Monday, January 7, 2013

An Open Letter to Archbishop Nienstedt

Dear Archbishop Nienstedt:

Thank you for the Rediscover Catholicism initiative and the copy of the book by Matthew Kelly. We wholeheartedly agree that a conversion of spirit is necessary for the Archdiocese to begin working together as one. As Richard Rohr has said about us in our spiritually immature condition, “The egocentric will still dominates: the need to be right, the need to be first, the need to think I am saved and other people are not. This is the lowest level of human consciousness, and God cannot be heard from that heady place or met at that level.” We all have to humbly surrender to the Spirit of God to rise to a new level of consciousness.

We acknowledge that we the Catholic laity need conversion of spirit. We ask you to acknowledge that you, as the spiritual leader of the Archdiocese, need conversion also. Through Matthew Kelly’s book you are addressing “unengaged” Catholics, Catholics who are immersed in individualism, hedonism, and minimalism (just enough religion to get by). We call your attention also to the many very engaged Catholics, imbued with Gospel values, who are now disengaging because they see entrenched policies and practices of the Church that are inconsistent with those Gospel values. It would be a first step to healing if you publicly sought to open your heart and mind to the people you have alienated. Until you do, your words about evangelization do not meet the authenticity test that Matthew Kelly advocates.

Many of us will gather with others in our parishes to discuss this book, listen to each other, ponder in our hearts, apply our God-given reasoning powers, and discern together what the Holy Spirit is saying to us in 2013. Matthew Kelly’s hopes for the program reported in Joe Towalski’s Catholic Spirit article on January 3 gave us hope: “Most of all I am looking forward to [how] it will ignite people’s faith [in ways] that we have not even imagined. We are working toward some intended outcomes, but the Holy Spirit will take this work and use it for so much more.”

If we, lay and ordained together, turned to God within each other, our Archdiocese could become the shining example of Church—the “best version “ of Church—that we are meant to be: fully alive, radiating Jesus' core teaching of radical equality, unabashed inclusivity and transforming love.

Progressive Catholic Voice editorial team 
Michael Bayly
Mary Beckfeld
Paula Ruddy


  1. One example of alienation: This letter was sent to the pastor and some key staff of St. John Neumann (SJN) in Eagan, MN on Jan 1, 2013. Per the writers, SJN was previously a loving and inclusive parish, but beginning in February, 2012, promoted a “yes” vote on the marriage amendment, either directly or indirectly, in almost each weekly bulletin, and through other forums.

    “We want to share that it is probably time to take us off the membership rolls at SJN. This will save SJN a bit of postage and some administrative tracking. Also, to avoid leaving anything hanging, we do want to confirm that we will not be contributing to SJN’s capital campaign (we had offered $36,000 subject to no part going to the Archdiocese).

    We want to thank you, the staff, and volunteers for helping create the parish environment we so valued for so many years. Because of those years at SJN, we move forward with an example of what good church is. We are copying several staff people on this email with the intent of offering them a special “thank you” for their efforts and gifts.

    To clarify, we left the parish due to SJN’s crossing the line from respectfully sharing church teachings to promoting the marriage amendment. This agenda of promotion put us in an impossible position. Since then, we have learned that several local churches south of the river are folding in families led by same-sex parents. We are deeply concerned that as a byproduct of its marriage amendment promotion (along with the state-wide Catholic reputation on this subject), these types of families will not feel welcome – or even safe – at SJN. We feel that this causes an unintended, but nevertheless, very real type of segregation, and this makes us deeply uncomfortable. In saying this, we understand that many folks at SJN would very much want to offer a welcoming environment to all people, and that many different folks and some churches are wrestling with the idea of marriage equality. Lastly, none of this causes us not to be grateful for the many meaningful years we enjoyed at SJN or the efforts of folks who helped create that environment.

    We would enjoy seeing any of you at any point. And, again thank you for all of your efforts over the years.”

  2. Why did you feel the need to share with us the amount you had promised to offer SJN, with strings attached?

    Only 36,000$? Come on!!!! Rise to a new level of consciousness!!!

    Did your departure from SJN include departure from the sacraments? This would be a shame, and perhaps even a damnable shame.

