Commentary: Politics of Scandal

By Lavender February 9, 2012

Categories: Faith, Our Affairs, Our Lives, Politics

By Joe McHugh

I was born Catholic and hope to die Catholic.  Despite its scandals, the church still speaks words of healing, hope and freedom to me.  Right now, however, I feel scandalized by how the leadership of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, particularly Archbishop John C. Nienstedt, has repeatedly chosen to treat the LGBT community in just the opposite way.

While I disagree with church teaching on this matter on psychological and theological grounds, arguing is futile.  I suspect LGBT issues are this generation’s birth control.  What follow is less an argument than a cry of grief for the lives and loves I see demeaned and deadened.

Church teaching and the gospel are not identical, and all historically conditioned teaching must be judged against the demands of the gospel at a particular time and place—a gospel less about judgment than about love, compassion and inclusion.

Declaring gay sexual orientation objectively disordered and then labeling sexual love and companionship to gay persons as sinful are teachings that demean the divine and human spirit.  These teachings, I am afraid, have less to do with divinely decreed teaching than with social control and institutionalized fear and homophobia.  These are ethical issues I would like to see the church address.

The church has a right to attempt to influence public opinion.  As a result, Catholics last year received DVDs urging them to defend marriage or risk social and moral chaos. As a follow up, the Minnesota Catholic Conference is now mounting a statewide initiative to drum up support for inserting the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman into the state constitution.  What I cannot support, however, is making support for the marriage amendment a litmus test for being faithfully Catholic.

On a more personal level, certain of the archbishop’s actions have been embarrassingly callous.  He once refused communion to gay-identified college kids, and he is now asking Catholics to pray his recently written Marriage Prayer.  His decision to include the “one man and one woman” language directly into the prayer strikes me as an exploitation of religious sentiment and practice in the service of political ideology.  Mixing religion and politics is always dangerous, but disguising discrimination as virtue and prayer is particularly perilous.

At the most personal level, I serve as a spiritual director for lots of Catholics and Catholic priests.  In this role I see first hand the destructiveness that can come from automatically imposing abstract principles on real lives.  Church teaching appears increasingly irrelevant to younger LGBT folks, but their parents are sternly warned today about the sinful consequences of expressing any acceptance of the gay identity of their children.  Many priests—especially gay priests—feel particularly compromised, and I talk with Catholic after Catholic looking for convincing reasons to stay in the church.

Invoking their promise of obedience, the archbishop has instructed deacons and priests that they are not to disagree publicly with this stand.  If it becomes an issue of conscience for any of them, the archbishop has asked them to contact him directly.  At least one priest has nonetheless disagreed publicly with this initiative, and his has been advised that his priestly faculties could be in jeopardy.  The archbishop’s stand and instructions were strongly affirmed by the younger priests who are glad to see doctrinal and moral orthodoxy finally being addressed.  In certain circles there is a movement to see the tactics of the archdiocese and the Minnesota Catholic Conference serve as a national model.

Catholic Church teaching on LGBT issues will not change anytime soon.  Given this reality, Archdiocesan leadership can, however, decide to act more compassionately and less judgmentally.  I would invite the archbishop just to listen to LGBT people talk about their lives, loves and faith.  Just listen and at least temporarily hold the impulse to judge in check.

Joe McHugh is a spiritual director and retreat leader based in the Twin Cities.  He can be reached through


2 Responses to Commentary: Politics of Scandal

  1. Michael says:

    Another tough time to be a catholic. I wrote to the archbishop about his and the churches views on gay love and posted it also on my website as follows;

    Again, another bad time to be a catholic.

    Do Churches Promote Hate?
    ** Message from Archbishop John C. Nienstedt **
    Tue, November 9, 2010 11:35:55 AM
    Message from Archbishop John C. Nienstedt – RE: mutual_minds

    Dear Mr. Michael Xxxxxx, I am in receipt of your e-mail criticizing the recent DVD on marriage that was sent to all Catholics throughout the State of Minnesota. Unfortunately, the media characterized the message contained in that DVD in a distorted way. The intent was to offer support for the reality of marriage as a union between one man and one woman, which is found in Sacred Scripture and been enshrined in every culture since the beginning of time. You may wish to know that the Church’s teaching on homosexuality is a very balanced one. It can be summarized in the following three paragraphs from the Catechism of the Catholic Church: (Par. 2357) “Homosexuality refers to relations between men or between women who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction towards persons of the same sex. It has taken a great variety of forms through the centuries and in different cultures. Its psychological genesis remains largely unexplained. Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”
    (Par. 2358) “The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition.”

    (Par. 2359) “Homosexual persons are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”

    I sincerely hope that you will see the wisdom behind the Church’s teaching on this topic.

    Cordially yours in Christ,
    The Most Reverend John C. Nienstedt
    Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis Dear Honorable Archbishop, Nov.,15,2010
    Thank you so much for your response. I can’t help but feel that this is a standard chain letter sent out with a personal touch by your lovely assistant but thank you so much for the acknowledgement. I would like to have a dialogue with the Honorable Archbishop. May I print for public view your comments or lack of, if we don’t have a discussion?

    I realize that, as an entity, the church has become bound by certain policies and procedures much like a large corporations are. However, the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to homosexuality as a “disorder” or “condition.” Perhaps in less enlightened times when a tribes survival depended on their numbers – as reflected in the old Testament – then yes, procreation would have been regarded as very crucial to the tribes survival and homosexuality might have been frowned upon. But given the current over-population of this planet, I think it’s pretty safe to say procreation is no longer an issue and that “protecting” the sacred rite of marriage by making it exclusive to only male/female couples is redundant. Also, if procreating remains such an important factor in marriage – since when have gay men and woman not been able to procreate? They can and do procreate – as evidenced by the number of same sex couples with children – to say nothing of the fact that a large percentage of people in “straight” marriages with children are actually closeted homosexuals.

