Monday, December 27, 2010

Essential Reading: Tom Doyle's Response to John Allen, Jr.

On November 19, 2010, author and National Catholic Reporter columnist John Allen, Jr. posted on his blog a piece focusing on the media's 2010 coverage of the clergy sex abuse crisis. In summarizing his take on this issue in his follow-up article of December 24, Allen notes the following:

Albeit in different ways, both [Catholic commentator George] Weigel and I suggested that coverage of the response to the crisis by the Vatican and Benedict XVI in 2010 was a mixed bag, sometimes missing important bits of context which would offer a more balanced perspective. Both of us also said the media isn’t entirely to blame – the Vatican’s underdeveloped communications capacity is part of the picture.

In his Dec. 24 piece Allen also acknowledges that he received a 21-point memo by Dominican priest Thomas Doyle. "He intended it as feedback for me," writes Allen, adding that: "In some spots it’s strong medicine, but it articulates convictions that are deeply held in some sectors of opinion, and which must be part of a serious conversation about where things stand."

Although he didn't publish Doyle's 21-point memo in its entirety owing to its length, Allen did share the following, comprised of "a line or two from most of Doyle’s points."


1. The overall impression of the article [Allen's November 19 article] is an apology for the Vatican’s response and for its communications with secular media. . . . The real subject is the widespread sexual violation of minors and the systematic, inadequate response of the institutional church.

2. Defenders of the papacy, as well as most if not all [members of] the curia and hierarchy, lack an essential credential for credibility: an understanding of the victims and their families, especially parents.

3. By my estimation [Benedict XVI] has met with approximately 20 victims in the U.S., Great Britain, Malta and Australia, with an average of one minute or less with each victim. These encounters were carefully planned and the victims carefully chosen. This hardly qualifies for gaining any level of “understanding.”

4. None of the criticism of media stories about cases involving the Vatican provided any evidence that the facts upon which the stories were based, were erroneous. . . . These were but a small sampling of many other priests guilty of sexually abusing minors whose cases were delayed or buried in the Vatican.

5. I seriously question George Weigel’s credibility as an expert on clergy sex abuse. Weigel’s current remarks about the crisis of 2002 are at variance with the numerous statements he made at the time, statements that defended Cardinal [Bernard] Law and tried to shift the focus from what it was, sexual violation of children and cover-up, to cultural and theological issues.

6. Weigel’s claim that Pope John Paul II received deficient information through Vatican channels doesn’t hold water. . . . I prepared an extensive report in 1985 that was personally given [to John Paul II] by Cardinal [John] Krol. I also recall giving a detailed briefing to [a top Vatican official] in May 1985. . . . I am quite certain that since that time much more information has found its way to the Vatican.

7. Defenders of the Vatican, including you, regularly fall back on the standard defenses: the Vatican does business in a way Americans don’t understand; the Vatican wants to let the U.S. solve its own problems; the Vatican uses a unique form of communication which Americans don’t ‘get.’ . . . If it wants to be understood, the Vatican should abandon its convoluted language and have someone help them learn how to speak directly and to the point.

8. Appealing to the fact that the incidence of abuse among Catholics is no higher than other groups makes as much sense as one of the Wall Street financial giants trying to save face by claiming, ‘Why pick on us when we cheated no more than the other banks down the block?’

9. It’s misleading to say, ‘The Catholic Church is arguably the safest environment for young people and adolescents in the country.’ First off, there are no data to support this. More importantly, all of the procedures and programs have been put in place after the Boston revelations of 2002. [They] were put in place because the bishops were forced to do so.

10. The question of reliable sources is most important. This crisis began in 1984 and continued to simmer, with occasional events of major magnitude such as the James Porter case of 1993 and the Kos trial in 1997. . . . Very few people are still on the playing field who were involved at the beginning and have continued involvement. . . . I have never been contacted by defenders of the institutional church, no doubt because I am written off as totally biased. This tag is unjustified because I have struggled from the early days to understand and accept the institution’s response.

11. The accusation that [plaintiff’s lawyer] Jeffrey Anderson is in it only for the money is based on subjective opinion and certainly not facts. The number of victims Jeff has helped ‘pro bono’ is unknown because there have been so many. Jeff has given away huge sums of money to organizations that help children and to individuals in need. He is sometimes flamboyant and passionate, but he is committed to bringing justice to victims and a safe environment for children in the future.

12. Over the past 22 years I have worked with over two hundred attorneys in the U.S., Canada, Ireland, the U.K. and Australia, all of whom represented victims in civil suits. I vividly recall one attorney telling me that he had served in just about every capacity in the legal system, from public defender to State Supreme court judge, and had been both a defense attorney and a prosecutor. He remarked that he had never encountered an organization as duplicitous and manipulative as the Catholic Church.

13. Benedict is not a great reformer. I believe he is personally shocked and possibly even devastated by what he has seen, [but] his responses have been very limited. They have concentrated on the canonical prosecution of accused priests, but they have remained mute about the core issue, namely the lack of accountability of complicit bishops and the lack of penal measures against bishops who have themselves sexually abused minors.

14. The response to the crisis by the late John Paul II is indeed a serious stain on his legacy. . . . John Paul’s personal theology of priesthood is that of a highly mystical state consisting of an ontological change at the time of ordination, which he often referred to as a joining with Christ. What this amounts to is the belief that it is acceptable to sacrifice the spiritual and emotional welfare of innocent children for a theory that would return priests to their theological pedestal.

15. I have had firsthand experience with hundreds of victims, if not thousands, and second-hand experience with countless others. I have not once learned that a bishop’s first response on receiving a report of alleged sexual abuse was directed at the welfare of the victim.

16. The secular media are not anti-Catholic, nor are they biased against the hierarchy. They do not set out to make the institutional Church look bad. The institutional Church needs no help at that . . . [I]t has done a thorough job on its own.

For further essential reading, see:
John Allen on Tom Doyle and Benedict re. the Abuse Crisis: Classic Centrist Balancing Act, Going Nowhere - William D. Lindsey (
Bilgrimage, December 27, 2010).

See also the previous Progressive Catholic Voice posts:
"Not Products of Divine Revelation But of Human Invention": Tom Doyle on Clericalism and Its Trappings
He Spoke Truth to Power But Vatican Wouldn't Listen
Fr. Thomas Doyle: "There is Something Radically Wrong with the Institutional Catholic Church"
Paul Lakeland on the Scandal of Sexual Abuse
SNAP Responds to Archbishop Nienstedt
Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Victims: “You Can’t Get Healing in a Court of Law”
More on the Statute of Limitations

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Finding Christ at Christmas

By Phyllis Zagano

Editor's Note: This commentary was first published December 22, 2010 by the National Catholic Reporter.

“I mean no disrespect,” the student asked in class, “but, did Jesus really exist?”

Hate to say it, but real or not Jesus is rapidly fading from the scene. Today’s culture wars take direct aim at Christianity. Try finding religious Christmas cards. Or, check out your choices for an Amazon gift card. Snow flakes, trees, birds, but no Mary, no Magi, no Jesus.

It’s a difficult story, after all. Without some reinforcement these days it gets even harder.

History says Jesus really did live and die, and gained a lot of followers. But historians don’t agree on other parts of the story, especially the details of his birth and resurrection.

You can see the problem. What if over two billion people are mistaken? There was a Jesus in history, but, was he God come into history as Christ to redeem humanity? And, if no Christ, then what is Christianity? Are Christians mere misguided fools living out a myth? Are the disagreements about Nativity scenes in town squares all for nothing? Is any of it real?

These questions underlie the sadness of our damaged world. If there never was a Christ then there is no Jesus now. Who cares that nearly half the planet -- more than three billion people -- lives on less than $2.50 a day? What matter the billion the United Nations counts who have no proper food or water? Let someone else take care of it, the cynic says.

