Sunday, November 16, 2014

Complementarity of the Sexes: A Trap

By Maureen Fiedler

Note: This commentary was first published November 14, 2014 by the National Catholic Reporter.

Pope Francis will address a conference on traditional marriage and the family in Rome (Nov. 17-19) headlined as dealing with the “Complementarity of Man and Woman.”

It is an interfaith conference with several noted conservative theological attendees, including Mormons, Southern Baptists, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and Rev. Rick Warren, senior pastor of Saddleback Church in California.

The conference was apparently initiated by very conservative German Cardinal Gerhard Müller, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

What struck me, however, was the headline word: complementarity. It’s a word and concept long rejected by those who care about the equality of women and men in our world. Complementarity emphasizes the ways in which the sexes are different and thus is used as a support for traditional marriage. People who favor this concept argue that same-sex couples lack such complementarity, and this is an important sign that same-sex marriage is not part of God’s law.

But complementarity is also used to argue against the equality of women and men in general. It emphasizes the differences between the genders, rather than the fact that both share similar human qualities, and can hold similar positions in life. In the 21st century, we know that both men and women can and do have powerful intellects, leadership abilities, physical prowess, financial skills, a capacity for gentleness and caring, and a love of children. There is no innate reason why a woman cannot be a CEO of a corporation, a senator or President of the United States. And there is no innate reason a man cannot be a loving counselor, a cook or a full-time father and homemaker.

The emphasis should be on gender equality, not complementarity. What a difference that would make!

Looking at the title of this conference also reinforces my view that Pope Francis – wonderful man that he is – still needs a course in “Woman 101.” And maybe “Families 101” as well. His participation in this conference is just the latest sign that he has not moved into the 21st century when it comes to either gender roles or marriage.

Maureen Fiedler, SL, is the host of Interfaith Voices, a public radio show, heard on 62 radio stations in North America. She has been involved in interfaith activities for more than three decades as an active participant in coalitions working for social justice, racial and gender equality, and peace. Her special interests lie at the intersection of theology and public policy. She is a Sister of Loretto, and holds a Ph.D. in Government from Georgetown University in Washington.

Updates and Related Off-site Links:
Pope and Christian Conservatives Team Up to Promote Patriarchy – Patricia Miller (Religion Dispatches, November 20, 2014).
Pope Reinforces Traditional Family Values – Nicole Winfield (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, November 17, 2014).
Francis Urges De-politicization of Family, Confirms US Visit – Joshua J. McElwee (National Catholic Reporter, November 17, 2014).
Stop in the Name of Discriminatory Ideology! – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, October 29, 2008).
How the Pope's Recent Remarks on Evolution Highlight a Major Discrepancy in Church Teaching – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, October 30, 2014).

Monday, November 10, 2014

U.S. Catholic Bishops Try to Calm Right-Wing Anxieties Over Pope

By Rachel Zoll

Note: This article was first published November 10, 2014 by the Associated Press.

America's Catholic bishops came together Monday to project an image of unity, after a Vatican meeting on the family unleashed an uproar over the direction of the church.

Last month's gathering in Rome on more compassionately ministering to families featured open debate — alarming many traditional Catholics, who argued it would undermine public understanding of church teaching. Pope Francis encouraged a free exchange of ideas at the assembly, or synod, in contrast to previous years, when such events were tightly scripted.

At a meeting Monday in Baltimore, Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, signaled there was no conflict between a gentler approach and upholding church orthodoxy. Kurtz cited his home visits to parishioners, where he wouldn't give them "a list of rules to follow firsthand," but would instead "spend time with them trying to appreciate the good that I saw in their hearts," before inviting them to follow Christ.

"Such an approach isn't in opposition to church teachings. It's an affirmation of them," said Kurtz, who attended the Vatican gathering.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, who also participated in the Vatican gathering, emphasized that last month's meeting was only the start of a discussion before a larger gathering on the family next year, where bishops will more concretely advise the pope on developing any new church practices. New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan said the divisiveness he read in media accounts did not reflect the collegial discussion inside the event.

"It was a synod of consensus," Dolan said. The pope, he said, has a God-given gift "for attentive listening."

The bishops made the remarks at their fourth national meeting since Francis was elected. While many Catholics have praised Francis' new emphasis on mercy over the culture wars, many theological conservatives have said Francis is failing to carry out his duty as defender of the faith. Some U.S. bishops have resisted turning their focus away from gay marriage, abortion and other contentious social issues to take up Francis' focus on the poor, immigrants and those who feel unwelcome in the church.

The papal ambassador to Washington, Archbishop Carlo Vigano, said in a wide-ranging speech bishops "must not be afraid to work with our Holy Father."

The public sessions at the U.S. bishops' meeting are focused on religious liberty, upholding marriage between a man and a woman, and moral issues in health care. In his speech, Kurtz said the bishops would continue to fight the Obama administration over the birth control coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act. The administration has made several changes to accommodate the bishops' concerns, but church leaders say the White House hasn't gone far enough. Dozens of dioceses and Catholic nonprofits have sued over the mandate.

At the Rome gathering, tensions arose when Vatican officials released a mid-meeting report that contained language more welcoming to gays and people in civil heterosexual unions. The language was not included in the final report.

The Rev. Tom Rosica, a Vatican press office official for English-language media, attended the American bishops' assembly. He said an in interview that Catholic church leaders and lay people, as well as those outside the church, are reacting strongly to the Vatican meeting because they aren't accustomed to addressing issues the way Francis advocates.