    Procreation is not sacred. LOVE IS IS SACRED. By judging and denying the right of marriage to same sex couples the Church is, in essence, denying God. Perhaps you could please clarify if God might view your views on “Sacredness” any differently than cross burning, white hooded clansmen. Does it matter to God? Does it then matter to you?

    I should think it would be in the best interest of the Church to begin recognizing marriages as being sacred to all as it would increase membership and perhaps cut down on sacred divorces. What has the church to really fear by extending God’s full love to EVERYONE? Is it simply a fear of decreased revenue? If it is true that the interest of the Catholic Church is more about economic gain, then God has gone right out the stained glass window.

    Are priests now essentially professional fund raisers? Is there no vestige of God’s unconditional love left in the church? Was it ever there to begin with? If you are to tell me that you are indeed spreading the love of Jesus, how does your exclusionary stance on homosexuals, including their rights to marry, perpetuate this? Let me answer the question: It doesn’t. What it does perpetuate, however, is prejudice and fear, bigotry, judgment, hostility, abuse, separateness. I think even you will have to admit that these qualities are not very Godly. In fact who needs hell when we keep perpetuating such fear and suffering right here on earth? So Archbishop, I want to invite you to the present moment and remind you that sex and sexuality are no longer “issues”. People are saying in fact that you are obsessed with the whole gay issue and it’s time you were resolved with whatever personal hold you have on this and let it go. Perhaps then you could began to be a living example to others of what unconditional love is.

    As such great teachers as Neale Donald Walsch, Louise Hay, Dr. Wayne Dyer, Baird Spalding and Eckhart Tolle have expressed to us there are essentially only two emotions we can be motivated by: Love and fear. There are results to either choice. Which is the church being motivated by when it denies the love of God to all people? I will answer that question: The catholic church has/had survived on peoples fears for 2 thousand years. But whether the church wants to admit it or not, this too shall pass. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: “A lie cannot live forever.” True love will prevail – as God is Love and Love is Truth. More and more peolpe are questioned established, official “truths” rather than blindly accepting them. The facts and statistic’s speak for themselves. Spiritually is up and organized religious fears are down. In my own lifetime I have seen homosexuality removed from the records as a medical pathology – but there is much more to come. Check out my website to learn more;

    There is no honor in living life in fear John. Living life in fear is hell. The church has been a major contributor in establishing hell on earth by treating gay people as second class citizens. Is it any wonder why so many people are removing themselves from the church and seeking a higher/truer understanding of God? Is it any wonder why I cannot bring myself to address you by your given title as “Honorable”? I do not see that you are in any way deserving of that title. There is no honor in living a life in fear and then spreading that fear in the name of God. As me and my fellow mechanics in the shop might say: “Grow some balls John. You need to step up to the plate and really be an instrument of God’s love.”

    You say wearing a Rainbow Sash is a political statement and the church doesn’t get involved in politics. History would beg to differ John. The church has been all too political in all the wrong ways. Here is the challenge: Why don’t you show your love and wear a rainbow sash and put an end to all this hate? Show people the kind of guy you are and envision yourself to be. Be resolved with yourself and accept yourself for that. Are you really adhering to the policies set forth by the Catechism of the Catholic Church or is it merely a smokescreen for your hate? Can you answer me in all honesty as a spiritual leader that we all one with God and that God is Love? If you cannot, what do you fear? You could put an end to all this nonsense if you chose to. Who are you John? A human being having a spiritual experience? Or a spiritual being having a human experience? No matter what you may answer, you are no better or worse than any other person. We’re all here – gay, straight, male, female, trans-gender, black, white, brown, yellow – and we’re all divine.

    Wear a Rainbow Sash and show some love, not the fear you have shown up until now. Have all priests wear a Rainbow Sash and surprise the hell out of everyone. Show your willingness to open the church’s doors to all of Gods children. That is God in action.


  2. Michael says:

    Hello Joe,

    I read your commentary about Archbishop Nienstedt and your continued love for the church. Please just keep on being Joe and don’t give up on the church or yourself. I belong to the Basilica of St Mary’s in Minneapolis. Although I haven’t been an active member since I moved, the church is still a part of me. I addressed the archbishop on my website “Equal To God- Find Your Own Way Home”

    Please look through my website as I hope it helps you find your own way home with any struggles you may be having.

    Here is what another has said about my site;

    “Your Message = While scanning “Big Gay News”, or “Lavender” moments ago, the Lord stopped the scan, and locked my eyes upon your URL, “http://http// How intriguing. Is this a truly Christian site, or oh, shall we just say, “something other”?

    I reached your site, scrolled down the page trying to quickly absorb my answer to the above question, and found there is rich material here. Material applicable to us all, yet specific to others (just another wonderment of the Lord). It said so much without having to say anything in particular.

    I do not know what this site means…overall…or perhaps I have one or two thoughts. Mainly, we are all God’s children, regardless of having been blocked from mainstream institutions and House of God. Oh, those with the keys will open the door giving us access with a “one-day pass”, telling us we are all welcome, but don’t abuse the privilege of the passes we allow you to use on occasion. But this site (able to determine in about 60-90 seconds) welcomes all who are here, for the myriad of reasons each of us has flown through cyberspace to get here.

    Thank you, Michael, for giving us all, a place to praise God, seek his Will for us, or search for a prominent place to allow the Lord to heal our broken hearts. May God richly bless you, keep you, and help you feel the love we all have for you, because you took the steps to help those in need, and we admire the strength it took you to put this site together.

    Lovingly, dear Michael,

    Xxxx Xxxxxxxx

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