Of bully pulpits and bully bishops

Like a lot of Catholics, I bristle when Hollywood films present bishops as fat men given over to power. I … Continued

Like a lot of Catholics, I bristle when Hollywood films present bishops as fat men given over to power. I remember the scenes from all too many so-called “epics” where a bishop adorned in purple silk and dining at the king’s sumptuous table scorns the starving peasants. While this is Hollywood’s version, it does represent a time when some Catholic prelates really were more loyal to the ruling caste than to the Gospel.

What would that scene look like today, with presidents instead of kings and CEOs instead of counts and dukes? While medieval labels like “Robin Hood” no longer apply, the age-old temptation to make deals with the rich and powerful have not gone away. I don’t know if John Nienstedt, the Archbishop of St. Paul, Minnesota, has succumbed to this temptation, but if you substitute “same sex marriage” for “rights to hunt deer in Sherwood Forest” you’d have enough for a movie.

The issue concerns the use of money from anonymous donors to fund the distribution of some 400,000 DVDs promoting a view that the legalization of same-sex marriage is not a civil rights’ issue, but a moral one in which Catholics have no choice but to oppose any political candidate who takes another approach. At stake in Minnesota is a constitutional amendment that would deny the right to marry to any same-sex couple, even those who are not Catholic.

There can be no doubt that Catholic teaching denies the Sacrament of Marriage to same-sex couples and that many currents in contemporary culture undermine the stability of the institution of marriage today. If that was all that Archbishop Nienstedt did, who could complain? The episcopacy is, after all, a “bully pulpit.” But in this incident, as in many other decisions he has made, the archbishop seems to be seated at the table of unnamed donors, whose politics happen to coincide with a partisan agenda. Since there are such appalling financial needs for Catholic schools and social services in the aftermath of the Great Recession, how can the Church instead accept money to fund a decidedly political indoctrination effort– right before an election? And why has the donor gone unnamed?

This is not my question, but the issue posed by Catholics in his own archdiocese. For instance, Lucinda Naylor, Artist-in-Residence for more than a decade at St. Mary’s Basilica decided that Archbishop Nienstedt’s DVDs were simply propaganda and began collecting them as “throw-aways” in order to shape them into sculpture to Church social justice.

Not surprisingly, Naylor has been suspended. But insisting that Catholicism is a religion that welcomes all believers, she made the following plea: “Please help me continue with my vision by donating your DVDs and spreading the word about the project. I want to create a sculpture so big and beautiful that everyone will see the love that is at the heart of the Catholic Church.”

Fr. Michael Tegeder, 62, pastor of St. Edward Parish, Bloomington has had his run-ins with the archbishop. He was threatened with excommunication and interdict for offering a cremation garden at his parish – a much more affordable option than the traditional embalming, wake and cemetery-with-purchased-plot burial. Tegeder fought back, producing canon law and theological proof that cremation is not opposed by church teaching – even if the archbishop thinks he can order otherwise by simple fiat. “You have to know how to defend yourself, because a lot of what we’re being told we have to follow just isn’t true.” In reference to the issue of the DVDs, he added, “This man is leading us in the wrong direction. We have to call it for what it is – it’s bullying behavior. It’s not the work of Jesus Christ.”

I wonder if this is another case of the clerical culture in which a prelate translates questions about his judgment into challenge to this authority. Since the clerical pedophilia scandals, Catholic America has learned that not every bishop exercises good judgment in practical matters. While certainly the teaching authority of a bishop about doctrine is a “bully pulpit,” he may not bully the faithful into on partisan politics favored by unnamed “donors.” Where is Friar Tuck when we need him?

About

Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo Anthony M. Stevens-Arroyo is Professor Emeritus of Puerto Rican and Latino Studies at Brooklyn College and Distinguished Scholar of the City University of New York.
  • flanoggin

    Great article. This may help explain why there are so many ex-catholics…

  • bobbarnes

    Feeding the poor and healing the sick take a major backseat to extremist political views. How sad, Christ must be appalled, I know I am.

