Monday, January 30, 2012

Catholics for Marriage Equality MN Launch Online Petition

Group urges Archbishop Nienstedt to focus on Catholic social justice initiatives, not divisive politics

SAINT PAUL, MN – Today, the Catholics for Marriage Equality Minnesota launched, an online petition urging Archbishop Nienstedt and all the bishops of Minnesota to refocus their energy, time and commitment away from the divisive constitutional "marriage amendment" and back towards laudable Catholic social justice initiatives.

“Recent comments by Archbishop Nientedt have unnecessarily turned our church into a lightning rod on a controversial political issue,” said Michael Bayly, Executive Coordinator of Catholics for Marriage Equality MN. “We urge Archbishop Nienstedt and all the bishops to redirect our church's time, energy, and money towards feeding the hungry and caring for the homeless and the sick, and away from this divisive issue which is causing unnecessary pain and hostility within the local Catholic community and beyond.”

This petition and all of its signers will be delivered to the Archdiocese of Saint Paul & Minneapolis at a later date. Catholics for Marriage Equality MN encourages and welcomes Minnesotans of any and all faith backgrounds to sign the petition, which can be found at

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Unconscionable Consequences of Conscience Exemptions

By Jamie L. Manson

Edito's Note: This article was first published January 25 by the National Catholic Reporter.

Of all of the reactions that I've read to the Department of Health and Human Service's refusal to change the rules on contraception coverage, I've noticed that few commentators have referred to the formal name of the government mandate the bishops are fighting.

The provision is called the Affordable Care Act. This new law is intended to ensure the just treatment of women and couples who cannot afford adequate medical treatment when it comes to contraceptives and who want to raise families in a safe, responsible manner.

This act is a promising attempt to prevent unwanted pregnancies and offers perhaps the most ethical and realistic approach to reducing the abortion rate.

The bishops' reaction was characterized by increasingly typical cries of victimization and hysteria. This self-pity only further diminishes the seriousness with which U.S. Catholics take the hierarchy. The sad truth is, if the numbers of Catholics leaving the church are any indication, most Catholics in the United States probably see the hierarchy more as victimizers than victimized.

Some have labeled this decision as President Barack Obama's attack on Catholics, echoing the inflammatory, paranoid spin bishops are putting on any government decision that doesn't go their way lately. This decision is not an attack on Catholics, but rather a groundbreaking move to protect women and to guarantee them greater access to adequate, affordable health care.

The decision demonstrates that protecting women's health, safety and freedom is part of the common good. In this way, it reflects a key element of Catholic social justice teaching: promotion of the common good and protection of individual freedom.

Although the hierarchy has historically argued otherwise, the conscience of an individual Catholic laywoman or layman is not ipso facto inferior to the conscience of any bishop. As David DeCosse argued so articulately in NCR earlier this week, the model of conscience used by most bishops "emphasizes obedience, law, and hierarchical authority and thus departs from the Catholic tradition's close linkage of conscience, practical reason, and freedom."

The decision affirms the Catholic principle of the "primacy of conscience." According to the Catechism, "A human being must always obey the certain judgment of his [sic] conscience" (No. 1790). Informing the conscience is a "life long task" (No. 1784) and "To this purpose, man [sic] strives to interpret the data of experience and the signs of the times assisted by the virtue of prudence, by the advice of competent people, and by the help of the Holy Spirit and his [sic] gifts" (No. 1788).

Lay Catholics will be permitted to exert their practical reason and freedom of conscience to choose, in an informed way, the medical practices and treatments that are healthiest for them and their families.

The hierarchy claims that this decision will force Catholics to either obey the law or violate their consciences. But whose consciences will be violated? According to the Guttmacher Institute, 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women (and, by association, their male partners) have used some form of contraception.

Perhaps Obama has learned, as many Catholic laypeople have, that the definition of the Catholic church encompasses far more people than the hierarchy. The church includes laypeople, theologians and ethicists who have, with good reason, rejected this doctrine. The majority of the church has refused to receive this teaching. Perhaps Obama saw, as many of us do, the bishops' actions as an attempt to legislate beliefs that they cannot get their own people to obey.

