Thursday, May 28, 2009

Archbishop Nienstedt Responds to Rainbow Sash Alliance

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis has responded to a letter by Brian McNeill, organizer of Rainbow Sash Alliance USA, in which McNeill notified the archbishop that - as in previous years - lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Catholics and their allies would be present wearing rainbow sashes at this year’s Pentecost Sunday noon Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul

Notes McNeill on the Rainbow Sash Alliance USA website:

We cannot repeat too often that we attend Mass on Pentecost to celebrate who we are, not to protest. We participate in Mass in the same way we do all the other days of the year. But on Pentecost we come out of the closet as lgbt Catholics, family and friends to remind our fellow Catholics that we too are part of God’s loving family.

McNeill’s letter to the archbishop also stressed that the rainbow sash represents and invites dialogue between LGBT Catholics and the Roman Catholic hierarchy.

Following is Archbishop Nienstedt’s response.


Dear Brian,

I write to acknowledge your letter of May 10, 2009, alerting me to the fact that you and some fellow protesters will be wearing rainbow sashes at the noon Mass on Pentecost in the Cathedral of St. Paul. I ask you to refrain from such a public act of dissent, especially as it so clearly shows disrespect and irreverence for the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

Anyone wearing a “rainbow sash” will not be permitted to receive Holy Communion, since their dissent is a sign that they have publicly broken communion with the Church’s teaching. I also ask that those not wearing the sashes refrain from sharing the Holy Eucharist with those who do. Such an action is unbecoming the dignity of the sacrament.

With regard to the dialogue you request, it would first be essential that you state clearly that you hold with the conviction all that the Church teaches on matters of human sexuality. If you do not believe, then there cannot be dialogue, but only debate. The truths of our faith are not open to debate.

Again, I hope you will see how disruptive your planned protest will be for those who will gather on Pentecost to pray. I ask you to refrain from being the cause of such disruption.

Sincerely yours in Christ,

The Most Reverend John C. Nienstedt
Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis

Recommended Off-site Links:
Rainbow Sash Wearers Prohibited from Receiving Communion - The Catholic Spirit, May 27, 2009.
“Take, All of You, and Eat” – Communion and the Rainbow Sash - The Wild Reed, May 28, 2007.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Fr. Thomas Doyle: "There is Something Radically Wrong With the Institutional Catholic Church"

Last week saw the release of the Irish government’s Report of the Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse. This report is the result of a nine-year investigation into Catholic church-operated schools and reformatories in Ireland. It covers a 60-year-period from 1936 to the present, and documents how Roman Catholic institutions permitted and fostered climates of sustained abuse - sexual, physical, emotional, spiritual - by priests and nuns.

Following is an excerpt from U.S. Dominican Fr. Thomas Doyle’s powerful May 22 National Catholic Reporter commentary, “Irish Abuse Report Demands Decisive Action.” Doyle (pictured above) is a canon lawyer and advocate for those abused by priests. He calls for nothing less than the fearless examination - and dismantling - of the current institutional component of the Roman Catholic Church.


. . . The vicious sexual, physical, emotional and spiritual devastation inflicted upon these children was not accidental. It was systemic. It was part of the everyday life and indeed deeply ingrained in the very culture of the childcare system in Catholic Ireland.

The intellects and emotions of decent people, of committed Christians and especially of devoted Catholics cannot truly process the unbelievable reality presented in this report. The sadistic world of these institutions is not that of some crazed secular dictatorship. It is not the world of an uncivilized tribal culture that ravaged the weak in ages long past. This report describes a world created and sustained by the Roman Catholic Church. The horrors inflicted on these helpless, trapped children – rapes, beatings, molestation, starvation, isolation – all were inflicted by men and women who had vowed themselves to the service of people in the name of Christ’s love.

The Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse is not unique though it may well be the most shocking example of the reality of such a culture of evil. In the past two decades over two dozen reports have described physical and sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults by Catholic clergy and religious. Among the more shocking have been a series of reports submitted to the Vatican between 1994 and 1998 revealing sexual exploitation of religious women in Africa by African priests. These reports remained largely unknown until they were brought to light by the National Catholic Reporter in 2001. Other reports have opened the doors to the secret world of clergy sexual abuse in the U.S. and elsewhere. The report of the Winter Commission about rampant sexual abuse at Mount Cashel, the Christian Brothers orphanage in Newfoundland and the report of the Philadelphia Grand Jury investigation stand out as examples not only of the depravity but of the institutionalized cover-up.

