Sunday, June 26, 2011

Marriage Equality and the Catholic Bishops

By Geoffrey R. Stone

Editor's Note: This commentary was first published June 25 by The Huffington Post.

New York State has taken an important step forward in our nation's never-ending quest to remake ourselves as a more decent, more inclusive, more just and more moral society. Looking back from the future, our grandchildren will surely see the legal recognition of same-sex marriage as an inspiring chapter in America's story, a story in which we have progressively abolished slavery, ended state-sponsored racial segregation, prohibited laws against interracial marriage, protected equal rights for women, promoted religious diversity and tolerance and outlawed discrimination on the basis of disability. There is no doubt that, in the long run, the United States will follow the lead of New York State. The challenge, though, is to make the long run short.

The most vehement opponent of marriage equality in New York was the Catholic Church. Indeed, in the heat of the debate in the state legislature, the New York State Catholic Conference issued a ringing proclamation: "The Bishops of New York State oppose in the strongest possible terms any attempt to redefine the sacred institution of marriage. Marriage has always been, is now, and always will be the union of one man and one woman. Government does not have the authority to change this most basic of truths."

That the leaders of the Catholic Church take this position is certainly their right, but it is a sorry testament to their understanding of their Church's own history in this nation. If anything, one would expect those leaders to be leaders in the fight against bigotry and intolerance, rather than voices in support of prejudice and discrimination. After all, as the historian Arthur Schlesinger, Sr. once observed, prejudice against Catholics has been one of "the deepest bias[es] in the history of the American people."

Sadly, this was so from the very beginning. In the mid-seventeenth century, both the Colony of Virginia and Massachusetts Bay Colony enacted laws prohibiting Catholic settlers. In the 1830s, prominent Protestant leaders attacked the Catholic Church as an enemy of republican values, and in the 1840s the "nativist" movement was whipped into a frenzy of anti-Catholicism that led to mob violence, the burning of Catholic property, and the killing of Catholics. Anti-Catholicism reached a peak in the mid-nineteenth century when Protestant leaders became alarmed by the heavy influx of Catholic immigrants.

Rabid anti-Catholicism continued into the 1920s, when anti-Catholics fumed that Catholicism was incompatible with democracy. When Al Smith ran unsuccessfully for president in 1928 as the first Roman Catholic candidate, Protestant ministers warned that the nation's autonomy would be threatened if he were to be elected, because he would listen not to the American people, but to the pope.

Many Americans opposed Smith because they believed the Catholic Church was "unAmerican." In an influential manifesto, the Lutheran Dr. Clarence Reinhold Tappert warned about "the peculiar relation in which a faithful Catholic stands and the absolute allegiance he owes to a 'foreign sovereign' who 'claims' supremacy in secular affairs and who, time and again, has endeavored to put this claim into practical operation."

In 1949, Paul Blanshard wrote in his bestselling book, American Freedom and Catholic Power, that the Catholic Church was widely seen as an "undemocratic system of alien control" in which the lay were chained by the "rule of the clergy." Even today, when things have clearly changed for the better, only 45 percent of Americans have a positive view of the Catholic Church (as compared to 53 percent who have a positive view of same-sex marriage).

In light of that history, one would have hoped that the leaders of a religion that has been so vilified and discriminated against would have been able to take a step back and recognize similar bigotry and prejudice when it is directed at others. Instead, the bishops' proclamation does precisely what the critics of the Church have long condemned. According to the proclamation, marriage is a "sacred" institution – that is, an institution set apart for veneration by God – and government therefore "does not have the authority to change" it. In other words, in a self-governing society, the democratically-elected representatives of the people do "not have the authority" to change the law in a way that conflicts with the religious beliefs of the bishops. That is not a winning argument.

Ironically, it is not a winning argument even with Catholics, a substantial majority of whom reject the Church's position and support same-sex marriage. Indeed, whereas 53 percent of all Americans now support same-sex marriage, approximately 60 percent of Catholics now take that position. It is heart-warming and inspiring when the adherents of a religion – any religion – are more decent, more wise and more moral than the "leaders" of their religion. It's enough to give one faith in the future.

Geoffrey R. Stone is the Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago.