"The pope made it clear doctrine would remain untouched," Rosica said.

He said Francis "is traveling at high altitude," above the backlash to his leadership, as he tries to revive discussion and move the church forward.

Related Off-site Links:
Cardinal: Pope Francis Doesn't Want a 'Self-pitying Church' – Cathy Lynn Grossman (Religion News Service via Crux, November 10, 2014).
The Church Needs the Commotion the Family Synod Caused – Editorial Staff (National Catholic Reporter, November 7, 2014).
What the Left and Right Get Wrong About Pope Francis – John Gehring (Crux, October 27, 2014).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Tony Flannery in Minneapolis
The "Francis Era" in America Starts Today in Chicago
Creating a Liberating Church

Image: Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, attends the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops general meeting in Baltimore Monday, November 10, 2014. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Tony Flannery in Minneapolis


By Michael J. Bayly

We’re at a moment in time when reform-minded Catholics must let their voices be heard.

This was one of a number of messages that both inspired and challenged the 300+ Catholics who gathered at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in Minneapolis on the evening of Wednesday, November 5, 2014. It was a message delivered by Irish priest Tony Flannery.

Minneapolis was the tenth stop on Flannery’s 18-city speaking tour of the U.S., and was significant as it will be the only time he speaks on official Catholic Church property. This is because bishops throughout the country have banned the 68-year-old Redemptorist priest from church premises, or, perhaps more accurately, have warned parishes against hosting him. Flannery’s tour is sponsored by the Catholic Tipping Point Coalition, which offers the following explanation for the hierarchy’s inhospitable attitude.

Fr. Tony has been ordered to remain silent and forbidden to minister as a priest because of his refusal to sign a document that violates his conscience: namely that women cannot be priests and that he accepts all Church stances on contraception, homosexuality, and refusal of the sacraments to people in second relationships. After a year during which he attempted to come to some accommodation with the Vatican without success, he has decided to take a public stance on the need for reform in the Church. . . . Rather than remain silent, Fr. Tony and all people of conscience are ready to dialogue.

In Minneapolis, Flannery’s talk and the dialogue it facilitated took place on official church property due to St. Frances Cabrini pastor Mike Tegeder's decision to defy a directive from Archbishop Nienstedt. (Tegeder has a long history of criticizing and defying the archbishop. See, for example, here, here, here, and here.)

Responding to Nienstedt's concerns about Flannery's presence on Catholic property, Tegeder had the following message posted on the podium.

Tonight's speaker, Tony Flannery, is not to be perceived in any way as being sponsored by the Catholic Church. This announcement comes from Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, Chief Catechist of the Archdiocese of St. Paul & Minneapolis.

Of course, the first part of this statement is only true if one reduces "the Catholic Church" to its clerical leadership. Large segments of the local church, representative of the church as the people of God, clearly have no problem with supporting, welcoming, and, yes, sponsoring, a speaker like Tony Flannery.

Implementing Vatican II

Flannery first came to the attention of many outside his native Galway when, in response to the Irish bishops' “total lack of leadership” in dealing with the clergy sex abuse scandal, he co-founded the Association of Catholic Priests in 2009.

The association works toward the “full implementation of the vision and teaching of the Second Vatican Council,” with special emphasis on the primacy of the individual conscience, the status and active participation of all the baptized, and the task of establishing a Church where all believers are treated as equal.

Such work corresponds with the activities of Catholic reform groups around the globe, as do the specific objections of the Association of Catholic Priests, which include:

• A redesigning of ministry in the Church in order to incorporate the gifts, wisdom, and expertise of the entire faith community, male and female.

• A re-structuring of the governing system of the Church, basing it on service rather than on power, and encouraging at every level a culture of consultation and transparency, particularly in the appointment of Church leaders.

• A culture in which the local bishop and the priests relate to each other in a spirit of trust, support and generosity.

• A re-evaluation of Catholic sexual teaching and practice that recognizes the profound mystery of human sexuality and the experience and wisdom of God’s people.

• Promotion of peace, justice and the protection of God’s creation locally, nationally and globally.

• Recognition that Church and State are separate and that while the Church must preach the message of the Gospel and try to live it authentically, the State has the task of enacting laws for all its citizens.

• Liturgical celebrations that use rituals and language that are easily understood, inclusive and accessible to all.

According to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Flannery’s (and by extension the Association of Catholic Priests’) views on ordination, contraception, and homosexuality could be construed as "heresy" under church law. During his talk in Minneapolis on November 5, Flannery noted that the Vatican had been particularly alarmed by two views he had expressed in his writings for the Association: that the priesthood as we have it now is not of the mind of Jesus, and that the hierarchical, monarchical structure of the church as it exists today is not what Jesus intended. As a result of these statements, Flannery has been threatened with "canonical penalties," including excommunication, if he does not change his views.

Yet Flannery has no intention of backing down, noting that “the Vatican hasn’t got the Holy Spirit in its pocket.” To those who insist that he must submit in total obedience to the Magisterium, the legitimate teaching authority of the church, Flannery counters by stating that “any authority that tramples on the dignity and basic human rights of its members has long lost claims to legitimacy.”