Revelations of various forms of abuse by Catholic religious and clerics all have common elements. Likewise, they evoke responses from the institutional leadership that are common to all examples of abuse and consistent in their nature. Most disturbing is the certain knowledge that the vicious abuse, in Ireland and elsewhere, is not accidental nor isolated and it is never unknown to Church authorities. The Church’s authorities, from the pope himself down to the local bishops and religious superiors have known about this unbelievable culture of abuse and have done nothing.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan referred to the Church as a “Loving Mother” when he spoke at his installation Mass in New York. In light of the facts disclosed in the Irish report as well as the information revealed about countless other cases of abuse, such a description of the Church is not only absurd, but insulting to the countless people whose belief and trust in the hierarchy and clergy has been betrayed.

The official reaction is predictable. Denial, minimization, blame shifting and finally limited acknowledgment followed by carefully nuanced “apologies” has been the standard fare. At no time has the leadership of any part of the institutional Church ever owned up to any systemic accountability. The standard responses are totally unacceptable because they are devious and irrelevant. Those who still hold to the institutional Church as their source of emotional security may well bray about anti-Catholicism, media sensationalism and exaggeration of what they claim to be an aberration. Such responses are mindless but far worse, they inflict even more pain on the thousands whose lives have been violated.

The Church cannot and will not fix itself. The very reality of the systemic abuse in the Irish institutions (and elsewhere as well) reveals a deep disdain for people by those charged with leading the Church. There has been an abandonment of the fundamental values that are supposed to vivify the Church if indeed these values were ever really internalized by many in positions of power. There is something radically wrong with the institutional Catholic Church. This is painfully obvious because it allows systemic abuse and radical dishonesty to coexist with its self-proclaimed identity as the Kingdom of God on earth.

The institutional Church is defensively changing its approach to the systematic abuse all too slowly and only because it is forced to do so by external forces it cannot control. The Irish government commission is one and the U.S. legal system is another. No amount of bureaucratic programs, pious apologies, rhetorical hand wringing and effusive promises of future change will make the difference. The problem is more than the widespread abuse itself. Punishing the perpetrators is completely missing the forest standing behind the trees. The clerical culture intertwined with the institution needs to be fearlessly examined and dismantled as we know it. It has wrought far too much destruction and murdered too many souls to be tolerated for another generation.

Catholics have a profound obligation in charity and justice to the countless victims of all forms of abuse. They have an obligation to believers of all kinds everywhere. They must ceaselessly do all that can be done to free the Christian/Catholic community from the toxic control of the clericalized institutional structure so that once more the Church will be identified not with an anachronistic and self-serving monarchy but with the Body of Christ.

To read Fr. Thomas Doyle’s commentary in its entirety, click here.

Recommended Off-site Links:
In Ireland, the Abuse of Children - and Power - Mary C. Curtic (
Politics Daily, May 21, 2009).
Richard Sipe: Bill Donohue is a Bozo -
National Catholic Reporter (May 23, 2009).
On Truth Commissions: Parallels Between Legacy of Torture and Catholic Sexual Abuse Crisis - William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, May 21, 2009).
Crisis in the Catholic Church - Timothy Lytton (National Sexuality Resource Center, August 1, 2008).
Absolute Power - Tony Hopfinger (
Newsweek, January 14, 2008).

Friday, May 15, 2009

DignityUSA Releases "Talking Points" on Archbishop Weakland's Coming Out

DignityUSA, the nation’s largest Catholic LGBT organization, has released the following “talking points” on Archbishop Rembert Weakland’s disclosure that he is gay.


Archbishop Weakland has shown tremendous courage to come out as a gay man. He is the first US Catholic bishop to do so.

It is time for the whole Catholic Church to be honest and open about what everyone knows. There are gay priests and bishops in the church.

We hope that Archbishop Weakland’s courageous action will be a big step towards creating a climate in which other gay bishops, priests, women religious and church workers will feel safe in living honestly and openly.

Millions of gay Catholics and their families in the United States and around the world will find hope in Archbishop Weakland’s openness and honesty.

As Catholics debate celibacy, we know that we all need to be honest about God’s gift of human sexuality.

God’s call to priesthood transcends gender, sexual orientation, relationship status and other human constraints. All should be able to use their gifts in the service of the church.

Archbishop Weakland’s lifelong record of distinguished service to the Church shows that being gay does not prevent him from being effective as a priest and bishop.

Archbishop Weakland’s frank discussion of his shortcomings in handling the sexual abuse crisis shows that secrets create problems. Secrecy was the source of the church’s failure to recognize the dysfunction of abusive priests and to take immediate, strong steps to protect all church members from abuse.

