Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Archbishop Bernard Hebda Has Embraced Minnesota – and His Flock

– Brian Peterson, Star Tribune
By Jean Hopfensperger

NOTE: The following is excerpted from Jean Hopfensperger's October 11, 2017 Star Tribune article/interview. To read By Hopfensperger interview with Archbishop Hebda in its entirety, click here.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda did not see it coming. The day the Vatican announced he would become the Twin Cities’ new archbishop, he stood before a hastily prepared news conference inside the Cathedral of St. Paul and quipped that if he’d been warned, “I would have brought a better suit and made sure I had a haircut.”

His sartorial selection was the least of his worries on that day last year. The gregarious Hebda, sent to Minnesota months earlier for what was to be a temporary assignment, was suddenly in charge of an archdiocese reeling from a priest sex abuse scandal, bankruptcy, criminal charges filed by Ramsey County, and distrust in the pews. The previous archbishop, John Nienstedt, had resigned under controversy.

More than a year later, the ship has reached calmer waters. The Pittsburgh-born prelate has gained a reputation for spiritual and intellectual depth, thanks in part to degrees from Harvard University and Columbia Law School as well as working 13 years at the Vatican. Although he was being groomed to be archbishop of Newark, New Jersey, when he landed here, Hebda is now planted firmly in his 800,000-member Twin Cities archdiocese. He has embraced Minnesota living, including the Minnesota State Fair, Basilica Block Party, Red Bull Crashed Ice race and countless parish festivals. This interview has been condensed from a longer discussion with the archbishop.

[. . .] Have you met Pope Francis?

I’ve only met him a handful of times. I had the chance to meet him when he came to the United States [in 2015]. I had introduced myself as the coadjutor in Newark and as the [temporary] administrator in St. Paul and Minneapolis. He said, “I know. I did that to you!” That was a great laugh. I think it’s amazing with all his responsibilities, he has a sense of what’s going on.

And when I was sent to Newark, I just happened to be in Rome with a pilgrimage group [and met him]. I said “Do you have any advice?” He said “Talk talk talk. Listen listen listen.” It was great advice in Newark and great advice here as well. When we were doing those listening sessions, that’s what I had in mind.

You landed here as the St. Paul and Minneapolis Archdiocese was making national headlines for a sex abuse scandal. What were the toughest decisions you made?

Some of those major decisions were when we were entering into the settlement agreement with Ramsey County. (The county had filed criminal charges against the archdiocese for failure to protect children — a first in the nation.) Trying to discern what was the right path. I think part of it was being willing to recognize that we had hurt people in the past and being willing to say that, which I think made some people nervous. Certainly some lawyers. But at the same time it seemed the right thing to do. And as we were in discussions with the Ramsey County attorney’s office, that was important for them that we would do that.

When lawyers revealed that more than 400 clergy sex abuse claims had been filed over the three years ending in May 2016, you looked a bit shell shocked. How did that affect your faith?

It didn’t really shake it at all. It did give me a strong conviction that the task here is not only to prevent abuse but also to sustain our priests in a way that they’re able to lead healthy lives.

Have you met any survivors of clergy sex abuse? What did you learn from them?

The first thing I’ve learned is that no two survivors are the same, that you can’t lump people into one category. Especially with those that I’ve been working with recently, it’s learning from them how the past abuse continues to have an impact on their lives — whether it be in their marriages, whether it be in their relationship to God. And then in a positive way, to know there are many [survivors] who are really committed to helping the church not only do better but also to reach out to others in a way that’s helpful.

So there’s a group of survivors you meet with regularly?

There’s a little group, and I’ve met with them. Other people on my staff meet with them more frequently. Some of it is just individuals, as well, who just want to come talk to the bishop. Often they have suggestions for what we need to do moving forward in a positive way.

What is the best and hardest part about being an archbishop?

The difficult part is when you’re asked to lead a church that you don’t really know that well. It obviously takes time to get to know not only the people but also the history, and what’s distinct about it. And to see how the limited gifts God has given me were intended to help the church. I had the experience when I was sent to Gaylord, a rural diocese, and then when I was sent to Newark, a very urban diocese. In each of those cases you’re kind of plucked out of your comfort zone and then asked to lead.

The good part is you have the opportunity to see how it is that the Lord uses your gifts, how the Lord guides his church even in difficult times. One of the things that I’ve seen is that in spite of the great needs that we have, we also have people who are really very well prepared to begin to address them.

[. . .] The archdiocese filed for bankruptcy in January 2015. What are your priorities for an archdiocese on more stable financial footing?

During the listening sessions [held last year with area Catholics] we heard about the need for transparency and we’ve already been trying to address those things. People were concerned that we need to do more evangelization. So the question of Catholic schools is pressing. One idea we’ve talked about here is a diocesan synod. It would be a way to get broader input on our priorities. It’s a huge undertaking. That would be one of the first things we want to do, and would set the stage moving forward.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Just that I’m really happy to be here. Granted this isn’t all about my happiness. But I really felt very welcomed here, even by those people that disagree with some of the things that the church might teach. Even in some of those difficult conversations with survivors of abuse, I always get the sense that people are interested in really entering into dialogue. For me, that’s great.

See also the previous posts:
A Message from Archbishop Hebda Regarding President Trump's Executive Order on Immigration Ban
Bernard Hebda Named Archbishop of Twin Cities Archdiocese
Twin Cities Catholics Get Rare Chance to Make Archbishop Recommendations to Vatican
CCCR Representatives Meet with Archbishop Hebda

Monday, August 28, 2017

Who Are We In This Charlottesville Moment?

By Bill Moseley

Note: The following reflection was delivered before the start of mass at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church on the weekend of August 26-27, 2017.

People of God, my name is Bill Moseley and it’s my privilege to reflect with you on today’s readings. I have always been enamored with the human side of Jesus. I know theologians have long debated the exact nature of his divinity, and some scholars and church officials over the centuries have sought to minimize or erase his human side. I prefer to think of him as someone fully human that achieved great insights.