Community Ethics vs. Individual Freedom: The Fox and the Hedgehog

Noodling About Value
in Honor of Pride Weekend

By Paula Ruddy

Minnesotans are right in the middle of one of the central disputes of history: How are individual freedom and governmental restrictions of freedom supposed to work together? Is a State Constitutional amendment that limits the freedom of gays and lesbians to marry morally justified?

We can take a position that sounds good and stick with it. Some insist, “The community has a right to say what kind of society we want to live in and what kind of laws help us bring up our children according to our ideas of a good life.” Others insist in response, “What about the rights of individuals to marry the person they choose? It’s only fair that same-sex couples have the same freedom that heterosexual couples have.”

We can have a tug of war between these two positions, majority win, or we can do some heavy-duty reasoning to see what the soundest arguments are. Can we start by agreeing that it is better to have social policy grounded in principle and the soundest available arguments (if and when we can manage it) than to have social policy tugged back and forth between entrenched non-debatable positions?

I’ll grant that many times the tug of war is all we are capable of, but I can’t grant that it is the better way to go.

Ronald Dworkin in his 2011 book Justice for Hedgehogs provides some heavy-duty reasoning to help us out. For the title he relies on a line by Archilochus, Greek poet, made famous by Isaiah Berlin: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” I take the poet to mean that the fox sees the world at ground level, in concrete particulars, full of conflicting diversity, but the hedgehog digs under the surface and, looking up, sees things as interrelated and coherent. In the context of values, the fox sees conflict between freedom and law, and conflicting emphases on different values. The hedgehog sees that starting with one deep value, the world of value coheres, fans out in interrelated systems.

How does the hedgehog resolve the conflict of apparently competing community and individual values?

The first move is to distinguish those two goals: the individual goal of constructing a good life (called “ethics”) and the communal goal of treating each other justly (called “morality”). The individual is responsible for her/his own ethical life course, to pursue what s/he believes to be good. Of course values, or ideas of the good, are formed in a community, or multiple overlapping communities as is the case in our internet age of cultural interaction. But the ultimate responsibility is in the individual to form his/her conscience and to live by it. And then together, we have the moral task of making laws that restrain some freedoms in order to prevent harm to others . From the hedgehog’s viewpoint, these two goals are not in conflict or competition; they work together.

We get into conflict and competition when we say that freedom and equality and community are the values underlying our ethical and moral decision-making. If freedom is a good, an end in itself, then the community’s attempts to restrain it are problematic. If community is an end in itself, there is no way for an individual to choose other than the community’s norms. If freedom and community are ends in themselves, people can’t agree on which of those values to choose in a particular instance. The dispute is whether the individual’s freedom is more important than the community’s interest in restricting that freedom.

Hedgehog digs down and asks, “Are freedom and equality and community the values themselves or isn’t there, rather, a deeper value underlying those concepts? Are they criteria for deciding what is good or aren’t they, rather, interpretive concepts describing means to a deeper end?” Dworkin goes with the hedgehog’s insight.

The deeper values are two and interrelated: first, the dignity of each individual human as worthy of concern and, second, his/her personal responsibility to choose a good course of life. If we accept these two interlocked values as criteria, we ask how they are supported by our own decisions for our own life course and by governmental decisions about how we live together. The first question about our personal life course is an ethical question. When do we as a self-governing society justly restrict people’s freedom and when is restriction of freedom unjust? That is the moral question.

Another necessary distinction: Dworkin uses the word “freedom” for the total field of a person’s choices, and the word “liberty” for those choices that fundamentally determine his/her course of a life directed to the good. It is not an indignity to the individual for the society governing itself to restrict some of his/her freedoms—traffic laws, taxation, all the myriad licensing, for examples. But it is an indignity to restrict liberty, to reach into the domain for which the individual is fundamentally ethically responsible—choice of religion, judgments about ideas, decisions to speak, choice of life partner. The individual’s dignity both as a person worthy of concern and responsible for his/her own life choices is the unifying value and that value is the criteria both for our ethical choices and for judging when a governmental action is moral.

The only way we come to agreement on what laws support or undermine the value is through reasoned argumentation.

Question: Is the choice of an intimate life partner one of those choices for which the individual is ultimately responsible to create a good life? If yes, it is one of the fundamental liberties that a morally just society will not restrict without seriously good reason. What are the seriously good reasons to restrict gays and lesbians from the benefits of the laws of civil marriage?