Secrecy was also the problem when Archbishop Weakland was sued for creating a bond with a young adult seminarian. To keep the accusation a secret, a confidential settlement was reached. Despite the agreement, it became public and Archbishop Weakland resigned to avoid a public battle. Unfortunately, this is another sad case in which secrecy about sexual orientation impeded honest, open, and healthy relationships within the Church.

Recommended Off-site Link:
Ex-Archbishop Speaks About Catholic Church and Homosexuality - Laurie Goodstein (New York Times, May 14, 2009).

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Why One Young Woman Still Calls Herself Catholic

The following excerpt is from an article by a young woman named Jamie Manson posted on the National Catholic Reporter website’s “Young Voices” page. We at the Progressive Catholic Voice find it to be a very hopeful testimonial. Perhaps you will too.


The notion that grace perfects nature forms the basis for the uniquely Catholic idea that all finite things in creation are capable of revealing truths about what is infinite or eternal. Catholics have a sacramental view of the world. That is, for a Catholic, all of creation is good, and everything in our finite world can be a vessel of God’s presence and God’s transforming grace. This idea provides the foundation for Catholicism’s rich mysticism and spirituality, its unparalleled social justice doctrine, its care of the poor, and its exquisite legacy of artists and writers.

These traditions keep me calling myself Catholic. But I separate the Catholic tradition from the institutional church, namely its governing body. Because I see so much harm done to women, to those dying from the AIDS pandemic, to American nuns under scrutiny, to victims of pedophilia, to divorced people, to women who have had abortions, and to gays and lesbians. I do not currently trust that the hierarchy of the church is acting with integrity toward the people of God. I struggle to believe that the hierarchy’s intentions are centered in the desire to be a beacon of the healing, reconciling, challenging love of God. Rather, I wonder if they aren’t motivated instead by the drive toward self-preservation rooted in the fear of engaging the people of God where they are in all of their very real struggles and questions.

For me, there is nothing to “leave.” I cannot leave my Catholic tradition any more than I can leave my Italian tradition, which also formed my vision and imagination, my way of seeing the world, my way of relating to others. One can argue that I have left the Catholic church since I no longer accept the authority of the hierarchy. However, I feel equally left behind by the institution. As a woman and lesbian, I have no voice in this institution, and I am denied the ability to make a substantive contribution to it. Rather than speaking about leaving the church, I believe is time to call the institutional church to accountability for how many people it has left behind.

Unlike many of those fighting for reform in the Catholic church, I’m not aiming to “take back my church.” I’m not sure that the institution and its endless tomes of rules, its privileged priesthood, and its propensity for uninviting people from the Eucharistic table is something worth re-inheriting because I’m not convinced these functions were ever conceived or practiced with God-centered intentions.

I don’t wish to reclaim this church, nor do I feel like I have to in order to call myself Catholic. Rather, I am attempting to take all of the riches of the Catholic tradition with me and share them with others in the hope of finding communities that share this common Catholic vision: that we are all unequivocally called to have a preferential option for the poor, that contemplative prayer and meditation is a path to greater wholeness, and that ritual, symbol, image and word can make real the life-giving power of God’s love in our world.

To read Jamie’s commentary in its entirety, click here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Archdiocese "Management System" Lacks Compassion and Justice

By Darlene White

Catching the headline, “Archdiocese Policy Models Justice in the Workplace” (National Catholic Reporter, 3-20-09), I was eager to see where this piece of heaven was planted. However, I was stunned to learn it was the St. Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese – a place I have been part of most of my 71 years. Just a few of my own experiences provoke this response and both happened within the last five years.

Diocesan officials wiped out an entire staff of a once vibrant justice-seeking inner city parish in Minneapolis. Nothing about that was exemplary . . . more purge than process.

An employee of a suburban parish was fired. She requested a meeting with chancery officials. The officials were lined up but she was denied the presence of even one and instructed to write a letter of voluntary resignation to her parishioners. The purported rationale for this demand was “to avoid confusion among the faithful”! That standard excuse appears with greater frequency these days but is no less of an affront to the intelligence and judgment of adult Catholics!

The author mentions that most employed Americans who work without a contract can be fired “virtually any reason, absent violations of state or federal discrimination statutes”.

In Minnesota, thank God, our Human Rights Ordinance includes discrimination based on sexual orientation. It is interesting that churches and other non- profits are exempted from that injunction. This archdiocese labored tirelessly to make sure that that particular language was part of the ordinance. How secure are our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees in this environment. And how sad is that!

