Sunday, October 14, 2012

Open Letter to Archbishop Nienstedt – #2

The Progressive Catholic Voice's sharing of your open letters to Archbishop Nienstedt continues with the following letter from Dr. Malcolm Nazareth, co-founding director of the Center for Interfaith Encounter in St. Cloud, MN. To learn more about this series and how to participate in it, click here.

Dear Archbishop,

A member of Christ Church Newman Center, St. Cloud, MN, for well over 12 years, I’m writing to you as a Catholic who is a long-time ally of those who are well known and proud to be Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer (LGBTQ). I believe I’m fully in accord with the mind of Jesus when I take my stand on their side against those who overtly as well as covertly reject LGBTQ sexual orientation and gender identities. My Roman Catholic roots go back to South Asia. There, in the Catholic Archdiocese of Bombay, I was born and raised, and it was in the Catholic Dioceses of Pune and Nashik (India) that I first learned and taught theology in reputable theological institutions affiliated with the Gregorian University, Rome.

It grieves me that, on the issue of LGBTQs, you, as official leader of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, are publicly taking a retrogressive stance. Your unabashed political involvement on the side of uncompassionate conservatives of diverse Christian denominations embarrasses me both as a world citizen and as a Catholic Christian. You have been availing yourself of church resources and platforms to advocate a position pertaining to LGBTQs that is certainly not one of faith and morals. What you are at pains to propagate is a political issue, and my ecclesiastical leader in the Twin Cities is undoubtedly on the wrong side of history on this one. I have been teaching Diversity and Racial Issues courses at St. Cloud State University for a decade, and I cannot tell you how much at variance your anti-LGBTQ stance is, and how out of step with the United Nations declaration on Gay Rights (2011), on one hand, and, on the other, the US government’s repealing of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” also in 2011. I am one of many who believe that you vainly seek to put the clock back in 2012.

I’m aghast at your insistence on being on the wrong side of science, too, thus bringing further disrepute and ignominy today on the religion that carries the name of Jesus of Nazareth who was open minded, large hearted, inclusive, and respectful of human nature, and whose words and deeds manifested his preferential option for the marginalized and powerless. This time my church and its designated leader in Minnesota, contrary to my understanding of Jesus Christ, is naively doing the wrong thing, yet pretending before the wider US society that his position on LGBTQs is not homophobic. In the past, the world leaders of the Catholic Church vehemently supported slavery, and also cocksuredly went against the teachings of reputed astronomers, for example, only to have some more enlightened Catholic leaders who succeeded them centuries later retract their grossly misguided statements and steps. More recently, the same Catholic Church has been stubbornly refusing to open ordination to women on equal footing with men. The Vatican’s persecution of courageous Catholic religious women in the USA is one more indication of how, under Pope Benedict XVI’s leadership, the Church has all but lost its moral compass. Today, in your person, I’m dismayed to see the Catholic Church in Minnesota making another faux pas, this time in the context of what is inappropriately termed “Gay Marriage.” Racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, and obscurantism have no place in our world, and much less in any church today. Exactly fifty years ago, the Second Vatican Council pointed Catholics in the direction of aggiornamento. Today, I urge you not to fall backward and retreat from that exhilarating vision of love, liberty, inclusivity, justice, and progress.

May I state immediately that we’re at a historic moment in the history of the State of Minnesota where the civil rights of LGBTQ communities are being radically challenged by heartless people who dare to call themselves Christian. You, too, Sir, are using your privileged capacity as official leader of all Catholic Minnesotans to weigh in on the side of siege-mentality Catholics and others who would prevent LGBTQs from enjoying civil rights equal to those enjoyed by legally married heterosexual couples. In so doing, you are demonstrating that the R. C. Church insensitively acquiesces in the denial of ordinary civil rights to LGBTQs that all married heterosexuals have enjoyed in the eyes of this state since its founding. For all your futile efforts to inscribe heterosexism into the constitution of Minnesota through an amendment that will limit civil marriage, you will go down in the history of the upper Midwest as a Catholic archbishop who used his privilege as a propertied, White, heterosexual Christian male to disempower and oppress a significant minority segment of his fellow citizens. There is still time for you to save face.

Archbishop Nienstedt, you may well be personally convinced of the moral correctness of this discriminatory stance. At the same time, you may well be following the lead of the rich, White, heterosexual male-dominated Vatican which has too often failed to get obvious matters right. Whatever it may be, I feel impelled by my calling as a baptized Catholic to request you to try and sensitize yourself to the real needs of real human beings who are different than those of us naturally endowed with the majoritarian heterosexual orientation. When you advocate that marriage be constitutionally limited to that which is contracted between a man and a woman, you are ipso facto depriving LGBTQs, who are well known to comprise approximately a tenth of the population of any society, of rights that the majority 90% potentially or actually enjoy before the law when they contract marriage. It is discriminatory and oppressive, merely from a civil viewpoint, that a certain group of people, naturally endowed with LGBTQ orientations, should be forbidden to publicly declare their vows to each other and, after that, to be recognized as legitimate partners of a civil union who enjoy legal rights no less and no more than those enjoyed by legally married heterosexual couples.