In today’s Gospel reading from Mathew, Jesus asks his disciples, “who do people say that I am?”and then more directly “who do you say that I am?” What is going on here? To be clear, most Jesus seminar scholars believe these are not the words of Jesus, but the construction of Matthew, written some 80-90 years after Christ’s death. As such, what these words likely reflect are the conditions of a budding institution in this period and the struggles of a community to portray Jesus. They may also, I would argue, give us some insight into the human side of Christ, a person whose very human questions may be particularly relevant to us today.

I can imagine at least three possibilities for ways to think about Jesus’ questions. First, is this a moment of self-doubt for Jesus? Is he wondering what have I gotten myself into, where is this going, who am I, and what am I to do? Or, second, is he concerned about what others think about him? That is, is he essentially asking what are the popular kids saying about me? Or, lastly, does he already know the answer to these questions and is he simply querying his disciples’ understanding?

I’m skeptical of the second and third possibilities. I believe that Jesus was sufficiently grounded that he would not have been too concerned about what others were saying about him. The third option, that Jesus knew the answer and was simply probing the disciples, seems to be the favored explanation by several scholars I read in preparation for today’s reflection. But this explanation annoys me. In large part because what follows is Peter’s response: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Here Peter purportedly gets it right with his mentor, effectively becoming the class brown noser (and can’t you just imagine the other disciples rolling their eyes while this happened). Jesus then goes on to say that Peter “is the Rock, and upon this rock I will build my church.” He is promised the keys to the reign of heaven, and furthermore, considerable power: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” It’s this text that often has been used to justify the church hierarchy, as well as the authority to determine who is welcomed and not welcomed into the divine. This foundation for institutional power makes me uneasy and I also question whether Jesus, a fierce critic of the religious authorities of his day, would have ever spelled out so clearly a vision for institution building.

I like the first explanation, that Jesus is asking these questions in a moment of self-doubt. For me, this is a particularly human moment. Here we have the most grounded of people, a man with powerful spiritual insights, essentially asking his friends, who am I? Where is this all going?

Who am I, who are we? What are we to do in this particular moment? I have been thinking a lot about these questions recently, especially in the wake of the events two weeks ago in Charlottesville, VA. At that time, neo-Nazis and white supremacists marched. They carried guns, burning torches and shouted slurs of hate. Then one in this group got in his car and drove into a crowd of counter-protesters, wounding dozens and killing a young woman. Our president then vacillated, alternating condemning and excusing what happened.

The first part of what happened is not that unusual. As a kid in Chicago in 1977, I remember neo-Nazis marching in the suburb of Skokie, Illinois, a predominantly Jewish community. While the community sought to bar the march, the Supreme Court upheld the neo-Nazis right to free speech and allowed the march to go forward. No, the expression of hate is not new. But the unabashed violence which ensued in such a public space in Charlottesville, and the way our president reacted, is different. Our president equivocated in condemning those who perpetuated the violence that day, violence committed in the name of hate.

Who am I? Who are we? What are we to do in this particular moment? Part of me wants to focus on the failings of the president and, like the Matthew community, focus on institution building. We need strong institutions that endure over time so that less than perfect individual leaders do not drive our collective train off the rails. I get why the Matthew community wanted to build a church. I understand why we need government institutions that transcend individual propensities.

But I am not sure if this is where Jesus would have focused his energies. To be clear, Jesus was not shy about calling out the failings of those in power. This is also a theme that runs through the Old Testament. In fact, in today’s reading from Isiah, we hear about Shebna, the manager of the palace, who is prone to excess, and is therefore removed in favor of Eliakim. But, as we learn time and time again in the New Testament, Jesus’ focus was more often on the community, on teaching people how to live together, how to love, how to forgive one another, and always welcoming the outcasts into the fold.

Like the human Jesus, it is natural to ask at a difficult juncture who we are and what we are to do. I believe Jesus would have held the perpetrators of violence accountable for their actions, and then encouraged us to love, forgive and welcome the alienated and those troubled by hate. Of course, loving and forgiving those afflicted by hate is no easy task, especially when they commit acts of violence. But love and forgiveness can come from unexpected places. The father of Heather Heyer, the woman killed in Charlottesville, VA, said that “people on all sides need to learn to forgive each other.” He then said, “I include myself in forgiving the guy who did this . . . I just think about what the Lord said on the cross, ‘Forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.' I hope that there comes a positive change in people’s hearts, in their thinking, in their understanding of their neighbor.”

I don’t know, if put in a similar situation, I could be as forgiving as Heather’s Dad. I am, frankly, challenged to understand and forgive white supremacists and racists. It helps me to start with empathy, to imagine myself in the shoes of such a person. This is not to condone their thoughts and actions, but simply to try to understand how one could get to this place.

If I’m honest, I must admit that my maternal grandmother was a racist. She was a hard scrabble woman who grew up in western Pennsylvania and was the first person in her family to get a college degree when she became a registered nurse. Unfortunately, my grandmother also would occasionally make racist comments, which thankfully, my parents would challenge. My parents would also take me aside after the fact and explain that her comments were wrong and inappropriate. I loved my grandmother unconditionally, yet I also knew that she had this inappropriate, racist side. But what if my parents had not challenged her, what it they reinforced what my grandmother had said? This helps me begin to imagine that I could just have easily been raised a racist. As the character Mrs. Pell in the film Mississippi Burning said: “Hatred isn’t something you’re born with, it’s taught. At seven years of age, you get told it enough times, you begin to believe it. You believe the hatred, you live it, you marry it.” This allows me to begin to understand & empathize with those afflicted by hate. This is not to excuse any violent actions, but I can imagine myself being in their shoes, full of rage. Seething with hate and resentment is not healthy for oneself or the community. In this case, I would need help. I would eventually be grateful for those who reached out to me from other side.

President Obama has said that “while we are taught to hate, we can learn to love.” For example, “Life after Hate” is a non-profit in Chicago, founded by a former skinhead, which works with former neo-Nazis to help them shed their hateful ideology. This group shows people love and compassion, exposes them to the people they once hated in productive and constructive ways, and helps them build self-confidence. Groups like this are showing us a different way forward.