In making this decision, the president represented the needs of the people and protected the civil rights of women and workers. This includes not only Catholic women and men, but also the many non-Catholics who are employed by organizations affiliated with the Catholic church. These workers will no longer be subjugated to a church teaching that, compared with other religious tradition, is rather extreme. Even conservative evangelicals do not object to the use of contraception within marriage.

Once women are allowed access to oral contraceptives, the hierarchy will be able to honor an overlooked provision in the church's teaching. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 14 percent of women use oral contraceptives for purposes other than birth control. That is more than one in 10 prescriptions. According to Humanae Vitae, women can take the pill for medical purposes. For decades, the church has prevented these women from receiving essential medical treatment and has therefore acted contrary to its own doctrine.

When an employee obtains a prescription for the pill, the hierarchy does not know whether the purpose is medical or contraceptive. They assume, of course, that the pill is used for contraception. By allowing the hierarchy this exemption, the government would have allowed the church to continue to make decisions about their employees' private, sexual lives.

If the bishops had been allowed that power, then they should have had exerted equal power in refusing to pay for prescriptions for Viagara, Cialis and other sexual performance drugs for men. They should have demanded the right to know how men would use these drugs. Are they using the drugs with their wives? Girlfriends? Mistresses? Would the church ever intrude on heterosexual men and their personal sexual lives in this way?

Perhaps the most important accomplishment achieved through this decision is the government's refusal to create a precedent for religious organizations to get a pass from obeying civil rights laws. A few decades ago, individuals and organizations whose religious beliefs opposed desegregation wanted to be exempt from the Civil Rights Act. We can all look back in gratitude that the government refused their request.

If the bishops had gotten their way, it would have opened up a Pandora's box in which any religious group could claim exemptions from obeying a multitude of laws on religious grounds. I have little doubt that part of what propelled this fight was the bishops' desire to set a precedent on which they could base their refusal to provide benefits to employees in same-sex marriages and civil unions.

The fact is, Catholic hospitals, universities and social service agencies take in millions of dollars in federal and state grants every year. They should be accountable to the same civil rights laws given to other agencies that receive the same funding.

Some Catholic leaders have argued that, in order to meet the "narrow" exemption requirement, hospitals, schools, universities and social service agencies that do not want to comply with this new law will be forced to seriously reduce the number of people they employ and serve.

If this should happen, it might be one of the worst cases of the church's honoring one teaching at the expense of dozens of others.

For more than a century, Catholic social justice teaching has argued for the rights of workers, especially the right to adequate medical benefits. More than a dozen church documents teach the preferential option for the poor, workplace justice, the protection of women's rights, the primacy of the person and the common good.

There is only one teaching on contraception. It is a teaching that disregards the findings of the Majority Report of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control. It is a teaching that has also been rejected by the sensus fidelium.

Nevertheless, as leaders of Catholic institutions spend the next year adjusting to this new law, Catholic organizations will still contemplate turning away the sick, the poor, the orphan and others in need because they do not want to obey the civil rights laws set by the government that funds them. They are entertaining the possibility of violating dozens of social justice teachings in order to keep a hard line on a rule that almost no one accepts or follows.

Jamie L. Manson received her Master of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, where she studied Catholic theology and sexual ethics. Her columns for NCR earned her a first prize Catholic Press Association award for Best Column/Regular Commentary in 2010.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Quote of the Day

I don't like that Archbishop John Nienstedt is threatening to punish priests who openly disagree with him over a constitutional amendment to define marriage as being between one man and one woman ("Priests Told Not to Voice Dissent," Star Tribune, January 15).

In a few weeks, I'll be 85. I'm a charter member of my church. I raised four children, all of whom attended Catholic schools. I've been active and engaged in my church all of my adult life.

That the archbishop would threaten the careers of priests who have devoted their lives to social justice is unconscionable.

If a fraction of this effort was put into weeding out the priests who had abused young children, we wouldn't have had the huge scandals and cover-ups or so many lives ruined by abuse.