Question: Is it a good reason that the majority community wants their ethical norm to be law for everyone? That would make it easier for them to form their children in their ethical code, but does that justify violating the dignity of persons who have the responsibility to make their own life choices? Is there a cogent argument that it is justified?

Question: Is it morally just for law makers to allow one community to impose its ethics on all other individuals by law? Is there a cogent argument that it is just? I take the decision of the majority of New York legislators on June 24, 2011, to have answered these questions in the negative.

There is a lot to think about in Dworkin’s book and I have not done it justice. Go here for more comments by Dworkin on his work. And if you think I have misinterpreted him, give us your reading.

You are invited to join in this argument that has been evolving for centuries.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Fr. Wenthe's Lawsuit: "Callous and Selfish"

Editor's Note: Following is an excerpt from William D. Lindsey's post, "David Clohessy Issues SNAP Press Statement on Wenthe Case: Laws Apply to the Church, Too." The "Wenthe case" that both Clohessy's press statement and Lindsey's post highlight refers to the lawsuit of Fr. Thomas Wenthe of St. Paul, Minnesota, challenging the constitutionality of the Minnesota law governing inappropriate behavior of pastors with those under pastoral care. Wenthe is accused of violating state law by allegedly having a sexual relationship with an adult female parishioner.


. . . [In his media release, SNAP's] David Clohessy . . . provides very helpful context for interpreting what Wenthe and his attorney are trying to do. I want to excerpt some observations from David's press statement [that] address questions . . . about what might make abuse of a pastoral counseling relationship different from abuse of other adult relationships that don't involve a pastoral context.

First, I want to note that David calls on the bishops of Minnesota to denounce the legal tactic of Wenthe and his attorney, which attacks the constitutionality of Minnesota laws governing pastoral behavior. David notes that this is a "callous and selfish move" that would leave those receiving pastoral ministry vulnerable to exploitation by clerical predators, if it succeeded. He sees this move as "typical" of what predators do: Wenthe is "trying to exploit every possible legal maneuver and technicality to avoid responsibility for his sexual exploitation of a vulnerable parishioner."

In particular, David maintains that the "real blame" for this tactic lies with Archbishop Nienstedt of Minneapolis-St. Paul, who is permitting a priest in his charge to attack a law designed to protect people from pastoral predators who abuse their positions of trust and authority. And that statement leads to the heart of what David Clohessy wants to emphasize in this press statement.

As he notes, the argument of Wenthe's attorney that the current law criminalizes "any minister who has sex with anybody" is patently false. It's absurd. What the law deals with is the violation of pastoral boundaries. It seeks to punish the abuse of pastoral authority and pastoral relationships, which always involve an unequal distribution of power between the pastor and the one to whom (s)he is ministering, and which always involve vulnerability on the part of the one receiving ministry.

Here's the heart of David Clohessy's statement:

When will Catholic officials accept the fact secular laws that safeguard the vulnerable apply to them? When will they accept that religious belief, not criminal behavior, is protected in this country?

A highly educated, allegedly celibate man who holds the revered title Catholic priest cannot ever have truly consensual sex with a congregant. Catholics have been raised since birth to believe priests are God's representatives on earth, can forgive our sins, can turn wafers and wine into the body and blood of Christ. Priests always hold an exalted position, and when they have any sexual involvement with parishioners, it is always wrong and hurtful.

There is an inherent power imbalance between clergy and church members. It is much like a doctor-patient or therapist-client relationship, where any sexual contact is expressly forbidden. It's the duty of Minnesota’s Catholic bishops to help parishioners understand this and to speak out against this desperate legal move by one of their priests.

. . . Bob Schwiderski, Minnesota's SNAP director, has noted that the argument Wenthe and his attorney are using to attack the current Minnesota law is one diocesan officials in Minnesota have used in other similar cases in the past. If that's the case, then it appears that David Clohessy is absolutely correct when he implicates Archbishop Nienstedt. . . .

To read William Lindsey's commentary in its entirety, click here.