In conclusion, we are a Christian community. We are all human. We are all imperfect. While we need to hold each other accountable for our actions, we also need to empathize, forgive, and help people to learn to love, even in trying times like these. While we should expect appropriate behavior from our leaders, we must also acknowledge that they may be a symptom of deeper problems in our community. Jesus calls on us to welcome and forgive the estranged and the lost. It is in this healing of uniquely human problems that lurks the divine – the essence of Christ.

Thank you.

I may be contacted at or may be found on twitter at I am grateful for the input I received from the Cabrini Word Team, and the valuable feedback from my spouse, on my thinking in this reflection.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Message from Archbishop Hebda Regarding President Trump's Executive Order on Immigration Ban

Related Off-site Links:
Archbishop Hebda Joins Minnesota Faith Leaders in Opposing Trump’s Immigration Ban – Matthew Davis (The Catholic Spirit, January 30, 2017).
Trump Bars Refugees and Citizens of 7 Muslim Countries – Michael D. Shear and Helene Cooper (The New York Times, January 27, 2017).
Trump's Immigration Ban Ban Excludes Countries with Direct Links to Terrorism and Where Trump Has Commercial HoldingsThe Real News, January 27, 2017).
Trump's Muslim Ban Triggers Chaos, Heartbreak, and Resistance – Ryan Devereaux, Murtaza Hussain and Alice Speri (The Intercept, January 29, 2017).
Judge Blocks Trump Order on Refugees Amid Chaos and Outcry Worldwide Michael D. Shear, Nicholas Kulish and Alan Feuer (The New York Times, January 28, 2017).
Judge Halts Deportations After Protesters Swarm Airports Over Trump’s Order Barring Muslims – Robert Mackey (The Intercept, January 28, 2017).
Donald Trump, the Refugee Ban, and the Triumph of Cruelty – Dylan Matthews (Vox, January 28, 2017).
Donald Trump Fires Acting Attorney General Hours After She Refuses to Defend His Immigration Ban – Leon Neyfakh (Slate, January 30, 2017).
Trump Refugee Ban Clashes With Faith-Based Groups' Religious Missions – Tom Gjelton (NPR News, January 27, 2017).
Pope Francis: You Can’t Defend Christianity by Being “Against Refugees and Other Religions” – Catholic News Service via Catholic Herald (October 13, 2016).
USCCB Speaks Out Against Trump’s Immigration Orders – Mary Pezzulo (Patheos, January 25, 2017).
Responding to Trump's Ban, Top Catholic Bishops Pledge Solidarity with Muslim Refugees – Michael O'Loughlin (America, January 30, 2017).
Bishop McElroy: Trump’s Executive Order is Rooted in Xenophobia and Religious PrejudiceMillennial (January 29, 2017)
Chicago's Archbishop Calls President Trump's Immigration Order a “Dark Moment in U.S. History” – Madeline Farber (Time, January 29, 2017).
LGBT Catholics Stand with Immigrants, Refugees, Visitors from Banned Countries — DignityUSA (January 30, 2017).
Twin Cities Clergy Join Protest Against Trump Immigration Ban — Jean Hopfensperger (Star Tribune, January 30, 2017).
A Message from Archbishop Hebda Regarding President Trump's Executive Order on Immigration BanThe Progressive Catholic Voice (January 30, 2017).
On Holocaust Remembrance Day, James Martin Labels as "Appalling" President Trump's Plan to Demonize ImmigrantsThe Wild Reed (January 27, 2017).
550 Attend Mass Outside White House in Solidarity with Refugees – Teresa Donnellan (America, January 30, 2017).
How the Catholic Mood About the Trump Administration Shifted in Just a Week – Michael O'Loughlin (America, January 30, 2017).

Saturday, January 28, 2017

100 Years Ago, Americans Talked About Catholics the Way They Talk About Muslims Today

An example of how xenophobia has appeared
time and time again throughout US history.

By German Lopez

NOTE: This article was first published January 18, 2017 by Vox.

About a century ago, millions of Americans feared that members of a religious group was amassing an arsenal of weapons for a secret, pre-planned takeover of the United States.

The feared religious group wasn’t Muslims. It was, as Los Angeles Times reporter Matt Pearce wrote in a great piece in 2015, Catholics:

Hatred had become big business in southwestern Missouri, and its name was the Menace, a weekly anti-Catholic newspaper whose headlines screamed to readers around the nation about predatory priests, women enslaved in convents and a dangerous Roman Catholic plot to take over America. . . .

America’s deep and widespread skepticism of Catholics is a faint memory in today’s post-Sept. 11 world. But as some conservative politicians call for limits on Muslim immigration and raise questions about whether Muslims are more loyal to Islamic law than American law, the story of Aurora’s long-ago newspaper is a reminder of a long history of American religious intolerance.

Today, there are calls for federal surveillance of mosques in the name of preventing terrorist attacks; a century ago, it was state laws that allowed the warrantless search of convents and churches in search of supposedly trapped women and purported secret Catholic weapons caches.

This may seem absurd today, but there was a real fear among Protestant Americans back then that Catholics were planning to take over the country. As Pearce reported, the fears led to serious violence: Lynch mobs killed Catholic Italians, arsonists burned down Catholic churches, and there were anti-Catholic riots. It was a similar sentiment to the kind of Islamophobia today that’s led many Americans to call for shutting down mosques, forcing Muslims to register in a national database, and even banning Islam.

The point of the comparison is not to say that the US faces the same problems today as it did a century ago, or that the discrimination toward Catholics back then and Muslims today is exactly the same. But when looking back at the history of the US, it’s easy to see a pattern of consistent xenophobia and fears of outsiders.

Xenophobia is a staple of American history

In response to terrorist attacks across the globe, much of the conversation has focused on refugees and immigration. This conversation has been tinged by xenophobia toward Muslims, with President-elect Donald Trump once calling for a ban on Muslims entering the US.

