Friday, April 18, 2008

Minnesota Monthly, Public Radio's (MPR) Thoughts on Archbishop Nienstedt -- Part 2

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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 2 of 2, consisting of Pages 2 and 3 of 3

Fate of the Faithful

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 2 of 2)



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Tegeder, the priest at the Church of St. Edward in Bloomington, is among the most vocal critics of Nienstedt’s appointment. Ordained in the late 1970s, he is a classic servant-leader priest. He sometimes sports a worn newsboy cap (Nienstedt prefers a crisp black fedora) and occasionally uses the word “damn” in the non-ecclesiastical sense.

Tegeder notes that Nienstedt’s June trip to Rome, where he’ll receive a lambskin stole [The Church calls it a "pallium", the official symbol of office of an archbishop of a province, a band worn around the neck, the ancient origins of which are the subject of many interpretations. ] as affirmation of his appointment, has been heavily advertised among local Catholics—they can even purchase a tour package to traipse along, something more status-conscious East Coast bishops would encourage. (For his part, Nienstedt has said the criticism of his appointment has been “very inhospitable and not at all in keeping with the classic Minnesota attitude of ‘fair play.’”) Yet Tegeder is hardly an inner-city activist or the head of a nonconformist parish: The Church of St. Edward is a large congregation in a leafy suburb. He’s certainly no less traditional than his church’s staff, who on this day—Ash Wednesday—all appropriately sport a cross of ashes on their foreheads. [Traditional? Excuuuuuuuuu-uuuuuuse Meeeeeeeeeeee!!!!]

Tegeder has gathered the staff to discuss their hopes and fears for the future of the archdiocese. This archdiocese is known for its unusually high number of progressive Catholics armed with advanced religious education, and Tegeder’s staff fits the mold. They are all women, [Here's another "Excu-use me." I thought the Church hated women? I'd bet that 70% or more of all lay employees are women. Wanna take me up on that bet?] and many have degrees in divinity or theology—“all of them basically have the same education as the priests,” says Tegeder. [Here's a third "Excu-use me." You gotta be kidding!] Vatican II renewed the church’s call for Catholics to inform their conscience through study—in addition to consulting their leaders—and these women have taken the call seriously.

Heidi Busse, who organizes the church’s religious instruction classes as its director of faith formation, is an outgoing 35-year-old with a master’s in theology. She’s occasionally preached at St. Edward’s. But starting this month, as directed by the archbishop’s office, lay preaching will largely be banned during mass. [It's always been banned. It's just that the bishops haven't always enforced the ban. The Homily, a commentary on the readings of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is restricted to ordained deacons, priests and bishops.] ]Several parishes have regularly featured lay preachers as a way for parishioners to “break open the word,” Busse says—to hear from a perspective closer to their own. Now, lay people must speak at the end of mass, if they are to speak from the pulpit at all. [Oh, the misery! After the parishioners have already raced out to the parking lot. If they were smart, they'd head over to St. Joan of Arc and discover that their "lay preachers" now talk before the Mass begins.]

“I think there’s a breakdown between reality—the real life in the parish—and theory or doctrine or politics,” says Busse. She isn’t called to be a priest, she says, but is a talented speaker. “We all have different gifts, and it’s hard as a woman or lay person to be told your call is not valid.”

LaLonne Murphy, the parish’s director of liturgy and music, has worked in the archdiocese for 30 years and says the increased stress on guidelines, or rubrics, has been pitched to the parishes as necessary to avoid “confusion” among the faithful. “If Heidi preaches, I don’t think there is going to be any confusion that she is Father Mike,” says Murphy. “We are not confused about these things.” [The image might not, but I'd bet that the message might confuse some.]

The women would prefer a dialogue between parishioners and leaders. “We don’t want to run wild,” says Busse. “We don’t want to be relativist…it’s just that the conversation would be so helpful for all of us to be more open to serving each other.” Murphy agrees: “People here tend to be more adult and take responsibility for themselves and the world around them. They’re not waiting for someone to tell them what to do. No one needs another mom and dad.” [How about a Holy Father in Rome that Jesus gave us?]

The sentiment echoes national surveys that show a growing gap between the Catholic laity and their leaders on such issues as contraception, married priests, and church governance. “They’re moving in opposite directions,” says William D’Antonio, a renowned scholar in the sociology of religion at Catholic University and co-author of the 2007 book American Catholics Today. From 1987 to 2005, the authors’ research shows, the “level of Catholics’ commitment to the institutional church” has trended downward. “By 2005,” says D’Antonio, “there isn’t an age group or gender where there is a majority saying that they look to church leaders as the automatic source of authority.” Instead, more Catholics are looking to their own conscience. [Gasp! Why go to Church at all if the rule is "Let your conscience by your guide?" It is my opinion that the older priests in many parishes ceased teach the faith to their parishioners, having them work on the social Gospel, the "corporal works of mercy. These were the priests ordained in the 60s and before. A Los Angeles Times survey in 2002 found that priests over 60 years old were twice as likely to be liberal as those 40 years and younger, the more traditional ones who revered Pope John Paul II and have similar feelings towards Pope Benedict. Subjective information in the last six years indicates that that trend is continuing. And those younger priests are resuming the catechesis of their parishioners.]

[Addendum: Colleen Carroll Campbell, in a column in the New York Times on April 19, 2008, elaborated on the Church's youth movement:

The youthful crowds turn out for Benedict, as they did for John Paul, for the same reason that young Catholics across America are rediscovering the rosary and Eucharistic adoration, forming reading groups to study the early Church fathers and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, joining Catholic lay movements and religious orders that stress fidelity to Catholic Church teachings, launching Bible studies and chastity clubs on secular campuses, and working to bolster religious education programs at Catholic parishes.

They are hungry for God. They are seeking transcendent truth and reliable moral guidance. And a growing number of them have come to believe that they can find both in an unreserved embrace of their Catholic faith and its most demanding moral teachings.

These young Catholics do not admire Benedict in spite of his message, but because of it. While many leaders today regard the young as bundles of hormones incapable of sacrifice or self-restraint, Benedict views them as souls longing for goodness and God. He tells them that the restlessness they feel — the persistent longing that no amount of money, power, or pleasure can seem to satisfy — is not a curse. It is a reminder that they were created for more than the consumption of goods and satisfaction of appetites. You were created for love, Benedict tells them, the kind of love that originates in God and spills over into service to others.]


The concept has precedence: Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote, “It is better to die excommunicated” than to disobey one’s [well-formed] conscience. The beloved educator Cardinal John Henry Newman reputedly said, “I shall drink to the pope, if you please—still, to [a well-formed] conscience first and to the pope afterwards.” When it comes down to who feels welcome in the church, says Murphy, many of the faithful consult their consciences. “We are not confused when people are not permitted by the institution to join us at the table,” she says, referring to the church’s position on Catholics in same-sex unions. “We are not confused by that. That [church policy] is an abomination.” [Using a "conscience" as a source of determining what is easy, convenient or a source of pleasure is not using a "well-formed conscience."]

Even toward straight people seeking to marry, however, the archdiocese has become less welcoming, claims Tegeder, with some parishes scrutinizing the couple’s commitment to Catholicism when one partner isn’t Catholic. [The nerve, asking for a commitment to Catholicism, the family, children and God! How dare a church demand that?] Parishes have also refused to conduct funerals on similar grounds, says Mary Hayden, the church’s director of pastoral care. Murphy is appalled. “Can you imagine Jesus telling somebody they can’t have their funeral someplace? That he won’t stand by them in death? A lot of this law-quoting is about manipulation and fear, telling people they’re going to hell. Fear does not control us. We won’t stand for that kind of bullying.”

What will become of those who feel bullied, the parishioners at the margins? “People are realizing they have different options,” says Tegeder. “Some will want to keep the fight up, others will feel they have to move on.” And still others, says Hayden, will become angry with God.

Since Nienstedt’s welcome mass, many progressives have wondered whether his vision of unity is compatible with theirs. Can he strike a balance between the orthodox ideal of getting everyone on the same page and their hope that diverse perspectives will be embraced? Other Catholics, though, believe he shouldn’t bother accommodating—one man’s hardliner, after all, is another’s true believer. “Bless the Lord! A bishop without a limp spine!” wrote one online commentator upon the news of Nienstedt’s appointment. “Finally, a bishop who knows how to bish!” gushed another.

Several local priests have condemned Tegeder’s views—the Reverend George Welzbacher of the Church of St. John, in St. Paul, calls him a “chronic malcontent” who’s assumed “the role of roadside bomber. Or maybe suicide bomber.” He suggests that those who agree with Tegeder—the insubordinate—have already left the church anyway.