Related Off-site Links:
St. Paul Priest Challenges Sex Charges – Lora Pabst (
Star Tribune, June 19, 2011).
Minnesota Priest Challenges Law: New Apologetic Excuses Violations of Pastoral Relationships – William D. Lindsey (
Bilgrimage, June 20, 2011).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Archdiocese Blocks Bills to Help Sex Abuse Victims
Essential Reading: Tom Doyle's Response to John Allen, Jr.
SNAP Responds to Archbishop Nienstedt
The Scandal of Sexual Abuse
He Spoke Truth to Power, But Vatican Wouldn't Listen
Fr. Thomas Doyle: "There is Something Radically Wrong With the Institutional Catholic Church"
Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Victims: “You Can’t Get Healing in a Court of Law”

Friday, June 17, 2011

Local Catholics Share Their Thoughts on the American Catholic Council

A number of Catholics from the local church of St. Paul-Minneapolis attended the American Catholic Council in Detroit on the weekend of June 10-12.

What did they think of this gathering of almost 2000 Catholics dedicated to church reform? Did they like what they saw and heard? Following are some of their thoughts on this landmark event.


I thoroughly enjoyed the conference this past weekend. I was excited by the energy for reform and saddened by brokenness reported. How is it possible that an institution as old as the Catholic Church got so broken? Why has it taken so long for us to stand up and demand that it be right and just. It cannot continue! We owe it to generations to come to stop the hurt and the pain that the current church structure is causing. Tell a friend, shout it from the roof tops. Many have questioned the wrongs but, few know there is a movement to address them. Thank you to all of the planners and organizers. Well done good and faithful servants! I wish we could say that to those in Rome!

– Nancy Ritt

So much energy for renewal and reform emanating from much encouragement to press forward. Joan Chittister was superb in her challenge to us to remember those who pressed on despite water cannons, police dogs (MLK), the suffragettes, all those who led the movements that resulted in reform, all those who speak truth to power! Special thanks to Father Wurm for his courage to celebrate Mass with us despite the AB's threats. It really is "time to LEAP".

– Colleen Wehling

For Jim and me it was a marvelous experience to be there to share the enthusiasm and commitment of so many. The main address presenters were spot on. What Anthony Padovano laid out, Jim Carroll placed in historical context with engaging personal touches and then Matt Fox came with blazing guns aimed at the Vatican. Matt does his homework, so he was not blowing smoke.

Having the Hans Küng interview up front set the proper tone for feeling that we were on the right track.

The only drawbacks for me were the limited time for exhibits and the lack of the perspective of an "insider Catholic" on the typed words. The mistakes were often humorous, but also distracting.

As an annual CTA participant, I am used to seeing a primarily older crowd, but at CTA there are some young families and a growing number of young adults because the leadership has spent some energy on "Next Generation" work. The participants at ACC were decidedly older. Are the people between 40-60 not as interested or unable to get away or what?

– Karen Fitzpatrick

I found the talks by the main presenters at the conference thoughtful, balanced, challenging, respectful and hopeful. While talk does not a reform make, these were inspiring and necessary. It is up to us now to keep moving forward locally in the same spirit--a major task, yes, not fast enough or radical enough for some, yes, but I believe it is the right way to move.

– Jim Moudry

The AAC was a real energizer. Speakers went over all our complaints but filled us with hope. The workshops focused on action. Action is where change will occur. As James Carroll said MOVE -- MOVE. Any small action in a parish will put a stick in the cogs of authority. Letters, refusal to "go along", respectful disagreement with homilies, all are movements in the right direction. The reformation stone is rolling down hill; it cannot be stopped if we continue to act.

– Judith Pryor

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Other Side of the Catholic Tradition

By Matthew Fox

Editor's Note: This commentary was first published June 14 in The Washington Post.

People who came of age in the past 40 years have known only one version of the Roman Catholic Church—a version of an iron-fisted ideology that first John Paul II and then Benedict XVI have enforced in the process of condemning condoms, birth control, liberation theology, creation spirituality, women, gays, the “secular world” and much more. World-over the hierarchy are being criticized for coddling pedophile priests and bishops while denouncing theologians and others who bring ideas to an age-old tradition.

All these thoughts and more emerged last weekend at an event in Detroit sponsored by progressive Catholic groups networking as the “American Catholic Council.” So opposed to the event was Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron, that the priest who was to lead the final Mass was told the day before that if he did so he would be laicized. At the last minute a Canadian priest was shipped in to lead the Mass for the American Catholic Council of 2000 participants including representatives from similar groups in Europe and Australia.