The United Nations with its agencies does what it can, and missionaries toil where things are worst: in India, China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Pakistan and Ethiopia. Every so often a newspaper runs a feature about a hospital in Zimbabwe, or a new school or sewer in East Timor.

Some folks also try to help, but most live quiet lives within their own parameters. They’re beaten down by something in the air, and this year it’s not Christmas. The red haze of anger hangs over every interaction. Passive aggressive professionals don’t return phone calls. Drivers honk and give rude salutes. Salespeople grunt, customers are curt.

I’ve asked myself and others too many times for counting: what is everybody so mad about?

Psychologists have all sorts of explanations. As tissue paper and bills mount up, so do insecurities. Rancid hope becomes anxiety. Faith hardens into righteousness. Slander replaces charity. Then, add the nagging fear, the question in the middle of the night. Was there a Christ? What if it is not true?

I think that’s what it is. I think the lack of hope belies a failure to believe. You know for sure in recent years church hierarchy has been no help. If they lied and covered up the scandals, here, there, and everywhere, what else is false, what else is fraud? Did Jesus really exist?

Well, yes, he did, and yes he does. We look for proof of Christ in many different places, none of them where he is. If we spend too much time looking in ancient Palestine, we won’t see the rest of history. If we demand the documentary evidence about Bethlehem, we forget what’s going on next door.

Christ lived, and yes, Christ died, and Christ lives today in his resurrection. His life in every Christian is how he lives in history, and how he lives next door. Of course the hierarchy has fouled up the story. Pope Benedict is on the mark now, with very little very late. He says, in his Christmas message, "We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen."

Despite its foibles, despite its weaknesses, the church we see in Rome is only a fraction of its wealth. The real center, the real wealth of Christianity toils day by dreary day at ordinary jobs, lives ordinary lives, prays ordinary prayers. To me, that is the key. It’s not the history or the artifacts; it’s not the manuscripts and scrolls. It’s how the story is lived.

So, yes to Christmas carols, yes to cards, and yes to whether Jesus really lived and walked among us. And, more important, yes to Jesus still alive in all those dreary places where water, food and dignity escape even the smallest babe. The Christ come into history is there, both needing and giving whatever is possible. If we want to believe the story, and want to live it out, that is where Jesus resides, both now and in history.

And if we are still so angry when we look around we cannot see the Christ, we have to understand and humbly accept we must first look in a mirror.

- Phyllis Zagano
National Catholic Reporter
December 22, 2010

See also the previous Progressive Catholic Voice post:
Is Christmas Christian?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A Message to the Archbishop

Following is the text of the letter that accompanied 3,000 anti-gay marriage DVDs returned December 10 to Archbishop John C. Nienstedt of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis.


Dear Archbishop Nienstedt,

We write to you as a small group of faithful Catholics. This letter, however, represents the voices of thousands of families who were as disheartened as we were by the DVD Preserving Marriage in Minnesota.

After watching the DVD, we felt called to find a way to bring together other Catholics who were alarmed by this initiative. We created the website, inviting people to send the DVDs to us with the understanding that we would return them to you. Thousands did. Many also sent letters, notes, and cards along with the DVDs, expressing thoughts and concerns around this campaign. Several similar themes ran through these messages. The following three are some of the most common.

First, the message in the DVD conflicts with core Christian values of love, compassion, tolerance, and respect. Jesus’ essential teaching is “love one another.” As part of our Catholic social teachings, the United States Conference of Bishops states, “The measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.”

When religious leaders state publicly, as in the DVD, that the state of Minnesota should not recognize same-sex marriages, this constitutes an attack on human dignity. This denies individuals the legal equality both our state and federal constitutions guarantee. By the standards of Catholic social teachings, this message constitutes a social injustice.

Second, this DVD threatens the well-being of gay and lesbian people, particularly vulnerable young people. It hurts them and all who are connected to them. You claim the DVD does not carry an anti-gay message. That is not how it feels to gay people and those who care about them. The manner in which the DVD targets this group of God’s children contributes to dehumanizing and depersonalizing them. It subtly endorses bullying and blatantly endorses bigotry.

Today’s media has well publicized the struggles many gay and lesbian young people face. As a result of public humiliation, many become fearful, depressed, and self-doubting. Tragically, some have even felt driven to suicide by the intolerance of society at large, including that of the Church hierarchy. The Church should be reaching out to these kids and letting them know that they are no different from anyone else in the eyes of God. They are made in the image of God, and the people of God should embrace them just as they are and help them achieve the purpose God has for them.

Third, the cost and timing of this DVD disturbs us. Distributing 400,000 DVDs on the single subject of same-sex marriage shortly before a political election reflects misguided priorities, and strays from the essential teachings of Christ. We ask, “Where, instead, are the DVDs on the bigger issues of loving and caring for your neighbor? Where is the DVD explaining the negative impact current U.S. economic policies have on the poor, not just here, but around the world?” We would like to add that even if you did choose to produce a DVD on these issues, we would be opposed to releasing it shortly before an election where it would so obviously be politically motivated.

Imagine the positive effect the money spent on these DVDs could have had on homelessness and poverty in our communities, especially in this economy. We understand this money was donated. The Church, however, should never accept and agree to use donated money to disseminate partisan political messages, especially ones that hurt and divide the Church. The fact that the donor insists on remaining anonymous shows that the political nature of the donation would be exposed if the church was transparent about the source of the money.

In an outpouring of inclusion and love, and honestly much anger, more than three thousand Catholic households returned their DVDs to us. These Catholics feel the Church hierarchy’s priorities are misguided and that the DVD mailing was an extreme measure targeting a group of people who deserve the same love, compassion, and acceptance that Christ shows each of us. Many asked us to pass along their DVDs to the artist Lucinda Naylor, to be included in her DVD to ART project. Thousands of other Catholics had already destroyed or thrown away their DVD before they knew of our efforts. The rest, we are returning to you.

Further, our Return the DVD group, and hundreds of other concerned individuals, donated over $10,000 to fight poverty and homelessness. This reflects our commitment to being a Church that attends to the needs of the less fortunate and doesn’t waste resources seeking to deny anyone’s civil rights.

Archbishop Nienstadt, we pray that you will take to heart the concerns of the thousands of Catholics who believe the Church hierarchy’s current actions, as reflected in the DVD, are inconsistent with what Jesus teaches us about how we should treat others.


Sunday, November 28, 2010

SNAP Responds to Archbishop Nienstedt


For immediate release: Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Statement by David Clohessy of St. Louis, Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (314 566 9790,

[NOTE: The links in this media release have been added by The Progressive Catholic Voice.]

Hundreds of men and women who were molested by priests and betrayed by bishops have done exactly what this brave man is doing – using America’s time-tested justice system to warn parents and the public about a child predator and expose his complicit colleagues. Never before, however, has a Minnesota Catholic bishop tried to make a victim pay for court costs in such a case.

So why is Minneapolis-St. Paul Archbishop John Neinstedt taking this unprecedented step of trying to force an alleged child sex abuse victim to pay $64,000 for archdiocesan legal costs? We believe Neinstedt wants to punish this victim for trying to get names of other predator priests exposed. And Neinstedt wants to scare other victims into staying silent.

The victim won the first round in court. Last month, Neinstedt won the second round, by getting a judge to toss the case out on the statute of limitations. On Monday, Neinstedt formally asked the same judge to make the alleged victim give the money to the church for its legal costs.

Taking this mean-spirited and intimidating step now is Neinstedt’s way of trying to force the victim to give up his appeal. We believe Neinstedt knows that stunning evidence of recklessness, callousness and deceit will surface if this case goes forward.