  3. Hi, Anonymous 2. I get the strength of your disapproval of Anonymous 1, but I can't quite tell why. Did you think mention of the sum was tasteless bragging? Did you think it was too paltry to be mentioned, and then it was conditioned too? I'm not in that contribution bracket so the amount stopped me up short for a bit, too. Then I heard the sadness of the people in leaving a beloved community and I thought maybe the amount was just evidence of how committed they were. They really cared about their parish. I don't think everyone understands what a deep cut it is for some of us to hear church leaders discount the essential humanity of people we love. It is more than just a political disagreement. The Archbishop said he didn't mean to alienate anyone by his anti-marriage equality campaign. I don't think he senses the injustice of it. A deep cut to one's sense of justice is pretty much always alienating, isn't it? When the sacramental ministers are blind to the harm they are causing, can you see how participating in the sacraments could feel like a contradiction? I think we have a grave situation here. The amount of money the family no longer has the heart to contribute doesn't really matter. The loss of heart does.

  4. Paula,

    You write that Jesus engaged in "unabashed inclusivity". You are clearly not talking about the same Jesus that is portrayed in the Gospels. Jesus says "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town." It did not end well for Sodom and Gomorrah if you recall. This is hardly "unabashed inclusivity".

    Or again in Mathew 18 Jesus states, "“If your brother or sister[b] sins,[c] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[d] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector." You should note that Jesus points out that if someone sins and does not take correction, then they are to be excluded from the Church. Again this is hardly "unabashed inclusivity."

    Either you are right that the bishop should repent but when he fails to repent, then you, following the words of the gospel, should exclude the bishop from the church or the bishop is right and those engaged in unnatural relations should be rebuked.


  5. Hi, Bruno. Thanks so much for communicating with us. You are right, we do seem to be in "rebuking" mode, don't we? I am rebuking the Archbishop for not practicing what he is preaching;he is rebuking "those engaged in unnatural relations" and me for defending them. Our tradition supports two ways out of the "rebuking" mode for both of us. One way, we let the wheat and the tares grow together and leave the rebuking to God. The other, we sit down and reason out what "unnatural relations" means and why it deserves rebuking in the first place,and what is the role of law in a democratic constitutional republic with citizens of diverse ethical systems. In either way, the Archbishop, you and I and the "unnatural relators" are one in God's love and we have to look at each other as brothers and sisters from that perspective--unabashed inclusivity. What do you think?

  6. Paula,

    The problem that I continually have with your presentation is that it essentially does not make sense. You constantly invoke rightly Our Lord as a model, but the problem is that Our Lord does not behave the way that you insist that we should behave. Our Lord was clear that marriage is between one man and one woman. Our Lord also was not radically inclusive. In fact, Our Lord in Matthew 18 insisted that when one does not listen to the Church, one is to be thrown out of the Church. You may very well not like it, you may insist on democratic procedures but these things have nothing to do with the Christ of the Gospels.

    Now maybe you have fashioned a new Christ or have some other source for your knowledge of Christ but your Christ is not the Christ of the Gospels. So my "rebuking model" is Christ and Christ tells us to rebuke. If you do not like this rebuking model then you should stop invoking him as your model.


  7. Bruno. 1) Of all the things Jesus of Nazareth is reported to have said, his major message to the world was that God is present with us and that God is love. Is that right? How does getting thrown out of the Church relate to that major message? Is your view that Jesus laid down some non-negotiables about marriage besides love God and love your neighbor? Discerning what love requires in a particular situation is hard work facilitated by grace. We have to reason, listen to teachers, pray, maybe rebuke and take some rebuking, but the Church is all of us and who gets to do the throwing out? In the history of the Church the bishops have thrown out people who have later been beatified. What do we learn from that? 2) I am not talking about "democratic procedures" within the church. I am talking about democratic procedures within the U.S. The Roman Catholic Church's teaching on marriage are not accepted by many citizens in our pluralistic society. Should those citizens be subject to civil laws of marriage based on the Church's teachings? Whether the Church's teaching about marriage are based on natural law or on the teaching of Jesus, I am asking Archbishop Nienstedt how he justifies imposing that teaching on other citizens by law? Are you saying that is not a legitimate question?