In his recent book, A Question of Conscience, Flannery recounts his treatment by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Two central issues

Flannery believes that as Catholics we are living through extraordinary times with the papacy of Francis. In 100 years time, he says, historians will be writing volumes on this pivotal moment in the history of the church. The bulk of Flannery's November 5 talk was focused on what he identifies as two central issues facing the church at this important time.

The first of these issues is the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the church. Flannery says that there is currently a conflict between two notions of the Magisterium – a narrow notion and a broad one. The narrow notion sees the Magisterium as being composed solely of the bishops (including the pope as Bishop of Rome). The broader version recognizes that the church’s teaching authority depends on recognition of and dialogue among three groups: the bishops, Catholic theologians, and the collective wisdom of the Catholic people (the sensus fidelium).

Flannery contends that Pope Francis is doing the best he can to move the church from the narrow view of teaching authority to the broader view. Francis, says Flannery, wants to hear the voice of the sensus fidelium, and to embed in the structures of the church the broader view of the Magisterium.

Flannery was quick to point out that he’s not an academic, yet his grasp on theology, says Eugene Cullen Kennedy of Chicago’s Loyola University, is better than those in the hierarchy who have attempted to silence him.

Flannery’s condemnation by the Vatican, writes Kennedy in his January 25, 2013 National Catholic Reporter column, should be “recognized as a harbinger of the kind of problem that sure-of-their-infallibility Vatican authorities will encounter in their relationships with the rising generation of theological scholars, most of whom are laymen and women who will not accept condemnations such as that now imposed on Father Flannery.”

Continues Kennedy:

Even well-educated Catholics know as much or more theology than these veiled Roman enforcers. That also goes for the American bishops, who are wonderful men in general but who are unprepared for theological conversations with their people. One of the reasons the bishops have difficulty in communicating effectively with ordinary Catholics arises from their discomfort and/or inability to discuss theological issues with them. . . . Flannery's condemnation is an augury of the deepening estrangement that will take place if the Vatican does not respect the growing theological understanding of its members. The bishops are sincere in wanting to establish better channels of communication with their people. The best thing they can do to achieve that is to master the language of modern theological and scriptural studies that so many Catholics understand better than they do right now.

In his 2013 column, Kennedy also examines two of the issues that Flannery “is being forced to sign off on if he wants to continue his work: Christ's having established the church in hierarchical form and the assertion, employed constantly by bishops to legitimate their authority, that they are the direct descendants of the apostles.”

“If anything,” writes Kennedy “Christ called together a college of apostles, and the collegiality to which Vatican II returned is a far better image than the hierarchical form that was adopted from the hierarchical cosmological view of the universe and expressed in secular kingdoms, including the Roman Empire, whose provinces and proconsuls provided the model for laying out the governance of the church.”

In should be noted that Kennedy highlights an interesting discrepancy in the rhetoric of those who unquestioningly assert that the current structure of church governance is somehow ordained by God and has thus always been. The Vatican’s doctrinal chief Cardinal Gerhard Müller, for example, recently declared that Pope Francis’ Synod on the Family, which for Flannery is a prime example of the pope’s efforts to move the church from a narrow understanding of authority to a broader one, is evidence that the bishops are being “blinded by secularism.” Yet as many Catholics now recognize, the feudal and monarchical structure of the church is itself based on a secular structure from a specific historical era. If the church could adopt an organizing and leadership structure from secular society at one point in its history, why can it not adopt another, namely democracy, from a more current time? And as Robert McClory has compellingly documented, modern democracy actually is more aligned with the democratic impulse and egalitarian spirit of the early Christian church than the Vatican’s model of leadership, fashioned as it is around Roman imperial power of the fifth century.

Decision-making in the church was the second central issue highlighted by Flannery in his November 5 talk in Minneapolis. As with the issue of authority, two understandings of decision-making are currently in conflict – decision-making through authoritarian, top-down edicts vs. decision-making through discernment by the whole community through a process that honors conscience.

Flannery acknowledges that decision-making through discernment can initially cause confusion. But he is adamant that, over time, truth is discerned, “the Spirit’s voice heard.”

“Not a time for reform people to sit back”

Despite his obvious affinity for the group he co-founded, Flannery acknowledges that with the steady decline in the number of priests the true hope for future reform of the church lies with lay reform movements and groups, and with the growing number of intentional Eucharistic communities.

Flannery said he is impressed by the number and vitality of Catholic reform groups in the U.S., but cautioned that, despite the hopeful signs from Francis’ papacy, it is “not a time for reform people to sit back.” We need to do everything we can to ensure our vision of church is heard at the highest levels of church leadership. “Bishops should not only hear from conservative Catholics,” Flannery said, especially in over the next year in the lead-up to Synod on the Family 2015.

One way local lay Catholics are making their voices heard is through a process being facilitated by the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR). Through this process local members of the clergy are being nominated for the next archbishop of St. Paul-Minneapolis. CCCR leadership notes that the lay people of Chicago spoke out about the kind of leadership they needed and that many believe they were heard, as evidenced by the appointment of their new archbishop, the moderate Blase Cupich.

After voting concludes on November 15, CCCR will announce the top three names in the polling. Local Catholics will then be encouraged to write to the U.S. papal nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, to let him know their thoughts about the kind of leadership needed in the St. Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese. The goal is that when next there’s an opening for bishop/archbishop in the archdiocese, Archbishop Viganò will not only know that lay Catholics here are paying attention, but will also be aware of the names of men that Catholics have confidence in. (Note: In order to be eligible to vote in CCCR’s Bishop Selection Campaign, registration with the group’s Lay Catholic Network is necessary. You can register here.)