But this sort of rhetoric is not new to the US. As the Pew Research Center found, Americans have generally opposed taking in refugees even as they went through abhorrent, well-known crises. (Dara Lind reported for Vox that America even rejected some Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany.)

Xenophobia has fueled other policies too. In the late 19th century, the US passed the Chinese Exclusion Act to stop the flow of Chinese laborers into the US. During World War II, the US put Japanese Americans in internment camps after the country declared war on Japan. Throughout the war on drugs, lawmakers have regularly tapped into xenophobic sentiments to prohibit certain drugs — such as when San Francisco banned opium smoking that was perceived as popular among Chinese immigrants, and when prohibitionists built up opposition to marijuana by fear-mongering about its use among Mexican immigrants.

Throughout all of these periods and policies, the public and lawmakers cited genuine policy interests: national security, keeping American laborers competitive in the job market, and preventing drug abuse. But underlying such policy stances were obvious signs that Americans were simply scared of foreigners who weren’t like them.

By and large, we tend to recognize the underlying xenophobia today, and that the policies it produced were wrong, bigoted, and self-destructive.

As Islamophobia rears its ugly head in the US again, it’s worth thinking about how we now look back on those moments of American history — and whether we’re making the same mistakes again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Building Bridges as an Exercise of Hope

By Bill Moseley

Note: The following reflection was delivered before the start of mass at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church on the weekend of January 21-22, 2017.

People of God, my name is Bill Moseley and it’s my privilege to reflect with you on today’s readings.

Most Americans pride themselves on a constitution and set of laws that facilitate the peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next every four to eight years. That said, these changes are never easy, and some would argue that this particular shift, given the political divisions in our country, has been more challenging than others. These past few hours, days, weeks and months have been an emotionally fraught time for many of us. In monitoring my own feelings, talking with family and friends, interacting with colleagues and students at the college where I teach, and watching the reactions of others on the news, I have witnessed the entire panoply of human emotions: from depression and despair, to anger and protest, to joy and jubilation.

My family and I happened to be visiting my parents in Milwaukee the week after the election this past November. My father had poured his heart into the campaign. For someone approaching 80, I marveled at the hours and miles he logged walking the streets of his city to canvas and knock on doors. He was now deeply depressed, more depressed, frankly, than I had ever seen him before. When he and I stayed up late that first night chatting, he shared with me that he had a plan to move to Canada. While many of us have said we might move to Canada in jest, my father had actually worked out the details of such a move. He had identified a small town over the border from Niagara Falls, explored the real estate market, and calmly explained that they would only be a few hours from where my brother lives in Northeastern Ohio. Now, thank God for my mother, who had the fortitude to tell him that he’s nuts and they’re not moving anywhere. To be clear, I think my Dad had a right to be depressed. He had worked far harder than I to get out the vote, only to see his efforts come to naught.

Many of my students and co-workers were also deeply depressed after the election. I recall taking a photo of my female colleagues in their pant suits the day of election. There was a sense of anticipation and optimism in the air. The next day could not have been more different. Some students were crying and others were genuinely scared. In some cases this depression and fear would eventually turn to anger and then calls for political organizing. On Thursday and Friday of this week I found myself in the heart of a teach-in on my campus, and yesterday I marveled at the tens of thousands of people who gathered for women’s marches in DC and Saint Paul, including my wife and many of you.

I have also read in the papers, and heard on the news, the joy and jubilation of those who supported this election result. While there is a dark element to our new president’s constituency (a group motivated by racism, misogyny and xenophobia), let us not forget that there are also folks who have been left out of the new knowledge economy, who have seen their livelihoods unravel as manufacturing jobs have left the country, and who have felt looked down upon by urban elites. For them, they are elated because they feel like their voices have finally been heard.

Not unlike our contemporary political climate, today’s readings are also filled with darkness, division and hope.

In our first reading from Isiah, we hear about areas near the Sea of Galilee (Zebulun and Naphtali), a land that was “humbled and in gloom, darkness and anguish,” yet a land that will also experience a light that will bring them joy and rejoicing.

In our second reading from Corinthians, we learn about divisions and quarreling in the early Christian community. These tensions are clearly troubling to Paul. The source of these divisions has to do with people lining up behind different leaders in an emerging Christian tradition. Paul confronts these divisions with two arguments. First, he suggests that his role, and those of other preachers, is both minor and in service to the same, larger Christian message. As such, their work and message must not become a source of division. Second, he argues that we are all one. We might imagine critical and consequential differences among ourselves that are worth fighting and dying for, but these divisions are illusory and we must recognize that we are all connected. We are all one in our common humanity.

Lastly, in our gospel reading from Matthew, we learn about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry which, frankly, is not a very happy story. Jesus’ spiritual mentor, John the Baptist, has been arrested and, we know, murdered. God did not intervene to save Jesus’ beloved John. This had to have been a very difficult moment. How do we have faith, how do we believe that there is good in the world, when bad seemingly triumphs over good? It is at this point, I imagine, that Jesus could have made the decision to move – metaphorically - to Canada. He might have been deeply depressed and it would have been quite normal to just want to escape.

Alternatively, Jesus could have fomented violence. These were, after all, challenging economic times for everyday working people. The area where Jesus retreats to after John’s arrest, to the western shores of the Sea of Galilee (the same lands mentioned in today’s old testament reading) were hit hard by the extractive practices of the Roman Empire. Farmers were losing their lands and becoming sharecroppers who were barely able to survive. People living in communities on the shores of the Sea of Galilee were losing their rights to fishing. It is here that Jesus started his ministry and recruited his early followers. These lands were ripe for an insurrection and Jesus could have chosen to channel peoples’ economic anxieties with a message of hate and violence.2

What ensues, instead, is something remarkable. Rather than retreating from the world, or being fueled by anger over the murder of John the Baptist, Jesus appears to have had an epiphany that God does not intervene from on high, but that he works through us. And so he begins his ministry as an itinerant preacher, spreading the good news and curing people of diseases. Furthermore, his philosophy and message is completely counter-intuitive for his time. As we willlearn next week in the Sermon on the Mount, and in Sundays thereafter, he has a message of hope for the poor and the downtrodden. His message is also not solely reserved for those in good standing with his group. He understands that he needs to cross social boundaries, to cross party lines, in order to build his vision for the future.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these readings and how Jesus started his ministry this past week. I’ve also been asking myself what a person of faith should do in this particular moment of our nation’s history. Clearly, after taking some time to reflect, we need to move forward. Working peacefully for what we believe in is important. For me, this means fighting for political change and not accepting the normalization of racism, misogyny, homophobia and xenophobia.