    1. Paula,
      As Catholic Christians which makes us responsible to preach the Gospel to all peoples, don't we want all in the world (the pluralistic society) to grow in holiness and to be saved? Or are you assuming that whatever people do is "good enough"? I believe that is the simple message of the Catholic Church and Archbishop Nienstedt, who do love us all and want us to become saints and are showing us how we can make that happen. To preach that message of salvation does require the Church to follow Jesus' command, whether the culture wants to hear it or not (and it generally doesn't). I am sympathetic to those you support in terms of the spiritual trial that being GLBTQ represents, but I'm not sure you are doing them a favor by confirming them in their "unnatural relations". I for one wasn't well served in my growth in holiness by being confirmed that masturbation, fornication and divorce are all "OK". Have you considered that our GLBTQ brothers and sisters might be called by God to show us heterosexuals a path to holiness by their examples of chaste lives (even though it constitutes a burden for them)? I realize that we heterosexuals can get married and have the good things that come from a sexual relationship, but people don't seem to die from not having sex. My sense is that defining ourselves based on sexuality (and not as a son or daughter of God)can kill the spiritual life. Our culture has so cheapened the beauty of the sexual relationship and won't even recognize that its ultimate purpose is to sustain humankind.

    2. I have been reading thus far and was not planning to respond. However, after reading the above comment, I took exception to the fact in that the focus in the above comment dsweels only on sexual relations pertaining to that of homosexuals. I don't know of anyone who would define themselves solely by their sexual orientation!! To think that is narrow minded. Homosexuality has just as much to do with love and falling in love as it does with the expression of that love through making love. As a heterosexual, I have plenty of gay friends and know this to be very much their reality as much as it is for any other person no matter one's sexual orientation. By distilling them down to one dimensional beings is insulting when in fact they possess all the feelings any other human being does.

      Only the object of their affection is different. I get so tired of people seeming to overlook that fact that homosexuals/bisexuals fall in love just like as any heterosexual person would, whether or not one ever engages in any sexual activity. Your response seems to be obsessed with their sexual actions but neglects any other aspect that makes them very much human. Please stop dehumanizing them by treating them that they are only one dimensional as called as "unnatural relations" but have no other contributions to offer society.

      BTW: As a straight Catholic I am one who EXTREMELY ALIENATED by the archbishop and has stopped going to Mass because of his crusade on the "marriage amendment". Well done Archbishop Nienstedt, chased another devout Catholic away.


  8. Paula,

    You write, "Of all the things Jesus of Nazareth is reported to have said, his major message to the world was that God is present with us and that God is love. Is that right?" It is only correct in this respect that God wants us to love in a certain way. Your methodology is essentially to reduce "love" to something is that is inherently vacuous. Your methodology result in you having cut off most of what Christ has said.

    You write, "Whether the Church's teaching about marriage are based on natural law or on the teaching of Jesus, I am asking Archbishop Nienstedt how he justifies imposing that teaching on other citizens by law? Are you saying that is not a legitimate question?" It is a legitamate question but one which any catholic should know. As Catholics we are required to preach the Gospel and to bring God's kingdom on earth. Our goal is, to quote the Vatican II, “Christ's redemptive work, while essentially concerned with the salvation of men, includes also the renewal of the whole temporal order. Hence the mission of the Church is not only to bring the message and grace of Christ to men but also to penetrate and perfect the temporal order with the spirit of the Gospel.” Apostolicam actuositatem, 5.


  9. Dear Bruno and Anonymous 3. Preaching the Gospel--persuading people by word and example-- is one thing,and coercing them by law is another. Civil marriage laws that prevent homosexual couples from having the same tangible and intangible goods that heterosexual couples enjoy by law is a restriction of freedom without good reasons. Your reasoning, Anonymous 3, that the suffering will make them holy and be a good example to heterosexuals who are married is baffling. Did I misread your sentence below:
    "Have you considered that our GLBTQ brothers and sisters might be called by God to show us heterosexuals a path to holiness by their examples of chaste lives (even though it constitutes a burden for them)?"
    Can you determine what people are called by God to do and then advocate laws to make them do it? I must be misunderstanding you.