It is activities like CCCR's Bishop Selection Campaign – proactive and voice-raising – that encourage Tony Flannery and many others. Such activities are time-consuming, unglamorous, and more-often-than-not slow to yield results. Yet they are vital for reform-minded Catholics to engage in and spread the word about.

We truly are at a time when our voices need to be heard!

Recommended Resources for Letting Our Voices Be Heard:
The Lay Network in the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis – The Catholic Coalition for Church Reform.
Where Do We Go from Here? – Writing to Our Bishops – New Ways Ministry.

Recommended Off-site Links:
Controversial Priest's Visit Exposes Rift in Catholic Church – Jon Tevlin (Star Tribune, November 4, 2014).
Silenced Irish Priest Tony Flannery Touring U.S. – Dennis Coday (National Catholic Reporter, October 21, 2014).
A Review of Tony Flannery's A Question of Conscience – Dermot Keogh (The Independent, September 15, 2013).
Fr. Flannery's Grasp of Theology Better Than That of His Silencers – Eugene Cullen Kennedy (National Catholic Reporter, January 25, 2013).
Irish Priest Receives Support from Near and Far in His Vatican Struggle – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, January 23, 2013).
Vatican's Demand for Silence is Too High a Price – Tony Flannery (The Irish Times, January 21, 2013).
Dissident Irish Priest Fears Excommunication Over Views on Women Priests – Patrick Counihan (, January 21, 2013).
Irish Redemptorist Father Tony Flannery Gets the Ray Bourgeios Treatment from the CDF – Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, January 20, 2013).
Priest Is Planning to Defy the Vatican’s Orders to Stay Quiet – Douglas Dalby (The New York Times, January 19, 2013).

See also the previous PCV posts:
"Our Voices Are Growing"
Creating a Liberating Church
Let Our Voices Be Heard

Images: Michael J. Bayly.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Controversial Priest's Visit Exposes Rift in Catholic Church

By Jon Tevlin

Note: This commentary was first published November 4, 2014, by the Star Tribune.

A south Minneapolis church plans to bring in controversial Irish Redemptorist priest Tony Flannery to speak on Wednesday, despite warnings from Archbishop John Nienstedt. And the church’s pastor is using the words of a powerful church leader to justify it: Pope Francis.

Father Mike Tegeder, pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Church, has been intent on bringing in Flannery, who is on a speaking tour of the country. But the Cabrini visit will be the only time he speaks on Catholic Church property.

Flannery, author of several books on religion, holds controversial positions on birth control, homosexuality and the ordination of women. He was silenced by the Vatican in 2012 and told he would be allowed to return to ministry only if he signed a statement denouncing beliefs that don’t agree with current church doctrine. He has refused.

Tegeder, long an outspoken priest who has repeatedly tangled with Nienstedt, met with him late last week to discuss the issue.

“We didn’t have a meeting of the minds,” said Tegeder. “He listened to me, and I’m thankful for that. But I pounded the table, as I’m prone to do, and said this is non-negotiable. I told him, ‘you could throw my ass right out of here, but I’m throwing myself in your mercy.’ ”

In a letter to the archdiocese, Tegeder referenced Pope Francis in defending the speaker.

“Thank God for Pope Francis, who in a speech at the closing of the recent Synod on the Family, said, ‘Personally I would have been very worried and saddened if there hadn’t been these . . . animated discussions . . . or if everyone had been in agreement or silent in a false and acquiescent peace,’ ” Tegeder wrote. He added that Francis said he “wanted a mess in our dioceses.”

Tegeder has certainly been willing to accommodate that wish. He has repeatedly fought church hierarchy, most recently over gay marriage.

In their meeting, Tegeder asked why it was fine for church bishops and cardinals to discuss controversial issues, “and you don’t approve of those, so why can’t this little church in Minneapolis talk about them,” Tegeder said.

Even though the diocese has much bigger issues at hand, such as the relentless news accounts of child abuse, Tegeder said he’s not surprised that the issue of someone speaking at his church has gotten the attention of church leadership.

“It’s a minor thing in my opinion, but this is what these guys live for — hierarchical control,” Tegeder said.

“He doesn’t make a cogent argument about why we shouldn’t do this,” Tegeder added. “Enough of this crazy control of people.”

Tegeder said his congregation is excited to hear from Flannery, a founding member of the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland. Flannery has a recent book out, A Question of Conscience, which recounts his treatment by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then led by Josef Ratzinger.

Flannery “is trying to reform the church,” said Tegeder. “He said listening to women in confession talk about sexual issues and birth control, it’s transformed him.”

Tegeder said that while very few American priests openly call for change, about one-third of those in Ireland are pushing hard for reforms.

Initially, Nienstedt asked Tegeder to change the venue of the speech, something the priest called “progress.”

Then on Friday, a worker at Cabrini called Tegeder to tell him a registered letter had arrived, and wanted to know if they should open it.

“Hoping that I won some kind of jackpot, I said of course,” Tegeder wrote in response to the archbishop.

As it turned out, it was an official request that Flannery’s visit not be perceived in any way as being sponsored by the Catholic Church.”

In the letter, Nienstedt said that “Flannery attacks the teaching of the Church” on important issues.

