QUOTE TO NOTE: Marriage Equality in Minnesota

As the campaign to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment to ban marriage equality winds down in Minnesota, the role that Catholics will play in this decision continues to be strong.

In an Associated Press story entitled “Minnesota gay marriage fight cuts deep for Catholics,” there were several quotable gems about the struggle in that state, especially because Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul has been so vocally opposed to marriage equality.

One Minnesota Catholic responded to the archbishop’s aggressive stand on the issue:

” ‘Here I thought we were supposed to feed the hungry and clothe the naked,’ said Terrence Glarner, a retired venture capitalist and lifelong St. Paul Catholic who said he’s stopped donating money to church causes if he thinks it would go into funds accessible by the archdiocese. Glarner, a former seminary student, said he’s known many gay priests, church employees and churchgoers over the decades who are hurt by the decisions of the hierarchy.”

Jenny Haigh, another Minnesota Catholic, described an unusually addressed letter she received from Nienstedt, as well as explaining why so many Catholics are supporting marriage equality and opposing the constitutional amendment:

“As members of a St. Paul Catholic Church, Haigh and her partner, Aileen Guiney, recently got a letter in the mail from Nienstedt asking them to vote for the marriage amendment. It was addressed to ‘Ms. and Ms. Aileen Guiney.’

‘Haigh said the church has always been like an extended family. She said the message from the top of the hierarchy belies the values learned in her own Catholic education.

” ‘There are a lot of Catholic people that support same-sex marriage not in spite of their faith, but because of it,’ she said.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



A Civil Discussion on Civil Marriage

Catholicism plays heavily in the marriage equality debate in Minnesota. The state will have a referendum vote in November on whether or not to accept a constitutional ban against same-sex marriage. We’ve already reported on some of the ways that Catholics–both those for and those against marriage equality–have tried to sway the vote’s outcome:  mailing 400, 000 anti-marriage equality DVDs,  providing pro-marriage equality DVDs to all interested, offering prayers both for and against marriage equality, the archbishop silencing priests from supporting marriage equality, one brave priest who has ignored the archbishop’s gag order.  As the year progresses, we are sure to see more actions from both sides.

Gail Rosenblum of the Minneapolis Star Tribune tells a different story of two Catholic Minnesotans who are on opposite sides of the marriage debate, Denny Smith and Tom Struthers.  Instead or arguing, however, these two men have decided to sit down and hear each other out.

Rosenblum describes the men this way:

“They have a lot in common. Both were raised Catholic. Both are happily married; Smith for 43 years, Struthers for 23 years. Both are fathers. Struthers’ children are 19 and 16. Smith’s three kids are grown. One of them is gay. That son, Kyle, and Kyle’s partner of 17 years, Joe, can’t live together in the United States because Joe is from the Philippines. When Joe’s student visa expired, he was forced to leave the United States, which wouldn’t have happened if they could marry. “

Rosenblum’s article relates the conversation that these two men had together when she and they decided to have a conversation over a cup of coffee.  It is definitely worth reading the entire article  to learn about the real human concerns that people have in this debate.  It’s a helpful reminder, too,  about how much education is needed for people on issues of homosexuality and LGBT issues–especially for Catholics.

The article’s most amazing insight is the description of  their main area of agreement:

” ‘I don’t know all the answers,’  Smith said. ‘No matter what, compassion is the way to go.’

“Struthers nodded. ‘Compassion is trying to understand another’s point of view. If people can come together with diverse opinions and there is a change, that’s among the richest of human experiences. I either am changed or, at least, I see his side of the story. Religious faiths will be examined on this issue,’ Struthers said. “

This passage serves as a reminder that the real goal of dialogue may not be to just change minds, but to change hearts.

It was refreshing to learn that real conversation is going on, and I hope that more people–in Minnesota and everywhere–use this strategy of simple civil conversation to work through this issue.

As the year progresses, we will try to keep you informed about the marriage equality debates around the country. A good source of information on the Minnesota debate is www.theprogressivecatholicvoice.blogspot.com.

UPDATE:  Commenter Jim Smith of DignityUSA, who lives in Minnesota, has offered two additional websites for news about Catholics and marriage equality in that state: http://www.c4me.org and its accompanying blog “Sensus Fidelium” at http://www.c4me-mn.blogspot.com .

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

A Priest of Integrity

Fr. Mike Tegeder

We already reported on the news that Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul, Minnesota, is requiring the archdiocesan priests not to speak out in support of marriage equality.   A news story in this past weekend’s Minneapolis Star Tribune uses Nienstedt’s directive as its lead, but it goes a little further than that by telling the story of one courageous priest who is speaking out, despite the archbishop’s gag order:

“One vocal critic of Nienstedt is the Rev. Mike Tegeder, who spoke against the amendment at a priests’ meeting with Nienstedt in October.