Termination ‘for cause’ means whatever ‘the powers’ determine it to be. Their criteria are broader and deeper than the Grand Canyon . . . without the beauty! As a result, there are constant assaults on the freedoms of church employees that other citizens take for granted. Everyday in this archdiocese, hundreds of men and women struggle to lead lives of integrity and service while living and working in an institution that grows more archaic, fear-driven and abusive.

Rigid orthodoxy and authoritarianism are the hallmarks of employer/employee relationships in the St. Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese. Below a veneer of justice is a cesspool of deceit and bullying. There is no reflection of the compassion and liberating spirit of Jesus in this management system!

Among other organizations, Darlene White is a member of Catholic Rainbow Parents, Grandmothers for Peace, Women Against Military Madness (WAMM), and several small Christian communities. She believes patriarchy is the antithesis of the gospel message which requires radical equality and respect all creation. An edited version of this commentary was published as a letter-to-the-editor in the April 17, 2009 issue of the National Catholic Reporter.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Catholics Call for the Repentance of the Sin of Heterosexism

The Des Moines Catholic Worker Community has issued a public statement entitled, “A Call for the Repentance of Heterosexism.”

The statement laments the long history of “unspeakable acts of hatred and violence that have devastated [gay people’s] lives and, in countless instances, lead to their deaths.”

It also declares that “the trust that God has given to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender daughters and sons has not been misplaced, and this is evidenced by their unfailing witness of love [in the world]. By their fruits, we know them. They have continued to love us, even we didn’t love them, and their labors have led only to a deeper understanding of love, strengthened and expanded communities, reconciliation among the faithful, and a world in which it is easier to love. To neither cherish nor express our gratitude for this blessing is a desecration of God’s love and therefore a sin.”

In the April 2009 edition of the Des Moines Catholic Worker newspaper, the following was shared about the specific recent events that led to the issuing of this call for repentance:

In December, 2008, a number of cruel and ignorant public statements regarding same-sex relationships were made by church leadership that weighed heavily on the hearts in our community.

After prayer and reflection, our souls insisted that we publicly confess and repent our sins of heterosexism and call others to do the same.

Following is the full text of the Des Moines Catholic Worker Community’s statement.


A Call for the Repentance
of Heterosexism

We are past and present Catholic Workers who come together to speak in support of the United Nations Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity presented to the United Nations General Assembly on December 18, 2008. The declaration condemns violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization, and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It also condemns killing and executions, torture, arbitrary arrest, and deprivation of economic, social, and cultural rights on those grounds.

For nearly a millennium, millions of our sisters and brothers who have been, or were perceived to have been lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender have endured unspeakable acts of hatred and violence that have devastated their lives and, in countless instances, lead to their deaths. Today, 77 nations still criminalize these children of God based on their sexual orientation and gender identity, and in seven nations these “crimes” are punishable by death. As recently as 2003, the United States of America still had such laws in effect in several states.

Throughout the history of the Catholic Worker movement, these brothers and sisters have stood with us, praying together, performing works of mercy together, witnessing for justice together, being arrested together, and sitting in jail together. They have stood with us even though we have often denied and mistreated them. We have done those things we have done together because we shared a common belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ that the greatest commandment is that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves and that our love is measured by what we do for the least of these.

The sanctity of romantic and filial love inherent in this commandment is self-evident. The clear God-given blessing of these expressions of love inspire us to care for one another as much as we care for ourselves and lead us to form families and communities to more closely express, as Jesus taught, that God is love.

When there is no greater love that that love for which one would lay down one’s life for a friend, love so expressed can only come from God. Where there is love so compelling that one will stay true to that love even when it calls one to leave one’s father and mother and all that was treasured before that love was known, that love can only come from God. When a love triumphs over grave after grave after grave, that love can only come from God. To confess rather than deny before the world the love placed in one’s heart by God though others revile you, persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you for its sake is striking and irrefutable evidence of God and that the words of Jesus are lasting and true.

The trust that God has given to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender daughters and sons has not been misplaced, and this is evidenced by their unfailing witness of love so described. By their fruits, we know them. They have continued to love us, even we didn’t love them, and their labors have led only to a deeper understanding of love, strengthened and expanded communities, reconciliation among the faithful, and a world in which it is easier to love.

To neither cherish nor express our gratitude for this blessing is a desecration of God’s love and therefore a sin. This sin is not ameliorated by abstractions or by hiding behind the parsing of terminology or other deviations that serve to rationalize sin. Exposing sin, however controversial, does not derail nor shrink any other concern for peace and justice on our path. We know that fearing to take this position now will.