May I urge you to consider, for example, the wise approach of some Native American societies which view LGBTQs as being blessed with “two spirits” as compared with heterosexuals who are possessed of only “one spirit,” either male or female. From the numberless gay members of the R. C. clergy at all levels of the hierarchy, you well know that LGBTQs are “different.” Indeed, to return to a felicitous phrase used by our Native American heritage in the USA, LGBTQs are “good medicine.” Catholics with an LGBTQ orientation are a blessed gift to the local, regional, as well as international Christifideles. It may well be the backward understanding of Christians of different stripes, especially those who are prone to literalist interpretations of the Bible, that has effectively repressed LGBTQs for close to two millennia. It seems high time that White-dominant Christianity in the USA jettison what remains of its homophobic European heritage and assimilate to the millennia-old wisdom of our Native American sisters and brothers. Their openness to “difference” is far more akin to the spirit of Jesus Christ Our Lord than that of the “Christians” who have vainly tried for 520 years to “save” the now decimated first peoples of North America. I cannot help recalling here the White-originated slogan “Kill the Indian, save the man” which energized many a “Christian” missionary in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is equally unethical for you, Sir, to lead Catholics today to similarly hold, “Kill the LGBTQ, save the man.”

Archbishop Nienstedt, if you happen to be one who is afraid of those who are different, I encourage you, as my official leader, to update your knowledge and expertise with insights about human nature that social scientists have been expounding for decades now, yes, even in the western “civilized” world. Please desist from any backwardness that may be leading you and those whom you guide to take positions riddled with age-old prejudice. I urge you to beware that, by pushing the so-called “marriage amendment,” you may be currently abusing your ecclesiastical power over your constituents in Minnesota much in the manner of a bully. A sensitive, conscientious, and Jesus-motivated stance would bring you down on your knees to wash the feet of LGBTQs and serve their needs as a true pastor worthy of his office. You have been appointed Archbishop to serve the cause of humanity, equality, justice, and human rights in keeping with the Gospel. If you are hesitant to fulfil the church’s mission, it would be better for you to step aside and let the Catholic Church move forward in keeping with the times and recognize the humanity and dignity of all, including especially LGBTQs.

My bottom line: I urge you and those who follow you to consider voting NO to the proposed marriage amendment. Do the right thing. Desist from siding with those who, lacking civic sense, use their religious beliefs to mask their homophobic proclivities. Be another Jesus today. Shed your clerical trappings and conditioning. Be human first. Widen the circle to truly welcome and include LGBTQs into Christian belief and practice without fussing over their sexual orientation any more than they fuss over yours. You have no more say in their option to enter into civil unions than they have to interfere with your decision to take a vow of priestly celibacy. Support them in their life options as you have been supported in yours. Thank you.

I have spoken. I am not alone.

Malcolm Nazareth
Co-founding Director, Center for Interfaith Encounter
St. Cloud, MN


  1. are not alone. The Institutional it exists dying...and will die because the hierarchy will never consider the idea that they might be wrong. The faithful is turning a deaf ear to the rigid, self-righteous, self-preserving words/teachings which marginalize, demonize gays...scattering the sheep as it were...but we run to our True Shepherd whose Words will never pass away as He predicted. Jesus will gather us ALL like a hen gathers her chicks to protect and love us ALL. Eventually...decades or centuries the errant ways of the Church will be acknowledged and what ever hierarchy survives, will, as in the past admit though not directly their error using the opening statement as they always do..."AS THE CHURCH HAS ALWAYS MAINTAINED..."

  2. The Institutional Church is not dying, because it serves the needs of millions of Catholics around the world who desire authority, conformity, tradition, ideological certainty etc, all the things the current Institutional Church is good at providing.

    I sense the Church is consolidating.

    The leadership understands that they will never satisfy progressives by compromising, because any movement they make in our direction will encourage even more calls for liberalization.

    If Church leaders were to attempt some measure of liberalization, they'd lose the enthusiastic support of conservative traditionalists, and then everybody would be mad at Church leaders, and Church leaders would no longer have a base of support.

    To put it in purely political terms, Church leaders are doing just what American politicians on all sides do these days, they're playing to their base.

    Imho, not only do current Church leaders not care about what progressives have to say, they are deliberately using the ideological conflict with progressives to build the enthusiasm and loyalty of their base, the traditionalists.

    This would explain why Church leaders are focusing so much on hot button controversial niche issues like gay marriage. It's because of this focus that you and I are talking about Church leaders, thus making them more important.

    The Church leaders are not dummies, and they can read the generational demographics as well as anybody else. They must already know it's only a matter of time until they lose the gay marriage fight in the United States.

    I don't think they care.

    Winning this fight isn't what matters to Church leaders, what matters is consolidating their base of ideological and financial support. Mastering this challenge is how the Church survives for endless generations.

    When gay marriage does become legal across the U.S. it will bond Church leaders even closer with their traditionalist base of support, as the defeat will strengthen the underdog psychology of being heroic tragic victims of secular culture etc etc.