But if Jesus could acknowledge the common humanity of tax collectors, prostitutes and lepers (the untouchables within his community at that time), then we can also engage outside of our own political and cultural comfort zones. Jesus was roundly condemned for consorting with the outcasts of his era, and many today may scoff at efforts to reach across deeply entrenched political divides. But as the Apostle Paul suggests, we likely imagine our differences to be greater than they really are. Despite the invocations of some political leaders, I believe there is much common ground and shared concern over issues like inequality, under-employment and trade. While there may be disagreement about the best way to address these issues, we can’t have a thoughtful, provocative and transformative dialogue about them if we don’t recognize our common humanity and engage.

My favorite example of this approach is the marriage equality movement in Minnesota. This movement started with the basic premise that change is not just about partisan politics, but about getting to know the other side. Once you acknowledge family members, neighbors and friends in same sex relationships, once you recognize their common humanity, hopes, aspirations and concerns, then it is much more difficult to see them as an abstract ‘other’ and to demonize their perspective.

Like a shroud torn asunder, the current political rifts in our social fabric may seem insurmountable. And while clearly there are some who stand to profit from such cleavages in the short term, and they will do everything in their power to deepen them, we all stand to lose if these differences are left to fester. While Jesus was not afraid to speak truth to power, and to hold those in power to account, he was also a social bridge builder. He was willing to sit down with anyone regardless of their past. It is never easy to build bridges, to understand the hopes and fears of our enemies, to see the divine in all of us, but it’s the only way forward. As Paul Wellstone said, “we all do better when we all do better.”

The author may be contacted at or may be found on twitter at

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

It Is Time to Revisit Church’s Stance on Contraception

By Celia Wexler

NOTE: This op-ed was first published September 6 by The Huffington Post.

In the immortal words of John Oliver, “How is this still a thing?”

The “this”, in this case, is the Catholic church’s official stance on contraception. Since most American Catholic women clearly have decided that the institutional church was out of touch when it deemed artificial birth control, “intrinsically wrong,” many of us believed that battle largely was won, if only by attrition. (Even by conservative estimates, it appears that about seven out of ten Catholic women in the U.S. have used artificial birth control.)

But, of course, that’s not true. Contraception, which could do so much good, continues to be a religious minefield. In Africa and Latin America, millions of Catholics follow the church on this issue.

Catholic hospitals and women religious, who should be at the forefront helping the disadvantaged plan their families, are stymied by the wrongheadedness of a long-dead pope.

The church has long had concerns about the morality of contraception, but so did the rest of society. In 1916, birth-control advocate Margaret Sanger was jailed for her advocacy. It took Congress until 1971 to actually repeal provisions of the federal law imposing restrictions on contraception. Courts invalidated many state laws.

As women pushed for equality and autonomy, scientists were developing a birth control pill that would place the decision solely in women’s hands. The problem was, the church was not progressing along the same timeline, although there was reason to hope for change.

In 1930, Pope Pius XII had strongly condemned artificial birth control, when there was worry about a declining birthrate after the deaths of so many young men in World War I. But by the 1950s, the church had relaxed that ban to permit natural family planning, which allows couples to schedule intercourse when the woman is not fertile.

In 1962, Pope John XXIII convened a commission to examine the ethical implications of birth control, a commission which was expanded and continued under Pope Paul VI. The commission, which included Catholic married couples and physicians, reportedly voted overwhelmingly to lift the Vatican’s blanket ban on artificial birth control, and to permit married couples to prudently plan their families.

But that hope was dashed in 1968, when Paul VI, writing in his encyclical, Humanae Vitae, once more declared artificial contraception “intrinsically wrong.”

A re-thinking of the church’s official position is long overdue. The progressive Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, recently issued a lengthy and detailed rebuttal to Humanae Vitae, which has done so much harm in the fifty years since it was issued — harm not only to women, but to the church itself. To date, the statement has been signed by more than 80 scholars, ethicists and scientists.

Effective birth control gives women control over their own bodies, helps lift families out of the poverty caused by too many children, and shows careful stewardship of our over-taxed planet.

In this time of Zika, contraception may be the most effective way to prevent tens of thousands of infants from being born with serious, debilitating birth defects. As long as AIDS continues to threaten African women, including married women, and their offspring, condoms are vital.

Contraception may also limit the collateral damage of rape and sexual assault in countries where women have few defenses against predators.

The institutional church itself has suffered from this papal decision. Twenty-five years after Humanae Vitae was released, the late Jesuit moral theologian Richard A. McCormick regretted its aftermath — a cleric’s position on birth control became a “litmus test” for priests who aspired to be bishops; it discouraged theological discourse on sexual ethics, and it caused many Catholics to no longer rely on the church for moral guidance.

The scholars’ recent statement notes that a quarter of the world’s health-care facilities and schools are run by Catholic institutions, making a reversal of the church’s position very urgent.

The scholars contend that if the church permits natural family planning, which is a way to prevent conception, it should realize that other forms of birth control are equivalent.

They ask that the institutional church make clear that all birth control methods that do not induce abortions are approved for use by Catholic healthcare providers. (Birth control methods that do induce abortions should be evaluated on a case by case basis, applying ethical principles such as whether their use would be the “lesser evil.”)

They also urge that Catholic theologians whose opposition to Humanae Vitae caused them to be censured have their reputations restored.