Kennedy says archdiocesan leadership changes so infrequently that new bishops tend to elicit extreme reactions: “Some will say, ‘Thank goodness we got a new sheriff and let me tell you about the guys you need to arrest first,’ and others will say, ‘Oh my gosh, he’s going to change something. How can we prevent that?’”

Even many moderates, however, advocate the occasional archdiocesan housecleaning. “If you don’t sweep and vacuum once a week, things get out of control,” says the Reverend David Smith, recently retired from the University of St. Thomas. Though he notes, “One can raise questions whether they’ve done too much [cleaning]. Sometimes people who call for a housecleaning are pretty restricted about the rooms they want cleaned.”

Those “rooms” may be ideologies, such as gay activism, or parishes with experimental liturgies. “This archdiocese is known worldwide for several parishes that have strayed pretty far from the Catholic faith,” says Janice LaDuke, who blogs about local Catholicism as “Catherine of Alexandria,” the medieval martyr. She says anyone who thinks Nienstedt’s appointment triggered a Catholic culture war here doesn’t know the local church—“This archdiocese has been a battlefield long before now.” And she, for one, welcomes the challenge: “I’ve got my sword handy, my Catechism and Bible at the ready.”

Four weeks before Easter, St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Minneapolis is standing-room-only with the kind of crowd for whom May Day is a major holiday [For most Catholics, it is the feast of St Joseph the Worker; for lawyers it is Law Day.] : bearded men in ponytails, white-haired crones ["Crones" at St Stephen's? This coming from Minnesota Public Radio, home of diversity?] leaning on canes carved with animal totems, a lesbian couple rocking their baby. There are enough Subarus in the parking lot to open a dealership. Some worshippers have never been here before. A few are Lutheran, attending in solidarity. Many are in tears.

St. Stephen’s is one of the churches LaDuke would consider a liturgical outlier, and the battle has been taken to its doorstep. “We are in crisis,” the service’s leader announces. “We don’t know where we’re going to be.” But they can’t stay here. After today—after 40 years—this service is being shut down by the archdiocese. Too many rules broken, Archbishop Flynn wrote to them. Too much “confusion about liturgical practices.”

The 9 a.m. service at St. Stephen’s, a major social-service provider in its blighted neighborhood near the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, was likely the first in the archdiocese to feature the sort of guitar-strumming, dancing-in-the-aisles aesthetic that makes even liberal Minnesotans blush. Of course, there are no aisles here, no pulpit, and, for a long while, no priest. Just two basketball hoops, a stage, and a makeshift altar. The service has always been held in the parish’s gym. [There happens to be a very nice church owned by them across the street from the "gym"; but some probably think that it doesn't fit with their consciences. Their 11:15 Sunday liturgy is held in the church structure, though.]

Their communion vessels are made of the wrong material—ceramic instead of precious metal. Women often lead worship. After the homily, a microphone is set up for parishioners to dialogue about the text. Poetry is often read, as in Unitarian churches. Even Tegeder describes it as “kind of a fast and loose community” and suggests the archdiocese was right to question aspects of the service. But he also believes the current hierarchy would consider it a “marginal” community. How did things come to this? And why now?

In his letter to the parish, Flynn said he sought changes by April, when St. Stephen’s received a new priest, by all accounts a traditionalist. Flynn also noted that St. Stephen’s had been upbraided before; enough changes were not made.

In the bigger picture, St. Stephen’s time may simply be up. Among the phenomena of the Catholic church’s new era is the emergence of liturgical vigilantes [The proper term is "liturgy cops."], people who visit parishes and note—in blogs or letters to the archbishop—how closely rubrics [As a point of clarification, the "rubrics" (from the Latin word for red, the color of ink used for rubrics) in the General Instructions of the Roman Missal are the instructions that all parishes are required to follow in their liturgies.] are followed. Flynn has publicly chastised such busybodies, yet more than one visitor to St. Stephen’s has tattled on the 9 a.m. worshippers. And now the St. Stephen’s folks are divided. Many vow to continue a similar service off-site, outside the archbishop’s purview. ["Blush." But mine was the 11:15.]

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Few, if any, have talked publicly of abandoning Catholicism altogether, not unlike other Catholics under duress. Mary Beckfeld, co-founder of the online journal Progressive Catholic Voice, which launched locally last fall to chronicle alternative viewpoints within the church, is the mother of a gay son and feels she can best affect change on his behalf by staying in the church. “We really love this church,” she says of herself and the newsletter staff. “And I don’t believe I’m living in mortal sin.” McCaffrey, who struggled for years to reconcile his sexuality with Catholicism, says he finally found balance in the inclusive spirit of Vatican II—only to feel it’s been pulled out from under him by the Catholic hierarchy. “That’s the outrage we feel,” he says. “They’re really screwing with our lives.”