This is not really about the actions of Fr. Thomas Adamson. He’s long been a predator. He’s been sued several times before. His victims have gotten settlements. He’s been suspended from active ministry. As awful as his crimes are, sadly, in this church, they’re basically routine.

This is really about the actions of Archbishop Neinstedt, who claims to care about his flock but is choosing secrecy over openness, and causing more harm to the already wounded instead of ameliorating the harm that we are already suffering.

This summer, Pope Benedict pledged to “do everything possible” to stop future clergy sex crimes.

That’s what this brave victim is doing – trying to prevent future clergy sex crimes by Adamson and other pedophile priests.

And the Pope told a group of bishops “It is important to establish the truth of what happened” in the church’s abuse and cover up crisis.

That’s what this brave victim is doing – trying to establish, in court, the truth about which current and former archdiocesan staff saw, suspected and knew about Adamson’s crimes but hid them.

Neinstedt evidently cares little about stopping future clergy sex crimes. Why else would he be using his lawyers to hide the names of proven, admitted and credibly accused predator priests?

Neinstedt evidently cares little about establishing “the truth of what happened.” Why else would he be trying to stop this case from moving ahead in the courts?

Given the Pope’s positive comments about abuse, there are really only two possibilities. Either bishops like Neinstedt know that the Pope is merely posturing, and really wants bishops to ignore and conceal child sex crimes like they’ve done for decades. Or Neinstedt disagrees with the Pope. We hope Neinstedt will

So why is Neinstedt attacking this brave victim in this way? The logical explanation – he’s trying to punish this brave victim for trying to discover and disclose the identities of other local predator priests. Or Neinstedt is trying to intimidate other victims from coming forward. Or he is trying to do both.

We in SNAP believe it’s immoral for a bishop to exploit legal technicalities and hide behind an arbitrary, archaic and predator-friendly statute of limitations. A profit-making secular businessman might do this. But it’s just wrong for a professed spiritual figure to do so.

If Neinstedt believes Adamson did not, in fact, sexually assault this boy, then Neinstedt should fight on the merits, not on the technicalities. He should give this alleged victim his day in court.

Let’s be clear: Neinstedt isn’t breaking any laws. He’s perfectly within his legal rights to try and force this victim to pay $64,000. But by doing this, he’s revealing who he really is – a cold-hearted CEO masquerading as a caring shepherd.

Maybe, just maybe, if an obvious liar maliciously brings a patently false lawsuit against a clearly innocent cleric, Neinstedt might have a leg to stand on using such vicious tactics. This, however, is anything but such a lawsuit.

No one claims this victim is not credible. Virtually no one claims Adamson is innocent. Few claim that church officials never had any inkling of Adamson’s crimes. In fact, in this very case, one judge found such compelling evidence of church cover up that she sided with the alleged victim, giving him the chance to seek punitive damages against the archdiocese. So by any standard, this is a solid case against a proven predator.

It is anything but some frivolous lawsuit. It’s an admirable effort by a brave but deeply wounded man to expose predators, protect kids, warn parents, deter wrongdoing, help victims and achieve healing and closure. And it’s apparently provoking an unprecedented, un-Christian, mean-spirited response from alleged spiritual figure.

We believe Neinstedt will fail in this awful move. And we hope that his callousness and recklessness will prod others with information about clergy sex crimes and cover ups – by Adamson or any cleric – to speak up, get help, safeguard children and start recovering.

SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the world’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 22 years and have more than 10,000 members. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is

Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell,, Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747,, Peter Isely (414-429-7259,, Barbara Dorris (314-862-7688 home, 314-503-0003 cell,

Recommended Off-site Links:
Archdiocese Seeks $64K in Abuse Case - Rose French (Star Tribune, November 24, 2010).
Next Installment of Nienstedt Story in Minnesota: From Gay Bashing to Bashing Survivors of Clerical Abuse - William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, November 28, 2010).
Why Does Clerical Sexual Abuse Always Stay at the Clerical Level? - Colleen Kochivar-Baker (Enlightened Catholicism, November 28, 2010).
How the Church is Failing Abuse Survivors - Kim Michele Richardson (The Huffington Post, November 26, 2010).

See also the previous PCV articles:
Statute of Limitations for Sex Abuse Victims: “You Can’t Get Healing in a Court of Law” - Paula Ruddy (The Progressive Catholic Voice, February 2008).
More on the Statute of Limitations - Mary Hasbrouck (The Progressive Catholic Voice, March 2010).

Friday, November 19, 2010

Quote of the Day

Lost in [the] hubbub [over the election of Archbishop Timothy Dolan as head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops] is the fact that Dolan will be taking over an association of bishops that has been greatly weakened by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. The downgrading of bishops' conferences around the world followed a period after Vatican II when the conferences, spurred on by the Council, became friskier, bolder and more independent from Rome's control. The idea that local (national) churches should heed the signs of the times of their own surroundings was temporarily in full bloom.

It was during that period of two decades that the U.S. bishops wrote their most memorable pastoral letters, one on the nuclear arms race, the other on the nation's economy that underscored the shame of poverty.

They were heading for a third letter on women but that effort ended in perhaps inevitable shambles. By then, John Paul II had begun to curb the growing initiatives by the conferences on grounds that conferences had assumed authority that rightfully belonged to Rome. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was his able assistant in that effort.

From then to now, the conference's ability to do anything on its own has been virtually suspended. The conference does nothing that isn't rubber stampable by the Vatican.

Stripped of nearly all autonomy, the U.S. conference does the bidding of its hierarchical superiors. Dolan can act at best as a polished ambassador who can employ persuasion but doesn't set policy. His advice to Rome will most certainly serve to formulate strategies to convince wary Catholics that the church has been right all along rather than to challenge the policies of church authorities in the name of American Catholic insight.

– Ken Briggs
"Amidst Dolan Hubbub, Easy to Forget Bishops Are Virtually Powerless"
National Catholic Reporter
November 17, 2010

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The "Dumbing Down" of the Roman Catholic Church

By Rev. Robert W. Caruso

Note: The following article by Robert Caruso was published in the November issue of the Minneapolis newspaper Southside Pride. Robert is a partnered gay man and an ordained priest in the Old Catholic Church. He serves as pastor to Cornerstone Old Catholic Community.

The Roman Catholic Church has always been controversial on social issues. In recent years the Roman leadership has spiraled further and further into a more aggressive absolutist, monarchical and judgmental kind of leadership that distinctly and genuinely has embraced a power that is neither pastoral nor loving.

Minnesota's Roman Catholic Archbishop Neinstedt has singled out a persecuted minority group to demonize and bully. As a gay man in a relationship for close to 14 years, and as an ordained Old Catholic priest, I feel compelled to say something for the sake of the Catholic Church and the GLBT community here in the Twin Cities. Let me be clear that I love the Church and believe that the Second Vatican Council was Spirit-driven in a most dynamic way. But I believe the Roman Catholic leadership in Minnesota has imposed extreme injustices on Catholic gay and lesbian persons as well as on progressive Catholics in general.

It is indeed dangerous for us to remain silent or wait for better days within the Catholic Church when such horrible psychological abuse is inflicted upon gay and lesbian persons who merely seek to fully live their lives in harmony and peace with others. It is no longer acceptable to be "bi-partisan" or "non-controversial" on this issue when such psychological abuse from Archbishop Neinstedt is apparent and unapologetic.

The conciliatory renewal that was to occur in the post-Vatican II Roman Catholic Church has gone stagnant. The pastoral constitution of "Gaudium et Spes" ("Joy and Hope") has all but been ignored by Pope Benedict and more locally by Archbishop Neinstedt. It is clear that the church's fidelity to persons having a God-given gift of freedom of conscience is a very scary idea for men like them because complex social moral issues such as same-sex marriage indeed require something more than calculated vagaries of fear and manipulation. Dialogue needs to happen, and this can only occur among persons with free consciences. Moreover, Vatican II explicitly proclaims that bishops are called to "direct the energies" of the church "towards its common good" in a manner that is pastoral in character and "not in a mechanical or despotic fashion." (GS, Ch. 4, sec. 74)

The recent political actions of Archbishop Neinstedt, the mailing of 400,000 DVDs in opposition to the civil rights movement of same-sex marriage, are grotesque, to say the least. Neinstedt's DVD message is but one example among others of what many Catholics and non-Catholics believe is the systematic "dumbing down" of the Roman Catholic Church. The message contained in the DVD was neither theological nor intelligent, but deceptively political in singling out gay and lesbian persons.

I will no longer participate in the "dumbing down" of the Catholic Church I grew up with and love. We are the church of Ireaneus, Tertullian and Gregory of Nyssa; we are a church that cherishes a pastorally reasonable and coherent tradition! We are a Christian tradition that is comprised primarily of eucharistic table communities where worship reminds us that we live in an ordered creation that moves Christians to love in generosity and nonviolence. The Roman Catholic leadership has clearly ostracized Catholic gay and lesbian persons from the eucharistic table! It is time to celebrate our Catholic faith apart from the Roman Catholic leadership — it is time for us progressive Catholics to form eucharistic table communities as a "counter-structure" from the Roman leadership.

The spirit of Vatican II is not dead, but alive in those of us who seek to fully live our lives as the People of God, regardless of sexual orientation.

That is to say, the spirit of Vatican II continues to move beyond the denominational borders of Roman Catholicism! Our hope, our joy is our coming together as a eucharistic community where the tradition of the church is not "dumbed down," but enriched and transformed in the communion of the Spirit!

Recommended Off-site Links:
Understanding the Old Catholic Church (Part 1)
Understanding the Old Catholic Church (Part 2)
Understanding the Old Catholic Church (Part 3)
The Old Catholic Church: Catholicism Beyond Rome - An interview with Robert Caruso.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Tale of Two Cultures: Vatican and American

By Doug Rodel

Editors’ Note: We will be publishing some of the papers presented by work/study group members at the Synod of the Baptized, September 18, 2010, sponsored by the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR). We are Catholics who want to become more informed about our Church’s history and theology. We do not claim to be experts and would appreciate correction and comment from people who are more informed than we are. Open a free Google account if you do not already have one and comment on our stories. Thank you.

I wish to discuss how two very distinct identities I carry – American citizen and Roman Catholic believer – coexist, sometimes in harmony, sometimes in tension.

If we go back to the early 1960’s when I, like many of you, came of age in both traditions – American and Catholic - we remember two charismatic Johns: President John F. Kennedy and Pope John XXIII. And we remember it was a great time to be an American Catholic. The United States elected its first Catholic president. Our Catholic schools were flourishing. And the 800 private Catholic hospitals were among our nation’s finest healthcare facilities.

What accounted for these robust Catholic institutions in America? For more than a century, Catholics had worried that their immigrant faith would be lost in this new land of freedom and opportunity. To safeguard the faith, the American bishops recommended minimal cooperation with non-Catholics, and they created a powerful parallel culture of Catholic institutions, namely, schools, hospitals and social service agencies such as Catholic Charities, to provide for the temporal needs of their immigrant communities.

But as early as the 1930’s, and especially after World War II, political forces that would change this face of American Catholicism began coalescing. John Kennedy campaigned and won election by eloquently taking the nation to the edge of what he called The New Frontier with its challenges of “unfulfilled hopes and dreams.” Many of these hopes and dreams became reality upon Kennedy’s death when President Johnson channeled the nation’s grief into implementing The Great Society triumphs – civil rights, the war on poverty, education reform, Medicare and Medicaid, as well as consumer and environmental protections. These Great Society programs were a natural outgrowth of FDR’s New Deal, and both embody many tenets of Catholic social justice teachings established in the writings of the popes, American Catholic intellectuals and American bishops.

But why am I talking about Roosevelt’s New Deal and Johnson’s Great Society? Because they represented significant external forces that caused the American church to change. As a consequence of these historic programs, American government accepted more and more responsibility for the temporal needs of its citizens. From this time onward we saw the movement away from the parallel Catholic institutions. For example, Catholic social service agencies now became collaborators with the government. Henceforth, the new challenge for the American Catholic church was to figure out how it would become a penetrating presence in American culture as its parallel presence receded.

We may very well find our answer in Rome where Pope John XXIII convoked the Second Vatican Council saying, “. . . [T]asks of immense gravity and scope await the church. . . . It is a question…of bringing the modern world into contact with the life giving…energies of the Gospel . . .”

John XXIII, just like John F Kennedy, took us to the edge of a new frontier when speaking of the unfulfilled hopes and dreams for the 20th century church. He said it is past time to open the windows and let some fresh air into a stale institution. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the Council Fathers got to work creating documents that rang out with the words “freedom” and “liberty.” It becomes evident Vatican II is about optimism and hope for all mankind.

Here it is time to introduce another American Catholic. His face appeared on the cover of Time magazine, December 12, 1960, shortly after JFK’s election. And he is our third John, John Courtney Murray, a Jesuit priest. His lifelong subject of study was the interaction of America and Catholicism. He told us Catholics that we must become more intellectually aware of our “coexistence” in a pluralistic, heavily Protestant society. Time magazine recognized and reinforced Murray’s scholarly claims that America’s public philosophy necessarily rests on a set of natural law principles - principles nurtured and sustained to a large extent by the Catholic tradition. Therefore, Catholicism was not just compatible with the American Experiment, but essential to it.

But John Courtney Murray’s work on religious freedom had angered many in the Vatican and he was virtually silenced by Pope Pius XII. So despite his fame and scholarship Murray was not even asked to participate in the discussions leading up to the First Session of Vatican II. However, very fortunately for us Americans, and for our church, arch-conservative Francis Cardinal Spellman of New York saw to it that Murray was present as an expert at the Second Session. And the rest is history.

The “Declaration on Religious Freedom,” written and rewritten five times by Murray in the midst of contentious Council debate, is the distinctive contribution of the United States to Vatican II. It reaffirmed the most basic principle of Catholic social justice teaching, the dignity of the person. Here belatedly in human history, the bishops affirmed religious freedom as an inalienable right. Remember, the church had condemned religious freedom in the 19th century! Opponents of the declaration did not want to admit that the church had been wrong. Her previous position was that “truth has all the rights and error has no rights.” In practice this meant that because non-Catholics were following an erroneous religion, they had no right to religious freedom, and at best could be tolerated. But, as one Council observer remarked, “This is nonsense. Truth is an abstract concept. People have rights.” The Declaration on Religious Freedom opened the way toward new confidence in ecumenical relationships, and a new straight forwardness in the relationships between the church and the modern world.

This is the good part of the Roman church I can firmly buy into. I can say yes to this church because I believe I am a participating member of the Roman communion, sharing a history and a theology, which recognizes the pope, the bishop of Rome, as the leader of the global church. I believe the papacy is the symbol of unity for this worldwide church. I can understand it is the papacy, both as an office and as a symbol, very similar to our American presidency, that prevents the splintering movement of local churches, spinning off and away from unity with the larger church. In the documents of Vatican II I read that the papacy and the Eucharist together are the twin anchors of Catholic unity. We Catholic Christians are a sacramental people who gather as a community because of Eucharist and for Eucharist. Without the Eucharist, there is no church. Without the papacy, there is only the local church.

My acceptance of some things Roman gets more complicated when we bring a fourth John into this presentation – Pope John Paul II. So much of what he did in relation to the outside world was progressive. He sided with religious tolerance, democracy and human rights. And now some historians are even writing that John Paul, more than any other world leader, was responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union. But paradoxically, his insistence on democracy outside the church did not translate to democracy inside the church. Instead, much of what he did inside the church was stifling, for example, Vatican centralization, obsessive secrecy, strict orthodoxy, minimizing the role of women, and the repeated condemnations of theologians. I find myself angered by a Vatican culture that is modeled on assumptions drawn not from the Bible, but rather from human cultural preferences that are clearly imperialistic, despotic, and paternalistic.

The single outstanding feature of American Catholics is that we expect to have a say in the shape of our church. We no longer believe that our faith is something simply given from above. Those of us who identify ourselves as active, involved and more progressive Catholics say it’s all about our culture, our history and our style. It is the style of our American culture and history to be intensely democratic and fiercely participatory. Therefore as progressive American Catholics we openly call for more democracy in the day-to-day activities of our church, a greater say for all the faithful in the selection of our bishops and pastors, and lay control over financial matters. We have a wide range of expertise which for historical reasons is reserved in church life to the clergy by an outdated Code of Canon Law.

Fifty years ago I bought into the dreams of JFK’s Camelot, and the irrepressible optimism of an Italian pope. An assassin’s bullet killed our President John, but we learned his dream lives on in the historic legislation that helped change the institutional structures of the American church. Today there are those who strive to kill Pope John XXIII’s dream for Vatican II.

So I ask you, are we ready as resolute Americans, and committed Catholics, to step up, to identify actions, and to work for reforms in the spirit of Vatican II that will once again change the institutional structures of our American Catholic church?

Recommended Bibliography

Hehir, J. Bryan, Th.D. Notes from his lecture “Catholic Identity: The Roots, the Relevance and the Realization of the Idea.” Third Annual Lecture and Award, Myser Initiative on Catholic Identity Series, April 23, 2009, College of St Catherine.

Dionne, E.J.,
Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right, Princeton University Press, 2008.

Lakeland, Paul, Church: Living Communion, Liturgical Press, 2009

Monday, October 25, 2010

Save the Date!

Join LGBT Catholics and their allies in
demonstrating inclusiveness and celebrating our diversity!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

at the

Cathedral of St. Paul
239 Selby Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102

We’ll gather in loving opposition
to the MN bishops’ campaign
of intolerance and discrimination
against the LGBT citizens of Minnesota.

We welcome you to join in one or both of the following actions.

Wear the Rainbow Sash
as a Symbol of Celebration
of LGBT Diversity

Gathering Time: 11:30 a.m.

Place: The Selby Ave. side of the Cathedral.

Rainbow Sashes will be provided.

Attend the noon day Mass at the cathedral wearing the Rainbow Sash – a symbol of celebration and an invitation to dialogue. The Rainbow Sash proclaims that its wearer is (or knows and affirms someone who is) a GLBT person who embraces and celebrates their sexual orientation and identity as a sacred gift. Since 2005, the Archdiocese has adopted the policy of denying Communion to wearers of the Rainbow Sash.

For more information about this action visit or call 612-721-6341.

Surround the Cathedral with Love!

With their recent anti-gay marriage campaign, the MN bishops have actively championed a message of exclusion. We’ll model and symbolize the gospel message of love and inclusion by joining hands and circling the cathedral! You’re welcome to wear the Rainbow Sash, wave rainbow flags, and/or hold signs and banners with positive messages of support for our LGBT brothers and sisters.

Gathering Time: 12:30 p.m.

Place: On the public sidewalk in front of the Cathedral.

We’ll form our “rainbow circle of love” around the cathedral at 12:45 p.m. When Mass finishes at about 1:00, those who are inside the cathedral for the Rainbow Sash action will join us in the circle. At approximately 1:15 we will all gather on the Cathedral steps for a group photo.

For more information about this action, call 612-201-4534.

Sponsored by Rainbow Sash Alliance USA
and Catholics for Marriage Equality MN

POSTSCRIPT: For images and commentary of this event, click here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Church Further Adrift

Recently over at Enlightened Catholicism, Colleen Kochivar-Baker highlighted an insightful, if rather sobering article by Peter Steinfels (pictured at right), co-director of the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture.

Steinfels wrote his piece for Commonweal in response to a recent Pew Foundation study that found that “Catholicism has lost more people to other religions or to no religion at all than any other single religious group.”

Following are highlights from Steinfels informed commentary on this reality. (NOTE: To read Steinfels’ commentary in its entirety, click here. To read Colleen Kochivar-Baker’s erudite reflections on the issues raised by Steinfels, click here.)


In February 2008, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, based on interviews with a representative sample of thirty-five thousand adult Americans, reported that one out of every three adult Americans who were raised Catholic have left the church. If these ex-Catholics were to form a single church, they would constitute the second largest church in the nation. . . . Thomas Reese, SJ, the former editor of America, recently described this loss of one-third of those raised Catholic as “a disaster.” He added, “You wonder if the bishops have noticed.”

. . . Those who hailed a new day with the advent of a “John Paul II generation” were suffering, I suggest, from “sampling error.” Buoyed by the hundreds of thousands who gathered at World Youth Days, they did not look closely at the millions who were absent. So while our own firsthand impressions and diligent perusal of news sources are irreplaceable, we badly need surveys based on representative samples. Yes, they always suffer from the simplifications necessary to gather and organize large amounts of data, but their findings are checks against our own anecdotal impressions and those from the media sources we favor.

According to the Pew survey, about half of that one-third leaving the church enter the ranks of the fastest-growing religious group in the nation, the “nones,” people who tell pollsters they have no particular religious affiliation, although many hew to surprisingly familiar religious beliefs and practices. The other half of Catholics leaving the church join Protestant denominations (and, more often than not, Evangelical). Catholics becoming unaffiliated stressed disagreement with church teachings, both general teachings and church positions on specific issues like abortion, homosexuality, and treatment of women, and to a lesser extent clerical celibacy. In open-ended questioning, they also stressed hypocrisy and other moral and spiritual failures of church leaders and fellow Catholics.

The divisive factors driving people from Catholic ranks are only magnified versions of those within Catholic ranks. There one sees at work all the hot-button issues that now unaffiliated former Catholics point to, as well as the sharp reaction, especially to teachings on homosexuality and identification with high-octane conservative politics, that [researchers] Putnam and Campbell conclude are currently driving young people from religion altogether. Within the church, one also sees the longing for effective worship, meeting spiritual needs, and pastoral creativity that many now-Protestant former Catholics, especially Evangelicals, underlined.

Liturgical language, decorum, and participation. Quality of homilies. The shortage of priests. Celibacy. The role of women and their ordination. Transparency and consultation in church governance at every level, from the parish to the Vatican. Anti-Catholicism in the media. Religious identity and the role of the hierarchy in Catholic higher education and health care. Monitoring of Catholic theology. Abortion and same-sex relations, and the even more combustible demand that Catholic citizens and civic leaders be answerable to episcopal judgments about laws regarding these matters.

I list these familiar sources of conflict in no particular order except for the last because I think the growing tendency of prominent bishops to claim authority not only in moral principles but even in rather fine-grained judgments about translating those principles into public policy has tremendous potential for divisiveness. It appears to overturn a stance the hierarchy has long followed and spelled out explicitly in their pastoral letters on nuclear defense and on the U.S. economy. Are these bishops repeating the behavior of Religious Right leaders who have now faded from prominence—but only after provoking, if Putnam and Campbell are right, a strong anti-religious backlash among the young?

There are several ways of missing this reality. It is true that the one-third exit rate of Catholics is actually lower than the rate of loss suffered by many other groups. Americans live in a constant religious churn. Almost half change their religious affiliation in the course of their lives. This is even true of the “nones.” One can also point out that Catholicism enjoys numerous converts. A number of people are baptized or enter into full communion at my parish’s bilingual Easter Vigil every year. But most of the losses among Protestant denominations are simply to other Protestant denominations. As for converts, the experience of parishes like mine illustrates “sampling error” once again. We celebrate those coming in the door; we don’t note publicly those going out; perhaps no one notices at all except saddened family members. In reality, three Catholics leave the church for each one who enters.

Then there is the good news about Latino Catholics, whose growing numbers both from immigration and higher birthrates have largely compensated for the losses and maintained the church’s proportion of the population at a more or less steady level. Latinos are much more likely than non-Latinos to say that their ethnicity is a very important part of who they are, and strong ethnic identity is associated with retaining religious identity and lower rates of intermarriage: 78 percent of Latinos raised Catholic remain in the church, compared to 57 percent of non-Latinos. Latino Catholics also express relatively greater agreement than non-Latinos with church teachings on divorce, premarital sex, abortion, gay marriage, ordination of women, opposition to the death penalty, and papal authority. I say relatively greater agreement because, in fact, far less than majorities of either Latinos or non-Latinos actually agree with any of those church teachings even while high percentages express confidence in the hierarchy. What the future will hold depends on variables like whether the nation’s capacity for assimilation is greater than its current hostility to Latino immigrants—and whether cultural differences in styles of worship and pastoral needs will exacerbate the Catholic “white flight” already underway. Finally, Latino Catholics appear increasingly Democratic at a time when the hierarchy appears to increasingly signal an obligation to vote Republican.

The constant religious churn in America, the public recognition of conversions but not departures, and the compensating numbers of Latino Catholics may all disguise the magnitude of the church’s recent losses. Yet for the bishops, something else, perhaps more fundamental, may be at work.

My impression is that bishops are constantly called upon to boost morale and lift up spirits in the face of often daunting problems. Appearances at parishes, reunions, conferences, or conventions are hardly occasions for dwelling on ominous trends, let alone encountering former Catholics. Many bishops bounce from event to event and from crisis to crisis. Except for financial matters, they may have little opportunity to contemplate the Big Picture, even on the diocesan level, let alone the national one. Their diocesan newspapers are rife with boosterism. In addition, bishops generally shun polemics. There are notable exceptions, even a few who may see the one-out-of-three who depart not as lost sheep but as good riddance, dead wood that should be cast into the fire, or even wolves preying upon the remaining flock. Most bishops, however, for good or ill, have reached their present positions by avoiding conflict, and they try to be what they should be, a point of unity for the local church. Findings like Pew’s can certainly unleash polemics. After their release, ultras and even moderates all along the ecclesiastical and theological spectrum flooded the blogosphere with accusations. Everyone else was to blame for the losses; one’s own viewpoint was the sure recipe for stanching them.

These partisan reactions cannot survive the most cursory look at the data, in which issues transcending camps like spiritually compelling worship, congregational leadership, and the need for effective adolescent catechesis rank alongside hot-button issues like abortion, homosexuality, treatment of women, sexual abuse, and episcopal forays into politics.

Having raised the question of the bishops’ awareness of American Catholicism’s crumbling condition, am I in turn blaming it on them? (Blaming the bishops is the one thing truly uniting the Right and Left in the American church.) Well, the bishops have their share of the blame, as do many others of us at every level and on every wing of the church. But it would be inane to hold the bishops or any other specific group in the church responsible for the social and economic forces that dissolved the Catholic subculture, or for “the sixties,” or for the inevitable succession of generations. We can only be responsible for the ways we have responded, or not responded, to such huge shifts—with energy, sensitivity, and creativity, or with timidity, inertia, and stock formulas.

I doubt whether any diocese is without some energetic, sensitive, and creative initiatives to improve pastoral practice, liturgy, catechetics, preaching, faith formation, financial support, social witness, and all the other things that could reverse the current decline. I continue to hear of successful programs, learn of valuable research, meet inspiring individuals, and see ads for attractive guides and educational materials for clergy and lay leaders alike. Yet somehow all these initiatives seem too scattered, too underfunded, too dependent on an always limited number of exceptional talents to coalesce into a force equal to the forces of dissolution.

The bishops are not the only ones who should be galvanizing and multiplying these initiatives; but they are, as they often remind us, the church’s authoritative leaders. They direct resources, human and material. They oversee personnel. They grant approval and signal change. They can make the difference between isolated examples and widespread renewal. It is hard to imagine a reversal of the current trends without a concerted effort on their part.

What exactly should the bishops do? Anyone can find my own views distilled in the “Afterword” to the 2004 paperback edition of A People Adrift. Occasionally I’ve tried to distill this distillation even further. I have emphasized very concrete, practical items — a quantum leap in the quality of Sunday liturgies, including preaching; a massive, all-out mobilization of talent and treasure to catechize the young, bring adolescents into church life, and engage young adults in ongoing faith formation; and regular, systematic assessments of all these activities—as well as theologically more complex and controversial matters like expanding the pool of those eligible for ordination and revisiting some aspects of the church’s teaching on sexuality.

What matters is not this set of proposals — or any other. What matters is merely some kind of acknowledgment from the hierarchy, or even leading individuals within the hierarchy, of the seriousness of the situation. What matters is a sign of determination to address these losses honestly and openly, to absorb the existing data, to gather more if necessary, and to entertain and evaluate a wide range of views about causes and remedies.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

One Courageous Parish Priest

By Mark Silk

Editor's Note: This commentary was first published October 18 at

I'm happy to discover that Fr. Michael Tegeder, pastor of St. Edward's church in Bloomington, Minn., appears to have suffered no ill effects in the archdiocesan reorganization and retrenchment laid out this weekend by St. Paul-Minneapolis Archbishop John C. Nienstedt. Tegeder had the chutzpah to take to the pages of the state's leading daily to criticize Nienstedt for sending out 400,000 DVDs attacking same-sex marriage a few weeks before an election that gives Minnesota voters some opportunity to weigh in on the issue.

Tegeder's comments to his parishioners, posted on his web page, bristle with well-placed barbs. Under "THE AXE FALLS," the clearly unreconstructed Vatican II-nik responds to the archiepiscopal call for greater collaboration among parishes by saying, "Thankfully we have been doing that for many years as we work with local Catholic and Protestant [ital. added] parishes in many areas of ministry."

After noting that financial pressure may require freezing benefits for employees and denying pension coverage to hew hires, Tegeder turns (under "CLOTHE YOURSELF IN CHRIST JESUS") to Nienstedt's readiness to allocate $90,000 to procure identical vestments for all priests to wear at diocesan Masses and clergy funerals. Helpfully, he points out that, in fact, the liturgical year utilizes five different colors, which would require five different sets of matching matching vestments, at a cost of $450k. "Or perhaps," he offers, "a rainbow colored vestment is called for, something like Joseph's coat of many colors. Indeed, a rainbow stole would suffice. And I already have one."

Finally, alluding to the priest shortage that the archbishop points to as a partial explanation for the merging of parishes, Tegeder -- a member of Voice of the Faithful -- turns to "A COLORFUL BISHOP":

Bishop William Lee of the Waterford Diocese in Ireland has recently called for more formal involvement by the laity in church governance. He said that he would have no problem with the ordination of women or married priests. It is refreshing to see bishops addressing the real concerns of the day.

But perhaps not so colorful or refreshing. After his remarks were published in the local biweekly Munster Express, Bishop issued a "clarification":

The Pope has spoken very formally and authoritatively on these matters and I fully accept his teaching and guidance always. The Pope's teaching authority is a gift from God to his people which I appreciate and follow in all my preaching and teaching.

I regret any confusion or misunderstanding that may have arisen on these matters at a recent Pastoral Listening Session and I am glad of the opportunity to clarify this.