A half a century is a long time for a mistake to go uncorrected. If Pope Francis really wants to leave behind a reform legacy, this would be a good place to start.

Celia Wexler is a free-lance journalist and author living in Alexandria, Virginia. Her book, Catholic Women Confront Their Church: Stories of Hurt and Hope, will be published September 30. Follow her on Twitter at

See also the previous posts:
Dear Pope Francis: Saving the World Requires Contraception
We Are the 98 Percent
Contraception's Con Men
Out of Step With the Flock: Bishops Far Behind on Birth Control Issues
Church's View of Sex the Root of Its Troubles
Overpopulation and the Catholic Church: Can't We Become Part of the Solution?
Quote of the Day — February 12, 2012

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Jeremiah and the Messy World of Compromise

By Bill Moseley

Note: The following reflection was delivered before the start of mass at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church on the weekend of August 13-14, 2016.

People of God, my name is Bill Moseley and it’s my privilege to reflect with you on today’s readings.

In today’s gospel reading from Luke we hear Jesus’ passionate, even frustrated, side when he declares to his companions “I have come to cast fire upon the earth. How I wish it were already blazing.” He then goes on to say that “From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three.”

I have mixed feelings about this passage. On the one hand, my younger self would have appreciated the strident tone and the anger imbued in this reading. Oh how I loved to rage against the machine, to rail against the injustice. Some 30 plus years ago I remember coming home from college, Karl Marx and Andre Gunder Frank in hand, and deliberately picking a dinner time fight with my parents. They, in their cozy middle class home, in their cozy middle class suburb, and their cozy middle class jobs, were capitalists I declared. They were a part of the problem. Their roles in US corporate society, their wasteful suburban consumption habits, their bourgeois thinking, their tacit acceptance of US imperialism, were anathema to me, a young, budding socialist. I roared, my father roared back about my disrespectful attitude, and my mother tried to keep the peace. (By the way, if you’re sensing self-righteous hypocrisy here, that would be accurate as my parents were bankrolling my college education]).

My fervor and strident anti-imperialism would stay with me well into the Peace Corps. I was decidedly anti big development and pro self-reliance. My sacred texts on this subject were Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and EF Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful. In Mali where I was stationed, we were cautioned about the “cadeau mentality.” Cadeau meant gift or present in French, and the cadeau mentality referred to a handout culture that could develop in places with year upon year of foreign assistance. I was determined to avoid fostering such a handout culture, to make sure that my actions as a development worker did not breed dependency, or a taste for Western thinking and consumption habits. I was so zealous in my pursuit of this goal that, as a board member of a small fund for volunteer projects, I voted against all proposals providing funds for items I thought the community could cover. Furthermore, in my everyday life, I refused to give money to strangers who routinely asked me for help – believing that my small act of charity might lead to a life of dependency. In sum, in my zealous pursuit of ideological purity I had become a complete jerk. I was, in retrospect, embarrassingly sanctimonious and astoundingly unaware of my own privilege. Worse yet, in my reach for ideological purity, in my fervor to combat imperialism and dependency, I had strayed into the territory of right wing narratives regarding welfare dependency.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is a place for enthusiasm, passion, frustration and even anger in social change movements, I see it every day amongst my college students and their fervor for causes like Black Lives Matter, divestment of college endowments from the fossil fuel industry, or justice in Palestine. It is this energy, passion and sense of injustice that fueled our former pastor, Mike Tegeder, to fight the archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, and it likely propels many in the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform and the Council of the Baptized to battle the hierarchy for a more open church and desperately needed reforms. I continue to see it in myself as my passion, frustration and even anger sometimes propel me to do some of my best writing late into the night.

But these passionate quests for justice and truth can also morph into something darker and more dangerous. The stories of ideological movements gone wrong are too numerous to tell: the Spanish inquisition, the ‘reign of terror’ in the midst the French Revolution, the supporters of Haiti’s Jean-Bertrand Aristide necklacing opposition activists, or Islamic fundamentalists destroying ancient religious texts which do not meet their strict standards of ideological purity or killing innocent civilians in the name of advancing a religious state. This is why I have mixed feelings about today’s gospel reading, because I know from my own life, and from my knowledge of others’, that we need that energy to persevere and fight the good fight, but sometimes we also go off the rails in our certainty and passion.

I used to think of Jeremiah, the protagonist in our first reading today, as a purist and an ideologue, someone who suffered because of his unflinching and uncompromising commitment to his beliefs. In today’s reading we learn that Jeremiah has been cast into a muddy cistern or pit, and a likely long, slow, and painful death, for refusing to stop talking in a way that is “demoralizing the soldiers and the rest of the people left in the city.” Jeremiah is the kind of person we seem to increasingly celebrate in some American political circles where compromise is a dirty word. He is, for some Modern day Christians who are persecuted for their faith, looked to as an inspiration because he did not relinquish his beliefs and persevered.

It is not that the standard presentation of Jeremiah is wrong, but the reality is more nuanced. In this instance, the back story is important. Zedekiah, the King of Judea has been persuaded by the Palestinian nobility to revolt against his master, the King of Babylonia. The King of Babylonia responds by laying siege to Jerusalem. From the start, Jeremiah has advised against this move because he sees it as a suicidal rebellion and continues throughout the siege to urge surrender. Not surprisingly, the Palestinian nobility see Jeremiah as a traitor and hence successfully convince Zedekiah to throw him into a muddy cistern to die. The illuminating detail for me is that Jeremiah is a pragmatic realist in this instance, not an idealist. He is against the rebellion because the Babylonians will crush them and it is a suicidal mission for his people.

While we celebrate the tenacity and idealism of our heroes, we sometimes ignore the compromises they have made. There is a scene in the 2014 movie Selma on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr that highlights such a compromise. In this scene, Dr. King is leading a second of three marches for voting rights from Selma, Alabama. As the marchers cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge, the protesters meet state police officers. Instead of confronting them, the marchers kneel, pray, and retreat. That day would become known as Turnaround Tuesday and King was deeply criticized by his supporters for this compromise. King, it turns out, had agreed in last-minute negotiations with President Lyndon Johnson to retreat. But I also think he understood that the potential loss of human life in this instance was too great. He was patient and they would return another day to march

Similarly, in the 2012 George Lucas film entitled Lincoln, we learn about the compromises President Abraham Lincoln made in the closing days of the Civil War to pass the 13th amendment banning slavery before the readmission of the southern States. This was critical because Lincoln knew the wartime measure known as the Emancipation Proclamation could easily be undone if it was not reflected in the text of the Constitution. In order to pass the amendment, Lincoln embarked on a vote-gathering effort that stopped just short of bribery. When moral appeals failed, patronage positions were offered to garner the requisite votes in Congress. In contrast to previous narrations of a heroically steadfast Lincoln, this film revealed the nitty gritty politics involved in legal reform and improving the human condition.

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting that the ends justify the means. This, after all, is the trap that has sometimes led pure idealism down the dark path, to terrible situations like the McCarthy era witch hunts use of torture by the US military after 9/11. So how do we know when to step back and compromise or when to stick to our ideals?

I think the answer lies in our recognition and respect for human dignity and in the notion that God dwells in all of us. While we may cling to certain ideals in our faith or other moral codes, do we sometimes come to hold these principles in such high regard that we are blinded to the dignity of our fellow human beings? As I illustrated at the start of this reflection, I certainly have been guilty of this. In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis argues that the role of the church is “less to judge than to accompany and discern God’s grace with people in their complex and complicated lives.”

Today’s gospel reading shows us one facet of Jesus, a passionate side which wishes to set the world on fire. We need that passion and energy as a spark for social change. We ought to be angry when a young black man is pulled over and needlessly shot while complying with an officer’s orders. But we also need to harness that energy, to respect the basic dignity in all of us, and to recognize that the betterment of the human condition sometimes involves compromise because the real world is messy and complicated. Another facet of Jesus is that he constantly coached his disciples to love their enemies. In his hour of deepest humiliation, Jesus tells Simon Peter not to strike back at the servant of the high priest. While Jesus could have set the world ablaze, he did not because he loved humanity too much. Making heaven on earth is a slow and messy process. We are a part of that process and we are moving in the right direction, it’s not always linear, and we sometimes go backward, but that’s okay. Yes, Jeremiah was prophetic bullfrog, but he also loved the world.

The author may be contacted at or may be found on twitter at

Sunday, July 3, 2016

"Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant"

By Rubén Rosario

Note: This commentary was first published July 3, 2016 by the Pioneer Press.

I invited him to meet face-to-face over coffee at some point. He preferred green tea. Then, in a recent chat over the phone, Mike Tegeder apologized.

“I am feeling really tired right now,” he told me. “Let’s make it another time.” We agreed on a raincheck.

On June 24, several days after the call, the 67-year-old Minneapolis native and longtime Catholic priest and church pastor learned from his oncologist that further chemotherapy and immunotherapy infusion treatments to curb his aggressive cancer would be fruitless. Tegeder decided then to discontinue treatment and live his final days in hospice care at the home of a relative.

The name Tegeder may be familiar to the state’s 1.2 million Catholics, as well as others. He was the priest — the only priest — who publicly, like me, called for Archbishop John Nienstedt’s resignation, well before it happened, for his mishandling of the clergy sexual-abuse scandal and Nienstedt’s expensive but unsuccessful lobbying effort to support a proposed state constitutional amendment to ban same-sex civil marriages.

Tegeder said openly what a handful of priests and others in the church who called me in recent years also felt but who implored me not to identify them for fear of retribution.

“The greatest threats to marriage are the economy, joblessness, alcoholism, drug abuse — there are a lot of threats to marriage, but it has very little to do with homosexuals having a committed relationship,” Tegeder told City Pages five years ago. “I know committed same-sex people who are doing God’s work.”

Progressive and reform-minded members in the one, holy and apostolic church praised Tegeder’s stance on gay rights and allowing women to be ordained as priests. Traditionalists derided him as a blasphemous heretic who should be censored, silenced, punished, excommunicated or defrocked.

But the outspokenness and the controversy he generated did not fully capture this man of God. It unfairly overshadowed his compassionate, pastoral nature, according to those who know him well. He’s been labeled by the news media and others as a hippie priest, maverick priest, rebel priest, gadfly priest. The tags, people who know him say, are unfair and belittle his convictions and call to the priesthood 38 years ago.

Tegeder, pastor of both St. Frances Cabrini and the Church of Gichitwaa Kateri in Minneapolis, preferred to be called, if anything, “authentic.” Love one another was his general mission statement.

“If I had to sum it up, I would tell you what I have told many people, even before he was sick,” said Mary Lou Sweet, a friend and longtime administrator at Cabrini. “Oftentimes, when Mike is around, I would feel that this is what it must have been like to be in the presence of Jesus.

“He was as close as you can get to someone not having an ego,” Sweet added. “He was constant kindness. He always looked for the positive side of people. My favorite thing was that he smiled with his eyes. But if he recognized an injustice or a wrongdoing, he had no problem bringing them to light.”

“Over and over (in preaching, in his actions, prayers, etc.) he has communicated a loving, compassionate, merciful God . . . who would have us act the same way,” Chris Kosowski, Cabrini’s liturgist, noted in an email.

Sweet said that Tegeder spent more time at the predominantly American Indian Kateri parish, where he comforted and provided spiritual counseling to perhaps the most traumatized and disenfranchised group of parishioners in the state. He presided over numerous funerals of many young people whose lives were snuffed by violence, suicide and drug overdoses.

“Mike is a practical person,” said Larry Martin, a longtime Kateri church staffer and member. “He loves to drive a bus as well as the hearse that our community uses to take people back to reservations for burial,” said Martin, who is a tribal member of the Lac Court Oreilles Ojibwe reservation in northern Wisconsin. “He is also proud of his plumbing skills — last year I went with him on a trip to Bluefields, Nicaragua, where he really enjoyed fixing plumbing problems at a small orphanage.”

No question, Tegeder ruffled church hierarchical feathers, both here and at the Vatican. He rarely wore the collar. He grew his silver hair to shoulder length. He brazenly, but respectfully, asked Nienstedt to resign to his face at a meeting of South Minneapolis parish priests two years ago.

Tegeder’s CaringBridge page has been viewed thousands of times and flooded with hundreds of well-wishers in recent days.

A poignant entry, among many, is the account of a woman who reached out to Tegeder on behalf of a non-churchgoing Native American family whose matriarch passed away suddenly.

“You welcomed these young folks who were so devastated by the death of their mom and gave them a space to have the wake, the meal, to drum and to sing, and to send their mom to Ishpeming,” the woman wrote. “Again, I want to thank you for your gracious welcome and care. Thank you for the love and care you have shared so lovingly with so many through the years of your ministry.”

I wrap this up with one of Tegeder’s last words to his congregations after his cancer diagnosis this year:

“Over the years, during the time that needed us to raise our voices of concerns over the direction of our beloved Archdiocese, I would get letters, emails, phone calls and public rebukes telling me to join the Lutherans or Episcopalians. I respect these traditions but I am a Catholic with the full understanding of that word which seeks inclusivity while appreciating diversity.

“. . . Let us never forget,” he added, “that we gather around the Risen One in spirit who reaches out to all in love.”

Amen. Father Mike, the green tea’s my treat after my ticket gets punched, and I am fortunate to wind up where you are going in the afterlife.

Rubén Rosario can be reached at 651-228-5454 or Follow him at

See also the previous PCV posts:
One Courageous Parish Priest
Pastor Mike Tegeder Challenges Archbishop Nienstedt's "Bullying Behavior"
Local Catholic Priest Speaks Out on the MN Bishops' Anti-Gay DVD Controversy
Even Tougher Battle Ahead for Maverick Priest the Rev. Mike Tegeder

For the writings of Mike Tegeder at the PCV, see:
"Trust Your Shepherds"
What is the Lesson?
Are You Serious?
The Archdiocese and Fathers Conlin and Schüller
Quote of the Day – November 8, 2012
Quote of the Day – December 18, 2011
"I Like McDonald's, Too; But Dioceses Are Not Franchises"
Archdiocesan Pension Pitfalls

Sunday, April 24, 2016

What Is With the U.S. Bishops and Religious Liberty?

By Paula Ruddy

Are the bishops worried about religious liberty or about women using contraceptives? Being honest about this is tremendously important. The bishops’ moral authority is at stake as well as Catholic respect as citizens for the U.S. legal system. A nation’s legal system is only as strong as the people’s respect for it. We cannot afford the U.S. bishops’ tearing down the rule of law.

The case of Catholic non-profits before the Supreme Court illustrates the problem. Catholic bishops teach that the use of contraceptives is morally wrong. The U.S government leaves the decision about personal morality to individuals. It wants insurance companies who provide health care insurance through employers to make it free and easy to get contraceptives for those women employees who want them because reproduction is a factor in women’s health care.

Churches are exempt and don’t have to cover contraception for their employees. But Catholic non-profits – hospitals, social welfare agencies, and nursing homes – employ lots of women, Catholic and not Catholic, and they want to be exempt from offering coverage too. The government offered an accommodation. Their employees would still get coverage but the religious non-profits would not have to pay, arrange for, or implement. All they would have to do is notify the government or the insurer of opt-out.

The U.S. bishops have opposed the government all the way to the Supreme Court. The Court has to decide whether the free exercise of religion of the Catholics who run the non-profits is “substantially burdened” by the government’s requirement to notify them in accepting the accommodation.

Although the insurance coverage doesn’t require any woman to use contraceptives, it does make it free and easy for them to use them if they want. I think that is the point of the U.S. bishops’ opposition. They do not want to make it free and easy for women, Catholic or not, to use contraceptives. So it isn’t about the government forcing Catholics to do something against their religion, it is about preventing women from the free and easy use of contraceptives.

If the bishops valued liberty, they would honor the free consciences of women on the issue of their family planning. Instead they are interested in coercive prevention and getting the U.S. government to do the job. Positioning themselves as victims of religious intolerance is not honest. The dishonesty of it it destroys the moral authority of the bishops in the eyes of Catholics and all our fellow citizens. The Catholic bishops should pull the plug on the religious liberty campaign immediately.

But why do the bishops care so much about contraceptives that they are willing to do so much harm to prevent women from using them? I think they are dismayed by the sexual freedoms the U.S. government has recognized in the last 50 years and they are worried about the Catholic family. From the use of contraception in the 1960’s to gay marriage in 2015, one after another laws controlling sexual practices, reproduction, and marriage have been overturned in the U.S. The bishops may believe that people’s attitudes toward family is affected by the use of contraceptives. They may believe it is harder for Catholic families to raise their children within the boundaries of Catholic sexual morality in the sexually permissive contemporary culture.

If the Catholic family is the bishops’ concern, instead of tearing down respect for the U.S. legal system, they should ask three hard questions:

• How can we strengthen the Catholic family to internalize moral standards so they do not need the coercion of law? Legality is not a sufficient standard for morality.

• How shall we re-think our moral teaching on sexual practice so that it makes sense to Catholic families to live by? This is not accommodation to secularism. It is about being responsible.

• How do we partner with our fellow citizens, religious and secular, to build a mainstream culture of responsibility and healthy family living? This would require Catholic bishops to learn from the rest of society how to relate productively with people who think differently from them.

There is no time to lose in stopping the religious liberty campaign and asking the right questions.

Related Off-site Link:
Nondiscrimination Laws Merit Church Support – Todd A. Salzman and Michael G. Lawler (National Catholic Reporter, April 19, 2016).

See also the previous PCV posts:
What is This Furor About Religious Liberty?
Fortnight of Freedom: Hypocrisy of the U.S. Bishops
Your Fist – My Nose
Quote of the Day – June 4, 2012