Because historic and contemporary acceptance and practice of a sin does not diminish the obligation of a contrite heart to confess it, we choose to repent. Furthermore, we hold that heterosexist bigotry is not based in nor supported by the gospels but is a human invention wrought by fear, ignorance, and greed. Therefore, now and forever, we confess all our sins of heterosexism against our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters within and outside the Catholic Worker Movement; we ask these sisters and brothers and God to forgive us our sins against them, and we pledge our best efforts to go and sin no more.

As part of our penance, we call upon all nations, in particular the United States of America, all organized entities, and people of faith to join us in repentance and to:

Endorse enthusiastically and without equivocation the 2008 United Nations Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity as well as any such future declarations.

Renounce all public remarks made regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people that serve to demean, degrade, or foment hostility toward and discrimination against them such as, but not limited to, those comments made by religious leaders comparing them to pedophiles or saying they are more threatening than global warming. Moreover we ask those who have made such ascription to confess the cruelty of these words and to recant them.

While we pray and wait for these things, we join hands with our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender brothers and sisters willing and prepared to share any slight, bear any burden, and suffer any affliction with them until the day they are regarded by all humankind as worthy and equal to us all, as they have always been held in the eyes of God.

Respectfully submitted March 1, 2009
The Des Moines Catholic Worker Community

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Papal Appointment of Bishops is Not Traditional

The following is excerpted from Richard P. McBrien’s column in the April 17, 2009 issue of the National Catholic Reporter.


Throughout most of the history of the Catholic church, bishops were elected from the local diocesan clergy by laity and clergy alike. The bishop of Rome had no direct role whatsoever in those elections.

However, because of the communion that existed, and still exists, among all the local churches, or dioceses, both with one another and with the diocese of Rome and its bishop, the pope was subsequently informed of the results of these elections as a matter of courtesy and protocol.

It was not until the 19th century, however, that the popes began to claim the exclusive right to appoint bishops throughout the Catholic world. Although the pope has exercised this prerogative ever since then, it is hardly traditional.

Catholics in the first millennium would have been taken aback by the papal appointments of bishops, but they would have been utterly shocked to learn that someone who was already the bishop of one diocese would accept election to another.

Such a practice would have been recognized as being in direct violation of the teaching of the First Council of Nicaea in 325, the council that defined the divinity of Jesus Christ and gave us the Nicene Creed. Nicaea’s teaching was reaffirmed by the Council of Chalcedon in 451, the council that defined the relationship between the divinity and humanity of Christ.

Canon 15 of Nicaea reads as follows:

On account of the great disturbance and the factions which are caused, it is decreed that the custom, if it is found to exist in some parts contrary to the canon, shall be totally suppressed, so that neither bishops nor presbyters [priests] nor deacons shall transfer from city to city.

If after this decision of this holy and great synod anyone shall attempt such a thing, or shall lend himself to such a proceeding, the arrangement shall be totally annulled, and he shall be restored to the church of which he was ordained bishop or presbyter or deacon.

The Council of Chalcedon, 126 years later, reiterated the teaching of Nicaea in its own Canon 6:

In the matter of bishops or clerics who move from city to city, it has been decided that the canons issued by the holy fathers concerning them should retain proper force.

These two canons, which have never been explicity revoked, were consistently regarded as retaining “their proper force” as late as the year 897, when the body of Pope Formosus (891-96) was exhumed from its resting place nine months after his death. The body was clothed in full pontifical vestments and placed on trial in what became known as the “cadaver synod.”

Among the charges leveled against the deceased pope was that he had accepted election as bishop of Rome when he was already the bishop of another diocese (Porto, Italy), in clear violation of the canons of the councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon.

It is significant, however, that no known protest had been registered at the time of his election to Rome, nor was there any known reaction when Marinus because the first bishop of another diocese to be elected bishop of Rome in 882.

The force of these canons obviously did not endure into the second ot third Christian millennium, when the practice of transferring bishops from one diocese to another became common.

In our time, a certain type of Catholic pines for “the good old days: before the Second Vatican Council when, it is mistakenly thought, the Lord’s “organizational plan” for the his church was faithfully honored and implemented.

But we realize now, in the light of history, that what people had become accustomed to in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s was not at all a part of the unchanging tradition of the Catholic church.

Fr. Richard McBrien is the Crowley-O’Brien professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana.

NOTE: If this issue interests you and if you live in the local church of St. Paul/Minneapolis, you may be interested in joining a work/study group focused on the selection of bishops. This group was formed as a follow-up action to the recent prayer breakfast of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR), and is one of a number of work/study groups leading up to CCCR’s 2010 Synod of the Baptized. For more information, call 612-379-1043.