“In November, Tegeder received a letter stating that if he did not end his public opposition, Nienstedt would suspend his “faculties to exercise ministry” and remove him from his “ministerial assignments.”

“Marking the first clear standoff over the church’s role in the amendment, Tegeder is not backing down.

“He said he believes the church is being too political and contends that it’s inappropriate for its leaders to campaign in support of the amendment.

” ‘That’s not the way to support marriage,’ said Tegeder, pastor at both St. Frances Cabrini and Gichitwaa Kateri churches in Minneapolis. ‘If we want to support marriage, there are wonderful things we can do as Catholic churches and ministers. We should not be focused on beating up a small number of people who have this desire to have committed relationships.’ “

You can read more about Fr. Tegeder in a National Catholic Reporter article from October 2010, when he first spoke out against the anti-marriage equality DVD campaign which Nienstedt led.

During a very critical time in the church in Minnesota, Fr. Tegeder exemplifies the best of prophetic witness.  He deserves our prayers and support.  I hope that his example will encourage other priests and church leaders to speak of their support for marriage equality.  Silencing has no place in a church whose founder and model is described as the Word of God.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Silencing Discussion Is Not the Archbishop’s Only Error

The Progressive Catholic Voice has published a letter from Archbishop John Nienstedt which orders priests and deacons of the Archdiocese of St. Paul to be silent if they disagree with the hierarchy’s opposition to marriage equality.  In November of this year, Minnesotans will be voting in a referendum on whether they should adopt a constitutional amendment banning marriage between lesbian and gay couples.

Silencing discussion is a terrible option, and church officials should remove such a recourse from their possible responses to situations.  U.S. bishops should have learned a lesson from the sex abuse crisis that silence protects nobody and ultimately fails as a method to protect the church.  New Ways Ministry has  long called for more discussion and dialogue in the church on LGBT issues, including marriage equality.  We believe that through discussion and debate truth will be found and relationships strengthened.

Silencing his priests and deacons is what will be making headlines, but it is not the archbishop’s only error in this letter.  He also wrongfully speculates on the motivations of those who support marriage equality, and he does so in an illogical manner:

“The end game of those who oppose the marriage amendment that we support is not just to secure certain benefits for a particular minority, but, I believe, to eliminate the need for marriage altogether.”

First of all, he offers no evidence for such a claim, and it is difficult to imagine what such evidence might even be.  Such a claim is unfounded.  Why would the archbishop make such a claim if he is not willing to offer any evidence to support it?

More importantly, the claim is illogical.  Does he want us to believe that the people who are working and organizing to extend marriage rights to more people are actually really trying to end the institution that they are trying to extend?

Later in the letter, he states:

“. . . we must never vilify or caricaturize those who argue [in support of marriage equality]. . . “

Yet, isn’t that what he just did by speculating, with neither evidence nor logic, on the motives of those who oppose the constitutional ban?

One of the reasons that we need discussion, and not silence, on these issues is because without the free interchange of ideas, people become so solidified in their positions that they do not realize what they are saying sometimes, and they can often work against their own best ideals.

The folks at The Progressive Catholic Voice should be applauded for making this letter available to all.  You can read their full press release here and a shorter explanation introduces the archbishop’s speech here.  In noting why they decided to publish it, they offer an image and an ideal towards which we should tirelessly work:

“. . .we at The Progressive Catholic Voice believe it is important to model a way of being church that is open, honest, transparent and participatory.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

A Tale of Two Prayers

For Catholics in Minnesota, the debate over a proposed state constitutional amendment to prohibit marriage for lesbian/gay couples has become “a tale of two prayers.”

Archbishop John Nienstedt of St. Paul sent out “A Prayer for Marriage” to all the parishes in the archdiocese, which he said is

“meant for use within the Holy Mass as part of the Prayer of the Faithful. In addition, I would encourage the posting of the prayer within Eucharistic Adoration chapels, along with an encouragement to adorers to pray for the success of the amendment and all efforts to strengthen marriage.”

You can read his letter to parishes and read the full text of the prayer here.

The natural question that comes to mind in response to this prayer is why is the archbishop offering a “prayer of the faithful” to the faithful?  Shouldn’t “prayers of the faithful” come from the laity, not the hierarchy?

Well, the faithful have issued a prayer for marriage.  Catholics for Marriage Equality-MN published a prayer on their website, c4me-mn.blogspot.com, which supports marriage equality for lesbian/gay couples.  Written by Chris Wogaman, the prayer asks God for healthy and holy approaches to relationships and also

“God, we ask that you bring peace to the hearts of those who are troubled about the love that some people have for one another. Calm our defensiveness with your comforting Spirit, and enlarge our vision, for we can but see through a glass, darkly, the miracles of love you have empowered among us.”

You can read the entire text of this prayer here.

Since polls keep showing that lay Catholics are more supportive of marriage equality than the bishops are, we suspect that the prayer from Catholics for Marriage Equality-MN will be the one that is prayed more often in Minnesota.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry