Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Twin Cities' "Peter Canisius": Liar and Coward

By Michael J. Bayly

NOTE: This commentary is cross-posted at The Wild Reed.

Peter Canisius is a popular saint among so-called traditionalists – no doubt due to his role in the restoration of Roman Catholicism in Germany in the years following the Reformation. It’s doubtful, however, that he exhibited the characteristics of the cowardly individual who has taken on his name while conducting a campaign of misinformation and outright lies here in St. Paul-Minneapolis. All kinds of people have fallen for his mischief-making and lies, even Thomas Peters, the “American Papist” of

In order to explain the latest campaign of the Twin Cities’ “Peter Canisius,” a bit of background information is necessary. . . .

It's those gays again!

It all starts with a long-time member of the Minneapolis parish of St. Frances Cabrini renting space at the parish for a benefit this Saturday for the Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministries (CALGM).

CALGM, formerly the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries (NACDLGM), is an association of diocesan, parish and campus-based ministries that, according to its website, “strives to reflect the Catholic Church’s commitment to pastoral concern and support for lesbian and gay Catholics, their parents, families and friends.” CALGM also notes on its website that “these ministries, under the leadership of bishops, pastors and other pastoral leaders, seek to apply Church teachings regarding the integration of sexuality and spirituality and the recognition of the dignity, respect and inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in the life and mission of the Church.”

The parish of St. Frances Cabrini is well-known for its welcoming of all – including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals and families. Its pastor has a long association with CALGM. The fundraiser was promoted within the parish and, as far as I know, within another well-known “liberal” parish within the Twin Cities. As the executive coordinator of one of the area’s more well-known and unabashedly activist Catholic LGBT organizations (CPCSM), I was unaware of this fundraiser. It seems to me that it was clearly meant to be a low-key event – the aim of which was not to question or challenge church teaching on homosexuality but to simply raise funds for a rather non-activist Catholic group that, from my experience, does its utmost to work within the church to promote respect for LGBT people – efforts that are actually mandated by the Roman Catholic Church.

Misinformation and outright lies

Enter “Peter Canisius,” hence forth to be referred to as PC. He (and, for reasons I won’t go into, I believe he is indeed a “he”) takes it upon himself to write and send out a “media release” about this fundraiser at St. Frances Cabrini Church. Through a friend of a friend I obtained a copy of this media release (sent by and discovered that its style wasn’t new to me. In the past, PC has written and distributed similar ones concerning various CPCSM events. They caused us a lot of trouble as he inundated news media outlets around the country with them. We eventually were compelled to post a disclaimer on our website. Anyway, like these previous ones, this latest media release concerning the fundraiser for CALGM was deceptively written to sound as if it came from those organizing the event; to sound as if, in other words, it was an “official” media release. Yet sprinkled among the legitimate information (time, place, venue, purpose, etc.) are clear attempts to stir-up the local traditionalists to inundate the chancery with calls demanding that this “scandalous” event not take place on church property. That this stirring-up is undertaken using misinformation and outright lies seems not to bother PC.

Here’s one example of misleading and inflammatory language used by PC: The parish priest, Leo Tibesar, is described as a “well known and highly respected same sex marriage and gay rights activist.” Can you imagine members of a Catholic parish going public with such a statement – even if it was true? It’s just asking for trouble (and PC knows it).

And here’s an example of an outright lie: PC declares in his media release that the fundraiser for CALGM “has the approval of the Archdiocese.” It’s a lie aimed solely at getting the attention of those within the church who see it as their duty to resist and challenge any attempt to acknowledge, let alone discuss, issues that they view as out-of-bounds (in this case, the issue of LGBT Catholics).

And, unfortunately, it seems to have worked. American Papist, for instance, fell for PC’s media release hook, line and sinker, with the site even referring to it as the “official notice for the fundraiser.” Earlier this evening American Papist announced that the fundraiser had been canceled, adding: “Members of the CatholicVote community have already sent almost 40,000 emails of support to [Archbishop] Nienstedt, and I think today would be a good time to send a few thousand more.”

Actually, I doubt the event has been canceled. Rather, as with similar incidents in the church of St. Paul-Minneapolis, it’s probably been relocated to a site off church property. Regardless, you can be sure local media outlets will cover this latest “controversy.” (I’ve already received one e-mail from a reporter asking for my perspective.) As a result of this coverage, more people will hear about the fundraiser, perhaps even attend it, and (hopefully) contribute more financially to CALGM. It all seems a rather hollow “victory” for those whipped into a censorious frenzy by the deceptive actions of an individual who, let's face it, is a liar and a coward.

Time to get out from "under the radar"

Now, it’s probably true that those organizing the fundraiser were naive in what they thought they could get away with “under the radar” on church property. That being said, they were nevertheless honest in planning and advertising their event. The same can’t be said, however, for the Twin Cities’ “Peter Canisius.” His actions are nothing less than despicable. He pretends to represent a group of people with whom he is clearly at odds; he’s deceives and spreads lies; and he causes hurt and pain to fellow Catholics who, in good conscience, are attempting to interact with LGBT persons in a spirit of “respect, friendship and justice.” (Live in Christ Jesus, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1976).

One thing that I hope will come out of all of this is the realization on the part of “liberal” parish members that quietly planning and doing things “below the radar” ultimately serves no one. There may have been a time when such a strategy worked but those times are long gone. “Traditionalist” spies are everywhere. And as the despicable actions of PC show, some have no qualms in misconstruing and embellishing with lies the announcements they see in parish bulletins. CPCSM learned several years ago that, like it or not, hosting events on “church property” gives all the power to the clerical caste to say “yea” or “nay.”

So my advice is: Don’t give them that power! Get out from under that "radar" and have your LGBT Pride Prayer Services or your fundraisers for CALGM on property not controlled by the church's clerical caste. And don’t worry that these sites are not “officially” Catholic. You make them Catholic by your presence. Start being the church you want to see – a church that can be (and is) present and active everywhere!

And for those discouraged by yet another carefully- and lovingly-planned event of welcome being squashed by those unreceptive to God’s spirit of inclusion, I have a threefold message: (i) The challenges we face as Catholics are the result of a ruling clerical caste within the church and its betrayal of the reforming spirit of Vatican II; (ii) There are communities of Catholics dedicated to responding in thoughtful and proactive ways to these challenges; (iii) Seek and become part of these communities.

A liberating model of church

Within and throughout the local church of St. Paul-Minneapolis there are numerous opportunities for such pro-active engagement. One need look no further that the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform (CCCR) of which I’m honored to serve as co-chair. Last September we hosted (on property beyond the control of the clerical caste) our inaugural Synod of the Baptized – an event that drew 500 people. We have another synod in the works (scheduled for September 17, 2011) and out of which will emerge a Council of the Baptized.

CCCR’s understands the church as a communion of communities based upon acceptance and the fundamental equality of all members. It’s a church that's participatory and collaborative in nature, embodying a dialogical spirit; and it’s a prophetic sign in and for the world. Such as understanding and model of church arises out of Vatican II and seems to us most in line with the Gospel message. It’s a model that has been promulgated by the Asian bishops and it fits well with the positive values of our democratic U.S. culture. In short, it’s a liberating model of church that many of us here in the Twin Cities believe is worth working to see realized.

In conclusion

There was a time when news of a gay-related event on church property being “canceled” by the clerical caste made me very angry. I may have even wanted to organize a protest outside the chancery or something. I still do often feel anger, make no mistake. In particular it angers me that some LGBT youth may hear about these stories and internalize the message that they're expendable. The internalization of such a negative message can be profoundly damaging. It can even lead some to suicide. Despite this, I'm less inclined to think that picketing the chancery over the canceling of a gay-related event is the way to go. You see, I've come to recognize and understand the model of church held by those calling to have such events squashed and by those doing the squashing. And I realize that the Catholic Church has no real future while ever it's imprisoned by such a model. It's a model that's actually collapsing without my help. I'd rather focus on working to build and embody a different model, a model that's truer to Jesus' vision of community -- one free from imperial trappings and patriarchal mind-sets.

I can’t say for sure how the church will emerge from its current crisis; what form or forms it will take in order to embody Jesus’ mission of justice and compassion. I just know that the model of church being pushed by those upset by the mere thought of a quiet little fundraiser for CALGM in the basement of a small Minneapolis church is simply incapable of conveying, let alone witnessing to the world, the vastness and beauty of God's truth in human life and relationships. And Catholics in the pews know this. Many have responded by quietly leaving. Others attempt to operate ‘below the radar” until something like what we’ve just seen in Minneapolis shatters their illusion that they are somehow insulated from the damaging effects of the declining institutional church. Still others, and I count myself among them, are quietly organizing and working for a church that Jesus would recognize; a church open to growth and change; a church that reflects the best of our tradition – including undertaking the always necessary and often difficult task of reform. I invite you to become, in any way you can, part of this work.

For more information about the work of the Catholic Coalition for Church Reform, click here.

Image: "Study of a Masked Man" by Arshile Gorky.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for calling this person to account, Michael. I wish for his/her own integrity and for the sake of dialogue, the person would speak openly about the rationale behind the actions. As long as the Archbishop responds favorably to this kind of practice, it isn't likely that he/she will behave honorably. I wonder how the Archbishop justifies his response ethically?