Thursday, April 17, 2008

Minnesota Monthly, Public Radio's (MPR) Thoughts on Archbishop Nienstedt -- Part 1

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Archbishop Harry Flynn retires at the age 0f 75 on May 2. Coadjutor Archbishop John Nienstedt, who has held his title since last Spring, removes that strange word, "coadjutor" [it kinda means, "archbishop in waiting" from his title, then; he's got the job!], immediately and becomes our new shepherd. Minnesota Public Radio the wise arbiter of all things good in the land "where all the children are above average", has some thoughts on the transition.

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The emphases in the article in black are mine. Comments in purple are mine, too.]

Part 1 of 2, consisting of Page 1 of 3

Some say he’s a spiritual galvanizer, others a bully. So what does the Twin Cities’ new archbishop really mean for Minnesota catholics?
Fate of the Faithful
Photo by Darren Booth (Typography & Illustration)

(page 1 of 3)

THE WELCOMING MASS for a new archbishop is the closest most Catholic Minnesotans will ever come to a coronation. Last June, in white plumy hats and red capes, members of the Knights of Columbus fraternal order stood like centurions outside the lofty granite edifice of the Cathedral of Saint Paul, the highest point in the capital. Ranks of seminarians marched in, while less orderly posses, pushing one cause or another within the church, sang over loudspeakers on the lawn, hoping for the archbishop’s acknowledgement. Priests gossiped in the grass (“Those letters he used to send…,” “He’s really grown since then”). The organ prelude, “Tu es Petrus”—You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church—rumbled out into the humidity.

The pews were packed with thousands of pastors, monks, nuns, Vatican dignitaries, and ordinary believers, many of whom simply wanted a look at the man who would be king: the Reverend John Nienstedt. The Introit began: Now I know that the Lord really has sent his angel. The congregation rose in a shudder, and Nienstedt appeared in the doorway, haloed in the afternoon light. “Are you willing to support Archbishop Nienstedt as he takes up his ministry among us?” asked his predecessor, Archbishop Harry Flynn. We are, the crowd affirmed.

Yet many American Catholics, more than at any point in the past several decades, are at a crossroads, hoping for flexibility in church positions but faced with increasingly rigid leadership. What Nienstedt does after his expected ascent this month to the head of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Archdiocese may well determine the local church’s long-term direction. Nienstedt will be the ultimate authority figure for some 750,000 Catholics across 12 counties, stretching from the Twin Cities to Albertville in the north and Faribault in the south. Archbishops have the power to assign—and reassign—priests as they see fit and to enforce church rules as Rome sees fit. [overstated; not quite so simplistic] Their actions frequently reverberate beyond church walls, as when Flynn testified before the Legislature this year on behalf of a higher minimum wage, or when sex abuse cover-ups filled front pages across the country. If he serves until the priestly retirement age of 75, Nienstedt could reign over this region for a lengthy 14 years.

Not surprisingly then, before Nienstedt spent the past year as coadjutor archbishop—or coworker, sharing duties with Flynn—the media scrutinized his character, writings, and any other indication of his intentions. “Much ink has been spilled in the press over speculation about how [I] will differ from the present archbishop,” Nienstedt sermonized at his welcoming mass. “Frankly, I believe such speculation is misplaced.” Indeed, observers seized on the two men’s stylistic differences and extrapolated that Nienstedt was more of a hardliner. (Nienstedt once said, for instance, that to ensure Catholic schools’ viability “we have to tell Catholics to have more babies”—a blunt suggestion the low-key Flynn would be unlikely to make.) The Star Tribune soberly noted that Nienstedt, previously the bishop of New Ulm, “has pushed for an amendment to the state Constitution defining marriage as between one man and one woman and has taken conservative stances on issues ranging from Terri Schiavo to the causes of homosexuality.” Never mind that Flynn has taken exactly the same positions [as have virtually all bishops].

In splitting the few hairs that separate these men, the media may have missed the bigger picture: Both leaders have been committed to reflecting the church’s official position at any given time. Not so long ago, bishops occasionally advocated for flexibility—notably in Nienstedt’s hometown of Detroit. No longer. Certainly not these men. “I don’t believe it’s the role of any bishop to have an agenda,” Nienstedt says. “I’m not conservative, I’m not liberal. I’m here to serve and do what the church asks me to do.” As one longtime observer of local Catholic life puts it, they’re both “company men” and “that’s the state of the overall church now.” So if Nienstedt seems like a hardliner, it can only mean one thing: That’s what Rome desires.