“In light of this record, I request that he not be perceived in any way as being sponsored by the Catholic Church,” Nienstedt wrote. “To that end, I stipulated that he not be permitted to speak on any Catholic premises in the Archdiocese. Notice please that I have not cut off dialogue here, which would, by the way, be my personal preference.”

Tegeder responded: “I will indeed announce this publicly and will even have a sign up at the lectern to that effect noting that it comes from you, the Chief Catechist of our Archdiocese.”

So, unless there are further communications, Flannery’s talk will happen Wednesday, November 5 at 7 p.m., with the support of the Cabrini community.

“I’ve got a lot of love behind me,” Tegeder said.

Jon Tevlin can be contacted at or 612-673-1702. Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin

Related Off-site Links:
Silenced Irish Priest Tony Flannery Touring U.S. – Dennis Coday (National Catholic Reporter, October 21, 2013).
A Review of Tony Flannery's A Question of Conscience – Dermot Keogh (The Independent, September 15, 2013).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Fr. Tony Flannery: "Vatican's Demand for Silence is Too High a Price"
A Call for Dialogue in the Catholic Church

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"Our Voices Are Growing"

Mary Beth Stein (pictured above, second from left) was one of approximately 50 church reform representatives who gathered in Rome in the days leading up to the Vatican's recent Synod of the Family. This gathering of church reform representatives was entitled the Forum on the Family and was organized by Catholic Church Reform International.

Upon her return to the Twin Cities and her work with both the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and the Council of the Baptized, Mary Beth shared her thoughts on the Forum on the Family with The Progressive Catholic.

Gathered together at the Forum on the Family were people from all around the world. We all came with different levels and forms of involvement in Church reform. Some represented reform groups, both large and small, with varying histories of action and organization. Others were individuals who care deeply about the direction that our Church is taking in its teaching and ministry to families of all kinds. One young man is a PhD student working on his dissertation about reform groups within the Catholic Church.

All of us came together in hope for our Church. We expressed hopes for the Synod – hope that the bishops will hear our voices and honor our lived experiences as we live out our faith from within our families and in the world. But whether or not the bishops choose to hear us, we all came away from the Forum on the Family knowing that our experiences and concerns are echoed around the world. We are not alone. People across the continents are daring to stand up as Catholics empowered by our baptism to speak out for our faith. We came away from the forum with new worldwide connections, united in our love for the Church and concern for its ministry, and knowing that the Spirit is uniting us and calling us to speak the truth as we know it.

My greatest blessings in attending this forum came from meeting and joining with people from around the world and standing in solidarity with them as we all work to bring about a Church more faithful to the compassion of the Gospel. We are united and our voices are growing.

Related Off-site Link:
Catholic Church Reform's Alternate Gathering on the Family Highlights Lay Vocation – Joan Chittister (National Catholic Reporter, October 2, 2014).

See also the previous PCV post:
Let Our Voices Be Heard!

Monday, October 20, 2014

In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, Renewed Calls for Archbishop Nienstedt's Ouster

The following media release has been issued by the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform.

Last week’s editorial in the Minneapolis Star Tribune said, “. . . the archdiocese needs a true reformer to lead it forward. Nienstedt lacks the credibility, both internally and externally, to overcome skepticism that little will change, and his resignation is a necessary next step for an archdiocese in need of healing.” Jennifer Haselberger, the archdiocese's former chancellor for canonical affairs, was quoted last week by WCCO saying the same and calling for the top leadership of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis to be removed as well.

These statements echo the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform’s (CCCR) plea for new leadership in the Archdiocese. Once again, CCCR has issued a statement calling for the resignation or removal of Archbishop John Nienstedt. It says:

In response to Archbishop John Nienstedt’s refusal to resign, the CCCR Board reiterates its vote of no confidence as originally stated in our letter of October 24, 2013. We join with SNAP and others in calling for the removal of the archbishop. We remain convinced that the Archbishop is unable to lead our local Church as he can neither unite nor bring healing to our church community. Further, as demonstrated by the many calls for his resignation from Catholics throughout the archdiocese and beyond, John Nienstedt lacks the confidence of the people.

The archbishop’s statement of July 30, 2014, in which he refuses to resign, highlights the gulf between his view of leadership and the type of leadership we need. Although he likens himself to a father, his authoritarian approach to church leadership alienates many and continues to demoralize our local church community. Rather than an authoritarian figure focused on defending his actions and correcting our “errors,” we look for a humble leader who welcomes diversity and fosters unity. Only this will heal the pain of betrayal and alienation caused by Archbishop Nienstedt’s misplaced priorities and mishandling of the ongoing clergy sex abuse crisis.

We take this stance because as lay Catholics we envision a Church that both unites and heals us as a community. Such a church encourages courageous and honest dialogue, creates opportunities for everyone’s full participation, and promotes justice and reconciliation. We seek a Church fully alive, locally and universally, that radiates Jesus’ core teaching of radical equality, unabashed inclusivity, and transforming love. Under the leadership of Archbishop Nienstedt, such a church is not possible. Therefore, we call for his resignation or removal to make way for new leadership that can work with all Catholics to foster this vision of church.

Members of the CCCR picketed the office of the archdiocese last winter carrying signs asking for the Archbishop’s ouster. “He refuses to resign, yet as more time passes, more secrets are revealed and more Catholics feel they have no voice about what’s happening. His resignation or removal is necessary to pave the way for a healthy future for this archdiocese.” said Bob Beutel, CCCR board member. He concluded, “The knife must be removed for the wounds to heal.”