In twelfth century Germany, the Benedictine abbess Hildegard of Bingen, healer, scientist, composer and author of 10 books, awakened popes and abbots alike, firing off letters like this one to Pope Anastasius IV: “O man, you who sit on the papal throne, you despise God when you don’t hurl from yourself the evil but even worse, embrace it and kiss it by silently tolerating corrupt men. . .And you, O Rome, are like one in the throes of death. You will be so shaken that the strength of your feet, the feet on which you now stand, will disappear. For you don’t love the King's daughter, justice.”

Thomas Aquinas, who followed a century after Hildegard, wrote commentaries on 10 works by the greatest scientist of his day, Aristotle, even though the pope had forbidden Christians to study Aristotle. So controversial was Aquinas in his day that the king of France had to call out his troops to surround the convent where Aquinas lived to protect him from Christians aroused by fundamentalist clergy. For Aquinas, “revelation comes in two books—the Bible and Nature” and “a mistake about nature results in a mistake about God.”

Aquinas insisted that one is always responsible to one’s conscience, more than to any other authority. (Indeed, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. cites Aquinas on this point in his famous Letter from Birmingham Jail.) Aquinas was condemned by church authorities three times after he died but eventually was declared a saint.

Another Dominican, Meister Eckhart, is probably the greatest mystic the West has produced. His writings abound with depth, humor, paradox and challenges to establishment Christianity. For example, he declares, “I pray God to rid me of God.” He emphasizes what contemporary Biblical scholars are saying, that Christ is found not just in Jesus but in all of us. Eckhart says, “What good is it to me if Mary gave birth to the son of God 1,400 years ago and I do not do so in my time and my person and my culture?” Eckhart was condemned by Pope John XXII a week after he died. It was reading Eckhart that converted Thomas Merton from a dualistic monk of the 1950’s to a prophetic mystic of the 60‘s.

Teilhard de Chardin was a French Jesuit mystic and scientist who was banished from his home country to China early in the 20th century by church authorities, but who found plenty of scientific and mystical work to delve into in his exile. He spent his life researching the deeper meanings of science and spirituality and, being forbidden to publish most of his works in his life time, he left his books in the hands of a lay woman who got them published after he died.

Pope John XXIII’s Second Vatican Council of the early 1960’s has been called the “greatest religious event of the twentieth century.” Sadly, the papacy of John Paul II turned its back on its principles, including the courageous response of Latin American Liberation Theology that supported the poor and oppressed in direct expression of Gospel values. Further, contrary to the spirit and law of Vatican II, a modern day Inquisition was launched with Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) as chief inquisitor. One can argue that in squelching the Vatican Council, the Vatican has been in schism for 40 years since traditionally Councils trump popes, popes don’t trump Councils.

Can the Catholic Church resurrect from its self-dug grave and experience another renaissance in giving great souls and ideas to the world? As I point out in my recent book, The Pope’s War, if an angry lay movement rises up and launches Lay councils instead of Vatican councils, and moves to deconstruct the church as we know it and reconstruct it on the authentic principles of Jesus’ spirit and teaching, surely something wonderful and needed could occur. The Detroit gathering, the archbishop not withstanding, seemed to be such a launch.

Matthew Fox is author of 29 books on spirituality and culture of which the most recent are The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved and Christian Mystics. He was a member of the Dominican Order for 34 years until Cardinal Ratzinger expelled him in 1993. He now operates as an Episcopal priest in the diocese of Northern California.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Hans Küng Urges Peaceful Revolution Against Roman Absolutism

By Jerry Filteau

Editor's Note: This article was first published June 11, 2011, in the National Catholic Reporter.

DETROIT – Famed theologian Fr. Hans Küng has called for a “peaceful” revolution by world Catholics against the absolutism of papal power.

He made the call in a video message June 10, the first evening of a conference in Detroit of the American Catholic Council.

“I think few people realize how powerful the pope is,” Küng said, likening papal power today to the absolute power of French monarchs that the French people revolted against in 1789.

“We have to change an absolutist system without the French Revolution,” he said. “We have to have peaceful change.”

Küng, who was perhaps the most famous of the theological experts at the Second Vatican Council nearly 50 years ago, was born in Switzerland but spent most of his life teaching at the University of Tubingen, Germany.