Michael Bayly, who edits the Progressive Catholic Voice and directs CPCSM, has long advocated for gays like himself in the church. By baptism, he says, it’s his church, the one he knows and loves—why should he leave? Besides, he says, wherever Catholics are gathered, that’s a Catholic space. If the St. Stephen’s crowd moves underground, they won’t be any less righteous.

“I am writing letters to these asshole bishops!” shouts one parishioner—a nun in a purple tracksuit—during the St. Stephen’s service. “Blessed are the flexible,” cries another worshipper, “for they won’t get bent out of shape.” But such sentiments are unlikely to slow the broader archdiocesan housecleaning. Nienstedt is coming, after all. And efforts are being doubled to make the archdiocese presentable.

In a basement room of St. Mark’s parish in St. Paul, a local gathering of the National Council of Catholic Women is unexpectedly noisy for a coterie of ladies averaging 70 years old. They typically draw 60 people—135 are here today. Lucy Johnson, president of this particular passel, looks worried: Nienstedt is coming.

“I know there are people here who are not happy,” says Johnson. “I just hope people listen before they talk.” Nienstedt has never before spoken directly to Twin Cities women about their role. There are rumors, Johnson says, about his expectations of them, unflattering even to many septuagenarians—that he’d prefer women stay in the kitchen and away from the altar. It doesn’t help that after Nienstedt doffs his fedora he is accidentally introduced to the group as the “co-agitator,” instead of coadjutor, archbishop.

His speech quotes liberally from popes (his Catholic Spirit columns almost always quote popes or doctrinal documents) and addresses the limits of gender roles: “We don’t all have to have the same function. But we must all work together.” And he doesn’t shy from the big questions: Why can’t women be priests? Because at the Last Supper, when Jesus gathered his disciples and called them to lead his legacy, “no women were present,” says Nienstedt. “And the church can’t do what Jesus didn’t do.”

As soon as he finishes, the hands go up: “I wouldn’t know you from Adam’s housecat,” says one woman. “But you’re a controversial figure.”

“I am?” Nienstedt jokes. The woman asks if he really wants to stop women from serving at the altar. “It’s sheer bunk,” he says. Also “bunk” is the idea that priests suddenly want out of the archdiocese. “I don’t believe there’s a rush for the door,” he says. He then becomes reflective, pondering these rumors’ origin. “I tend to be straightforward—perhaps that puts people off,” he says. “My parents didn’t beat around the bush.”

When he leaves, the floor opens to dialogue, yet everyone seems curiously disarmed. “He’s not going to say what will make you feel good,” says one woman. “But if there’s our leader, I’ll get in line.” Another says, “Years ago, things were either right or wrong,” while now the picture is muddled. Nienstedt’s clarity, she says, is bracing.

Kennedy wouldn’t be surprised that Nienstedt won these women over. He believes the fear of Nienstedt is largely just fear of change: Catholics became accustomed to a certain perspective here after Vatican II, he says, and Nienstedt may not be dangerous so much as different. People may even be surprised by him, he says, once they get over the new ground rules. The archdiocese is redefining lay ministry, for instance, but Nienstedt is still enthusiastic about the concept—just as Pope Benedict has surprised critics by advocating for the environment and making hope and love the subjects of his first two policy statements [The Church prefers to call them "encyclicals, a papal letter addressed to a pope's bishops.].

This is cold comfort to those who have always felt too different for the hierarchy. But most Catholics might settle for a middle ground. “What we need is enough certainty, enough clear vision that we can commit ourselves to a faith,” says Smith, formerly of the University of St. Thomas, “but with enough flexibility that we can continue” to reconcile that commitment to contemporary knowledge. “It’s always a tension and balance to get that right.”

Progressives like Heidi Busse find hope in another tradition of the church, sensus fidelium, which holds that the Holy Spirit inevitably guides the faithful in the right direction—even if the church, as an institution, takes some errant turns. [The Church NEVER makes mistakes in matters of "Faith and Morals." It has the Holy Spirit for its inspiration.] “We’re a human church on the one hand, but a divine one on the other,” she says. “Sometimes the hierarchy has to catch up to what the faithful has been doing. The faithful really lead.” Just where the church is on that continuum can only be seen—by the earthbound anyway—in hindsight.
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