Mary Sutherland of the CCCR Lay Network said, “It is with great sadness that I have watched the current crises in this Archdiocese unfold under the leadership of Archbishop Nienstedt. His actions have not fostered the healing that is so desperately needed and he has not led the people of this Archdiocese into the full meaning of church. His actions in this current climate have further betrayed and alienated the people he was appointed to lead. I can come to no other conclusion than new leadership is necessary for this Archdiocese.”

CCCR was formed in 2009 to help re-establish a healthy, sustainable Catholic church in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Following the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, CCCR seeks to activate Catholic lay people because they are critical to achieving that goal. To facilitate engagement in our local Church and develop a strong, unified voice for Catholic laity, the CCCR is building a Lay Network and encouraging a growing community of Catholics to take action and be heard on issues including evolutionary Christianity, gender inclusivity, transparency and accountability, bishop selection and lay involvement in church leadership.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Minneapolis Priest Says Archbishop Nienstedt Must Resign If Church is to Heal
To Heal Church, Nienstedt Must Resign
Archbishop Niestedt Needs to Go. Now
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough"
Healing Can’t Start Until the Knife is Removed from the Wound

Related Off-site Links:
Jennifer Haselberger Was Ignored, Bullied Before Blowing Whistle on Archdiocese, Records Show – Jesse Marx (City Pages, July 15, 2014).
Twin Cities Archdiocese Wanted to Label Marriage Equality-Supporting Priest ‘Disabled’ – Andy Birkey (, July 22, 2014).
Betrayed by Silence: How Three Archbishops Hid the Truth – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio News, July 14, 2014).
Has Archbishop Nienstedt's "Shadow" Finally Caught Up With Him? – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, July 1, 2014).

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Save the Date!

Fall 2014 Conference

Where Love and Justice Meet
An Emerging Sexual Ethic for Our Time

Fr. John Heagle
Sr. Fran Ferder, FSPA

Saturday, October 18 , 2014
9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church
511 Groveland Avenue, Minneapolis
Located where Hennepin & Lyndale Aves. merge at Groveland Ave., across the street from the Walker Art Center.
Parking lot is next to the church building.

Registration fee: $40 (includes breakfast snacks, lunch, and beverages).

Event scholarships are available. Contact Sharon at 651-457-3249.

The program begins at 9:45 a.m.
Call Art Stoeberl at 651-636-7356 
or email
to tell us that you would like to attend.

Morning presentation:
Human Sexuality: Facing the Crisis,Reclaiming the Vision

Afternoon presentations:
Sexuality, Power and Biblical Justice
The Spiritual Promise of Sexuality

There will be time allowed for questions and dialogue.

Program includes a presentation of the CTA-MN 2014 Leadership Award and a short business meeting.

About this year's theme
The Catholic Church is facing a crucial turning point in its understanding of human sexuality. It is increasingly clear that the lived experience of ordinary people differs significantly from official church teaching. The ‘traditional’ Catholic ethic that most of us grew up with is grounded in medieval philosophy and natural law theory. This approach is no longer adequate to address the contemporary challenge of human relationships.

CTA-MN's 2014 Fall Conference introduces a more biblically-based understanding of the gift of sexuality and the responsibility of faithful loving. It explores the profound connection between relationships and biblical justice, sexuality and systems of power. In the gospel accounts, Jesus has little to say about the biology of sex, but he speaks decisively about the qualities of authentic loving: respect, responsibility, covenantal faithfulness, and mutuality. How would such a radical and demanding vision challenge and transform our lives and our community of faith?

We’ve been through a lot lately in this local Church. Stories about homosexuality and sexual abuse have grabbed headlines. In addition, many Catholics find themselves at odds with teachings related to sexuality and gender, yet they want to honor what is life-giving and supportive within the Catholic tradition. This is why we believe that John Heagle and Fran Ferder FSPA are exactly the right people, coming at exactly the right time to help us reflect upon “an emerging sexual ethic for our time.”

Fr. John Heagle
Ordained a Catholic priest for the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, in 1965, John has had more than 37 years of pastoral experience: college teaching, campus ministry, justice and peace leadership, and almost ten years as a pastor. He holds an M.A. in philosophy from Catholic University of America and a licentiate in canon law from Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. For the past seventeen years John has also served as a licensed psychotherapist, retreat director. He is the author of seven books on spirituality and human relationships.

Sister Fran Ferder, FSPA
A native of Salem, Oregon, and a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, Fran has had more than 30 years of ministerial and professional experience as a college professor, director of student counseling, psychotherapist, psychological consultant for various religious communities and dioceses, and a research director for a major social ministry study. She holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Loyola University, Chicago, and a doctorate in ministry from Aquinas Institute of Theology, St. Louis. She is the author of Words Made Flesh and Enter the Story: Biblical Metaphors for our Lives.

Both Fran and John serve as adjunct faculty in the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University. They are internationally recognized leaders of workshops and conferences, authors of several articles, tapes, and books on spirituality, ministry, and human relationships, including Your Sexual Self: Pathway to Authentic Intimacy and Tender Fires: The Spiritual Promise of Sexuality.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The "Francis Era" in America Starts Today in Chicago

By John L. Allen, Jr.