I know that in speaking out about the archbishop's heavy-handed behavior, I risk alienating friends and family. But I must speak out.

This issue isn't a gay-rights issue – it's a human-rights issue.

– Beverly Sullivan
Letter to the Editor
Star Tribune
January 21, 2012

Recommended Off-site Link:
Archbishop in Minnesota Opposes Marriage Equality, Dissent in Equal Measure – Editorial (, January 17, 2012).

See also the previous PCV post:
Archbishop Nienstedt's Marriage Amendment Message to Priests: "The Stakes Could Not Be Higher"

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Archbishop Nienstedt's Marriage Amendment Message to Priests: "The Stakes Could Not Be Higher"

Note: The following letter from Archbishop John Niensedt has come to the attention of the editorial board of The Progressive Catholic Voice. Originally published in Archdiocesan Updates (Volume 34, Number 12, December 2011), it is addressed to the priests and deacons of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.

We believe it is important to republish this communique as the central issue it addresses, i.e., the hierarchy's support of the "marriage amendment" to the Minnesota Constitution, is one that many Catholics in the Archdiocese feel strongly about. Also, we at The Progressive Catholic Voice believe it is important to model a way of being church that is open, honest, transparent and participatory. We welcome your feedback to both our sharing of the Archbishop's letter and its contents.


Dear Fathers and Deacons,

At our recent Clergy Study Day on October 19, I gave the following talk. I offer it here again for those who were not in attendance.

My dear brothers, I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that in this movement to protect and defend the definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman we are faced with one of the greatest challenges of our times. None of us can deny that the institution of marriage and family life are unraveling before our very eyes due to no-fault divorce, wide-spread cohabitation and promiscuous sexual activity. The end game of those who oppose the marriage amendment that we support is not just to secure certain benefits for a particular minority, but, I believe, to eliminate the need for marriage altogether. This can only lead to continued destabilizing the family unit itself. Both those realities will happen if marriage is redefined or, perhaps better put, “undefined.” Today we can say with clarity what the natural reality of marriage is. That may not be possible in years to come if we fail to be successful now. As I see it, we have this one chance as Minnesotans to make things right. The stakes could not be higher.

We did not choose this challenge nor do any of us relish the confrontation it will bring, but neither can we remain silent in order to get along. We must witness to the truth so as to realize the common good of our society. While the greatest good is surely life with God in heaven, we must, in truth, seek to foster the good here on earth. And we are not the first to confront this task, our brothers in California, Maine, Hawaii among others, have all taken up this defense and have been successful in doing so.

In doing so, we must never vilify or caricaturize those who argue otherwise. Indeed, we must acknowledge that all men and women are God’s sons and daughters. But it is this very truth and the fact that the truth is one and bears no contradiction that the Church and her ministers must witness here and now.

It is my expectation that all the priests and deacons in this Archdiocese will support this venture and cooperate with us in the important efforts that lie ahead. The gravity of this struggle, and the radical consequences of inaction propels me to place a solemn charge upon you all — on your ordination day, you made a promise to promote and defend all that the Church teaches. I call upon that promise in this effort to defend marriage. There ought not be open dissension on this issue. If any have personal reservations, I do not wish that they be shared publicly. If anyone believes in conscience that he cannot cooperate, I want him to contact me directly and I will plan to respond personally.

I see our united effort as a part of the New Evangelization, that of building a new culture for marriage. You know, this effort to pass a constitutional amendment is not an end in itself. We began a year ago to host 25 seminars across the Archdiocese to explain why marriage is what it is and why we believe in it.

Presently, I have appointed teams of a priest and a married couple to go into each of our Catholic high schools to address the topic of marriage.

I want the focus here to be a positive one — let’s celebrate the reality of what God designed from the beginning as affirmed in the first chapter of Genesis and that Jesus reaffirmed in the 19th chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel.

I am actively raising funds to assist in this educational endeavor. And if you and your parish wish to benefit from these programs, please let me know.

I thank you for your support. I count on your prayer. Be assured you have the same from me. Together, let us turn to our Blessed Mother — mother of all families, Mother of the Church and patroness of the new evangelization. Through her maternal intercession, our Lady will secure for us that which is needed most in these days — protection, wisdom and peace through the grace of her Son and Savior, Jesus Christ.