Now 83, Küng is ecumenical professor emeritus at Tubingen and rarely travels for health reasons, so his message to the ACC was delivered in the form of a half-hour videotaped interview with American theologian Anthony T. Padovano, conducted last year at Küng’s home. [Note: Padovano will be the keynote speaker at the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform's September 17 Synod of the Baptized: "Making Our Voices Heard."]

John Hushon, co-chairman of the ACC, said the conference, being held June 10-12 at Detroit’s Cobo Hall had more than 1,800 registered participants, from at least 44 states and 13 foreign countries.

In the interview with Küng, played on two giant screens in one of the convention center’s main rooms, the theologian predicted change in the church despite resistance from Rome. Vatican II “was a great success, but only 50 percent, he said.

On the one hand, he said, many reforms were realized, including renewal in the liturgy, a new appreciation of Scripture, and other significant changes such as recognition of the importance of the laity and the local church and various changes in church discipline.

“Unfortunately the council was not allowed to speak about the question of celibacy, about the question of birth control and contraception. Of course, ordination of women was far away from all the discussions,” he said.

“Many documents of the council are ambivalent documents because the Rome machinery – the Roman Curia – was able to stop any movement of reform, to stop it not completely, but half way.”

“What also I did not expect,” he added, was “that we could have such a restoration movement as under the Polish pope, and the German pope now.”

When asked what reasons he had for hope of reform in the church today, he answered that hope today is “sometimes a little difficult” in the face of a restorationist hierarchy, but “the world is moving on, going ahead, with or without the church” and “I believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ is stronger than the hierarchy.”

Referring to current crises in the church – clerical sexual abuse of minors, the shortage of priests, alienation of women and youth – he said, “Humanity learns most by suffering” – whether in the church or in the recent U.S. economic crisis. Even though many economists and others saw the economic meltdown coming, “it was not possible to have a law in Congress before the catastrophe,” he said.

He said he thinks at least some Vatican officials are similarly recognizing that change is needed in the church.

“If we do not learn now, we have to suffer more – more priests will be leaving, more parishes will be without pastors, more churches will be empty” and more young people and women will leave the church or dissociate internally from it, he said. “All these are indications, I think, that we have to change now.”

Chief sponsors the American Catholic Council are three independent Catholic groups seeking changes in the church: Voice of the Faithful, CORPUS and FutureChurch.

Hushon said when the ACC was formed three years ago it sought to create a “big tent dialogue among all” sectors of the U.S. church, independent of partisan or ideological lines, but “group after group, bishop after archbishop, said no, or ignored us.”

The divide was highlighted last October when Archbishop Allen Vigneron of Detroit warned his priests and people against participating in the ACC conference.

It was exacerbated further June 3 when Vigneron threatened to laicize any priest or deacon who participated in the ACC closing liturgy Pentecost Sunday, June 12, saying, “There are good reasons for believing forbidden concelebration will take place by the laity and with those not in full communion with the church.”

In a pre-meeting exchange with NCR Hushon denied the claim and documented it with correspondence in which the ACC told the archdiocese that “there will be only one presider, a priest in good standing.”

The ACC chose Cobo Hall as its venue because this year is the 35th anniversary of the bicentennial Call to Action conference, a national gathering of Catholic laity sponsored by the U.S. bishops, was held there, with Detroit’s Cardinal John Dearden as presider and host.

The 1976 conference, despite its flaws, has been credited with providing groundwork for and impetus to the bishops’ economic and peace pastorals in the 1980s as well as greater attention to racism, minorities, family life, people with disabilities, respect for human life and a wide range of other pastoral and social justice initiatives developed nationally or in dioceses in the ensuing years.

Jerry Filteau, NCR Washington correspondent, is covering the Detroit meeting. Watch for updates.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Hans Küng Says Only Radical Reforms Can Save the Catholic Church
Catholics Speak Out in Nationwide Listening Sessions
American Catholic Council to Convene in Detroit in June
Reflections on an Ordination Golden Anniversary
Launching a Council of the Baptized in St. Paul and Minneapolis
Listening Sessions Underway in the St. Paul-Minneapolis Local Church

Recommended Off-site Links:
The American Catholic Council: Küng Starts Things Off But I Write About Fox – Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, June 11, 2011).
American Catholic Council, Detroit – First Impressions – Brian Coyne (Catholica Forum, June 11, 2011).
The American Catholic Conference – A Place Where No Roman Catholic is Allowed to Go – Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, June 7, 2011).