Note: This article was first published September 20, 2014 by Crux.

With the appointment of Blase Cupich (pronounced “SOUP-itch”) today as the new Archbishop of Chicago, one can say that the Francis revolution in Catholicism has finally arrived in the United States.

Up to this point, one could have made the argument that the change triggered by Francis is largely a matter of a new tone and style in Rome, but one that had not yet reached down and begun to alter the culture of the church on these shores.

With the appointment of the 65-year-old Cupich, however, the American landscape has shifted.

This is the fourth appointment Francis has made to a major archdiocese since July, following earlier choices for Cologne, Germany; Madrid, Spain; and Sydney, Australia. Each pointed a direction for the church in those countries.

By now, the profile of a “Francis bishop” has come into focus: Ideologically, moderates rather than hardliners; pastorally, men who place special emphasis on concern for the poor and those at the margins; and personally, leaders who aren’t flashy personality types, with a reputation for being accessible and hands-on.

In some ways, those are precisely the sort of leaders perceived to have been out of favor in the American hierarchy during the late John Paul II and Benedict XVI years, but with Francis, the dynamic has changed.

Chicago is on a short list of pace-setter dioceses around the world whose leaders help set direction for the church in their regions, and it’s long been a bellwether for deeper realignments.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin embodied the moderate, reforming spirit of the Second Vatican Council. The transition to Cardinal Francis George embodied the stronger emphasis on Catholic identity in the later John Paul II years, with the effort to resist the inroads of secularism in the faith as a defining cause.

Bernardin famously called for a “seamless garment” ethic in Catholicism, one that placed equal emphasis on opposition to war and concern for the poor alongside opposition to abortion. George, meanwhile, helped make the defense of religious freedom a signature cause for the American bishops, crystallized in the tug-of-war between the bishops and the Obama White House over contraception mandates imposed as part of health care reform.

Both Bernardin and George served as president of the U.S. bishops’ conference at different points, and both were seen as representing the broader spirit of their era in the American church.

With Cupich, Francis has found another tone-setting prelate to take over in Chicago. Among other things, the appointment puts Cupich in line to become a cardinal the next time the pope creates new Princes of the Church.

Cupich is clearly a moderate, clearly upholding church teaching on all the hot-button issues in the wars of culture such as abortion, contraception, and gay marriage, but like Francis, he tends to shun strong rhetoric on those matters.

Instead, Cupich has been identified with the wing of the American bishops that’s tried to steer the church down a less confrontational path, and tends to place special emphasis on the social gospel, meaning concern for the poor and for social justice.

In 2011, for instance, Cupich dismayed some of the most aggressive pro-life forces in Catholicism when he discouraged priests and seminarians in Spokane from praying in front of Planned Parenthood clinics as part of an anti-abortion protest, seeing the gesture as unnecessarily provocative.

Cupich is also seen as an adept manager and an internal reformer who has helped lead the American church’s efforts to recover from the child sexual abuse scandals from his role as chair of the U.S. bishops’ Committee for the Protection of Children and Young People.

In 2010, Cupich said that listening to abuse victims is an “opportunity to recalibrate” the whole of a bishop’s ministry, because it’s a powerful reminder that “there are voices out there which the leadership doesn’t usually hear.”

“We have to keep the connection with victims visceral and fresh,” he said, because doing so “will help us not to have amnesia.”

On a personal level, Cupich is regarded as humble and open, precisely the sort of pastor who “carries the smell of his sheep” that Francis has said he wants.

Pope Francis was personally involved in the selection of a successor to the 77-year-old George, making phone calls to a wide variety of sources in and around the American church and also consulting American prelates when they came to Rome. In those conversations, sources say, Francis asked for blunt assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of a variety of candidates.

One American cardinal said on background recently that he had been surprised when Francis asked him for an assessment of Cupich, since the Omaha native was not generally regarded as a front-runner for position.

The cardinal said he got the vibe at the time that Francis was seriously considering Cupich, an intuition that clearly turned out to be correct.

Whether Cupich turns out to be another Chicago heavyweight who puts a stamp on his era remains to be seen, but one could make a strong case that the “Francis era” in American Catholicism begins today.

Related off-site Links:
Pope Names Cupich as Next Chicago Archbishop – Rachel Zoll (Associated Press via Yahoo! News, September 20, 2014).
Blase Cupich – Champion of Social Justice – is the Next Archbishop of Chicago – Christopher Hale (Millennial, September 20, 2014).
There May Be Brighter Days Ahead for LGBT Issues in Chicago Archdiocese – Bob Shine (Bondings 2.0, September 20, 2014).
Blase Cupich of Spokane Named Archbishop of Chicago – Dennis Coday (National Catholic Reporter, September 19, 2014).
New Chicago Archbishop Blase Cupich: A Moderate Voice – Michael O'Loughlin (Crux, September 19, 2014).
Pope Francis Names Spokane Bishop to Chicago, Dashing Conservative Hopes – David Gibson (Religion News Service, September 19, 2014).
Cupich to Chicago: What It Actually Means – Thomas Peters (, September 19, 2014).

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Companions on a Sacred Journey

An Introduction to Evolutionary Christianity

An interactive workshop sponsored by
the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform
and facilitated by Michael Bayly, MA.

Companions on a Sacred Journey is an interactive workshop that provides an opportunity to learn about, reflect upon, and respond to an expression of spirituality known as “evolutionary Christianity.”

