood. The ad, the work of Minnesotans United for All Families, continues:

“‘They were the most wonderful neighbors,’ Kim says in the ad. ‘It taught all of us in our little suburban world.’
 
“‘We did have some good discussions,’ John says. ‘In our daughter’s world, her normal is so much different than ours. It didn’t faze her at all.’“Kim says, ‘It’s okay to take a second look,’ and John adds, ‘And when you do, vote no.’”

Minnesotans United for All Families bought ads on a number of local television stations for $255,000 to be aired leading up to the election.

Catholic voters exist on both sides of the marriage equality debate, as evidenced by the Twin Cities’ Archbishop John Nienstedt joined other religious leaders in a rally supporting the amendment. Nienstedt is an outspoken advocate for what he refers to as ‘traditional marriage’ and the Catholic Church in Minnesota has donated a half million dollars towards this effort.

Catholics who oppose the bishops’ position have been organizing around the state against the amendment. Minneapolis Catholic Ed Walsh told KARE 11 News:

“’I understand where the bishop is coming from but I just feel he’s making a mistake…Committed loving relationships are the life blood of our community.’”

Fr. Mike Tegeder

The laity are not alone, as several clergy have joined the campaign for equality. Rev. Mike Tegeder is vocal about his opposition to the amendment in Minnesota:

“’I support the catholic teaching of marriage, but we’re not talking about catholic teaching on marriage. We’re talking about civil marriage,’ he said.
 
“And he believes civil marriage should be a right for everyone. While many priests disagree with him, he claims others are on his side.
 
” ‘I know there are a lot of priests who feel it’s a difficult issue for them to speak out on,’ he said.”

A media campaigns in Washington State has been cranked up, as well.

Support for Referendum 74, which would legalizae marriage equality, tops 50% and leads the opposition by double digits in recent polling. Outfunded opposition groups will now be aided by ad buys from an out of state group that was involved in the successful victory to pass California’s Proposition 8 in 2008.

As the November 6 election date approaches, Bondings 2.0 will continue to update on marriage equality developments in each of the four states.

-Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


In Washington State and Minnesota, Catholics Can Make the Difference on Marriage Questions

September 17, 2012

Despite the fact that the bishops of Washington State have recently issued a pastoral letter against Referendum 74 which would legalize marriage equality in that state, polls are indicating that voters are not heeding that message.

According to a Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog:

“Referendum 74, legalizing marriage equality, is leading 56-38 percent in the latest SurveyUSA poll of Washington voters for King-5 News, after being up by a narrower 50-43 percent margin six weeks ago.”

The polling is not as optimistic in Minnesota, which has a constitutional amendment to ban same-gender marriage on the ballot:

“. . .results of a new Public Policy Polling survey show a dead heat:  48 percent support, and 47 percent oppose a state constitutional amendment that would define “marriage” as exclusively between a man and a woman.”

The blog post cites Archbishop John Nienstedt of the Archdiocese of St. Paul as the strongest opponent of marriage equality in Minnesota.  Catholic institutions have donated $1 million to the campaign to defeat marriage equality.

As we’ve reported before, Nienstedt has forbidden the priests of his archdiocese to publicly express any dissent on this matter.  But that has not seemed to stop some priests from staging a passive protest against the archbishop’s campaign.  When Nienstedt issued a letter against marriage equality this month, 17 parishes, including the Basilica of St. Mary, refused to read the letter at Mass.

The Post-Intelligencer blog points out that Nienstedt seems to have softened his rhetoric even though he has not changed his message:

“But the hard-line archbishop has softened his tone.  As recently as 2010 he warned that anyone who ‘actively encourages and promotes homosexual acts  formally cooperates in a grave evil, and . . . are guilty of mortal sin.’

“In his latest missive, however, Nienstedt speaks of those with ‘same sex attractions’ as ‘productive citizens, community servants, good friends and our beloved family members.’ ”

Of course, Nienstedt is not the only Catholic voice active in Minnesota.  There is the good work of Catholics for Marriage Equality Minnesota,  which is working to oppose the ban on marriage equality.  They been distributing yard signs that say “Another Catholic Voting No” for parishioners to display.  And 102 retired and resigned priests have signed statements urging Catholics to vote “no.”  (Because the ballot question in Minnesota is designed to block marriage equality from being legalized, a “no” vote is a vote in support of marriage equality.)

Catholics for Marriage Equality are active in all four states where marriage equality is on the ballot this fall:  Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Washington State.

Political experts know that ballot initiatives are won or lost not by poll numbers, but by voter turnout.  The side who gets the most people to the voting booths on election day wins, regardless of what polls say.  If Catholics want to make a difference in these four states, they have to get to the polls that day and get their friends, Catholic and otherwise, to do the same.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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