Over the last 25 years, the most remarkable trend in the church has been the rise of traditionalist bishops—leaders uninterested in questioning the church’s most sensitive stands, who, on the contrary, have staked out unfashionable positions to defend church teaching. “There were things John Paul as pope wanted to accomplish and he felt the best way to do that was to appoint like-minded people to bishop posts around the world,” says Robert Kennedy, head of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul. “And I think [Pope Benedict XVI] is continuing that.” In their vision for the church, right and wrong are clear—as are the consequences for confusing them. “Jesus has given us instructions, and we have to be faithful to them,” Nienstedt has said. “So if someone is out of bounds,” he added, using a sports metaphor, “they may be whistled down.”

If the seeds of this new order were sown during Flynn’s term, then Nienstedt’s tenure may see their full flower. At his welcoming mass last June, Nienstedt preached unity and diversity, repeating that “each in his chosen way” should be gathered into the Christian fold. Speakers of various nationalities read scripture in their native tongues. The skeptical seemed reassured. But since that day, enough controversy has swirled around the archbishop’s office to suggest that unity may come at a very high price.

+ + +

There is a precept in the Catholic Church called ecclesia semper reformanda, meaning “the church is always reforming”—a surprise to anyone who believes it has all-too-successfully resisted change. Yet the church of today looks nothing like the church of 1950, which looked nothing like the early church, an institution many scholars believe included women leaders [a "leader" does not mean that they were priests or deacons] and married priests. And the latest makeover occurred less than 50 years ago.

When Catholic leaders gathered in the early 1960s for the landmark discussions known as the Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, or Vatican II, they mandated modernization—not to conform to contemporary mores, but to assert the church’s relevance in a fast-changing world. After all, Joe Catholic could by then zip around the world in a jet, watch the president on TV, and more than ever—given John F. Kennedy’s status as the first Catholic in the Oval Office—hope to become the president. Meanwhile, Catholic worship seemed literally backward—still led exclusively in Latin by priests who faced the altar, not the congregation. [Might it not be better said: "faced the crucified Jesus who died for our sins and our salvation?]

Vatican II changed all that. The service, or liturgy, could be led in the language of the people.

[Specifically, Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Vatican II document dealing with the liturgy said specifically, the following:

36. 1. Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.

2. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass, the administration of the sacraments, or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended. This will apply in the first place to the readings and directives, and to some of the prayers and chants, according to the regulations on this matter to be laid down separately in subsequent chapters.]


The people, or laity, were empowered to participate. Nuns threw off their habits, the laity joined choirs [The laity were always in choirs in recent times, I don't know about the distant past; except perhaps in monasteries], led Sunday school [There were few Sunday Schools in the U.S. in the 2oth century; most Catholics went to parish schools for their entire education.], and [some dissidents] no longer felt they were going to hell if they missed a mass. The liberating spirit of these changes inspired [some in] several
generations of Catholics [A better phrase might a "a couple generations of Catholics"] to question other church teachings or traditions seemingly incompatible with modern life.

Some now say they went too far. In dispensing with bad theology, maybe some good was lost, too, say critics—baby Jesus thrown out with the bath water. Today’s young seminarians are struggling to lead a church still awash in the sea change instigated by their elders and, perhaps not surprisingly, they’re looking for anchors. “They just want to get in touch with their cultural roots,” says Kennedy of the University of St. Thomas. “They’re not carrying some of the baggage that their parents carried in the ’60s and ’70s—they’re freer to look at the tradition of the church and be excited. They’re pushing back a little bit, saying some of that’s kind of interesting and beautiful.”

The type of priest many Catholics have come to know is being displaced. After Vatican II, the most popular priestly model was the so-called servant-leader [I prefer the term "entertainer" or "performer."], whose accommodating, or pastoral, manner toward the faithful reflected a significant break from the shepherd priest who had all the answers and whose sheep were, well, sheep. Now, some traditionalist young priests, often called John Paul or JP II priests, are returning to the more authoritarian mold of pre-Vatican II.

One local seminarian (who favors the pre-Vatican II Latin mass slowly being reintroduced in traditionalist parishes), has posted images on his blog of the kind of priest he hopes to become: black-and-white pictures of pre-Vatican II priests facing the altar, historic paintings evoking the majesty of old. Adapting his philosophy from a group called Concerned Roman Catholics of America, he says, “I will not allow the Holy Catholic Church to be torn apart and assaulted by the forces of modernism, syncretism, heresy, and the gross immorality of some of its clergy in the name of the ‘Spirit of Vatican II.’ I will not allow our Catholic youth to be robbed of their faith or have their innocence destroyed in the name of ‘tolerance,’ ‘ecumenism,’ ‘diversity,’ or any other politically correct ideology of the day.” [I want him at my parish! ! ! ! ! ! !]

Kennedy warns against extrapolating from such examples. “It’s true that some enclaves around the country seem to want to reconstruct some imaginary version of the [pre-Vatican II] church,” he says. “I don’t know what they’re smoking.” But today’s youth returning to a pre-Vatican II church—“that’s not going to happen.” [The jury is still out, Mr./Prof. Kennedy. Luther posted his theses in 1517. The Church's major response, the Council of Trent, wasn't convened until 1545. It takes time to deal with these things. It wasn't until 1648 that wars and deaths due to the Protestant Revolution subsided in Europe.]