  10. Paula,
    Let me see if I can summarize the positions here:
    1) You indicate that the Church should not act in society to affirm its scriptural, traditional and natural law beliefs in regard to the sanctity of marriage, since it would hurt homosexual couples. I'm also assuming you believe these are in error and you are actively working to change those beliefs.
    2) I believe that the Church must act to affirm its beliefs in regard to the sanctity of marriage, whether the pluralistic society is receptive to them or not, because eternal life is at stake for both believers and non-believers.
    3) We are both sympathetic to the spiritual struggles of GLBTQ brothers and sisters. You believe that they must act in accordance with their nature by having the type of sexual exchange that the Church has deemed to be disordered (and I want to note that it is also disordered for heterosexuals). You are also working to change the belief in both society and the Church so that they affirm these exchanges as normal and a legitimate path to holiness.
    4) Due to the actual purpose of the sexual organs in male and female and that the exchange is primarily for the propagation of the human species (I recognize that there are other reasons for the exchange), I (and the Church)struggle with your assertion that the sexual activity of LBGTQ's can be seen as normal and that it brings them to holiness. I am just as sinful in misusing it thru masturbation and fornication, which society has declared as being normal and I have justified to myself in the past that my behavior was not sinful. I am absolutely convinced from my life experiences that what I was doing was pulling me away from God.

    I am having a hard time seeing the middle ground (and I am a professional negotiator) which demonstrates the very real divides we have within the Church. For example, if the Church would've backed off on promoting the Marriage Amendment, would you and your colleagues in turn have respected the Church's doctrine in regarding sexuality as it applies to its members (and not to the broader pluralistic society)? My sense from reading your postings, is that your answer is "no way", that the Church is wrong and you will continue to vigorously contest that doctrine thru whatever ways you are able. And the rub is that I and others who believe what the Church teaches will just as vigorously oppose you, since salvation for all of us is at stake.

    So as I've indicated elsewhere, what seems to be left is that we pray for each other that God will continue to shower us with abundant blessings and grace, keep us free from sin and bring us to heaven when we are ready for sainthood.

  11. Paula,
    One other point while I'm engaging you. I'm struck by the situation of bisexuals. What would you propose that society and the Church do about them? We are being cruel to them emotionally to force them to marry only one person (although I am expecting society to accommodate them in the future). Would you be contesting the Church's teaching about marriage being between two people only or would you draw the line? My point is where does this end, with a society consisting of family instability and personal irresponsibility based on emotional needs?

  12. Paula makes the much stronger and obvious case here. Anonymous and Bruno, you may imagine "the kingdom of God on earth" in any way that you like, but when you or your archbishop attempt to impose your religious standards on a free and democratic society, you violate the civil covenant. The citizens of Minnesota appropriately demonstrated that to you by rejecting the marriage amendment. It should be a lesson well learned.
    Anonymous, your idea that gays are somehow "called" to lives loneliness and frustration- in order to inspire heterosexuals to holiness- seems blatantly demeaning to gay persons. I am always amazed when heterosexuals feel unapologetically free to dissect the lives of their fellow citizens who happen to be if they were bugs on a pin board. Probe here, pin there. Inspect the underbelly. Inventory, analyze, categorize, discuss, and label. Neat, tidy, and dehumanizing.
    Anonymous, do you have relationships with gay people? I do. Plenty of lived experience. I am loaded with gay family members, friends, and neighbors, some Catholic, and some not. I find gay persons to be fully functioning humans, of roughly the same moral fibre and essential goodness as everyone else I know. They pay their taxes, mow their lawns, cherish their spouses, nurture their kids, go to church if they are religious, and have approximately the same level of sometimes rapturous, sometimes mundane sex as the rest of us. Why would we begrudge them that?
    I have never heard one gay friend attempt to critique the sex lives and moral character of their straight friends. They understand that we all just live by our God given natures, whether gay or straight, and that violating our individual nature is in itself sin.
    Meanwhile, as you and your archbishop attempt to manipulate civil law for your particular purposes, and carry on about the "unnaturalness" of gay lives, know that gay citizens, their children, their extended families, and their communities are thriving, while contributing to the wholeness of our increasingly diverse society. Please, at least be respectful of differences in civil society, whatever your particular thoughts about "bringing the kingdom of God to earth."

    Mary Murphy

    PS. Why not sign your full names? It lends credibility.

  13. To the Anonymous who said: 1) You indicate that the Church should not act in society to affirm its scriptural, traditional and natural law beliefs in regard to the sanctity of marriage, since it would hurt homosexual couples.

    To the contrary, I said that the Church should act in society to affirm its beliefs. We, as Church, should preach the Gospel, help each other live in holy marriages, and try to persuade by word and example that God loves the world. Let's say we do that, but there are many homosexual people of various faiths and no-faith who do not believe that God wants them to live celibate lives. Can you say what God wants them to do? As Catholics and U.S. citizens shouldn't we respect their beliefs about themselves and their relationship to God? Should we then try to deprive them of the right to civil marriage? Many of us have come to agree with them that depriving them of normal family life is not for the common good. People have to be able to say for themselves what is good for them. If they want the same status and tangible and intangible benefits that heterosexuals have under the civil marriage laws, it is hard to see how the civil society can deny them under the equal protection clause of the U.S.Constitution. Can you make some of these distinctions between what you believe and how to treat other people who do not believe the same thing? God is not coercive. Jesus called people and let them choose. Shouldn't we too?

