Minneapolis Archbishop Withholds Communion from Gay Activists

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday October 6, 2010

Archbishop John Nienstedt refused the Eucharist to students wearing rainbow buttons at a Sept. 26 Catholic mass, the Associated Press reported on Oct. 6.

Nienstedt is the Archbishop for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis. Last month Catholic churches in Minnesota mailed about 400,000 anti-gay DVDs to Catholics in the state as part of a push to amend the Minnesota constitution so as to legally bar gay and lesbian families from accessing marriage rights. Nienstedt reportedly authorized the mailings, which drew criticism even from within the church.

The Sept. 26 mass took place at St. John's University in Collegeville, the AP report said. Among those attending the mass were about 25 people wearing rainbow buttons as a protest against the Catholic Church's teachings on homosexuals. Most of them were students from two area colleges, St. John's University and the College of St. Benedict. St. John's is a men's school and St. Benedict is for women; both are Catholic colleges.

The church advocates for gays to be banned from legal family rights such as marriage and child custody, and has even said that same-sex parents inflict "violence" on their children simply by providing them with stable, loving home lives.

The church also says that although homosexuality is innate and not a "choice," same-sex intimacy is "inherently evil." It is the church's view that God "calls" gays to live in celibacy.

The students were galvanized by the recent mass mailing of anti-gay DVDs. They wore the buttons as a sign of disagreement with church policies regarding the treatment of gays and their families. "We wanted to make a statement to Archbishop Nienstedt, to stand in solidarity with GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) students on our own campus that we don't agree with what he's doing," said Elizabeth Gleich, a St. Benedict's sophomore. Gleich, who is heterosexual, belongs to the board of a school organization called PRISM, People Representing the Sexual Minority.

The students were acting entirely on their own, and not with the cooperation or sanction of any school group, Gleich told the media. "We have found a welcoming community here," Gleich told the press. "The last thing we want to do is create something divisive within our community."

Nienstedt reportedly responded by denying the Eucharist to those wearing the rainbow buttons, instead blessing them with the sign of the cross.

"My understanding of church law is that one is not to deny communion to anyone unless he or she is a public sinner, and that has traditionally been interpreted very narrowly," St. John's professor Rene McGraw told the media. "My instinct was these are people who were in need, I'm supportive of them, therefore I'm happy to say Mass for them."

According to Dennis McGrath, a spokesperson for the archdiocese, withholding the sacrament of the Eucharist is one way the church punishes anyone who openly opposes its institutional teachings. "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" during mass, McGrath said.

A local group, the Rainbow Sash Movement, has long been denied communion when its members have gone to mass wearing the multi-colored sashes that symbolize their support for diversity, reported the Minneapolis Star-Tribune on Oct. 5.

The mass mailing of anti-gay DVDs also provoked criticism from within the ranks of the faithful. Artist and church worker Lucinda Naylor collected a number of the DVDs from Catholics displeased at having received them, and created a sculpture in support of marriage equality. Naylor told local newspaper the American Independent that people she knew who had written the archbishop in protest over the DVDs "received back form letters that called into question their very salvation!"

But in Naylor's case it was her employment that was cast into doubt by the church, reported The Advocate on Sept. 28. Following Naylor's creation of the sculpture, Rev. John Bauer suspended her from her 15-year job at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. "I suspect suspension is a kind word for termination," Naylor told the press. "I'll miss the income. But there's times when people need to stand up for what they believe."

Another protest came from Father Michael Tegeder, whose letter on the subject of the DVDs was published in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Tegeder took issue with the idea that heterosexual marriage was threatened by same-sex families entering matrimony, especially given the much more immediate and tangible ways in which financial stress erode martial ties, an Oct. 6 Towleroad article reported.

"In every serious study, poverty is the top reason for marital breakdowns," Tegeder observed in his letter to the editor, which was published on Oct. 2. "It is very hard to make the case that a small percentage of the population who bond with members of their own sex and seek to live in a committed relationship could have anything but a positive effect on the general population's appreciation of stable, faithful, life-giving unions."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.