As understood and expressed by Catholic theologians, scientists, and mystics such as Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Beatrice Bruteau, Brian Swimme, Ilia Delio, Diarmuid Ó Murchú, Thomas Berry, and Gail Worcelo, Evolutionary Christianity is a meaningful way of thinking and talking about God in our lives, our church, and our world; a way of hope that addresses the important issues of our day by welcoming and honoring both the findings of science and the enduring spiritual wisdom of our Catholic tradition, especially its mystical tradition.

Companions on a Sacred Journey is a program that can be readily tailored to the needs of specific groups. For example, it can be presented as a two-hour workshop, an all-day retreat, or a series of four one-hour presentations. The program is facilitated by Michael Bayly.

Evolutionary Christianity invites and challenges us to understand God and our relationship with God, each other, and the natural world in an ever-deepening and liberating way; to recognize ourselves as co-creators with our creator God – co-creators of beauty, justice, and compassion.
– Michael Bayly

The paradox of the Divine is at once the radiant, complete, and changeless ground of all that is. Yet the Divine is also the incessant urge to manifest deeper and deeper expressions of wholeness and integration. . . . There is something of the holy embrace of God in the very structure of the universe, changeless and changing.
– Gail Wolcelo, sgm

Michael Bayly has a Masters in Theology from St. Catherine’s University and a Masters in Theology and the Arts from United Theological Seminary. He is the author of Creating Safe Environments for LGBT Students: A Catholic Schools Perspective and the editor of the online forum, The Progressive Catholic Voice. Since 2003 he has served as the Executive Coordinator of the Twin Cities-based Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), which is a founding member organization of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR).

Contact Information

To learn more and/or to arrange a presentation of Companions on a Sacred Journey, contact Michael Bayly at or 612-201-4534.

Companions on a Sacred Journey is sponsored by the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR). For more information about CCCR visit

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Minneapolis Priest Says Archbishop Nienstedt Must Resign If Church is to Heal

By Jean Hopfensperger

Note: This article was first published September 2, 2014 by the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

The Rev. Patrick Kennedy of St. Olaf Catholic Church has called for the resignation of Twin Cities Archbishop John Nienstedt, saying it would create a “collective sigh of relief” from Twin Cities Catholics.

In the Aug. 31 church newsletter, Kennedy wrote that he reached the conclusion after returning to Minneapolis recently following two years away. It was then that he realized the “full effect” of the recent clergy sex abuse scandal on Catholics in the pews.

“There appears to be a pall over the Archdiocese that is affecting the ministry we are trying to be about,” wrote Kennedy, pastor at the downtown Minneapolis church.

“People are leaving our parishes. Some have stopped giving money. Others have stayed but carry a heavy heart. . . .” he wrote.

Conversations with family members, friends, parishioners and others indicate that there is no confidence that Nienstedt can lead the church out of the mess, Kennedy continued. Catholics are “troubled and angry by what has happened and how the situation is handled,” he said.

Aggravating the situation is that Nienstedt has not been able to forge a personal connection with the people he serves, wrote Kennedy.

“While it is difficult for any of us in ministry to admit to a lack of bonding with those we serve, it is sometimes a fact,” he wrote. “When it is, a reassignment is necessary for the good of the church.”

The archbishop’s resignation “could prove to be the catalyst to begin the healing people long for as well as create a possible way forward,” wrote Kennedy.

He is among a half-dozen priests who have publicly criticized Nienstedt’s handling of abuse and/or called for his resignation. Following reports of the sex abuse scandal last fall, calls for resignation came from priests including the Rev. Bill Deziel of the Church of St. Peter in North St. Paul and the Rev. Mike Tegeder of St. Frances Cabrini Church in Minneapolis.

The Rev. Stephen O’Gara, recently retired pastor of Church of the Assumption in St. Paul, also has been a harsh critic of Nienstedt.

The archbishop has said he has no plans to step down. He has insisted the archdiocese has turned the corner on the clergy abuse scandal and is now “in a much better place.”

“And I would have to be convinced that my effectiveness to lead the archdiocese was nil,” Nienstedt said in a recent interview. “And I don’t believe it is. I have strong pockets of support — and other pockets that aren’t supportive. I’m working on that.”

Nienstedt said the only way he would resign is if the papal nuncio, the pope’s representative in the United States, “took action.”

Neither Nienstedt nor Kennedy could be reached Monday.

See also the previous PCV posts:
To Heal Church, Nienstedt Must Resign
Archbishop Niestedt Needs to Go. Now
In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, "Regime Change is Not Enough"
Healing Can’t Start Until the Knife is Removed from the Wound

Related Off-site Links:
Roman Catholicism's Fundamental Problem: The Cultic Priesthood and Its "Diseased System" of Clericalism – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, July 23, 2014).
Jennifer Haselberger Was Ignored, Bullied Before Blowing Whistle on Archdiocese, Records Show – Jesse Marx (City Pages, July 15, 2014).
MN Archdiocese Wanted to Label Marriage Equality-Supporting Priest ‘Disabled’ – Andy Birkey (, July 22, 2014).
Betrayed by Silence: How Three Archbishops Hid the Truth – Madeleine Baran (Minnesota Public Radio News, July 14, 2014).
Has Archbishop Nienstedt's "Shadow" Finally Caught Up With Him? – Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, July 1, 2014).