  • KathleenLattif

    Anthony Stevens-Arroyo, you have nailed this issue in every way; thank you for your thoughtful analysis!

  • debword

    I remember when social justice and tolerance were catholic standards. We are certainly not seeing that from this Archbishop. And obviously our KCs can’t be trusted to use the funds to take care of the poor anymore either. Our lesbian and gay children deserve the same CIVIL rights as everyone else. As long as taxes, health benefits, custody etc are civil issues that are tied to marriage, our children deserve that right as well.

  • DJAbraham

    My friends and community, including the artist Lucinda Naylor, will turn this unfortunate message into one of hope, love and peace. You can’t keep good Catholics down!

  • usapdx

    Who do most of these bishiops think they are with their fancy robes and high hats? They are great at speaking out on political matters but never even file yearly income with the I.R.S. or pay tax for their dioceses even though they will tell all that will listen on how to spent money of our goverment or what laws to change. Who where the leaders to push the ” DON’T GIVE COMMUNION TO KERRY ” and what was their purpose? Have you ever noticed where the bishops meet and what the cost whould be for you to stay there for one night? How many bishops in the world have covered up sex abuse crimes of children to protect the image? What political party in the U.S.A. whould you think most bishops belong to? On abortion, where whould they stand on the case of the 9-year-old raped girl of 80 pounds by her stepfather in the forth month pregnant with twins in Brazil in March of 2009? Please note the idiots that wrote Canon 1323 never put in a age limit. If Christ came back, I’m sure he never act or dress as bishops do. The RCC has been damaged greatly not only in the past but the very present greatly by the bishops. Is their goal control? Know history and ask questions. Truth is always the key.

  • Sajanas

    I think Hollywoods depiction of bishops is accurate for their life in the middle ages, and its accurate now too. The bishops supervise the money for their regions without any oversight from the government or even from the lay church members themselves. Der Spiegel had a good piece “The hidden wealth of the Catholic Church” which talked about how the bishops in Germany were busy constructing elaborate residences for themselves while allowing churches and schools to be shutter for lack of funds. The bishops and their like are not accountable to anyone but the Pope, so of course they rule by fiat. The needs of the regular Catholic have no influence on these men, and they have no check or balance. You can see it even now, with the Bishops in Ireland who presided over decades of abuse have their offers to resign rejected by the Pope, the people have no way of removing them from office.And frankly, I’m sick to death of people talking about how the institution of marriage is under siege. Screw you, buddy. Its rhetoric like that encourages youth to abuse gays and make their life so painful. Catholic Spain has gay marriage, and it hasn’t exactly imploded. And more importantly, you can pass that amendment with Catholic money and Catholic sermons, but there is no way you can prevent gays from being married in each others hearts, and calling their spouse husband and wife. All you do is deprive them of their civil rights, and that just makes you look bad, and keep gays and those who support them from even considering joining your organization.

  • emonty

    I have left of K of C and chosen to participate unofficially in their good works in our tiny town ONLY if I know the work will not support the agenda people such as the bishop described above. I informed the national that I left for reasons of conscience.

  • Secular

    Thank you Mr Arroyo, you nailed it. I may be persuaded to believe in god. But will never be persuaded to believe a single word of any scripture. They are nothing but filth, created by the priest class. There is only one goal of the scripture that is to keep parasite priest maintained, for total uneconomic activity of holding on to his/her sheeple. In the process they create the scripture full of in-group nepotism, out-group hostility and above create the position of the ignorant intermediary – the priest the parasite.

  • ZZim

    “I wonder if this is another case of the clerical culture in which a prelate translates questions about his judgment into challenge to this authority.”I wonder if the guy who wrote this is profoundly detached from reality.Gay “marriage” is clearly contrary to the morality of the Catholic Church. So distributing DVD’s discussing the reasons for this position is totally within the mission of the Church.I don’t see where the bishop has made any mistakes in this regard.This article is silly and the guy who wrote it is a complete intellectual light weight.

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