  14. Paula and members of the PCV,
    I know you won't like to hear this, but frankly, you have no hope of engaging Archbishop Nienstedt with emotional arguments or trying to organize an Archdiocesan Pastoral Council. While I respect your heartfelt principles and I do understand your arguments, just the way you and your supporters have interacted with me in this brief interchange on this blog, with lack of willingness to understand who I am and why I believe as I do causes me to solidify my position and to oppose you whenever I am able. I am pretty confident that this is exactly where Archbishop Nienstedt is at. You can say the same things that you just listed about abortion - how dare the Church oppose abortion in the civil society (the law of the land), when we should respect others' beliefs that it is OK to kill their unborn children. You will be in my prayers.

    Randy S.

  15. Anonymous,
    I wish you well on your spiritual journey too. I am curious though about the "lived experience" that led to your opposition to gay sexual expression- other than church policy of course.
    I sign my name to these missives because I have been an ''out" advocate for gay persons for about 20 years now, in both Catholic and secular contexts. As you recently were, I too have been the victim of intimidation, in fact aggressive intimidation, on many occasions over the years. Like most gay allies, I have been shouted at, sworn at in the most vulgar of language, pushed down, spat upon, followed home from rallies by frightening strangers, harassed in the press after writing letters of support, etc.. Though dismaying, it is minimal compared to what many gay persons face in a lifetime.
    I regard the gay rights struggle in much the same way that Barack Obama now does, and the way Coretta King always has..... as the most recent expression of the continuing civil rights quest, and as the president says, a thread in the historical alignment of Seneca, Selma, and Stonewall.
    Though you have every right to speak out on this, it does concern me when religiously affiliated people voice religious opposition to full gay equality. I fear that you inadvertently fan the flames of those who seek license to intimidate.
    Yes, you and I may eventually discover what death holds in store for us. But for now, I put my focus on the moment, working for the safety, equality, and celebration of gay persons.

    Mary Murphy

  16. Dear Randy S. You say:"... just the way you and your supporters have interacted with me in this brief interchange on this blog, with lack of willingness to understand who I am and why I believe as I do causes me to solidify my position and to oppose you whenever I am able. I am pretty confident that this is exactly where Archbishop Nienstedt is at."
    We probably are coming from two very different frames of reference. This sounds as if you have hurt feelings and are going away with payback in your heart, whereas we thought we were reasoning together. I hope you are not authorized to speak for Archbishop Nienstedt. The original open letter in this post tried to express to Archbishop Nienstedt the concern that his appeal to alienated Catholics in the Rediscover program is vitiated by his recently alienating many more Catholics by his campaigning against marriage equality. My problem with his campaigning is that he does not engage in reasoning about his position. He relies on stating the position as authoritative, silencing opposition, and threats. The Church does not have an infallible position on what MN civil laws of marriage ought to be. Catholics, the Church, are all over the board on the question. I beg him, and you if you speak for him, to give reasonable counter-arguments to the constitutional questions raised, the human freedom and dignity questions raised, the common good questions raised. See what I mean? This is not about our discounting you, Randy. The quality of human lives and our political process are at stake. It is worth putting aside our own sensitivies and continuing the process of coming to understanding as citizens.

  17. FYI: just for the record, many VOTE NO signs were stolen too.


  18. All,
    Nice 20 comment diatribe - did anyone notice that the initial blog post is a public relations plug for the abysmal Rediscover Catholicism "free" book distribution(from a "generous donor" if your parish has been the benefactor of the kick-off program). Read the book and be amazed at Kelly's unintended post-mortem of the Catholic Church - Catholics of devout or declining pratice will be depressed while no one considering joining the Faith would be drawn or convinced by this content from a motivational speaker whose resume, education or theological basis is absent from view. Research further and you will find the Diocese of MSP has invested 4 years in development of this initiative - just one bit of advice - engage and listen to he remaining disciples in your pews rather peddling the crass mass-marketing hype of "best version" theology.