Nevertheless, the generational difference is enough to disturb many servant-leader priests. “They don’t admire the young priests,” says Dean Hoge, a sociology professor and expert on priests and seminarians at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. “They feel the young men are too concerned with their own status.” [The show-off performer priests aren't concerned about their own image in their parishes? Au contraire! I can introduce you to the priest I refer to as "Father Extemporaneous."] In turn, the JP II priests call their elders—sometimes called Vatican II priests—“social-worker priests” or “Protestant priests,” he says, as if they’ve “somehow watered down what it means to be a priest.” [You mean the priests who have stopped hearing confessions and allow anybody to go to Holy Communion haven't watered down the faith?]

Social workers or not, many Vatican II priests fostered a progressive agenda. The nation’s first archdiocesan Commission on Women was begun in the Twin Cities in 1979 by then-Archbishop John Roach to explore the role of women in the church. Also at that time, the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM) formed in St. Paul. With Roach’s blessing, says CPCSM co-founder David McCaffrey, the group introduced a sort of sensitivity training in parishes and eight out of the 11 local Catholic high schools—a curriculum enabling counselors to better serve gay Catholics. “During the peak of our work,” says McCaffrey, “we became almost mainstream.” [I won't mention the fact that 81% of the cases of child sexual abuse in the U.S. were cases of males abusing post-pubescent males. Some of us think that that is one of the definitions of homosexuality.]

By 1999, after conservative parents complained, says McCaffrey, CPCSM was no longer welcome. Last year, the archdiocese frequently ran afoul of gay advocates, as when it forbade a CPCSM-sponsored talk in October by a lesbian and her father to be held at a Minneapolis church. Soon after, Nienstedt clarified the church’s position on homosexuality in the archdiocesan newspaper, the Catholic Spirit. In an earlier column, he had called homosexuality a disorder, explaining that “such inclinations are not sinful in themselves” but acting on them is. This time, he said even those who “actively encourage or promote homosexual acts or such activity within a homosexual lifestyle formally cooperate in a grave evil,” which many read as a literal condemnation of those who’ve supported the loving relationships of their gay children or friends. [And many do not. "Love the sinner; hate the sin."]

This spring, further archdiocesan orders have limited everything from the role of lay preachers during mass [Only ordained priests, bishops and deacons may preach during the Liturgy of the Holy Mass. That's always been the case. But some bishops have not enforced that rule.] to the kinds of nontraditional, laity-led liturgies some parishes have offered since the 1960s. [Non-traditional laity led services have always been allowed and in some rural parish, that is all that they have because of the shortage of priests. But when a non-ordained layperson leads, it is not a Mass and does not satisfy the requirement for attendance at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.] The Commission on Women was recently folded into another archdiocesan office, which some participants see [and probably, some don't] as a diminishment of its importance. “The post-Vatican II sense of collegiality among the bishops, much less among church leaders and lay people, has faded,” says one local observer, “and the sense of hierarchy has ascended.” [A bishop is responsible to God and to the Pope. They can be as "collegial" as they like with whomever they like, or dislike.]

“There are some arguments in favor of the more traditional view of the priesthood,” says Hoge. “They have a stronger morale, they’re happier men. They resign a bit less. And the seminaries that espouse that view are a little stronger, so they say, ‘We’re the way of the future, follow us.’ But the laity, in general, prefer the servant-leader model.” [In general, 70% of the laity do not attend Mass on Sundays. It is an interesting question as to whether or not they should be still considered to be Catholics.]

As a new era dawns, several well-known servant-leader priests here, including the Reverend Michael O’Connell of the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis—the originator of the popular Basilica Block Party—are moving on or retiring. [Father O'Connell, a great administrator and pastor, who has done wonderful things for the Basilica of St Mary and the Annunciation Parish in North Minneapolis that serves a vibrant Hispanic community, is about 66 years old. There is no requirement that he work til 75 like a Bishop. He deserves a retirement if he so chooses. But he doesn't impress me as the kind of priest who would like to stay idle. I may not agree with all of his ideas; but I don't always agree with some of my own ideas, either, after a few days.] As a result, some local Catholics conjecture, the archdiocese won’t be as welcoming. “I figure we have about 10 good years left,” says a longtime Basilica parishioner. The local Reverend Mike Tegeder simply predicts bigger and broader clashes, as the spirit of Vatican II won’t easily be exorcised. “The genie is out of the bottle,” he says. “There’s no putting it back.” [The less said about Father Tegeder, the better!]

Part I (that's this page)

Part II

Part III
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