May God bless us all.

With every good wish, I remain

Fraternally yours in Christ,

The Most Reverend John C. Nienstedt

Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Food for Thought

The following comments from the website of the National Catholic Reporter were originally posted in response to Richard McBrien's January 2 article concerning Bishop Howard Hubbard of Albany, N.Y., "Bishop Ponders Reasons Americans Leave Catholic Church.


[The bishops need] to listen to the Holy Spirit speaking through the people of God and through the ongoing development of culture around the world. To listen to others beyond the Vatican and the Chancery offices might actually open some eyes, some minds, and some hearts. When the only people you actually engage in conversation are all like minded – it is easy to assume you have all of the answers – but the reality is in this setting, we don't even have the questions. All too often, we as a church act much like the old Baltimore Catechism – here are the questions and answers and that's all that you need to know; just pray, pay and obey and then wrap yourself in the mindset of Pius X and Leo XIII - and build high walls around yourself. I might be amazing to follow the dictate of Jesus who told his disciples – "Pay attention" "Don't be afraid" Pay attention.

Charles Bolser

In my view, Charles, you are correct. Since this is a communal structure of the People of God, it is up to us to redefine, reconceptualize, and rethink the old idea of 'church.' What is needed is a Council of the People of God; certainly NOT a Vatican Council. Rather than running around in a panic trying to put out fires (clericalism, chauvinism, sexism, homophobia, sexual abuse, coverups, financial fraud, dogmatism, legalism, an environment of fear and negativity, etc.), we need to understand that the Spirit is giving us this opportunity to start over: this will be the fruit of the Council of the People of God. It is so obvious that the old system does not work anymore; before we lose another generation, it is time to begin the REFORMATION and RETHINKING while there are still a few believers left! Fear not, the Spirit will direct us to seize this opportunity to grow again in a vision of Christianity that was with our founder. After so many centuries of secular imperial structure and hierarchy that we have accepted along the way, we will be able to return to a community of believers and abandon all the detritus that has accumulated with the old system thus freeing us to live in peace and joy.

Rome Watcher

There really are a variety of reasons. One acquaintance of mine left to pursue a call to ordination. She really did not have a choice – obviously. Another acquaintance stopped going to Mass after strong opposition by Catholic bishops to gay marriage laws, like the one in New York, even though these laws do not force religious bodies to change their teachings on marriage. Still another acquaintance, who is divorced from an abusive husband, is an active member of her parish but feels disrespected.

There is another group of Catholics who have not formally left the church, but who rarely participate in the life of their parishes. They do not have strong feelings against the church, but they appear to see going to Mass as just another nice activity which they have little time for in the midst of busy lives. How do committed Catholics respond to these brothers and sisters?

– SBeth

[Richard McBrien's article] makes good sense save the one element which bothers me most. Through our baptism we are members of the church. I fail to understand the basis for any statement declaring who has left the church. What exactly do they mean by 'left'. Do they mean some of us do not attend? Perhaps they mean do not contribute? Put another way it could well be that many true belivers are convinced that they have been abandoned by an ecclesial structure which has become very unchristian in its rigidity, inflexibility, and adamant rejection of Vatican II. One only has to study the Papacy from say the 13th to the 16th century to see that as an
institution it does not have a glorious or holy past. Apostolic succession would be impossible to trace through the schisms and the multiple claimants to the papacy. Yet, the current structure in its absolute claims is closer to the period of the Medicis and the Borgias than the open window created by Vatican II. Many of use see no sensse in even bothering to try to have a voice. The only thing I have to offer is that we are members of the church, we have not left, the body of Christ is wounded and there is no sign of healing from the top. The arrogance is stifling. . . .

– TomC

Recommended Off-site Link:
A Bishop Ponders the Catholic Exodus – Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, January 3, 2012).

See also the previous PCV posts:
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 1)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 2)
Creating a Liberating Church (Part 3)
The Call of the Baptized: Be the Church, Live the Mission