Whatever he was quoted as saying, it cannot now be found on the newspaper's website. So it goes when parish priests speak truth to power and successors of the Apostles behave like church mice.

Mark Silk is Professor of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College and the author of Spiritual Politics: Religion and America Since World War II and Unsecular Media: Making News of Religion in America.

See also the previous Progressive Catholic Voice post:
Pastor Mike Tegeder Challenges Archbishop Nienstedt's "Bullying Behavior"

Sunday, October 17, 2010

St. Paul-Minneapolis Catholic Archdiocese Releases New Strategic Plan: Who Was Consulted?

By William D. Lindsey

Editor’s Note: This commentary was first published on William’s blog, Bilgrimage.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, which is "right-sizing" by closing churches and merging parishes (even as the Archdiocese engages in a hugely expensive, glitzy political video campaign against same-sex marriage), has a statement now on its website about the strategic planning process that supports the right-sizing.

This statement begins:

After 20 months of consultation, analysis, and prayerful consideration, the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis is announcing the Strategic Plan (pdf) that shapes the vision for the future of our local Church and restructures parishes to foster a more vibrant faith community.

And as I read that statement, the obvious question that leaps out at me immediately is, consultation with whom? Analysis involving whom? Consideration for whom?

What process of consultation supports the new strategic plan of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis? Can that process have been wide, if there is so much shock and anger among many local Catholics?

When I click on the strategic plan itself, I see a slick media-driven advertisement for the "new" lean and mean Archdiocese expected to arise from the ruins of the old. I see, in other words, precisely the kind of image-management media kit I would expect to find when corporate leaders decide to "right-size" their operation, to bring in larger profits even as employees are cut and expenses at the bottom of the corporate food-chain are curbed.

Nothing in the glitzy media-oriented advertisement I see with this strategic plan assures me that the right-sizing in which the Archdiocese is now involved -- or the baffling decision to accept a huge sum of money from an anonymous donor to bash gays for political gain when the archdiocese was planning to close churches and merge parishes -- depends on wide consultation of the people affected by the right-sizing process.

To the contrary, the tone of the media-driven strategic plan kit in and of itself tells me that the leaders of the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese have listened predominantly, overwhelmingly to corporate leaders and their gurus as they have crafted their plan for right-sizing.

And I wonder why those folks are in the driver's seat in American Catholicism now, as we plan for the future.

See also the previous Progressive Catholic Voice posts:
Breaking Up is Hard to Do: The Man at the Ten O'Clock Mass – Paula Ruddy (June 10, 2010).
What is the Church's Mission and How Are We Doing as Missionaries? – Editorial (March 1, 2010).
Sounding an Alarm – Paula Ruddy (July 13, 2009).

Recommended Off-site Links:
More Than 20 Churches to Close Under Plan to Restructure Twin Cities Archdiocese – John Brewer (Pioneer Press, October 15, 2010).
Archdiocese to Close 20 Churches, Merge Others - Rose French (Star Tribune, October 16, 2010).
U.S. Catholic Bishops and the Corporate Model of Pastoral Leadership – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, October 16, 2010).
The Price of Catholic Homophobia: While Spending to Bash Gays, Minnesota Catholic Bishops Close Churches – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, October 16, 2010).

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pastor Mike Tegeder Challenges Archbishop Nienstedt's "Bullying Behavior"

“It’s not the work of Jesus Christ,”
he tells the National Catholic Reporter.

Tom Roberts has interviewed Pastor Mike Tegeder of St. Edward’s Catholic Church in Bloomington for an October 5 article in the National Catholic Reporter. Tegeder (pictured at right) has been a vocal critic of the Minnesota bishops’ anti-gay marriage campaign – one that involved the mailing of a DVD to 400,000 Catholic households throughout the state. Tegeder’s criticism of the campaign and of Archbishop Nienstedt's role in it reached a mainstream audience when he had a letter-to-the-editor published October 2 in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“Catholics have very diverse opinions about this issue,” he wrote. “The bishops themselves are not united on how to approach this new reality of gays and lesbians claiming a right to have their own families publicly recognized with corresponding rights and responsibilities.” To support this view, Tegeder notes that: “the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schönborn, the main author of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and friend of the pope, [has] publicly stated that the church needs to look differently at committed same-sex relationships. His fellow Austrian bishops concurred. These are thinking, serious church leaders. They listen.”

Following is an excerpt from Robert’s article.

. . . In an interview Oct. 4 with NCR, Tegeder said he had received overwhelmingly positive response to his letter, but had not yet received any reaction from Nienstedt.

Asked if he feared reprisal, he recalled that he'd already been threatened by the archbishop “with excommunication and interdict” for installing a cremation garden at the church. When he was called on the carpet, he said, he was able to produce documentation that showed his parish had complied with all of the diocesan and state regulations. He said he’s heard nothing further. “You have to know how to defend yourself,” he said, “because a lot of what we’re being told we have to follow just isn’t true.”

He also referred to Paul’s instruction to Timothy to be “strong, loving and wise.” While being strong “in our convictions, including our conviction about marriage,” said Tegeder, “we also have to be wise and loving.” It is those last two qualities, he said, that he finds “so missing in this DVD campaign.”

. . . What struck him [about the campaign], he said, “is that there were no names in it. It’s all ideology, all a theoretical viewpoint.”

He couldn’t help thinking, he said, of the two gay men in a long, committed relationship, who have adopted two boys “out of a hell hole of a Russian orphanage” and recently spent thousands to help one of their sons overcome a learning disability.” One’s view of the issue, he said, changes profoundly when you get to know people’s names and their circumstances.

“In this very difficult world where there are many divisive issues, we’ve got to begin getting to know each others’ names. We’re all up in arms about something that is about love, about people trying to find some happiness in this very difficult world. I’ve been to the mountain. I laughed when he sent that letter threatening excommunication and interdict,” Tegeder said.

“If he throws me out I can walk away from this with my head up … I love ministry. I wake up at 5 every day and stay busy until midnight. I love it. I’m energized by the opportunities.” But some things just need to be said, he remarked.

“This man is leading us in the wrong direction,” on this issue, he said of Nienstedt. “We have to call it for what it is – it’s bullying behavior. It’s not the work of Jesus Christ. It’s not the work of Jesus Christ.”

On the matter of obedience, he quoted from a book that he’s reading by Msgr. Dennis Murphy, A View from the Trenches: Ups and Downs of Today’s Parish Priest: “One dimension of this obedience that has become clearer in recent years is that there is more to this promise than a pledge or a commitment made only to a bishop. It encompasses obedience commitment to the church, and especially to the church understood as the people of the diocese within which the priest serves.”

“That says it all,” said Tegeder.

To read Roberts’ article in its entirety, click here.

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Local Catholic Priest Speaks Out on the MN Bishops' Anti-Gay DVD Controversy

Editor's Note: The following letter-to-the-editor by Michael Tegeder, pastor of St. Edward's Catholic Church in Bloomington, was published in the October 2 issue of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

I have watched the DVD sent out by the Minnesota Catholic bishops in favor of a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman.

The premise of the DVD is that same-sex couples and their committed relationships are a grave threat to marriage. To be clear, these bishops hold that sacramental Catholic marriage is in essence different from what is considered marriage by society. Nevertheless, the bishops claim they have a concern for marriage in the overall society.

What are the real threats to marriage? The Sept. 29 story “Economy is Hitting Hearts and Wallets,” about the effects of our current economy on marriage, said that “being broke and unemployed is not conducive to matrimony, young Americans are finding. In 2009, the number of young adults (25-34) who have never tied the knot surpassed those who had married for the first time since data collection began more than a century ago.”