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Learning from the Elders

By Brian McNeill

On December 28, 2010, the Star Tribune opinion page carried a moving piece by American Indian journalist Tim Giago, “Wounded Knee: These Memories Won’t be Buried.” December 29, 2010 was the 120th anniversary of the Wounded Knee massacre. In his article Mr Giago recounts the history of the incident, and how it has reverberated in the American Indian community in the 120 years since. Over 150 American Indian warriors, women, and children are buried in the mass grave at the site. He includes a paragraph from the Aberdeen , South Dakota, Saturday Pioneer, written five days after the incident that argues that “in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.” The editor who wrote these words was L. Frank Baum, who ten years later wrote The Wizard of Oz.

The online version of this story logged 34 comments, about half of them antagonistic to Tim Giago, saying that he and American Indians should “get over it.” Many of these clearly resented being reminded of the incident, and countered with notes on the slaughter of whites in the Sioux Uprising of 1862 in Minnesota. The other half came to his defense by acknowledging the horror of what occurred, but many of these too said, a little less aggressively, that it is time to move on.

Tim Giago’s piece has stuck with me for the last few months because it informs, in a way, my recent experience on Sunday mornings as a gay Catholic. I am in no way comparing the treatment of gay Catholics to the genocide of the American Indians during the last 500 years. I do not excuse myself or my European ancestors for what we have done. Like many, I am haunted by this horror, and carry it with me as I go about my day in Minneapolis, where I have many encounters with American Indians each week. We cannot undo the past, but, if nothing else, simple humanity requires that we remember it. The Star Tribune is to be commended on this count for publishing Tim Giago’s piece.

No, the link between Wounded Knee and my Sunday morning experience as a gay Catholic is not a one-to-one comparison on horrors endured by my people, here the lgbt Catholic community, versus those suffered by American Indians. No the link is emotional and political.

As most reading this will know, in 1987 Archbishop John Roach and The Newman Center Community at the University of Minnesota refused to renew the lease of Dignity Twin Cities at The Newman Center because we would not agree to recently reformulated Roman Catholic teaching that stated, among other things, that homosexuality is an “objective disorder.” Since then Dignity Twin Cities has been graciously hosted by Lutheran, Episcopal, and now a Methodist community. We have become a pilgrim people, meeting in exile from our Catholic tradition.

As we move through middle age, many lgbt Catholics have found it difficult to remain in the Church. Each of us has had to struggle to determine how we would remain in, if at all, or if we would simply leave. I have chosen to stay, but on my own terms. The main issue of me is to not be closeted while attending Mass. I have taken the Rainbow Sash experience of being visibly gay at Mass and while receiving the Eucharist and applied it to Sunday Mass. For the last two years I have worn my Dignity Twin Cities t-shirt to Mass at the new Newman Center at the University of Minnesota; new because it was merged with St Lawrence Parish in southeast Minneapolis ten years ago. The t-shirt has our Dignity Twin Cities logo on the front, and on the back, just below my neck, I have stenciled in black magic marker the word “GAY.”

When I started this Sunday practice, I thought that my t-shirt might provoke some interest from the students who attend Mass with me. They all look like they are in their early twenties, meaning they were not even born when Dignity Twin Cities was booted out of the “old” Newman Center.

That is not the reaction I received. No one said anything. Not one innocent inquiry. Not one cutting comment. Nothing. The pastor said he lost the parish registration card I filled out in January 2009, so I didn’t even make it onto the parish mailing list. I attended two after-Mass workshops on sexuality and spoke up about the gay issue, but no response from anyone. I volunteered for meal prep for the homeless, wearing the t-shirt, but nada. I hung around after Mass for coffee and doughnuts. Schmoozed about growing tomatoes and other weather related time wasters, but not one question about Dignity Twin Cities or being a gay Catholic.

Perhaps I was too transparently an old fool angling for attention, but it is hard to say when no one talks to you. No one until a very kind woman went out of her way to introduce herself, her husband, and some of her parish friends.

