The conflict between the archbishop and students from the Roman Catholic St. John's University and the College of St. Benedict occurred during Sunday night mass in Collegeville, Minn., on Sept. 26.
The action came as Catholics throughout Minnesota have been sent hundreds of thousands of DVDs from the state's bishops in support of a ban on gay marriage.
During the mass, members of PRiSM (People Representing the Sexual Minority) positioned themselves to be in the line for receiving communion from Nienstedt. Some of them reached out for the communion wafer but were denied it.
"We did this because we needed to address the DVDs and make a statement, and we wanted to do that by participating in the mass," St. Benedict senior Ana Seivert, a PRiSM member, told the Record student newspaper. "We were just coming off our Coming Out Week, where we felt so supported by our community. Nienstedt came in and denied us of our community."
One student at the mass, senior Andrew Grausam, said he was sitting behind the PRiSM members and saw some of them give a "fist in the air similar to the black power sign" before they sat up from their pew and "basically jogged to the other side to get communion" from the archbishop.
"It was sad to see the mass politicized like that," Grausam said. "And even though I whole-heartedly disagree with the archbishop on this issue, I was hurt to see my worship become a place of demonstration."
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which describes itself as the nation's largest civil rights organization on behalf of gays, lesbians and bisexual and transgender people, expressed outrage at Nienstedt's refusal to serve communion.
"Jesus didn't play politics with communion," Harry Knox, the HRC's religion and faith program director, said Tuesday in a statement from his office in Washington, D.C. "He offered his body and blood for everyone."
The archdiocese long has for years denied communion to members of the Rainbow Sash Movement, who wear the colors to mass in protest of the church's stance in opposition to homosexuality.
"We don't permit that at the communion rail," Archdiocese spokesman Dennis McGrath said Monday. "We have told them for years you cannot receive communion if you wear the rainbow sash, because it's a political statement, a sign of protest. Going to the communion rail is the most sacred part of our faith, the Eucharist. We don't allow anybody to make political statements or any kind of protest." Star Tribune