In every serious study, poverty is the top reason for marital breakdowns. It is very hard to make the case that a small percentage of the population who bond with members of their own sex and seek to live in a committed relationship could have anything but a positive effect on the general population’s appreciation of stable, faithful, life-giving unions.

The very thoughtful letters to the editor about this subject reflect the fact that Catholics have very diverse opinions about this issue. The bishops themselves are not united on how to approach this new reality of gays and lesbians claiming a right to have their own families publicly recognized with corresponding rights and responsibilities.

Since arriving in Minnesota as a bishop in 2001, Nienstedt has had the constitutional amendment as a priority. In 2006, he promoted postcards, which as archbishop he has upgraded to DVDs. I do not believe any of our other bishops would have been on such a crusade. “Minnesota nice,” if not prudence, would have prevailed. Ask them privately.

Just recently the Cardinal Archbishop of Vienna, Christoph Schönborn, the main author of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and friend of the pope, publicly stated that the church needs to look differently at committed same-sex relationships. His fellow Austrian bishops concurred. These are thinking, serious church leaders. They listen.

The constitutional amendment being promoted by the archbishop does not allow even for civil unions, and it would limit current rights enjoyed by our gay and lesbian citizens. We as Catholics can have our own beliefs about marriage. But we must recognize that people of other faiths and of no faith have conscientious beliefs as well.

Most scandalous is that Archbishop Nienstedt has compromised his office with the use of anonymous money to fund this effort. The constitutional amendment is a very political issue. The impression is given that political funding is at work here.

- Pastor Michael Tegeder
Church of St. Edward, Bloomington

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Save the Date!

Catholics for Marriage Equality MN
invite you to a very timely and important presentation . . .

Why You Can Be Catholic
and Support Gay Marriage

By Daniel Maguire
Professor of Moral Theological Ethics at Marquette University
and President of the Religious Consultation on
Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics.

Thursday, October 21, 2010
7:00 - 9:00 p.m.

St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral
519 Oak Grove St.
Minneapolis, MN 55403

NOTE: The organizers are planning a bus service to transport people
from a central location in St. Paul to this event and back. If you're interested
in utilizing this service, please call Paula at 612-379-1043.

Daniel Maguire is renowned for his informed critique of the sexual theology presented by the clerical leadership of the Roman Catholic Church – a theology sadly divorced from human experience and the insights of the sciences. This is especially evident in the clerical leadership’s stance on homosexuality and gay marriage.

Daniel, however, maintains that support for same-sex marriage can be found in all the world religions, including Roman Catholicism. Join us on October 21 as he highlights and discusses this support.


Daniel C. Maguire, has a degree in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, one of the world’s major Catholic universities. The author of eleven books and the editor of three anthologies, Maguire specializes in religious ethics focusing upon issues of social justice and medical and ecological ethics. He is also the author of some 200 articles in professional journals and magazines, including Theological Studies, Cross Currents, Atlantic, The New York Times, Crisis: Journal of the NAACP, and Ms. Magazine. In 1982 he was listed by Ms. Magazine as one of the “40 male heroes of the past decade, men who took chances and made a difference.” His published books include: Moral Absolutes and the Magisterium (1970), The Moral Choice (1975), The Moral Revolution (1986), On Moral Grounds: The Art/Science of Ethics (1991), The Moral Core of Judaism and Christianity (1993), Sacred Energies (2000), What Men Owe Women (2000), Sacred Choices (2001), Sacred Rights (2003), and Whose Church? A Concise Guide to Progressive Catholicism (2008).

Free and open to the public.

Light refreshments will be served
and a free-will offering requested.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"Reclaiming" the Marriage Culture

By Paula Ruddy

I admire Archbishop Nienstedt’s determination to strengthen the culture of marriage, but I question his vision of what a good culture would look like and his strategies for making change happen. His strategies seem to be counter-productive. His intolerance of discussion prevents collaboration and it is only through collaboration that a vision of the good can be developed and then made actual in practice.

The Archbishop seems to believe that change toward some idea of the good requires intention and strategic action. I think we can all agree on that. Culture doesn’t just change for the good willy-nilly. Someone has to be paying attention. In religious language, we could say that the Holy Spirit works through human intentionality toward goodness. Or in human dynamics language, when people share a vision of the good, they tend to self-organize to work toward it together. An example of cultural change we have experienced is the change from a smoking society to a largely non-smoking society in about 30 years. I’m sure someone has documented the efforts that made that happen.

I think the Archbishop has been intending to impart a vision of a healthy culture of marriage and to direct strategic action toward it. Since January of this year he has promoted a program of talks given by Archdiocesan personnel called “Reclaiming the Marriage Culture.” I attended a session at the Cathedral on February 20, at which Peter Laird, ordained priest and Vicar General, and Teresa Collett, professor of law at St. Thomas, were the main speakers. Laird spoke on the theology of marriage and Collett spoke on the “slippery slope” of legal changes with regard to contraception, cohabitation, divorce, abortion, and same-sex marriage.

The question I’d like to ask the Archbishop is about how people develop a vision of what a good culture might look like. Is vision inspired by “non-debatable” pronouncements about “God’s will”? A lot of communication is necessary to develop shared vision. At the Cathedral session in February, there were written questions but no one in the audience was allowed to speak. There was no interchange, no testing of information or logic. There is no mechanism within the Archdiocese for airing differences of opinion and reasoning together. How is a vision to be developed?

As to the vision of a healthy marriage culture, wouldn’t it include a nuanced understanding learned from married people of what makes a marriage good? What kind of personal development in the children should be the outcome of a good marriage with children? What does it mean that “the kids are okay”? Are the kids okay if the partners are not, and what does an okay partnership entail? We need communication about this to come to a common understanding. I think I heard the “Reclaiming” speakers say that civil marriage laws are not about love. Then what kind of culture are they meant to provide for children? What are the values that need strengthening?

If it is not about love, is it about coercion? I think the chief problem is that the Archbishop has chosen to focus his strategy for change on coercion by law. He is both depending upon the U.S. legal system to produce a healthy culture of marriage and undermining the legal system at the same time by demeaning politicians and “activist” judges. He wants a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex civil marriage “or any legal equivalent” and at the same time he wants the people to subvert the constitutional protections for minorities. This ambiguity doesn’t make for good strategy.

He has framed the problem as a decline from some time in the past when marriage culture was strong. The assertion is that the values of marriage have been undermined by decriminalization of contraception, cohabitation, and abortion and the relaxing of marriage dissolution laws. Is it true that marriages and the culture of marriage were stronger when contraception, cohabitation, and abortion were illegal? Is it true that marriages were stronger when one partner had to accuse the other in court to get a divorce? If the conflict is between the value of stability and the ideal of personal authenticity, we have to explore that and arrive at common understanding.

For example, the Archbishop points to all the women and children who live in poverty because of divorce. Would they be better off living with the man who won’t support them? Is marital stability an absolute value? Is repealing the no-fault divorce law the solution to the problem of unsupported families? How about more attention to moral development for the people who refuse to support their children?

Is same-sex marriage the final step to devaluing marriage as the Archbishop claims, or is it a step to legitimate thousands of families who value marriage?

There is no doubt that the marriage culture is evolving. Is coercion by law the way to direct it toward the good? Aren’t there more effective strategies drawn from the Gospel tradition? There is need for open discussion on these important questions. Pronouncements from on high do not equal teaching.

As long as local Catholics live in a culture of fear where those who speak are vilified or punished, we will not develop a common vision or effective strategies to collaborate with other Minnesota citizens in strengthening the culture of marriage.

I would appreciate your telling me where I have got this wrong or discussing any of these ideas with us on The Progressive Catholic Voice. If you don’t have a Google account, you can open one with your email address and a password. Then click on comment. Thanks.