The emotional link to Wounded Knee and the American Indians is the invisibility; the experience of the dominant culture ignoring you at best and at worst wanting you to shut up and go away. The political link to Wounded Knee and the American Indians is the unwillingness of those in the dominant culture to take on your issue. I was hoping, unrealistically, that maybe some students would be interested in the history of Dignity at The Newman Center and then come and join us. After two years at St Lawrence Newman Center at the University of Minnesota it is abundantly clear that the injustice I feel so keenly means absolutely nothing to just about anyone else there. It was something that happened 23 years ago to a group of people. No one got hurt. So what!

It seems to me that you cannot sit in a pew in any church on any Sunday morning and say to yourself, “So what!” about either Wounded Knee or gay Catholics. The prejudice against the American Indians voiced in the comments to Tim Giago and the injustice endured by lgbt Catholics is ongoing. It took me two years to realize what most American Indians could have told me in a minute. I was naïve to think that in a place where the congregation regularly sings about God’s justice, that someone would care about an ongoing injustice initiated in that very community in 1987.

So one more time I come around to it: being gay is a blessing. If I were not gay I would not have any idea of what it might feel like to be an American Indian living in Minnesota in 2011. If sometimes I am sad, it is part of the same sadness I see in the eyes of Native Americans that must be sourced in the knowledge that, through no fault of their own, part of their reality is scarred by the hypocrisy of the Christians who robbed and slaughtered their ancestors, took them from their parents, sent them to boarding schools where they could not speak their native language, and even 120 years later still want them to shut up about it.

Brian McNeill is the president of Dignity Twin Cities and the convener of the Rainbow Sash Alliance.

See also the previous PCV posts:
Archbishop Nienstedt Responds to Rainbow Sash Alliance
Catholics Call for Repentance of Sin of Heterosexism
The Gay Catholic Insurgency

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Archbishop Nienstedt: Budgeting with Common Good in Mind

Editors' Note: Despite our disagreement at times with Archbishop John Nienstedt, we appreciate his latest Catholic Spirit column in which he urges the Minnesota Legislature to consider and advocate for those who are most negatively impacted by our economic system. Following is this particular column by the Archbishop.

As I sit down to write this article, our state House and Senate stand ready to pass a budget for next year that the governor is sure to veto. The same kind of impasse is also being experienced in Washington, D.C., with no less willingness on the part of legislators to reach agreement on the fiscal year 2012 federal budget.

Obviously, both sides of the aisle face very difficult choices about how to balance needs and resources as well as how to allocate burdens and sacrifices. It is absolutely necessary for our nation to address the long-term impact of deficits on the health and stability of the economy, but how we do that is equally important.

Principles to follow

The “common good” would include such considerations as: fulfilling the demands of justice and moral obligations to future generations, controlling future debt and deficits, and protecting the lives and dignity of those who are poor and vulnerable.

Catholic moral teachings inspire the following principles that should serve as a guide for our input in discussing difficult budgetary decisions:

1) Human life and dignity: Every budget decision should be assessed as to whether or not it protects or threatens human life and the dignity of persons;

2) Priority for the poor: A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” brothers and sisters (Matthew 25). The needs of the hungry, the homeless, the disabled and the unemployed should be primary in our considerations;

3) The common good: Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all members of our society, especially families who struggle to live with dignity during difficult economic times.

Armed with these principles, we must seek to find a just framework for a budget that does not rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons. Those of us who are able must be willing to make shared sacrifices, including the raising of adequate revenues to pay our bills, eliminating unnecessary military expenses, and addressing in a fair, effective and realistic way the long-term costs of health insurance and retirement programs.

On the other hand, those who receive benefits from the commonwealth must not forget their responsibility to society in return.

Doing better

I encourage our readers to study the present issues in light of the principles set forth by our Catholic faith, and then to contact their elected representatives on both the state and federal levels, encouraging them to craft budgets that are just and fair, especially to the most vulnerable among us.

In a meeting this week with Tim Marx, our new archdiocesan CEO of Catholic Charities, I learned of another compelling reason for not fixing the budget on the backs of the poor — which is that habitual and widespread poverty is bad fiscal policy and bad economic policy.

A failure to address the basic needs in housing, food, health care as well as the need for children to begin life with a healthy start will, in the long-run, require more costs in services as well as result in reduced productivity.

I know we can do better. I pray that all parties can come together to make the right decisions to steer us on a course, as a state and as a nation, of which we can all be proud.

God love you!

Archbishop John C. Nienstedt is the 11th Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis. View the Archbishop's full bio and calendar.